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India, union of 25 states and 7 territories, the world's seventh-largest country, occupying most of the Indian subcontinent, the land mass of south central Asia that tapers southward from the Himalayan mountain system to Cape Comorin and Sri Lanka. India shares the subcontinent with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Himalayan states of Nepal, and Bhutan, with Sri Lanka off its coast. Only the People's Republic of China has a greater population than India.

Land and climate

The chief geographical regions of North India are the Thar Desert along the Pakistan border, the mountain valleys of Kashmir (disputed with Pakistan), the fertile plains of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, and the Himalaya Mountains, which shield India from the cold winter winds of central Asia. The Deccan plateau, bordered by the western and eastern Ghats mountain ranges, occupies most of South India. The rich volcanic soil is used mainly for cotton growing, though there are also important mineral deposits. Most of the country has a tropical monsoon climate, temperatures reaching 120°F (48.8°C) in the hot season on the northern plains and, in the cool seasons, falling below freezing in the mountains. The monsoon rains are especially heavy on the western Ghats and in northeast India; some places average more than 426 in (1,082 cm) of rain a year.


The majority of the population lives in small villages, though the towns are growing fast. The chief cities are the seaports of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras and the capital, New Delhi. The dominant religion is Hinduism, which, through its caste system, profoundly affects the nation's social structures. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism are also found. Education is free for ages 6–14.


Two-thirds of the labor force is engaged in agriculture. Rice, beans, peas, tea, sugarcane, jute, pepper, and timber are the main agricultural products. Output remains relatively low overall. Improvements are being sought by irrigation, land reclamation projects, and the introduction of improved strains of crops and fertilizers. About 45% of the industrial labor force works in the jute, cotton, and other textile mills. Mineral resources include oil, iron ore, coal, natural gas, copper, bauxite, and mica but are poorly exploited.


The Indus Valley civilization, in modern Pakistan, was the first great culture on the subcontinent. It succumbed in 1500 B.C. to Aryan peoples invading through the northwestern mountain passes; they brought the Sanskrit language and Hinduism to India. The Maurya Empire and Gupta dynasties represented high points of Buddhist and Hindu rule, but India was never united, and from the 10th century Muslim invaders added to the conflicts. In the 14th century the Delhi Muslim sultanate and the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar in the south were dominant. In the 1520s the Muslim empire of the Moguls was founded. Europeans also began to exert influence in the Indian subcontinent. In 1510 the Portuguese took Goa, and soon the Dutch, British, and French were vying for Indian trade. In the 18th century English and French interests contested for control of the moribund empire. Victory went to the British East India Company. After the Sepoy Rebellion (1857–58), the British government took over rule of much of the country, and the remaining independent princes, both Muslim and Hindu, recognized British primacy. In 1885 the Indian National Congress Party was set up; under Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru it led the movement for independence. Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim League, urging partition into India and Pakistan on religious grounds. Many thousands died in fierce communal riots following partition in 1947. India achieved sovereign status in 1948. The constitution (1949) provided for a bicameral, democratically elected parliament and a cabinet government, with a prime minister and a president. Domestic politics has been concerned with the problem of food supply, the drive toward industrialization, the mitigation of the worst injustices of the caste system, and, since the late 1960s, tension between the central and provincial governments. The dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir flared into war in 1965. A frontier war in 1962 also emphasized the strained relations between India and China. Sikkim became an Indian state in 1975, the same year Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter and successor as prime minister, was convicted of election irregularities. She declared a state of emergency, jailed her opponents, and began to rule by decree. Her party was defeated in the general election in 1977. The new government dismantled the state of emergency, but the coalition that had defeated Mrs. Gandhi began to disintegrate, and in 1980 she again became prime minister. In 1984, after she had ordered attacks on Sikh separatists that left more than 1,000 Sikhs dead, she was assassinated by Sikhs in her bodyguard. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, became her successor and prime minister (1984–89). In 1991, he was murdered while campaigning for his re-election. Gandhi was succeeded by P.V. Narasimha Rao. In 1998 India carried out several nuclear tests, which increased tensions between India and Pakistan.


Additional topics

21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Humber, River to Indus Valley civilization