South Asia is the southern region of the Asian continent, covering the Himalayan peninsula and the Indian plate. South Asia covers an area of about 1.9 million square miles. The region is made up of countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. South Asia has been under the influence of various cultures since prehistoric times which have played a direct and indirect impact on the current cultures in the region. Primary cultures in the region include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism. These cultures are very diverse regarding social, political, economic, and religious practices.
Madrasian Culture 2,500,000BC
The Madrasian culture occurred during the Lower Palaeolithic period around 2,500,000BC. The culture has been identified as one of the earliest divisions of the Stone Age era characterized by tools such as flake tools, microliths, cleavers and bifacial hand axes. The tools were primarily made of quartzite. One of the Madrasian sites is Attirampakkam which is located near Chennai city (formerly Madras).
Riwatian People 1,900,000BC
Like the Madrasian culture, the Riwatian culture existed during the Lower Palaeolithic period. One of the Riwatian sites was discovered in Pakistan’s Punjab region. The people of these cultures made similar tools to those of the Madrasian culture with quartzite as well. Excavations in prehistoric sites linked with the Riwatian period identify evidence of occupation by Homo erectus from Africa. Homo erectus is associated with the development of the Oldowan industry which came after the Riwatian era.
Soanian People 500,000BC
The Soanian culture occurred in regions of India, Pakistan, and Nepal between 500,000 and 125,000 BC. The Soanian is also a lower Palaeolithic culture with significant sites in Adiala, Chauntra, Khasala Kalan, Khasala Khurd, and Sivalic Hill. Homo erectus man lived during this period relying heavily on the use of bifacial hand axes, and other tools made of quartzite, jasper, and Chert. The tools were characterized by increasingly wavy edges made through flaking.
Stone Age 50,000-3000BC
The Stone Age covered three distinct periods including the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic period. The major feature of the Stone Age era is the use of stone tools. The period covers a unique era of evolution and development of human civilization linked to the discovery and use of tools. Stone Age sites such as Batadombalena and Balilena of Sri Lanka have shown evidence of Homo sapiens residence in South Asia during the period.Homo sapiens is said to have first originated from the Sri Lankan region before spreading to other areas. Early humans during this period lived in stone caves.
Bronze Age 3000-1300BC
The Bronze Age period followed the Stone Age period and lasted between 3000 and 1300 BC. The Indus valley civilization is said to have evolved towards the end of this period. The period is characterized by the increased knowledge in tool-making and other handicraft skills. The civilization during this time had a more organized urban structure with brick houses, drainage, and water supply systems, and use of metals such as bronze, copper, and lead. Sites with Bronze Age artifacts include Tamil Nadu, Indus River, and Punjab province.
Iron Age, 1200-230BC
During this period, iron was the primary tool making material due to the increased knowledge in the melting of iron ore. In South Asia, the period occurred towards the end of the Indus civilization period. During this period, humans would make weapons made from alloys through the use of kilns. These developments saw the increased use of steel weapons. Cultures existing during the South Asian Iron Age include black and red ware culture, Painted Gray Ware culture, Panchala, Kuru kingdom, and Maurya Empire.
Classical Period, 230BC-AD1279
South Asia experienced a period of re-urbanisation and religious, and literacy growth following the unification under the Gupta Empire. During this period, Jainism and Buddhism developed as new religions which developed new aspects and practices. Principles of morality in Buddhism led to its popularity in South Asia and later in other regions of Asia. The period was also characterized by increased artistic creativity, advancement in agriculture, scientific and technological innovations including the invention of the decimal numeral system, as well as improvements in engineering and architecture. Islam also spread in the region during this period.
Late Medieval Period, 1206-1596
The late medieval period began in 1206 and ended in 1596. This period included various rules and dynasties in the Indian subcontinent including the Delhi, Mamluk, Khilji, and Tughlaq, Sayyid, and Lodi Sultanates, the kingdoms of Deva, Ahom, Chitradurga and Reddy, the Vijayanagara Empire among other dynasties. The region during this period lacked a definite paramount leader with several rulers existing during the late medieval period. The period was succeeded by the more organized and powerful Mughal empire.
Early Modern Period, 1526-1858
The early modern period in South Asia was marked by the rise of the Mughal Empire in 1526 and ended after the fall of the empire in 1857. In this period, the empire enjoyed high levels of expansion from conquests in Samarkand, Punjab, and Kabul. The empire was one of the most powerful with seven generations of rulers, who had a remarkable talent in leadership and established highly organized administrative systems. Despite the leaders being of Islamic origins, they had a tolerance for Hinduism which was important in prolonging the empire. The empire was annexed by colonial powers in the 19th century.
Colonial Period, 1510-1961
The colonial period in South Asia began during the 16th century with the arrival of the Europeans in Asia and ended in the 20th century. The first European to arrive in the region was Vasco da Gama in the 15th century which attracted more Portuguese traders. The Dutch arrived shortly after the Portuguese and ruled the Ceylon (currently Sri Lanka) for 137 years. The British later occupied the Calcutta and Madras regions in the 17th century. The arrival of the French in 1674 led to competition between the British and French which was also influenced by their wars in Europe. After the defeat of French in 1757 in Bengal, British became the dominant power in the Indian peninsula. The colonial period ended in the mid-20th century during which India was partitioned.
Post-colonial South Asia
South Asia is ranked as one of the most populous regions in the world. In recent times, there has been an increasing growth in the region’s middle class while the wealthy class remains small. The economies of the region are rapidly developing and great changes in the social sphere are also taking place.