Exploring Our World: People, Places, and Cultures
History and Cultures of South Asia
Around 2500 B.C., people in South Asia developed what may have been the region’s first cities in the Indus Valley. Centuries of farming, industry, and trade brought wealth to the region; the people developed clay pottery and cotton cloth as well as a writing system. The decline of this civilization may have been because the Indus River changed course. The Aryans settled in northern South Asia about 1500 B.C., bringing a highly structured civilization based on social status. The Mauryan and Gupta empires arose in early South Asia from the 300s B.C. to A.D. 300s. Culture and science thrived under them. During the early 1500s, Muslim Moguls formed an empire in South Asia.
During the 1600s, traders from England arrived in India and soon became the dominant power in South Asia. By the mid-1800s, the British had colonized most of the region. Although British rule brought modernization to the region, it also caused hardship for the people. By the early 1900s, independence movements had begun. After World War II, countries gradually achieved their independence. With independence came conflict for some countries: India and Pakistan still fight for control of the Kashmir region, and a civil war troubles Sri Lanka.
South Asia is the birthplace of several world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, and these religions are still important today. Hinduism is the area’s most widely practiced religion: most people in India and Nepal are Hindu. Islam is the second-largest faith in the region. Buddhism remains strong in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. Art and architecture in South Asia reflect this religious influence. The lives of South Asians of all religious faiths are centered on the family. In many areas, marriages are arranged by families. Over the last century, the population of South Asia has grown dramatically due to better health care and high birthrates. As a result, South Asia contains three of the world’s most populous nations: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. More than two-thirds of South Asians live in rural areas, although the region has several large and growing cities.