Categories: HistoryTravel

South Asian historical tourism

South Asia is one of the world’s cradles of civilisation, with its first civilisations dating back to approximately 3400 BCE.

History of South Asia – South Asia includes the contemporary political entities of the Indian subcontinent and associated islands, therefore, its history includes the histories of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the island nations of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The Indus Valley Civilisation was the first civilisation to form in what is today India and Pakistan. The Indus Valley had vast trade networks. Merchants traded with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, Southern India, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Dilmun (modern-day Bahrain) and possibly even as far as Crete. Although they have left behind relics as reminders of their existence, their writing system has yet to be deciphered, limiting further knowledge of their culture or history. Virtually all Indus Valley cities were abandoned by 1700 BCE*.

1500 BCE marks the Indo-Aryan migration into the subcontinent and beginning of the Vedic Period. The Indo-Aryan people brought with them the Vedic Sanskrit language and the Vedas, initially passed down orally. Early Vedic peoples were originally pastoral but over time turned into an agricultural society. The Vedic Period eventually gave rise to the Janapadas, 16 political units in the form of republics or kingdoms that controlled Northern and Central India. At this time, the varna or caste/social class system developed, where the Brahmins, the highest varna, were the priests, the Kshatriyas were the kings, warriors and nobility, Vaishyas were peasants, craftsmen and merchants and Shudras, the lowest varna, were traditionally the labourers and servants. Below the Shudra varna, were the outcastes, also known as the Dalits or “untouchables”. Dalits performed jobs such as cleaning, tanning and dealing with corpses, and were shunned by people with a caste as their work was considered too dirty. Outside of the caste system were the Adivasis, also referred to as tribal or indigenous people. Although regarded as primitive, unlike Dalits, Adivasis were not considered impure by the rest of society and enjoyed greater levels of autonomy for much of South Asian history. Their autonomy and relative isolation was gradually brought to an end during the advent of the Mughal and British empires in the subcontinent.

The Shramana (ascetic) movement emerged from 800 BCE which was distinct from and challenged Vedic culture and orthodoxy. Many new philosophical traditions were formed, from determinist Ajivika to atheistic and materialist Charvaka, but the two most famous Shramana philosophers were without a doubt, Gautama Siddartha, founder of Buddhism, and Mahavira, founder of Jainism, whose teachings continue to be influential to this day.

From 530 BCE onwards, the Achaemenid Empire crossed the Hindu Kush mountains in what is now Afghanistan, and began conquering large portions of territory in northwestern South Asia. This would be the first of many times that a Persian political presence was established in North India and Pakistan. A few centuries later, the first European presence followed, with Alexander the Great invading and defeating the Kambojas in modern-day Afghanistan and then defeating King Porus (Puru) in the epic Battle of the Hydaspes. Alexander’s army reached the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh before revolting and turning back for fear of facing much larger and stronger armies further east, in particular the Nanda Empire. For another couple of centuries, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and Indo-Greek kingdom blossomed in the northwestern areas, where a hybrid Greek-Buddhist culture thrived. The Indo-Greek kingdoms were pivotal in spreading Mahayana Buddhism through Central and East Asia.

The Maurya Empire (322-180 BCE), the first empire to cover a large area in what is today northern India and Pakistan, was founded by Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321-297 BCE) after he overthrew the Nanda Dynasty and defeated the surviving forces of Alexander the Great. It would be expanded further under his son, Bindusara (reign: 297-273 BCE), and his grandson, Asoka (reign: 268-232 BCE). Asoka was said to have been deeply remorseful after personally witnessing the destruction and cost in human lives resulting from his conquest of Kalinga (located in what is today the coastal regions of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh), following which he renounced any further conquests and converted to Buddhism. Following his conversion, Asoka would send Buddhist missionaries far and wide, accelerating the spread of the religion to China and Southeast Asia. His reign would also see the erection of some of South Asia’s most famous Buddhist monuments, most notably the famed Pillars of Asoka that have been found at many sites in northern India and Nepal. The kingdom would, however, decline following the death of Asoka, and eventually fractured into numerous small states.

The next powerful large state to emerge was the Gupta Empire (late 3rd century-590 CE). The Gupta Empire would reach its zenith under the kings Chandra Gupta I (reign: 319-335 CE), Samudra Gupta (reign: 335-350 CE) and Chandra Gupta II (reign: 380-415 CE), during which the empire was expanded to cover much of northern India, and even extended into parts of southern India. The Gupta period is often said to be India’s golden age, and saw a flourishing of Sanskrit literature. Panini’s grammar, which continues to be the authoritative treatise on Sanskrit grammar to this day, was written during the Gupta period. Shakuntala, arguably the most famous Indian play, was written by the Gupta-era poet Kalidasa.

South India would later also give rise to various kingdoms, the best known of which is the Tamil Chola Dynasty (c. 300 BCE-1279 CE). The Cholas would reach their zenith under the reigns of Rajaraja Chola I (reign: 985-1014), often referred to as Rajaraja the Great, and Rajendra Chola I (reign: 1014-1044), during which their empire would cover virtually the whole of southern India, and they would have tributary states as far as Southeast Asia. The Chola period also saw the construction of many of southern India’s greatest monuments, as well as a flourishing of Tamil literature.

By period

Madrasian culture

Stone Age
South Asian Stone Age (50,000–3000 BCE)

Bhirrana Culture (7570-6200 BCE)
Mehrgarh Culture (7000–3300 BCE)

Bronze Age
Bronze Age India (3000–1300 BCE)

Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1700 BCE)
Early Harappan Culture (3300–2600 BCE)
Mature Harappan Culture (2600–1900 BCE)
Ochre Coloured Pottery culture (from 2000 BCE)
Vedic period (1750–1200 BCE)
Late Harappan Culture (1700–1300 BCE)
Swat culture (1600–500 BCE)
Black and Red ware culture (1300–1200 BCE)

Iron Age
Iron Age (1200–230 BCE)

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Vedic period (1200–500 BCE)
Black and Red ware culture (1200–1000 BCE)
Painted Grey Ware culture (1200–600 BCE)
Janapadas (1200–600 BCE)
Northern Black Polished Ware (700–200 BCE)
Haryanka Kingdom (684–424 BCE)
Maha Janapadas (600–300 BCE)
Pandyan Kingdom (600 BCE– 1650 CE)
Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE)
Magadha Kingdom (500–321 BCE)
Ror Kingdom (450 BCE–489 CE)
Nanda Empire (424–321 BCE)
Shishunaga Kingdom (413–345 BCE)
Macedonian Empire (330–323 BCE)
Maurya Empire (321–184 BCE)
Seleucid Empire (312–63 BCE)
Chera Kingdom (300 BCE–1102 CE)
Chola Empire (300 BCE–1279 CE)
Pallava Empire (250 BCE–800 CE)
Maha-Megha-Vahana Empire (250 BCE–400 CE)
Parthian Empire (247 BCE–224 CE)

Middle kingdoms
Middle kingdoms of India (230 BCE–1279CE)

Satavahana Empire (230 BCE–220 CE)
Kuninda Kingdom (200 BCE–300 CE)
Indo-Scythian Kingdom (200 BCE–400 CE)
Shunga Empire (185–73 BCE)
Indo-Greek Kingdom (180 BCE–10 CE)
Kanva Empire (75–26 BCE)
Indo-Parthian Kingdom (21–130s CE)
Western Satrap Empire (35–405 CE)
Kushan Empire (60–240 CE)
Bharshiva Dynasty (170–350 CE)
Nagas of Padmavati (210–340 CE)
Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE)
Indo-Sassanid Kingdom (230–360 CE)
Vakataka Empire (250s–6th century CE)
Kalabhra Empire (250–600 CE)
Gupta Empire (280–550 CE)
Kadamba Empire (345–525 CE)
Western Ganga Kingdom (350–1000 CE)
Kamarupa Kingdom (350–1100 CE)
Vishnukundina Empire (420–624 CE)
Maitraka Empire (475–767 CE)
Huna Kingdom (475–576 CE)
Rai Kingdom (489–632 CE)
Shahi Empire (6th century–1026 CE)
Chalukya Empire (543–753 CE)
Maukhari Empire (550s–8th century CE)
Kalachuris of Mahishmati (6th-7th century CE)
Harsha Empire (606–647 CE)
Tibetan Empire (618–841 CE)
Eastern Chalukya Kingdom (624–1075 CE)
Rashidun Caliphate (632–661 CE)
Gurjara-Pratihara Empire (650–1036 CE)
Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 CE)
Kalachuris of Tripuri (7th-12th century CE)
Pala Empire (750–1174 CE)
Rashtrakuta Empire (753–982 CE)
Paramara Kingdom (800–1327 CE)
Yadava Empire (850–1334 CE)
Chaulukya Kingdom (942–1244 CE)
Western Chalukya Empire (973–1189 CE)
Lohara Kingdom (1003–1320 CE)
Hoysala Empire (1040–1346 CE)
Sena Empire (1070–1230 CE)
Eastern Ganga Empire (1078–1434 CE)
Zamorin Kingdom (1102–1766 CE)
Kakatiya Kingdom (1083–1323 CE)
Chutiya Kingdom (1187-1673 CE)
Kalachuris of Kalyani (1156–1184 CE)

Late medieval period
Late medieval period (1206–1596)

Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526 CE)
Mamluk Sultanate (1206–1290 CE)
Khalji Sultanate (1290–1320 CE)
Tughlaq Sultanate (1320–1414 CE)
Sayyid Sultanate (1414–1451 CE)
Lodi Sultanate (1451–1526 CE)
Deva Kingdom (12th century–13th century CE)
Ahom Kingdom (1228–1826 CE)
Chitradurga Kingdom (1300–1779 CE)
Reddy Kingdom (1325–1448 CE)
Vijayanagara Empire (1336–1646 CE)
Garhwal Kingdom (1358–1803 CE)
Mysore Kingdom (1399–1947 CE)
Gajapati Kingdom (1434–1541 CE)
Keladi Kingdom (1499–1763 CE)
Deccan Sultanates (1490–1596 CE)
Koch Kingdom (1515–1947 CE)

Early modern period
Early modern period (1526–1858)

Mughal Empire (1526–1858 CE)
Sur Empire (1540–1556 CE)
Madurai Kingdom (1559–1736 CE)
Thanjavur Kingdom (1572–1918 CE)
Marava Kingdom (1600–1750 CE)
Thondaiman Kingdom (1650–1948 CE)
Maratha Empire (1674–1818 CE)
Sikh Confederacy (1707–1799 CE)
Durrani Empire (1747–1823 CE)
Travancore Kingdom (1729–1947 CE)
Sikh Empire (1799–1849 CE)

European colonial period
Colonial period (1510–1961 CE)

Portuguese India (1510–1961 CE)
Dutch India (1605–1825 CE)
Danish India (1620–1869 CE)
French India (1759–1954 CE)
Company Raj (1757–1858 CE)
British Raj (1858–1947 CE)
Partition of British India (1947 CE)

Kingdoms of Sri Lanka
Kingdoms of Sri Lanka

Kingdom of Tambapanni (543–505 BCE)
Kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara (505–377 BCE)
Anuradhapura Kingdom (377 BCE–1017 CE)
Kingdom of Ruhuna (200 CE)
Kingdom of Polonnaruwa (300–1310 CE)
Jaffna Kingdom (1215–1624 CE)
Kingdom of Dambadeniya (1220–1272 CE)
Kingdom of Yapahuwa (1272–1293 CE)
Kingdom of Kurunegala (1293–1341 CE)
Kingdom of Gampola (1341–1347 CE)
Kingdom of Raigama (1347–1415 CE)
Kingdom of Kotte (1412–1597 CE)
Kingdom of Sitawaka (1521–1594 CE)
Kingdom of Kandy (1469–1815 CE)
Portuguese Ceylon (1505–1658 CE)
Dutch Ceylon (1656–1796 CE)
British Ceylon (1815–1948 CE)

Indus Valley Civilisation

Hellenistic Period

Maurya Empire

Gupta Empire

Chola Dynasty
Gangaikonda Cholapuram