India history and timeline

From the dawn of civilization to today, India's history unfolds as a kaleidoscope of diverse cultures, dynasties, and profound philosophical legacies. Join us as we journey through the eras that have shaped India's vibrant tapestry, uncovering a chronicle that hears echoes of empires, spiritual enlightenment, and the indomitable spirit of it's people.

India’s history is epic, going back to the first traces of human culture and punctuated by invasions, the birth of religions and the rise and fall of great civilisations.

There is evidence, from the earliest times, of great movements of peoples across South Asia, sometimes replacing existing populations, sometimes integrating with them. They came from West and Central Asia in massive sweeps through the lofty passes in the northwest, bringing with them the rudiments of the Hindu faith, later to be developed on Indian soil into a subtle and highly complex religion. Other religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, have developed and been absorbed into India’s proverbial sponge.

Of all the Europeans who came to trade in India, it was the British who ruled, making the Subcontinent the “jewel in the crown” of their empire. Successive campaigns finally led to Indian independence in 1947. Today, with a burgeoning economy competing on the world stage, India’s democracy is a triumph in a land of multiple ethnic, religious and secessionist interests.

Hampi's atmospheric ruins

It was among the huge boulder-strewn landscape of the Deccan plateau that a pair of brothers, Harihara and Bukka, escaped the clutches of the tyrannical Delhi Tuqhluq sultans sometime in the first half of the 14th century and carved out for themselves an independent kingdom, Hampi. Within 150 years, the rule of the dynasty they founded extended from coast to coast and to the tip of India. 

View from Hemakuta hill sunset point with ancient ruins, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

View from Hemakuta hill sunset point with ancient ruins, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Shutterstock

Mughal splendour in Delhi

From the Mauryans in the 3rd century BC and the Sultanates of the medieval era to the Mughals and, finally, the British, each of Delhi’s conquerors has left their own impressive remains, and these stand today in often surreal juxtaposition to the modern urban sprawl. The Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb are among the fine examples of Mughal architecture in Delhi. 

Kolkata, the Raj capital

From its beginnings as a small east-coast trading settlement, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) became a city of palaces in the heyday of the Raj. Its history dates back to 1686, when the East India Company selected the site for its new headquarters. Among the sights on offer, the white-marble Victoria Memorial epitomises perhaps better than any other building in India the pride and pomposity of the British Raj at its zenith. 

Tombs of South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata, India © Shutterstock

Tombs of South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata, India © Shutterstock

India history timeline

Early history

  • 2500–1600BC - Harappan (Indus Valley) Civilisation.
  • 1500BC onwards - Central Asian Aryans migrate to the Indian subcontinent.
  • 563BC - Birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.
  • c.325BC - Chandragupta Maurya founds the Mauryan empire.
  • c.260BC - King Ashoka converts to Buddhism.
  • c.AD320 - Gupta empire is established.
  • c.1200 - Muslim armies conquer northern India; decline of Buddhism.

The Delhi Sultanate

  • 1206 - Qutb-ud-Din becomes sultan of Delhi. His dynasty is overthrown in 1296 by Feroz Shah, a Turk, who builds Delhi’s second city east of Lal Kot. 
  • 1451 - Buhlbal Lodi, an Afghan noble, captures the throne and founds the Lodhi dynasty. 
  • 14th–16th century - Islam is established throughout the North. The South remains independent under the Hindu Vijayanagar dynasty.
  • 1498 - Vasco da Gama reaches India.

The Mughal Dynasty: 1526–1857

  • 1526 - Babur overthrows Delhi sultanate, establishes Mughal empire.
  • 1642 - East India Company opens trading station at Madras (Chennai).
  • 1756 - Nawab of Bengal attacks Calcutta; reprisals by Robert Clive consolidate British Empire in India.

The British Raj: 1858–1947

  • 1857 - Indian Mutiny; India comes under direct British rule.
  • 1885 - First meeting of Indian National Congress.
  • 1911 - King George V announces that the capital will be transferred to Delhi.
  • 1920–22 - Mahatma Gandhi leads Non-Cooperation campaign.

Independence (1947–Present)

  • 1947 - Independence; partition of subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
  • 1948 - Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
  • 1965 - Pakistan invades Kashmir.
  • 1971 - Creation of Bangladesh, with Indian support.
  • 1975–77 - Indira Gandhi imposes state of emergency.
  • 1984 - Indira Gandhi is assassinated following attacks on Golden Temple.
  • 1991 - Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated.
  • 1999 - War with Pakistan-backed forces around Kargil in Indian Kashmir.
  • 2003 - Kashmir cease-fire begins a thawing of relations with Pakistan.
  • 2004 - Manmohan Singh elected prime minister; tsunami hits east coast.
  • 2006 - In Mumbai, 207 rail commuters die in terrorist bomb blasts.
  • 2008 - Gunmen attack the main tourist and business area of Mumbai; 172 dead.
  • 2009 - Singh’s governing coalition wins election.
  • 2010 - Environment Ministry withdraws permission for Vedanta Mining to extract bauxite from the hills of Odisha in a landmark ruling and a major victory for the local Adivasi population.
  • 2011 - Mass movement against India’s culture of corrupt officialdom emerges.
  • 2013 - Demonstrations paralyse Delhi when the victim of a violent rape on a city bus dies from her injuries. 
Olga Sitnitsa

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 13.12.2023

Online editor at Rough Guides, specialising in travel content. Passionate about creating compelling stories and inspiring others to explore the world.

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