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In search of humanity that has many faces and cultures.

Indian history and culture is dynamic, going back to the beginning of human civilization. It begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, more precisely known as the Harappan Civilization. It has a unique demography, history, culture, dress, festivals, languages etc. We have a solid foundation and infrastructure to build up a strong future that assures peace and prosperity. We have also the ancient philosophy, spirituality and wisdom, and, above all man power to guide us on the right and just path.

Is our past an inspiration? Have we learnt something from the past? Where we are marching forward with our political and religious knowledge?  Does the ordinary Indian finds his place in actual history and in his home land or has he lost his roots? Amidst poverty, misery, corruption, violence and discrimination are we at ease and in peace with one another and with nature? Who awakens the conscience of the common man and our leaders who govern us? These are the questions that came to my mind. With the knowledge that I acquired when I was a student of history in Madras University and the knowledge that I acquired in the course of time and from the internet I am exploring the history of India of which I am proud.

The whole world is a family and we are its citizens. This is the philosophy and life style of ancient and modern India. Indian culture has been rich, brave, tolerant, compassionate and genuinely humanitarian. There are prayers and sayings like “There is one human race and one God” and “Love is god. Here is something from the poet Bharadhiyar: “Lord you have created me with luminous intelligence; give me the power and energy to do good to humanity and to the world with the intelligence that I have”. Though there have been frictions, conflicts, violences, internal wars between different kingdoms in the ancient history, before colonization, love, hospitality and compassion have been lived out throughout the history of India. If everyone would have lived out the principles of compassion and tolerance down through the ages then we would have had a land without misery and poverty.

The vast and varied subcontinent had different faces, different cultures before its independence and before the birth of Christ. One could see great dedication and leadership qualities in certain persons who governed the people. Many think of Gandhi once they hear of India and his ethic of non violence.  Others remember the palaces of the emperors, castles and the Kings. Different parts of India were ruled by different kings who are called Raja or Maharaja. So in India one will always find names like Raja, Rajareegam, Rajesh, Bakiya Raj, Kristu Raj, Krishna Raj, Sathyaraj, kanagaraj, Ranga Raj, Janaga Raj, Paul Raj and Raj Kumar which signify king. All those with these names are not from the families of kings but they are children of the country ruled by kings.  When the British came to India they found different regions and provinces ruled by different kings and emperors. Even when the British became rulers, they retained the existing system and the Kings were paying taxes to the British.

Chera, Chola and Pandya Kingdoms:

The Chera dynasty (Ve siècle av. J.C-1102):

This was one of the principal dynasties in the early history of the present day states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It included the Malabar Coast, Karur, Coimbatore and Salem. Karur was the capital of Chera dynasty. There was a commercial relation between the Chera kingdom, Rome and Middle East. Along with other things, spices, ivory and sandal wood were primary commercial goods that were exported. A number of coins, a large body of Tamil works collectively known as the Sangam Texts (C.2nd cent. CE) depict a number of Chera, Pandya and Chola rulers. The archeological excavations, copper coins with Chera symbols and roman symbols prove that Tamil Nadu and Kerala excelled in commerce and that they had good relations with one another. There was also commercial trade between China and Kerala during the time of Sthanu Ravivarman. Jews and Christians were also known to have lived in Kerala already in his time.

The Chola dynasty (300 BCE – 1279CE):

This is the longest ruling dynasty in the world. Karikala Chola, the Chola King constructed Kallanai an ancient dam which was built c. 100 B.C across the Cauveri River which still stands tall, majestic and still useable. He promoted irrigation and knew how to create water controlling system even in those days. This dam survived many natural calamities for more than 2000 years. There was agrarian expansion during the rule of the imperial Chola Dynasty.  Rajaraja Chola I was a great warrior and an architect. He is often described as Rajaraja the great, and built the famous Brihadisvara Temple at the Chola capital in Thanjavur.temple He had good relationships with people of all religions. Hospitals were maintained by them. The Tirumukkudal inscription speaks of the hospital that is named after Vira Chola. The Chola queen Kundavi also established a hospital and gave the land for the perpetual maintenance of it.

The country of the Pandyas finds a mention in a number of Graeco-Roman sources as early as 4th cent.BCE.  Their first capital was Korkai, but then moved on to Madurai. The Pandyas ruled large portions of present day South India and Sri Lanka. Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai and Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli were built during the reign of the Pandyas. During the reign of Mahavarman Kulasekara the kingdom was extended. The Pandyas had commercial relations with Rome, Greece, China, Maldives and Malaysia. They produced the finest pearls along the South Indian Coast.

Persian and Greek Invaders:

In the year 520 B.C Darius and Cyrus from Persia conquered North Western India. They ruled for one and half a centuries. Alexander the great invaded Northern West India. He realized that the Indian army was very strong and mighty during the battle with the local ruler of Punjab.

The Maurya Empire:

King ashokaIndian history is incomplete without the history of the Empire of Maurya. It was founded by Chandragupta Maurya who dominated the Indian sub-continent between 322 and 185 BCE. The empire comprised the greater part of South Asia. It was the largest political entity that has existed in the Indian subcontinent. The king Ashoka or Asoka was the 3rd emperor of the dynasty of Maurya. His headquarters was Magadha in Bihar. He came to power in 273 B.C. He waged a destructive war against the state of kalinga (modern Odisha), which he conquered around 260 B.C. After witnessing the mass deaths and destruction of the kalinga war, he adopted the Buddhist principles of non-violence. He himself had become a Buddhist and promoted Buddhism which became the state religion. He sent Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka and to Central Asia. The name Asoka means without sorrow or painless and he is an example of man of interior transformation. He was a Buddhist king and known for tolerance of other religions. He was kind to animals and every human being after seeing the disaster and damage done by the war of Kalinga. Emperor Ashoka remains the symbol of national unity in the Third Century before Jesus Christ.  At least one emperor in ancient India has learnt that war is not the means to bring in peace. He is still alive in the memories of the Indians and historians. During his time he built many universities, water tanks, hospitals. Roads were constructed and trees were planted by the sides of the roads. He is called Ashoka the great for many reasons like administration, art and architecture, and especially for treating his subjects equally. He preached the dharma of peace, compassionate living and love till the end of his life. He is also remembered for Ashoka pillars and edicts. The emblem of the modern Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka.

The Pallava dynasty of Medieval India:

 MahabalipuramThe Pallava dynasty lasted from the early 4th century to the late 9th century. Pallavas, whose capitals were Mamallapuram and Kanchi in the state of Tamil Nadu, are most noted for their patronage of art and architecture. They were the emperors of the Dravidian country and rapidly adopted Tamil ways. They supported Buddhism, Jainism and the Brahminical faith. They left behind magnificent sculptures and temples. They established the foundations of medieval South Indian Architecture. The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pancha Rathas and the sculptures on rocks lead one to admire the skillful and artistic taste of the human race.

The Vardhana dynasty in Northern India (c.500CE – 647 CE):

It is also known as the Pushyabhuti Dynasty rose up after the downfall of the Gupta Empire. This kingdom ruled in the present state of Haryana. During the reign of King Harshavardhana (606 – 647CE) also known as Harsha, there was tolerance towards Hinduism as well as Buddhism. Both religions enjoyed equal freedom. Harsha became the follower of Mahayana Buddhism. He was not only a great warrior but also known for his charity.

The Rajputs( 7th and 8th Century):

Rajput is derivative of a Sanskrit word, raj-putra which means “son of a king”. The Rajputs are from Rajasthan and central India. Prithiraj Chauhan was a famous ruler known for unifying Rajasthan against a Muslim invasion. Udaipur city was founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1553, as the new capital of the Mewar Kingdom. It is known for several architectural creations, the huge forts, temples, the lush gardens, majestic palaces from the Rajput era and museums. Udaipur is the Venice of the East.

Mughal Empire or Mogul Empire: The Mughals ruled part of India from 1526, and by 1700 they ruled most of the subcontinent. The Empire was founded by Babar, a Timurid prince and ruler from Central Asia. Humayun contributed a lot by his fusion of the Indo Persian painting style with Indian art forms. Akbar is called the greatest Mughal Emperor. He removed restrictions on the practice of religion. He allowed freedom of religion at his court as well as in his empire. Shah-Jahan’s mother was a Rajput princess. He built the Taj Mahal in Agra in loving memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaj.  It is the only building of its kind in the world and is situated on the banks of Yamuna. It is also the ultimate realization of the dream of emperor Shah-Jahan. Bahadur Shah II, the last emperor was deposed by the British and exiled to Burma. The Agra Fort, the Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, the Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal are the Mughal UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Taj Mahal is described as, “the jewel of Muslim Art in India”.

Shivaji Raje(1630-1680):

Shivaji Raje was born in Pune district. He gathered Maratha men and started conquering nearby land. The Fort of Raigad in Maharashtra became the capital city. He allowed the people to follow the religion of their choice. Untouchables were given true justice. He had great respect for Muslim women, untouchables and mosques. He is fondly remembered for his bravery and kindness to his people.

The Madurai Nayaks: These were the Telugu rulers from around 1529 until 1736. They ruled most of modern-day Tamil Nadu. Madurai was their capital. The Madurai Nayak dynasty also contributed a lot for the development of people, the construction of temples and to architecture.

The Maharajas of Mysore:

The Wodeyar Kings of Mysore or the Wodeyar dynasty ruled over the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. It is the only royal family in India that has ruled over a kingdom for more than 500 years. Mysore palace is the former residence of Wodeyar. It is one of the largest of its kind in India. It was also the seat of the dynasty that ruled Mysore from 1399 to 1947. The kingdom of Mysore experienced severe drought and famine from 1875 to 1876. The reign of Rajarshri (Nalvadi) Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV (1894 – 1940) was the beginning of the golden era for Mysore. It was he who constructed the Krishna Raja Sagara Dam and M. Visvesvaraya of Mysore was the architect and the Chief Engineer. Construction of the KSR Dam began in 1911. Surki was used instead of cement because cement was not manufactured in India at that time. The construction was completed in 1931. The total capacity of the reservoir is 1,368,847,000 m3. During his rule Mysore became the first Indian State to generate hydroelectric power in Asia and the first Asian city to have street lights.

Different rulers and emperors enriched the cultures and values that advanced the kingdoms as well as the humanity. Certain kings became immortal in the Indian history by developing agriculture, by constructing temples, by being just and honest rulers, encouraging the poets, by promoting literary work and other stunning and astonishing work. They are also known for architectural marvels found everywhere in India. There were also great warriors and they used the horses, elephants, boats for conquering the other kingdoms and even neighboring countries. They had powerful armies in their kingdoms and the elephants not only had the role in the battle field but also when the king was crowned and in agriculture.

It is noteworthy to mention that the KSR Dam constructed by Wodeyar IV provides drinking water for Mysore, Mandya and Banglore as serving agricultural purposes even today.

Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore( 20nov.1750 -1799) :

Tipu Sultan who succeeded Hyder Ali had a great appetite for learning.  He was fluent in number of languages. He is also known as Tipu Sahab and was the ruler of the kingdom and pioneer of rocket artillery. Napoleon Bonaparte, the French commander- in-chief, sought an alliance with Tipu Sultan. He was on good terms with France, Afghanistan and the Sultan of Turkey. He fought against British colonization. He had amazing plans to develop the empire especially in the areas of industry, agriculture and trade.  Tippu Sultan’s Summer Palace in Bangalore is an example of Indo-Islamic architecture. Dariya Daulat Bagh Tippu Sultan Palace and Museum in Srirangapatna are constructed with Teak wood. He was one of the most powerful native princes of India. He was the biggest threat to the British in India. He was a freedom fighter.

The Nizams of Hyderabad:

Hyderabad city was the capital of Hyderabad state under the Nizams of Hyderabad. It was the princely state.

Maharani de Jhansi (1842 – 1858):

Rani Lakshmî Bâî was the queen of the princely state of Jhansi, which is located on the northern side of India. She was born to a Maharashtra family in Varanasi in 1828. She took formal training in horse riding and shooting along with her studies. She formed a volunteer army which consisted of both men and women to fight against the British rule. She is an Icon of the Indian Nationalist Movement.

Maharaja Jam Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji:

 India and Poland share a special friendship since old times.  When World War II started and when Hitler invaded Poland 500 polish women and 200 children were put on a ship by the Polish army to save them from Germans. The captain was told to take them to any country where they can get shelter and where they would be safe. They were not accepted by good number of European and Asian countries. The ship continued to sail and reached the port of Iran. They were not received there also. They reached the port of Bombay and the British Governor also refused to allow the ship to enter. When the news reached the ears of the Maharaja of the princely state of Nawanagar, “Jam Saheb” Digvijay Singh allowed the ship into his kingdom at a port near Jamnagar. He received the refugees well and provided education for the children in the Army school. They stayed in Jamnagar for nine years. He was fondly called Bapu by them. They returned to Poland with good memories of their sojourn in India. The Indian Monarch Maharaja Jam Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji, who had gone to his eternal reward in 1966, is still revered in the history of Poland and India. One of the children of these refugees later became the Prime Minister of Poland.  In Ochota district in central Warshaw there is Good Maharaja Square “SKWER DOBREGO MAHARADZY OPACZEWSKA, WARSZAWA”.

Kingdoms and Kindness to other human beings:

India has been home of all major faiths like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. The Holy land of Buddhism is in India. Hiuen Tsang came to India in 629 as a Buddhist monk and Chinese pilgrim. While writing about the religious situation of India, he mentions the popular religions of that time were Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism. He observed the religious tolerance that existed in India at that time. Nalanda University which is in Rajgir town in Bihar has been contributing to education, care for the environment and humanism between the 5th and 13th centuries. The Ajanta and Ellora caves in Aurangabad are  gems that represent Indian history in Maharastra.

India welcomed and accommodated other religions also. Judaism was one of the first religions to arrive in India. Actually the history of the Jews in India reaches back to ancient times. European Jews who were refugees came to India to escape from the Anti-Semite policies of European countries in the 1930s. They left India before 1950 but the synagogues that exist speak of the welcome given to the Jews in the land of non-violence. I had the opportunity to visit the synagogue in Cochin, Kerala in 2004 along with all the major seminary rectors of India.

The arrival of Christianity with its message of brotherhood also made a valuable contribution to the subcontinent of India. Education for all the members of the society, brotherhood, charitable and developmental works and, above all, Christian faith have been transforming forces changing the face of the modern India. San Thome Basilica build over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles, shows that Christianity has had a long tradition in India.

This article is just a glimpse into the glorious past. The reign of the emperors and their majestic kingdoms was marked with breath taking sculptures, architectural masterpieces, humanness and compassion. We have inherited mystic and mysterious temples from our ancestors. All the religions have contributed to the development of India. Let me end with these words “Let my country awake into freedom” from ignorance, illiteracy, caste discrimination and violences; Let all citizens enjoy equal rights, brotherhood, justice and equality.

Pope John Paul II visits to India:

Pope John Paul II first visited India for ten days in 1986. His second apostolic visit was in 1999. The first pope to visit India was Pope Paul VI. He visited Mumbai in 1964 and attended the International Eucharistic Congress. 

What we are today is because of our past. By looking critically at our past, while appreciating the good that has achieved, the human race has always progressed. Indian culture has been rich, brave, tolerant, compassionate and genuinely humanitarian. Indian emperors were brave, hospitable, and tolerant towards other religions and thus contributed a lot for the good of humanity and for the good of their citizens. I strongly believe that knowledge of one’s own history, the church, our own countries and our own humanity will keep the divine flame alive in our hearts to respect different cultures and humanity.

 The historical researches and studies, literatures, coins of different empires, architectural monuments, temples and different inscriptions carved on rocks, caves have proved that India is rich with its past history. The past history is a treasure for modern and contemporary Indian history.

Main Sources:

           www.ancient.eu/Pushyabhuti_Dynasty.

         en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushyabhuti_dynasty.

by Erwin Fahlbush.Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing – 2008.p.285

Francis Kalan MADHAN
Missions Africaines
4 rue Le Notre
67000 - Strasbourg.
France.

N.B Thanks to Father Michael McCabe who was my formator in Rome and professor of Missiology for having read through this article and checked the English.