India is a rising giant in international politics and commerce. It is the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country, and displays an astonishing breadth of cultural, linguistic, and ecological diversity.
Many kingdoms, empires, and republics gained control over all or part of India at various points in history, including the Mughals, Mauryans, the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization, and Seleucid Greeks. This blending of different civilizations created the pluralism that marks Indian culture today. It also fostered an environment of intellectual exchange, allowing ancient India to develop many advancements in engineering, art, literature, and other disciplines. However, the most influential and well-known legacy of India’s past may be its contribution to religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism all originated in India, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arrived early in history. These faiths, and their interactions with one another, have had a huge impact on Indian cultural development and the country’s perception abroad.
India’s wealth of resources and location along major trade routes once made it an important British colony, but the country gained its independence in 1947 under the leadership of Mohandas Gandhi, who made history through his advocation of nonviolent civil disobedience. Since then, while still struggling with issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, and long-standing tension with neighboring Pakistan, India has managed to create a strong nation with increasing global influence; it is widely recognized as an emerging world power, and possesses one of the world’s largest economies. While agriculture is the largest employer, services are the leading contributor to GDP. Its educated, English-speaking professional pool has created a booming outsourcing market for foreign corporations, while indigenous technological and research-related services have grown into important exports as well. India also leads in software development and financial services.
India’s distinctive and regionally varied culture have fascinated Westerners for centuries, and remain the primary draw for tourists and immigrants alike. Considered a megadiverse country, its enormous array of flora and fauna, many species of which are endemic, attract many environmentalists and nature lovers. Spiritually-inclined individuals have long been called to India from around the globe, to seek enlightenment in its monasteries and ashrams (religious communities) or make pilgrimages to the many holy sites within the country; these include Varanasi, sacred in several religions, and Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. As more companies set up headquarters to India, many jobs are becoming available; in addition, volunteer work is abundant, and is a good way to experience the country while making a positive contribution to society.
There are several hundred languages spoken in India. Hindi is the official language of the country; it is an Indo-Aryan language, distantly related to English, and the second most commonly spoken language in the world. English is considered co-official throughout India, and travelers will have little difficulty finding English-language media or proficient speakers. Additionally, most states have their own individual co-official languages; these include Bengali, Gujarati, and Tamil. It is a good idea to research the area you are moving to beforehand to learn what languages are spoken there, as Hindi may not be widely understood, especially in rural areas.