India, with an area of
3.3 million sq. km, is a subcontinent. The peninsula is separated
from mainland Asia by the Himalayas. The country lies between 8° 4'
and 37° 6' north of the Equator and is surrounded by the Bay of
Bengal in the east, the Arabian Sea in the west and the Indian Ocean
to the south.
The Himalayas form the
highest mountain range in the world, extending 2,500 km over
northern India. Bounded by the Indus river in the west and the
Brahmaputra in the east, the three parallel ranges, the Himadri,
Himachal and Shivaliks have deep canyons gorged by the rivers
flowing into the Gangetic plain.
The rivers may be
classified as follows: (a) the Himalayan, (b) the Deccan, (c) the
coastal and (d) the rivers of the inland drainage basin. The
Himalayan rivers are generally snow-fed and flow throughout the
year. During the monsoon months (June to September), the Himalayas
receive very heavy rainfall and the rivers carry the maximum amount
of water, causing frequent floods. The Deccan rivers are generally
rain-fed and, therefore, fluctuate greatly in volume. A very large
number of them are non-perennial. The coastal rivers, specialty on
the west coast, are short and have limited catchment areas. Most of
these are non-perennial as well. The rivers on the inland drainage
basin are few and ephemeral. They drain towards individual basins or
salt lakes like the Sambhar or are lost in the sands, having no
outlet to the sea.
The Himalayan range in
the north acts as the perfect meteorological barrier for the whole
country. Despite the country's size and its varied relief, the
seasonal rhythm of the monsoon is apparent throughout. Although much
of northern India lies beyond the tropical zone, the entire country
has a tropical climate marked by relatively high temperatures and
The Himalayan region,
which is rich in vegetative life, possesses varieties that can be
found practically from the tropical to tundra regions. Only the
altitude influences the distribution of vegetation. In the rest, of
the country, the type of vegetation is target determined by the
amount of rainfall. Outside the Himalayan region, the country can be
divided into three major vegetation regions: the tropical wet
evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, the tropical deciduous
forests, and the thorn forests and shrubs.
India is a country with
probably the largest and most diverse mixture of races. All the five
major racial types - Australoid, Mongoloid, Europoid, Caucasian and
Negroid - find representation among the people of India, who are
mainly a mixed race.
The people of India
belong to diverse ethnic groups. At various periods of India's long
history, successive waves of settlers and invaders including the
Aryans, Parthians, Greeks and Central Asians came into the country
and merged with the local population. This explains the variety of
racial types, cultures and languages in India.
India has about 15 major
languages and 844 different dialects. The Sanskrit of the Aryan
settlers has merged with the earlier Dravidian vernaculars to give
rise to new languages.
Hindi spoken by about 45
per cent of the population is the national language. English has
also been retained as a language for official communication.
Hinduism: The Hindu religion had its
origin in the concepts of the early Aryans who came to India more
than 4,000 years ago. It is not merely a religion but also a
philosophy and a way of life. It does not originate in the teachings
of any one prophet or holy book. It respects other religions and
does not attempt to seek converts. It teaches the immortality of the
human soul and three principal paths to ultimate union of the
individual soul with the all pervasive
The essence of Hindu
faith is embodied in the Lord's Song, the Bhagavad Gita: "He who
considers this(self) as a slayer or he who thinks that this(self) is
slain, neither knows the Truth. For it does not slay, nor is it
slain. This (self) is unborn, eternal, changeless, ancient, it is
never destroyed even when the body is destroyed."
Buddhism: In the sixth century before
Christ, Mahavira propagated Jainism. His message was asceticism,
austerity and non-violence.
At about the same time,
Buddhism came into being. Gautama Buddha, a prince, renounced the
world and gained enlightenment. He preached that "Nirvana" was to be
attained through the conquest of self. Buddha's teachings in time
spread to China and some other countries of South-East Asia.
Islam: Arab traders brought Islam to
South India in the seventh century. After them came the Afghans and
the Moghuls, among whom the most enlightened was the Emperor Akbar.
Akbar almost succeeded in founding a new religion Din-e-Elahi, based
on both Hinduism and Islam, but it found few
Islam has flourished in
India through the centuries. Muslim citizens have occupied some of
the highest positions in the country since independence in 1947.
India today is the second largest Muslim country in the world, next
only to Indonesia.
Sikhism: Guru Nanak, the founder of
Sikhism in the 15th century, stressed the unity of God and the
brotherhood of man. Sikhism, with its affirmation of God as the one
supreme truth and its ideals of discipline and spiritual striving,
soon won many followers. It was perhaps possible only in this
hospitable land that two religions as diverse as Hinduism and Islam
could come together in a third, namely
Christianity: Christianity reached
India not long after Christ's own lifetime, with the arrival of St.
Thomas, the Apostle. The Syrian Christian Church in Southern India
traces its roots to the visit of St. Thomas. With the arrival of St.
Francis Xavier in 1542, the Roman Catholic faith was established in
India. Today, Christians of several denominations practice their
Zoroastrianism: In the days of the
old Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in West
Asia, and in the form of Mithraism, it spread over vast areas of the
Roman Empire, as far as Britain.
After the Islamic
conquest of Iran, a few intrepid Zoroastrians left their homeland
and sought refuge in India. The first group is said to have reached
Diu in about 766 A.D.
Their total world
population probably does not exceed 130,000. With the exception of
some 10,000 in Iran, almost all of them live in India, the vast
majority concentrated in Mumbai. The Parsees excel in industry and
commerce, and contribute richly to the intellectual and artistic
life of the nation.
Judaism: Jewish contact with the
Malabar Coast in Kerala, dates back to 973 BC when King Solomon's
merchant fleet began trading for spices and other fabled treasures.
Scholars say that the Jews first settled in Cranganore, soon after
the Babylonian conquest of Judea in 586 BC. The immigrants were well
received and a Hindu king granted to Joseph Rabban, a Jewish leader,
a title and a principality.