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India, officially Republic of India (Hindi Bharat), country in southern Asia, located on the subcontinent of India. It is bounded on the north by China, Nepal, and Bhutan; on the east by Bangladesh, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and the Bay of Bengal; on the south by the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar (which separates it from Sri Lanka) and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. India is divided into 28 states and 7 union territories (including the National Capital Territory of Delhi). New Delhi is the country’s capital.

The world’s seventh largest country in area, India occupies more than 3 million sq km (1 million sq mi), encompassing a varied landscape rich in natural resources. The Indian Peninsula forms a rough triangle framed on the north by the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and on the east, south, and west by oceans. Its topography varies from the barren dunes of the Thar Desert to the dense tropical forests of rain-drenched Assam state. Much of India, however, consists of fertile river plains and high plateaus. Several major rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus, flow through India. Arising in the northern mountains and carrying rich alluvial soil to the plains below, these mighty rivers have supported agriculture-based civilizations for thousands of years.

With more than 1 billion inhabitants, India ranks second only to China among the world’s most populous countries. Its people are culturally diverse, and religion plays an important role in the life of the country. About 81 percent of the people practice Hinduism, a religion that originated in India. Another 13 percent are Muslims, and millions of others are Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. Eighteen major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects are spoken in India.

India’s long history stretches back to the Indus Valley civilization of about 2500-1700 bc. For hundreds of years, India was home to massive empires and regional kingdoms. British rule in India began in the ad 1700s. Foreign domination engendered Indian nationalism, which eventually led to India winning its independence in 1947. With independence, part of India became the new predominantly Muslim nation of Pakistan. The two nations subsequently struggled over border differences and Hindu-Muslim relations. India and Pakistan fought two wars over the Jammu and Kashmir region, and the status of the territory remains in dispute. India’s federal political system, a democracy for more than 50 years, has demonstrated a remarkable resilience in resolving domestic and international crises. India has grown since independence to have great influence on Asia and a massive world presence. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of political entities that once gave or currently give allegiance to the British monarchy.

The Indian economy has also evolved since independence. Once heavily dependent on agriculture, it has expanded in recent years into the realms of industry and services. Economic reforms in 1991 dramatically altered economic policy to privatize state-owned enterprises and to promote competition and investment. The economic focus of the country has since changed from one based on self-sufficiency to one based on trade with other countries.


For younger readers

Cumming, David. The Changing Face of India. Raintree/Steck-Vaughn, 2002. For readers in grades 5 to 10.

Dommermuth-Costa, Carol. Indira Gandhi: Daughter of India. Lerner, 2001. For readers in grade 7 and up.

Fisher, Leonard E. Gandhi. Atheneum, 1995. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

McNair, Sylvia. India. Children's Press, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Moorcroft, Christine. The Taj Mahal: How and Why It Was Built. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Srinivasan, Radhika & Leslie Jermyn. India. 2nd ed. Benchmark, 2001. In the Cultures of the World Series, for readers in grades 4 to 8.

Wagner, Heather Lehr. India and Pakistan. Chelsea House, 2002. For readers in grades 6 to 12.

Indian literature

Joshi, Priya. In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India. Columbia University Press, 2002. Examines the impact of the English novel on writers and readers in India.

Mukherjee, Meenakshi. The Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English. Oxford University Press, 2000. The history of the novel in India.

Natarajan, Nalini, ed. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Greenwood, 1996. Well-selected essays cover the regional literatures of modern India.

Rushdie, Salman, and Elizabeth West, eds. Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing, 1947-1997. Henry Holt, 1997. Introduction to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by English-language writers affiliated with India.

Tharu, Susie J., and Ke Lalita, eds. Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present. Feminist Press, 1991. Extensive anthology of women authors.

Verma, K. D. The Indian Imagination: Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English. Palgrave, 2000. Focuses on literary developments in India's colonial and postcolonial periods.

Winternitz, Maurice. A History of Indian Literature. 2nd ed. 2 vols. South Asia, 1981-1988. Classic, comprehensive study of secular and religious prose and poetry; first published 1927.

Indian culture and society

Arnett, Robert. India Unveiled. Atman, 1997. Photographic diary of a lengthy pilgrimage through India.

Basham, A. L., ed. A Cultural History of India. Clarendon, 1975. Reprint, Oxford University Press, 1998. Comprehensive survey from prehistoric times to the Nehru era.

Basham, A. L. The Wonder that Was India: A Survey of the History and Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent Before the Coming of the Muslims. 3rd rev. ed. South Asia, 1996. One of the best introductions to classical Indian culture; first published in 1959.

Brown, Judith M. Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1994. Good review of recent Indian society as it relates to Indian democratic institutions.

Crossette, Barbara. India: Facing the Twenty-First Century. Indiana University Press, 1993. Description of contemporary India from the perspective of the author, as well as other Western and Indian authors.

Davidson, Robyn. Desert Places. Viking, 1996. A journalist's account of her stay among the Rabari, a group of sheep and camel-herding nomads of northern India.

Fuchs, Stephen. The Aboriginal Tribes of India. Macmillan, 1973. Reprint, South Asia, 1992. A review of part of the immense cultural diversity of India.

Johnson, Gordon. Cultural Atlas of India. Facts on File, 1996. Excellent description of the rich cultural history of India. Includes sections on India itself, as well as chapters on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Kaul, H. K., ed. Travellers' India: An Anthology. Oxford University Press, 1997. More than 170 accounts of India written from earliest times to modern times.

Lapierre, Dominique. The City of Joy. Doubleday, 1985. Warner, 1992. Sharp portrayal of Calcutta's cruelties.

Mehta, Gita. Snakes and Ladders: Glimpses of Modern India. Doubleday, 1997. Overview of Indian society and politics.

Paz, Octavio.Trans. Eliot Weinberger. In Light of India. Harcourt Brace, 1997. Three essays by Mexico's ambassador to India present interesting comparisons between Mexico and India.

Robinson, Frances, ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Cambridge University Press, 1989. An excellent one-volume survey of South Asian history and culture.

Social and Economic Atlas of India. Oxford University Press, 1988. Atlas of contemporary India; includes extensive text.

Tharoor, Shashi. India: From Midnight to the Millennium. Arcade, 1997. An Indian diplomat's insightful analysis of India's past 50 years.

Tarlo, Emma. Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India. University of Chicago Press, 1996. Portrays social and cultural change in contemporary India through descriptions of how people dress.

Travis, David. River of Colour: The India of Raghubir Singh. Phaidon, 1998. One of the best of Singh's photographic works on India.

Indian history

James, Lawrence. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. St. Martin's, 1998. Examination of three centuries of British influence in the Indian subcontinent.

Keay, John. India. Grove Atlantic, 2001. A comprehensive overview of the history and cultures of the subcontinent.

Khilnani, Sunil. The Idea of India. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1998. Discusses Pakistan's departure from India and the meaning of India.

Mansingh, Surjit. Historical Dictionary of India. Scarecrow, 1996, 2001. Reference work provides an overview of Indian history and society.

Metcalf, Barbara Daly, and Thomas R. Metcalf. A Concise History of India. Cambridge University Press, 2001. A challenging new history of modern India.

Nehru, Jawaharlal. Ed. Sarvapalli Gopal. Jawaharlal Nehru: An Anthology. Oxford University Press, 1980. Compendium of Nehru's writings on culture, nature, independence, and more.

Read, Anthony, and David Fisher. The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence. Norton, 1998. Compelling account of India's freedom.

Vohra, Ranbir. The Making of India: A Historical Survey. 2nd ed. Sharpe, 2001. Introduction to India's modern history.

Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. 6th ed. Oxford University Press, 1999. Newest edition of a classic history of India.


Oldenburg, Philip, Ph.D. Associate Director, Southern Asian Institute, Columbia University.

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