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                  HISTORY OF INDIA.

The Indus Valley civilization, India's earliest known civilization (2500-1700 BC),  is identified by its interesting culture as well as its artifacts.  The strength and basis of Hinduism is attributed to the Vedic culture (about 1500), as well as the origin of the caste system.

India has had many different influences throughout its history due to the migration, invasion or expansion of other nations.  Some of these nations or people who influenced India include the Mongols (under the direction of Genghis Khan), the Greeks (Alexander the Great), and the British.

India was a wealthy country, economically and culturally up until British colonization.  Europeans would trade with India for spices or cotton textiles, but when the British colonized the country the economy declined.  This was due in part to exploitation and destruction of India's industries and wealth.

Eventually, India would be granted its independence again in 1947, after which a slow progression has been seen in its development.

Present-day India has made significant headway in large-scale industrialization. As a result, India has become one of the top five industrialized nations of the world. It produces every conceivable industrial item and consumer goods, and has achieved significant success in frontier scientific research including peaceful application of nuclear energy, space and satellite research, communication technology and biotechnology. India also has the third largest reservoir of scientific and technological manpower. Pioneering scientists such as Nobel laureate C. V. Raman, Homi Bhaba, J.C.Bose, Satyen Bose, Nobel laureates Hargovind Khorana and S. Chandrasekhar have won laurels for India both at home and abroad.

Historically India is an ancient land with a continuous civilization of 5000 years. The Indus valley civilisation (3000 BC to 1500 BC) was followed by the Sanskrit-speaking Vedic period (1500 BC to 500 BC). The first of the Indian empires, the Mauryan empire began shortly after Chandragupta Maurya (274-237 BC). The post-Asoka empires were followed by empires of the Gupta, Pratihara, Pala, Chalukya, Chola, Pandya dynasties. Subsequently, around the 9th century, the Muslim period was established followed by the arrival of the Europeans, mostly British in the 17th century.

On August 15, 1947 India attained independence. It adopted a parliamentary system of government with a union of states proclaiming itself to be a Sovereign Democratic Republic.

The country has been divided into 25 States and 7 Union Territories. The States have considerable autonomy of their own while the Union Territories are governed by the President through appointed administrators. At the village level one finds the system of Panchayati Raj. It is a pattern of self-government that oversees the planning and execution of projects in district, block and village levels. Adult suffrage is universal.

India's national flag is a horizontal tri-color of deep saffron at the top, white in the middle and dark green at the bottom in equal proportion. In the center of the white band is a wheel, which appears on the abacus of the Sarnath Lion seal of Asoka.

 GEOGRAPHY OF INDIA

India covers 3,287,263 sq km, which extends from the Himalayas, the world's highest mountains, to the southern tropical rain forests.  It is the seventh largest country in the world and the mountains and sea that surround India separate it from other parts of Asia.   In the shape of a triangle, India's topography is greatly varied in that there although there are deserts and rain forests, much of it's land is comprised of fertile river plains and high plateaus.  Some of the main rivers that flow through India are the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Indus.  These rivers start in the high mountains and carry down rich alluvial soil to the plains below, thus creating the fertile river plains.

Four distinct regions can be found in India - mountains, plains, the desert and the southern peninsula.  The mountainous region is comprised of the Himalayas, a mountain range that has some of the highest peaks in the world.  They have rivers that increase and decrease in amount  with the snowfall. During the monsoon season, the heavy water coming out of them causes frequent flooding.  On one side of India, the heights make them impassable, whereas in the east the ranges are considerably lower.  The plains are made up of basins by three main rivers in India - the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.  Flat alluvium (rich soil deposited by rivers) is abundant and this area is considered to be one of the largest areas of it in the world.  In addition to that international distinction, this area is also considered to be one of the most heavily populated areas in the world.  The desert areas in India are split by land that is rocky and comprised of limestone ridges.  The last region, the peninsula, has mountains surrounding it, with coastal areas on the other side of the mountains.

The climate in India is characterized as tropical-monsoon.  Seasonal winds determine the climate. There is a north-east monsoon that is known as the winter monsoon and it goes across the land to the sea.  The south-west monsoon is called the summer monsoon as it comes from the sea and blows across the land.  This monsoon brings the highest amount of rainfall to the country.

India is the seventh largest country in the world. It has the world's second largest population. Located entirely in the northern hemisphere it is bound by Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal border it's coastline.

The mainland has three well-defined geographical regions, the mountain zone of the Himalayas, the Indo-gangetic plain, ( formed by the basins of three great rivers Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra) and the southern peninsula of the Deccan Plateau.

The main river systems are the Himalayan rivers like Ganga and Brahmaputra which are snow-fed; the peninsular rivers like Godavari, Krishna and Mahanadi; and the coastal rivers.

India has a rich variety of vegetation and animal life, with special types of flora and fauna.

The climate of the country varies from region to region. In some places, including the coastal areas, the climate is almost uniform throughout the year. There are quite a few places in the country which have a moderate climate, such as towns in the North of the country or Bangalore in the South. On the other hand most areas are very hot in summer.

The Indian seasons can be divided as follows:

March to June: Summer

July to October: Monsoon

November to February: Winter

ECONOMY OF INDIA

India has been slowly progressing economically, due in part to political problems and the extreme climate.  The agrarian economic base has little by little been changing to one consisting of industry or commerce. 

Although India had a flourishing trade and cottage industry (where people work at home using their own tools or equipment), with Britain's arrival it was essentially ruined.  The British used the export of opium, cotton and tea to acquire the European items they desired.  Even though the British built railways (with Indian and British money) and irrigation it didn't help India's economy.  The economy stayed this way, not growing, the last thirty or so years of British rule. 

After India regained it's independence, it encouraged self sufficiency.  This was to built up India's industry and diminish it's foreign trade dependency.  Although things did improve, it wasn't enough, until the government lessened the states control of the economy during the 1970s.  The government was still in control over certain industries in the early nineties, and economic growth was achieved with the help of loans by foreign countries by 1991.  But this was also the same time of the Persian Gulf War, which was a financial blow to India with the skyrocketing price of oil

India is the seventh largest and second most populous country in the world. A new spirit of economic freedom is now stirring in the country, bringing sweeping changes in its wake. A series of ambitious economic reforms aimed at deregulating the country and stimulating foreign investment has moved India firmly into the front ranks of the rapidly growing Asia Pacific region and unleashed the latent strengths of a complex and rapidly changing nation. 

India's process of economic reform is firmly rooted in a political consensus that spans her diverse political parties. India's democracy is a known and stable factor, which has taken deep roots over nearly half a century. Importantly, India has no fundamental conflict between its political and economic systems. Its political institutions have fostered an open society with strong collective and individual rights and an environment supportive of free economic enterprise.

India's time tested institutions offer foreign investors a transparent environment that guarantees the security of their long term investments. These include a free and vibrant press, a judiciary which can and does overrule the government, a sophisticated legal and accounting system and a user friendly intellectual infrastructure. India's dynamic and highly competitive private sector has long been the backbone of its economic activity. It accounts for over 75% of its Gross Domestic Product and offers considerable scope for joint ventures and collaborations.

Today, India is one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world. Skilled managerial and technical manpower that match the best available in the world and a middle class whose size exceeds the population of the USA or the European Union, provide India with a distinct cutting edge in global competition.

       POLITICS OF INDIA

A federal republic, the Republic of India integrates the United Kingdom's (as well as other democratic countries, such as the United States) constitutional system and has a constitution which governs it.  

The government's power can be divided into three branches: executive, judiciary and parliament.  As with the United States, India is comprised of individual states.  India's central government has authority over these states and even has the authority to change the boundaries of the states.

 

 

 

India, a union of states, is a Sovereign, Secular, Democratic Republic with a Parliamentary system of Government. The Indian polity is governed in terms of the Constitution, which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949 and came into force on 26 November 1950. 

The President is the constitutional head of Executive of the Union. Real executive power vests in a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head. Article 74(1) of the Constitution provides that there shall be a Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister to aid and advise the President who shall, in exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, the House of the People.

In the states, the Governor, as the representative of the President, is the head of Executive, but real executive power rests with the Chief Minister who heads the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers of a state is collectively responsible to the elected legislative assembly of the state. 

The Constitution governs the sharing of legislative power between Parliament and the State Legislatures, and provides for the vesting of residual powers in Parliament. The power to amend the Constitution also vests in Parliament. 

The Union Executive consists of the President, the Vice-President and Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President. 

President

The President is elected by members of an Electoral College consisting of elected members of both Houses of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of the states, with suitable weightage given to each vote. His term of office is five years. 

Among other powers, the President can proclaim an emergency in the country if he is satisfied that the security of the country or of any part of its territory is threatened whether by war or external agression or armed rebellion. When there is a failure of the constitutional machinery in a state, he can assume to himself all or any of the functions of the government of that state.

Vice-President

The Vice-President is elected by the members of an electoral college consisting of members of both Houses of Parliament in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. He holds office for five years. The Vice-President is Ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. 

Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers comprises Cabinet Ministers, Minister of States (independent charge or otherwise) and Deputy Ministers. Prime Minister communicates all decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to administration of affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation to the President. Generally, each department has an officer designated as secretary to the Government of India to advise Ministers on policy matters and general administration. The Cabinet Secretariat has an important coordinating role in decision making at highest level and operates under direction of Prime Minister. 

The Legislative Arm of the Union, called Parliament, consists of the President, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. All legislation requires consent of both houses of parliament. However, in case of money bills, the will of the Lok Sabha always prevails.

Rajya Sabha

The Rajya Sabha consists of 245 members. Of these, 233 represent states and union territories and 12 members are nominated by the President. Elections to the Rajya Sabha are indirect; members are elected by the elected members of Legislative Assemblies of the concerned states. The Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution, one third of its members retire every second year.

Lok Sabha

The Lok Sabha is composed of representatives of the people chosen by direct election on the basis of universal adult suffrage. As of today, the Lok Sabha consists of 545 members with two members nominated by the President to represent the Anglo-Indian Community. Unless dissolved under unusual circumstances, the term of the Lok Sabha is five years. 

State Governments

The system of government in states closely resembles that of the Union. There are 25 states and seven Union territories in the country. 

Union Territories are administered by the President through an Administrator appointed by him. Till 1 February 1992, the Union Territory of Delhi was governed by the Central government through an Administrator appointed by the President of India. Through a Constitutional amendment in Parliament, the Union Territory of Delhi is now called the National Capital Territory of Delhi from 1 February 1992. General elections to the Legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory were held in November 1993. 

Political System

A recognised political party has been classified as a National Party or a State Party. If a political party is recognised in four or more states, it is considered as a National Party.

The Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) are the prominent National Parties in the Country. Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Bihar, Maharashtrwad Gomantak Party in Goa, National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, Muslim League in Kerala, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Akali Dal in Punjab, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and All-India Forward Block in West Bengal are the prominent state parties.

Eleven Lok Sabhas have been constituted so far. Except for the short-lived Sixth and Ninth Lok Sabha, the Congress Party ruled the country. The Sixth Lok Sabha functioned for about two years and four months and the Ninth Lok Sabha functioned for one year and two months. 

Judicial System

The Supreme Court is the apex court in the country. The High Court stands at the head of the state's judicial administration. Each state is divided into judicial districts presided over by a district and sessions judge, who is the highest judicial authority in a district. Below him, there are courts of civil jurisdiction, known in different states as munsifs, sub-judges, civil judges and the like. Similarly, criminal judiciary comprises chief judicial magistrate and judicial magistrates of first and second class. 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. Its exclusive original jurisdiction extends to all disputes between the Union and one or more states or between two or more states. The Constitution gives an extensive original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to enforce Fundamental Rights. 

Appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can be invoked by a certificate of the High Court concerned or by special leave granted by the Supreme Court in respect of any judgement, decree or final order of a High Court in cases both civil and criminal, involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the constitution. The President may consult the Supreme Court on any question of fact or law of public importance.

The Supreme Court of India comprises of the Chief Justice and not more than 25 other Judges appointed by the President. Judges hold office till 65 years of age. 

High Courts

There are 18 High Courts in the country, three having jurisdiction over more than one state. Bombay High Court has the jurisdiction over Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. Guwahati High Court, which was earlier known as Assam High Court, has the jurisdiction over Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Punjab and Haryana High Court has the jurisdiction over Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. 

Among the Union Territories, Delhi alone has had a High Court of its own. The other six Union Territories come under jurisdiction of different state High Courts. 

The Chief Justice of a High Court is appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Governor of the state. Each High Court has powers of superintendence over all courts within its jurisdiction. High Court judges retire at the age of 62. 

The jurisdiction as well as the laws administered by a High Court can be altered both by the Union and State Legislatures. Certain High Courts, like those at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, have original and appellate jurisdictions. Under the original jurisdiction suits, where the subject matter is valued at Rs.25,000 or more, can be filed directly in the High Court. Most High Courts have only appellate jurisdiction. 

Lok Adalat

Lok Adalats are voluntary agencies for resolution of disputes through conciliatory method. 

Legislative Relations Between the Union and States

Under the Constitution, Parliament has the power to make laws for the whole of or any part of the territory of India. The State Legislatures have the power to make laws for the States. The subjects on which legislation can be enacted are specified in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. 

Parliament has the exclusive right to legislate in respect of items appearing in List I, called the "Union List''. This list includes area such as defense, foreign affairs, currency, income tax, excise duty, railways, shipping, posts and telegraphs, etc.

State Legislatures have the exclusive power to make laws in relation to items appearing in List II called the "State List''. This includes items like public order, police, public health, communications, agriculture, lotteries, taxes on entertainment and wealth, sales tax and octroi, etc. 

Both Parliament and the State Legislatures have the power to legislate in items appearing in List III of the Constitution which is known as "Concurrent List''. This list includes items like electricity, newspapers, criminal law, marriage and divorce, stamp duties, trade unions, price controls, etc.

LANGUAGES OF INDIA

Some Indian languages have evolved from the Indo-European group of languages.  This set is known as the Indic group of languages.  The other set of languages are Dravidian and are native to South India, though a distinct influence of Sanskrit and Hindi is evident in these languages.  Most of the Indian languages have their own script and are spoken in the respective states along with English.

Hindi is spoken as a mother tongue by about 40.22 percent of the population, mainly in the area known as the Hindi belt comprising Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.  It is the official language of the Indian Union, of the four states mentioned above, and of two other states namely, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Assamese is the state language of Assam and is spken by nearly 60 percent of the State's population.  The origin of this language dates back to the 13th century.

Bengali is spoken by nearly 200 million people in the world - in West Bengal and in Bangladesh. It developed as a language in the 13th century and is the official state language of the eastern state of West Bengal.

Gujarati is the state language of Gujarat and is spoken by 70 percent of the State's population.  It is Indic in origin and branched out from the Indo-European group of languages.

Kannada is the State language of Karnataka and is spoken by 65 percent of the State's population.

Kashmiri is a language written in both Persio-Arabic and Devnagri scrip and is spoken by 55 percent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir.

Konkani, principally based on classical Sanskrit, belongs to the southwestern branch of Indo-Aryan languages.  It is spoken in the Konkan region covering Goa and parts of the coastal regions of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Malayalam is a Dravidian language, spoken by the people of Kerala.  It is an ancient language and is thousands of years old.

Marathi is an Indic language dating back to the 13th century.  It is the official language of the western state of Maharashtra.

Oriya, the state language of Orissa is spoken by nearly 87 percent of its population.

Punjabi is an Indic language and is spoken in the state of Punjab.  Although based on the Devnagri script, it is written in a 16th century script called Gurumukhi, created by the Sikh Guru, Angad.

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages of the world and also the language of classical India.  All the classical literature and the Indian epics have been written in this language.

Sindhi is spoken by a great number of people in the North-west frontier of the Indian sub-continent comprising parts of India and Pakistan.  In Pakistan, the language is written in the Persio-Arabic script, while in India it uses the Devnagri script.

Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language is at least 2000 years old.  It is the state language of Tamil Nadu and is spoken by at least 65 million people.

Telugu is also a Dravidian language and is the spoken by the people of Andhra Pradesh.

Urdu is that state Language of Jammu and Kashmir and it evolved with Hindi in the capital of India, Delhi.  Urdu is the language adopted by the majority of the Muslims in India.  Urdu is written in the Persio-Arabic script and contains many words from the Persian language.

Some Indian languages have evolved from the Indo-European group of languages.  This set is known as the Indic group of languages.  The other set of languages are Dravidian and are native to South India, though a distinct influence of Sanskrit and Hindi is evident in these languages.  Most of the Indian languages have their own script and are spoken in the respective states along with English.

Hindi is spoken as a mother tongue by about 40.22 percent of the population, mainly in the area known as the Hindi belt comprising Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.  It is the official language of the Indian Union, of the four states mentioned above, and of two other states namely, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Assamese is the state language of Assam and is spken by nearly 60 percent of the State's population.  The origin of this language dates back to the 13th century.

Bengali is spoken by nearly 200 million people in the world - in West Bengal and in Bangladesh. It developed as a language in the 13th century and is the official state language of the eastern state of West Bengal.

Gujarati is the state language of Gujarat and is spoken by 70 percent of the State's population.  It is Indic in origin and branched out from the Indo-European group of languages.

Kannada is the State language of Karnataka and is spoken by 65 percent of the State's population.

Kashmiri is a language written in both Persio-Arabic and Devnagri scrip and is spoken by 55 percent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir.

Konkani, principally based on classical Sanskrit, belongs to the southwestern branch of Indo-Aryan languages.  It is spoken in the Konkan region covering Goa and parts of the coastal regions of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Malayalam is a Dravidian language, spoken by the people of Kerala.  It is an ancient language and is thousands of years old.

Marathi is an Indic language dating back to the 13th century.  It is the official language of the western state of Maharashtra.

Oriya, the state language of Orissa is spoken by nearly 87 percent of its population.

Punjabi is an Indic language and is spoken in the state of Punjab.  Although based on the Devnagri script, it is written in a 16th century script called Gurumukhi, created by the Sikh Guru, Angad.

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages of the world and also the language of classical India.  All the classical literature and the Indian epics have been written in this language.

Sindhi is spoken by a great number of people in the North-west frontier of the Indian sub-continent comprising parts of India and Pakistan.  In Pakistan, the language is written in the Persio-Arabic script, while in India it uses the Devnagri script.

Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language is at least 2000 years old.  It is the state language of Tamil Nadu and is spoken by at least 65 million people.

Telugu is also a Dravidian language and is the spoken by the people of Andhra Pradesh.

Urdu is that state Language of Jammu and Kashmir and it evolved with Hindi in the capital of India, Delhi.  Urdu is the language adopted by the majority of the Muslims in India.  Urdu is written in the Persio-Arabic script and contains many words from the Persian language.

RELIGIONS OF INDIA

In India, religion is a way of life. It is an integral part of the entire Indian tradition. For the majority of Indians, religion permeates every aspect of life, from common-place daily chores to education and politics. Secular India is home to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other innumerable religious traditions. Hinduism is the dominant faith, practiced by over 80% of the population. Besides Hindus, Muslims are the most prominent religious group and are an integral part of Indian society. In fact India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world after Indonesia.

Common practices have crept into most religious faiths in India and many of the festivals that mark each year with music, dance and feasting are shared by all communities. Each has its own pilgrimage sites, heroes, legends and even culinary specialties, mingling in a unique diversity that is the very pulse of society.

Hinduism

The underlying tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined. There is no unique philosophy that forms the basis of the faith of the majority of India's population. Hinduism is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diversified in its theoretical premises and practical expressions as to be called a "museum of religions". This religion cannot be traced to a specific founder nor does it have a "holy book" as a basic scriptural guide. The Rig Veda, Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita can all be described as the sacred text of the Hindus.

Unlike most other religions, Hinduism does not advocate the worship of one particular deity. One may worship Shiva or Vishnu or Rama or Krishna or some other gods and goddesses or one may believe in the 'Supreme Spirit' or the 'Indestructible Soul' within each individual and still be called a good Hindu. This gives an indication of the kind of contrasts this religion is marked by. At one end of the scale, it is an exploration of the 'Ultimate Reality'; at the other end there are cults that worship spirits, trees and animals.

There are festivals and ceremonies associated not only with gods and goddesses but also with the sun, moon, planets, rivers, oceans, trees and animals. Some of the popular Hindu festivals are Deepawali, Holi, Dussehra, Ganesh Chaturthi, Pongal, Janamasthmi and Shiva Ratri. These innumerable festive occasions lend Hinduism its amazing popular appeal and make the Indian tradition rich and colorful.

Hindu Mythology and the Living Gods

Heroes of epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are immortalized and are still alive in the day-to-day existence of the common people. The gods of Hinduism are at once super-human and human and there is distinct feeling of warmth and familiarity towards them.

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, represents qualities such as honor, courage and valor and is held up as a model of manliness. His wife Sita is the prototypal Indian wife who is carried off by Ravana, the king of Lanka, while Rama and Sita are on exile. Sita's eventual rescue by Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and Rama's faithful monkey-general Hanuman are all woven into this engrossing tale. Stories from this epic have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. Religious fairs, festivals and rituals have kept these legends alive, and there is never an occasion that does not offer an opportunity to retell the old stories.

The stirring verses of the Mahabharata tell the story of the dynastic struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who were close cousins. Lord Krishna plays a very important role in this Great Epic. He is a friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, and he helps Arjuna overcome his hesitation to kill his close relatives in the battlefield. The wise philosophy of Krishna and his teachings have been embodied in the Bhagwad Gita. Although the popular image of Krishna is that of a god who steals butter as a child, and who, as a youth, plays the flute and entices cows and cowherd girls alike; in his mature years he is depicted as the wise philosopher with a more serious side to his nature.

There are numerous gods and goddesses worshipped by Hindus all over India. Among these, the most fundamental to Hinduism, is the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - creator, preserver and destroyer respectively. Brahma has four heads corresponding to the four directions of the compass. He is the creator of life and the entire universe. Vishnu is the preserver who guides the cycle of birth and rebirth. He is also supposed to have taken many incarnations to save the world from evil forces. Both Rama and Krishna are believed to have been incarnations of Vishnu. Shiva, usually seen with a coiled cobra around his neck, destroys all evil and also has many incarnations, not all of which are terrifying.

The invisible deities are represented by a complexity of images and idols symbolizing divine powers. Many of these idols are housed within ornate temples of unparalleled beauty and grandeur. The Hindu gods are very much alive and live in temples, snow-capped peaks, in rivers and oceans and in the very hearts and minds of the Hindus.

Sikhism

The Sikh religion emerged during the early 16th century in the state of Punjab in North India. The founder of this faith was Guru Nanak, who from his childhood was attracted to both Hindu and Muslim saints. Born a Hindu, but also inspired by the teachings of Islam, he began to preach the message of unity of both religions. According to him, the basic teachings of both faiths were essentially the same. Nanak attracted many followers and came to be known as a Guru or a teacher. His disciples came together to form a new religious tradition called Sikhism.

The Gurus who followed Nanak contributed to the consolidation and spread of Sikhism. The teachings of Guru Nanak were incorporated in the 'Guru Granth Sahib', the Holy Book of the Sikhs which became a symbol of God for Sikhs. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjun built the Golden Temple at Amritsar which became the holiest of Sikh shrines. The tenth Guru, Govind Singh imparted military training to the Sikhs to help them defend themselves.

On Baisakhi day of 1699 at  Anandpur, Guru Govind Singh ordered his Sikhs to assemble before him as was customary and created a new brotherhood of Sikhs called the Khalsa (Pure Ones). Five men selected for their devotion to the Guru were called Panj Pyares and given nectar (amrit) for initiation into the brotherhood of Khalsa. Later the Guru himself received initiation from Panj Payares as did others.

The members of the new brotherhood were instructed to wear the five symbols (the five Ks )- uncut hair, a comb, a steel wrist guard, a sword and breeches. The initiated men took the name Singh (Lion) and the women Kaur (Princess). The Guru also decided to terminate the succession of gurus and was thus the last of the Sikh Gurus.

Sikhism propounds monotheism, i.e. worship of one God. It also opposes the caste system and believes that all men are equal. However the ideas of karma and rebirth from Hinduism are accepted. Today, many Sikh practices are common to Hindus. Intermarriages between the two communities are also common. However the Sikh community has its own unmistakable identity. Though the Sikhs constitute less than 2 percent of the Indian population, they have become a distinct element in the configuration of the Indian religious tradition and the Indian society.

Buddhism

Buddhism originated as an offshoot of Hinduism in India, but eventually it became popular all over Asia. The personality and teachings of Gautam Buddha, the founder of this faith, have illumined the lives of millions of people in Japan, China and Southeast Asia.

There are strong lines of similarity between Buddhism and the basic teachings of Hinduism. Buddhism is based on the principle or the law of impermanence. According to this, everything is subject to change, although some things may last longer than others. The other basic principle of Buddhism is the law of causation, according to which nothing occurs due to pure chance. Besides natural forces, it is the karma which leads to the occurrence of all events. The popular notions of the indestructible soul and the cycle of rebirth emerge from these two basic philosophies.

Buddha advocated the Middle Path, in which he offered a balanced, harmonious way of life, steering between two extremes of self-indulgence and total abstinence. Buddhism rests upon four Noble Truths: (i) suffering is universal, (ii) it is caused by desire and yearning (iii) suffering can be prevented and overcome and (iv) eradication of desires can lead to removal of suffering. To prevent suffering one has to conquer craving and desire and this conquest leads to the attainment of nirvana or complete enlightenment.

Islam

The Arab traders brought Islam to India in the early 8th century, but it was not until the 12th century that it became a force to reckon with in the Indian sub-continent. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism which emerged as offshoots of Hinduism, the concept, customs and religious practices of Islam were unique to this faith which professed universal brotherhood and submission to Allah - the God Almighty.

The Muslim invaders in the 12th century and the Mughal rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries helped in the spread of Islam in India. In its first phase, Islam was aggressive. But the mystics of Islam, or the Sufi saints, helped in spreading the message of peace and universal love.

The spirit of brotherhood propounded by Sufi saints and preachers like Kabir and Nanak helped in loosening the rigidity of the caste system. The interaction of the two faiths led to a synthesis of Hindu and Islamic elements in almost every sphere of life and culture. After an initial period of conflict and confrontation, today the two religions have accommodated and enriched each other.

Christianity

Christianity first came to India by way of St. Thomas.  He came to Kerala, in southwestern India, and founded the first church.  Ironically, Shankaracharya, a Hindu reformer and seer, was born in Kerala some five hundred years after St. Thomas.  St. Thomas ended up dying in the Chennai region (then known as Madras) of the Tamils.

Most Christians in India are Catholic (over 60 percent) and a majority of them are found in the south, particularly Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu.  Approximately on third of Kerala's population is comprised of Christians and they are involved in all aspects of society.

Contrary to popular belief, British rule had little to do with the growth of Christianity in India.  The missionaries generally tended to turn public opinion, even those of the Indian Christians, against foreign rule.  Bengali Christians in Calcultta were fairly important in their respective areas, whether it was in education, as a leader or an opinion-maker. 

By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in India with Saint Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, who spent some years in South India and possibly died there. However, others believe that the first missionary to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew. Historically, Christian missionary activity started with the advent of Saint Francis Xavier in 1544. He was followed by Portuguese missionaries at first and eventually by missionaries from other countries like Denmark, Holland, Germany and Great Britain. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Catholic as well as Protestant missionaries preached Christian doctrines in India and also made important contributions to social improvement and education in India.

Much of the modern influences in the Indian society can be attributed to the role of Christianity in India. Christian missionaries helped in setting up schools and colleges all over India and also spread the message of faith and goodwill in the country. Christianity and its teachings influenced a number of intellectuals and thinkers in India, including Mahatma Gandhi.

Today, the Christians in India number about 30 million and consist of people from every denomination of Christianity.

Jainism

Jainism as a religious tradition was established in India about the same time as Buddhism. Mahavira, one of the jinas (conquerors) preached the Jain philosophy around the same time that Buddhism began.

Like Buddhism, Jainism rose against the corruption in the interpretation of Hinduism prevalent at the time. The underlying philosophy of Jainism is that renunciation of worldly desires and self-conquest leads to perfect wisdom. This faith believes in total abstinence and asceticism as practiced by the Jinas and the Tirthankars ("crossing-makers"). The "crossing refers to the passage from the material to the spiritual realm, from bondage to freedom. Followers of this faith accept the popular gods of Hinduism but they are placed lower than the jinas.

The focus of this religion has been purification of the soul by means of right conduct, right faith and right knowledge. This faith also enunciates complete non-violence and the Jain monks can be seen with their nose and mouth covered by a cloth mask to ensure that they do not kill any germs or insects while breathing. Today, Jainism has more than 3 million adherents in India and finds wide acceptance because of its philosophy of sympathy for all living beings.

Zoroastrianism

The first Zoroastrians to enter India arrived on the Gujarati coast in the 10th century, soon after the Arabian conquest of Iran and by the 17th century, most of them had settled in Bombay. Zoroastrian practice is based on the responsibility of every man and woman to choose between good and evil, and to respect God's creations. The religion's founder, Zarathustra, who lived in Iran in 6000 BC was the first religious prophet to expound a dualistic philosophy, based on the opposing powers of good and evil.

Most Zoroastrians can be seen in Bombay today where they are known as Parsees. They have no distinctive dress and few houses of worship. Five daily prayers, usually hymns uttered by Zarathustra and standardized in the religious text Zenda Avesta, are said in the home or the temple, before a fire, which symbolizes the realm of truth, righteousness and order.