The Indian subcontinent was home to the urban Indus Valley Civilisation of the 3rd millennium BCE. In the following millennium, the oldest scriptures associated with Hinduism began to be composed and Buddhism and Jainism arose. Early political consolidations took place under the Maurya and Gupta empires; the later peninsular Middle Kingdoms influenced cultures as far as Southeast Asia. In the medieval era, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam arrived, and Sikhism emerged, all adding to the region's diverse culture. In 2016, a survey on World Tourism rankings compiled by United Nations World Tourism Organization, the nation is visited by approximately 14.6 million tourists every year (2016), making it the 8th most visited country in the Asia-Pacific.
India wrested its independence from Britain in 1947 after a long freedom struggle led largely by the Indian National Congress and its visionary leaders, especially, Mahatma Gandhi. From 1920, the freedom movement leaders began highly popular mass campaign against the British Raj using largely peaceful methods. India’s acquisition of independence resulted in the formation of two countries, India and Pakistan. Following the controversial partition of India, rioting broke out, leaving some 500,000 dead. Also, this period saw one of the largest mass migrations ever recorded in modern history, with a total of 12 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims moving between the newly created nations of India and Pakistan.
The Europeans -- Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish and British -- started arriving in the early 1600s after Vasco da Gama successfully discovered a new sea route from Europe to India in 1498. All of them held territories in India and made friends and enemies among India's rulers as they got more and more involved with Indian politics, but it was the British who eventually controlled most of India and finally made it one of their colonies. In 1617, the British East India Company was given permission by Mughal Emperor Jahangir to trade in India. In the aftermath of India’s First War of Independence in 1857, all power was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown, which began to administer most of India as a colony; the company's lands were controlled directly and the rest through the rulers of what it called the Princely states.
The Mughals came from Central Asia and soon held sway over most of the northern parts of the subcontinent. Mughal rulers introduced Central Asian art and architecture to India. In addition to the Mughals and various Rajput kingdoms, several independent Hindu states, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, the Maratha Empire, and the Ahom Kingdom, flourished simultaneously in southern, western, and north-eastern India, respectively. The Mughal Empire suffered a gradual decline in the early 18th century, which provided opportunities for the Afghans, Balochis, Sikhs, and Marathas to exercise control over large areas in the northwest of the subcontinent until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over South Asia.
In 1192, Mohammed of Ghori, a ruler from Afghanistan, came into India and captured several places in the north including Delhi. When he returned home, he left one of his generals in charge who became the first Sultan of Delhi. During this time Islam, was introduced into a major part of northern India.
The Delhi Sultanate gradually took control of more and more of North India over the next 200 years, till Timur, who was called "Timur the Lame" or "Tamberlane" came from Turkey in 1398 to attack India which practically signalled the end of the Delhi Sultanate. Soon the Mughals, who were from Central Asia, came in and took control of the north.
In the meantime in the south, in 1336, the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire based at modern day Hampi in Karnataka was established and gained strength.
The Gupta dynasty was the greatest to rule in the north after the Mauryas, heralding a period known as the ‘Golden Age of India’, while in the southern part of India several different empires --the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras -- spread and grew, trading with Europe and other parts of Asia till the end of the 1100s. Christianity entered India at about the same time from Europe.. In the 15th century, Guru Nanak laid the foundation of the Sikh religion in Punjab.
The coming of the Indo-European group around 1500 BC provided the final blow to the collapsing Indus Valley civilisation. At the dawn of Vedic ages, the Indo-European group came in from the North and spread through large parts of India bringing with them their culture and religious beliefs. The Four Vedas, or the important books of Hinduism, were compiled in this period.
In 567 BC, the founder of the Buddhist religion -- Gautama Buddha -- was born. During this time also lived Mahavira, who founded the Jain religion. Two hundred years later, in the 4th century BC, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty, one of the greatest King of Indian history, led the Magadhan Empire based at Pataliputra (present day Patna- and capital of Bihar) to take over almost all of what is now modern India. This great leader embraced Buddhism and built the group of monuments at Sanchi (a UNESCO world heritage site). The Ashoka pillar at Sarnath has been adopted by India as its national emblem and the Dharma Chakra on the Ashoka Pillar adorns the National Flag.
The Indus Valley civilisation is the earliest known in the region. Although little is known about the rise and subsequent fall of the civilisation, e the twin cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa (now in Pakistan) are thought to have been ruled by priests and held the rudiments of Hinduism. These civilisations were known to possess a sophisticated lifestyle, a highly developed sense of aesthetics, an astonishing knowledge of town planning and a script language that has remained undeciphered till date. The Indus civilisation, at one point of time, extended nearly a million square kilometres (sq km) across the Indus river valley. It existed at the same time as the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Sumer but far outlasted them. The civilisation is known to have survived for nearly a 1,000 years.