The New Student's Reference Work/India

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In′dia, a large region of southern Asia, probably the most populous country in the world.  It has long been celebrated for its riches and valuable natural products.  Its people were early civilized, and exhibit remarkable taste and skill in the manufacture of the most costly merchandise.  India proper, the central peninsula of southern Asia, is about 1,900 miles long and 1,600 wide, covering 1,766,642 square miles.  The British provinces occupy 1,097,901 square miles, while 691,253 square miles are taken up by the feudatory or native states.  The population, in 1911, of the British area was 244,267,542, and of the native states, 70,864,995, or a total for all of 315,132,531.  The chief occupation of the people is agriculture, which employs about 192 million people.  The principal towns (including cantonments), with their populations, in 1911 were Calcutta (with suburbs), 1,222,300; Bombay (979,443); Madras (518,660); Haiderabad (500,623); Lucknow (259,798); Rangoon (293,316); Benares (203,804); Delhi (232,837); Lahore (228,687); Cawnpore (178,557); and Agra (185,449).

Surface.  Its physical features are so varied and interesting, that its surface has been called “an epitome of the whole earth.”  There are lofty mountains, covered with perpetual snow; broad and fertile plains, bathed in tropical sunshine; arid wastes and impenetrable forests.  Its great natural divisions are the sub-Himalayan countries, the plain of the Ganges, the plain of the Indus, the highlands of northern Hindustan and the southern peninsular portion.  The mountain system forms a connected whole.  The Himalayan (meaning the abode of snow) consists of a chain some 1,500 miles in length, in which the peaks rise often from 20,000 to 30,000 feet above the sea, covered always with a snowy crown.

Drainage and Climate.  The rivers are the Indus in the northwest, with a course of 900 miles; after starting from the Himalayas and draining, with its tributaries, 300,000 square miles it empties into the Arabian Sea; in the northeast is the Ganges, with the Jumna and other streams, which form part of the Bengal delta and drain about 500,000 square miles.  Other large rivers drain the central region.  The country as a whole has three well-marked seasons — the cool, the hot and the rainy.  The rainy season falls in the middle of summer, the moist, hot months following.  The winter is the pleasant period of the year.  The central tableland is cool, dry and healthy.

Animals.  The animals domesticated are first the cattle — cows, buffaloes and oxen; the last two do the work of agriculture.  The bull and cow are sacred animals to the Hindus, and are never killed for food.  The pony, donkey and mule are largely used.  Sheep and goats are abundant.  The monkeys are tame, and are also held sacred.  Of wild beasts the most feared is the Bengal tiger.  The other beasts of prey are leopards, wolves, jackals, panthers, bears, hyenas, lynxes and foxes.  The elephant is used for purposes of war and state.  Many poisonous snakes abound, the most dreaded being the cobra.

Occupation.  Only one third of the whole country is available for farming, yet two thirds of the people are engaged in agriculture, and this is why terrible famines, such as that of 1900, occur when there is failure in the crops through lack of rain.

Vegetation.  The vegetation is as varied as the climate and the soil, passing from the vegetation of a tropical to that of an alpine region.  Rice is the chief article of food, and is produced in all districts where irrigation is practiced.  Wheat is grown in the Ganges valley, the Punjab and the central provinces; sugarcane in Agra, Bengal, the Ganges valley and the Punjab; tea in Assam and Bengal; cotton in the northwest provinces, Bombay, Madras and Berar; indigo in Bengal, Agra, the Ganges valley and Madras; and tobacco in Bengal and Madras.  Opium is one of the most valuable products.  The cultivation of opium is a government monopoly, and it is chiefly exported to China.  The mango, the peepul, the orange, the banyan and the teak are found among the trees.

Commerce.  The United Kingdom enjoys almost a monopoly of the trade, using nearly all the tea raised and the products of the thousand factories belonging to the state.  There has of late been a rapid development of the coal-trade, though, owing to the famine, there have been serious diminutions in the volume and value of the export trade.  Four fifths of this trade is with Great Britain, carried through the Suez Canal.  About 32,099 miles of railroads are in operation, which in one year carried 371,576,000 people.  There are 72,746 miles of telegraph lines, and 64,395 post-offices, with good roads and a large traffic by boats on the numerous rivers.  The canal systems, which are used mainly for irrigation, are the most extensive in the world.

Education.  There are five universities, at Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, the Punjab and Allahábad, with many affiliated colleges; while there are a number of engineering and technical schools and about 135,000 other institutions.  These numbers do not include the schools established by the missionaries of different churches, which are very numerous.  Only about four per cent. of the people, however, can read or write.

Government.  Politically, India is a dependency of Great Britain, consisting partly of territory under the direct administration of British officials, and partly of native states subordinate to the suzerain power.  The supreme executive authority is vested in the governor-general in council or viceroy, as he is called, but in England every measure concerning India runs in the name of the secretary of state for India, and he alone is responsible to parliament.  For purposes of administration India is divided into the following great divisions, the seat of supreme government being Delhi: the presidencies of Bombay and Madras, each ruled by a governor appointed by the crown, with executive and legislative councils; Bengal; the Northwest Provinces; the Punjab; and Burma — each under a lieutenant-governor and each having a legislative council; the Central Provinces; Assam; and British Beluchistan — all under chief commissioners.  Besides the presidencies and provinces under direct British administration, there are a number of feudatory or native states more or less under the control of the Anglo-Indian government.  The established strength of the British army in India is over 74,000 men, the native army being about twice as large.

Religion.  The population is made up of about fifty native tribes, which can all be traced back to two or three original races.  The Hindus, who form three fourths of the people, are strictly those who accept the Hindu religion or Brahmanism, now commonly called Hinduism.  This is the great religion of India, Buddhism and Mohammedanism also prevailing.  Brahmanism dates back to about 1200 B. C., and its sacred books are called the Vedas and are among the oldest literary documents known.  They mainly are collections of hymns.  Brahmanism originally was a philosophical religion, mingled with the worship of the powers of nature — Brahma, for example, was represented with four heads, to indicate the four quarters of the globe — but in practice, in the course of centuries, the religion became a system of idolatry, with cruel rites and hideous images.  The caste system, a part of the religion, was a grievous burden; the Brahman caste, including the priests, was the highest; then came the warrior caste and the trades caste, the lower classes following.  The Mohammedan religion has about 67,000,000 followers in India, and Buddhism has about 10,700,000.  The other chief religious sects are the Parsis, Sikhs and Jains.  Christianity was introduced in the third and eighth centuries, but received its greatest impetus when St. Francis Xavier reached there in 1542.  Modern missions began in India early in the 18th century, and the native Christians now number 3,876,196.

History.  In the early history of India we have the Aryan invasion, about 1000 B. C. or earlier, bringing in the Sanskrit language and the Vedic religion; the Persian invasion under Darius (518 B. C.); and the Grecian under Alexander the Great (327 B. C.).  In 1001 A. D. the Mohammedans overran almost the whole country.  The Mongol invasions under Genghis Khan and Tamerlane ended in the Mogul empire (1525), Akbar the Great being perhaps the greatest sovereign India has ever known.  The empire divided after his death in 1707.  The European nations appeared first in India as travelers, traders and missionaries, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French having settlements early in the 18th century.  The British East India Company settled in India in 1653, with three trading-settlements at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.  Its power dates from the battle of Plassy in 1757, won by Clive over the Mogul, which gave England the dominion of Bengal.  The company was chartered by England, and had to be sustained by English troops, and with every renewal of the charter the government assumed more control.  The annexation of territory continued without check, except in 1838, when the effort to establish a British protectorate in Afghanistan was a failure, and in 1857 occurred the Indian mutiny, with its massacres of English residents at Cawnpore and other places.  In 1858 the government passed into the hands of Great Britain, and the British East India Company ceased to exist.  The wars of 1878 and 1884 with Afghanistan and Burma have increased and strengthened British territory.  See Modern India by Monier Williams; India in 1880 by Temple; Asiatic Studies by Lyall; and History of India by Grant, by Duff, by Mallison and by Kaye.