India has less of a tradition of political unity than
China or Japan. Indeed, most of the names for India (such as 'India' or
'Hindustan') are not even Indian.
It is not easy to find a truly native (ie pre-Hindu)
name for the entire sub-continent that today is known as India, but
the conception certainly existed from an early date. The name
'Bharatavarsha' is used apparently in the Puranas with something
like this conception. Bharatavarsa meant the 'division of the world'
('varsa') of the Bharatas - the heroes of the great Mahabharata
An independent India in 1947 officially decided to
become Bharat (the short final 'a' not being pronounced in Hindi). When
a unified state has occurred in Indian history, it has had varying
religious, political, and even linguistic bases: such as Hindu,
Buddhist, Islamic, and foreign. The rule of the sultans of Delhi and
the Moghul emperors was at once Islamic and foreign, since most of the
emperors were of Turkic or Afghan descent, and the Moghul dynasty was
founded directly by incursion from what today is Afghanistan.
The supremely foreign unification of India, of course,
was by the British. Under their direction India achieved its greatest
unity, although this was to a degree lost upon independence thanks to
the religious division between India and Pakistan. The Moghuls and
British referred to India by its name in their own languages (ie.
'Hindustan' and 'India' respectively).
In addition to these complications, Indian history
is also less well known and dated than that of China or Japan.
Classical Indian literature displays little interest in history
proper, which must be reconstructed from monumental inscriptions and
The dating of both the Mauryas and the Guptas displays
small uncertainties (the rulers and dates for them are taken from
Stanley Wolpert's A New History of India, Oxford University Press,
1989). The 'Saka Era', as the Indian historical era, significantly starts
rather late (AD 79) in relation to the antiquity of Indian civilisation.
Indeed, like Greece (circa 1200-800 BC) and Britain
(circa AD 400-800), India experienced a dark age period, circa
1500-800 BC, in which literacy was lost and the Harappan civilisation
vanished from history altogether. With the climate-change-induced collapse
of Harappan civilisation from the seventeenth century BC, India saw a new
wave of arrivals enter its north via the passes of the Hindu Kush mountains
- the Indo-Aryans, a grouping of Indo-Europeans who spread from the Asian
steppe over much of Europe, the upper Middle East, and India.