India: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

How India Got Her People

If we look at a map of Asia we shall notice what looks like a great red tongue stretching down into the waters of the southern ocean. This is India, a country as large as the continent of Europe without Russia.

It is the most beautiful part of Asia, containing ranges of huge mountains, wide fertile plains, wonderful forests, and mighty rivers. We shall find there numerous races of people whose forefathers came to India in great armies thousands of years ago, and before they settled down in the country fought and conquered the people who were there before them.

Now we ought to feel a special interest in the Indian people, because very many ages ago our forefathers belonged to the same family or nation. These ancestors of ours were called Aryans and lived in the highlands of Central Asia, where, as time went on, they became so strong and numerous that large numbers of them had to go forth in search of other homes.

So it came to pass that something like two thousand years before Christ, about the time of Abraham's arrival in Canaan, vast multitudes of our Aryan fathers moved away from the old home in the highland country with their wives and children and all their possessions. But they did not all go the same way. While some thought it best to march westward, others resolved to search for new homes to the south-east.

Those who went towards the west moved on and on until they gradually spread over what we now call Europe, and in thousands of years became many different nations. But those who moved towards the south-east pushed on through the great mountains and down into the warm plains of India, where they found strange tribes of human beings who were the remains of a wild early period of the world about which we know very little.

These people hunted and fought with flint axes and other deftly worked instruments of stone such as we may see in our museums to-day. And before them were beings still wilder and more savage, whose agate knives and rough flint implements are often found to-day buried in the Narbada valley.

These buried implements are all we have to tell us about any of these wild ancient races. But in the beautiful Vedic hymns which the Aryans used to sing to their divine beings, the Devas, or Bright Ones, we read that the people they found in India were "no-nosed " people, which, of course, means that they had flat noses. These words are important because they help us to peer still further into the darkness of the old world, and tell us that long before the Aryans these wild people themselves came over the mountains into India from that part of Asia which we now call Mongolia.

No doubt they conquered the people with the agate and rough flint weapons who were in India before them. But the Aryans were altogether a more cultured and civilised race. They wore armour and helmets, had horses and chariots, bows and arrows, swords and battle-axes. They marched into the land like the Israelites into Canaan, and, driving the wild people before them, took possession of all the country right down to the great Narbada valley where the narrow part of India begins.

This valley, through which flows the Narbada river, runs along the north of that part of the country which is now called the Deccan. Amidst the dense forests and mountains of this region the wild people managed to get beyond the reach of the Aryans, just as the Britons succeeded in holding out against the Saxons in the mountains of Wales. In spite of their superior weapons, the Aryans could never break through the mountain passes into the Deccan, and so had to be content with the country to the north of it, which in time came to be called Hindostan.

Now the strangest thing about these wild races, who fled to the mountains, is that not only did they never die out, but as the ages passed on they never really improved, but remained the same inferior and degraded people they were at first. Their descendants still live in the mountain regions of India, and it has been calculated that they number about twenty millions at the present time. They are like living fossils of those far-away ages, and they worship snakes, trees, mountains, rivers, and everything which seems to them terrible or wonderful. Besides this, the languages which are still spoken by these people are the same which their forefathers used four thousand years ago before the coming of the Aryans. So you see that where the Indian people were left to themselves they were not able to change very much for the better.

Now, after the Aryans had driven away the first inhabitants of the country, they settled down in their new homes and became the ancestors of the Hindu people whom we see in India to-day. If you wonder why they look so different from the white races of Europe, who are also descendants of the Aryans, you must remember that many thousands of years have passed since the two great bodies of the Aryan race parted and marched into Europe and India. Since then these two halves of the Aryan race have lived in very different climates and altogether different natural surroundings for nearly forty centuries, which have been the cause of the great difference we see to-day in the Hindus and the Europeans.

While the Aryans of Europe have for the most part remained strong and vigorous, the Indian Aryans have lost these great qualities. The longer they lived in the soft hot air of the Indian plains the weaker and more indolent they grew, until other races of strong, hardy people came into India and attacked the Aryans just as they had the wild people before them.

But exactly as the Aryans had grown soft and indolent, so did the newcomers in their turn. In the hot plains of Hindostan, far from the fresh, invigorating sea-breezes or the bracing cold of the mountain ranges, the hardy races of the north, as soon as they had come down and conquered the Indian people, were always conquered by the Indian climate, which turned their resolute hearts, their strong arms, and their quick eyes into placid looks, folded hands, and dreamy minds.

We can understand, therefore, how it is that people living in such a country have always been exposed to invasion, and why the history of India has been one long story of terrible wars, slaughter, and destruction before the British mastered the whole country and gave peace to the land. Even if the Indian people were all united and belonged to one race, they could never escape the attack of more vigorous nations. But they are divided up into numerous races and tribes having different customs and religions, and most of them are bitterly hostile.

Thus there is no such thing as one Indian nation. And not only are the many separate nations and languages as different from one another as any which we find in Europe—like the Celt, the Teuton, the Roman, and the Slav—but the country is also divided into two religions, the Hindu and the Mussulman, which have always been at enmity and are still fiercely opposed to one another.

Thus, the only way in which India could obtain a strong and united government was by coming under the rule of a nation like the British, living in a hardy and vigorous climate from which it could send its rulers, its soldiers and civil servants, to govern and guard the land and keep the various races of India from quarrelling and fighting with one another. And, after all, the Aryan people of India are only governed to-day by descendants of a portion of the same race, who, as we have seen, moved westward when the forefathers of the Hindus crossed the northern mountains into the Indian plains.

This chapter has dealt with very early times and with what we may call the dark ages of Indian history, about which very little detail is known. But it will enable us to take a greater interest in the rest of the story, just as we are helped to understand the nature of a tree if we know all about the great roots which lie out of sight beneath the ground.