- India is about 1/3 the size of the United States, yet it is the second most populous country in the world, with a population of 1,166,079,217. India is the seventh largest country in the world, at 1.27 million square miles.
- India is the largest democracy in the world.
- The Kumbh Mela (or Grand Pitcher Festival) is a huge Hindu religious festival that takes place in India every 12 years. In 2001, 60 million people attended, breaking the record for the world’s biggest gathering. The mass of people was photographed from space by a satellite.
- More than a million Indians are millionaires, yet most Indians live on less than two dollars a day. An estimated 35% of India’s population lives below the poverty line.
- India is the birthplace of chess.l The original word for “chess” is the Sanskrit chaturanga, meaning “four members of an army”—which were mostly likely elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers.d
- The Indian flag has three horizontal bands of color: saffron for courage and sacrifice, white for truth and peace, and green for faith, fertility, and chivalry. An emblem of a wheel spinning used to be in the center of the white band, but when India gained independence, a Buddhist dharma chakra, or wheel of life, replaced the spinning wheel.m
- The temples of Khajuraho are famous for their erotic sculptures and are one of the most popular tourist attractions in India. Scholars still debate the purpose of such explicit portrayals of sexual intercourse, which sometimes involve animals.a
- The earliest cotton in the world was spun and woven in India. Roman emperors would wear delicate cotton from India that they would call “woven winds.” Mogul emperors called the fabrics “morning dew” and “cloth of running water.
- The Himalayas—from the Sanskrit hima, meaning “snow,” and alaya, meaning “abode”—are found in the north of India. They extend 1,500 miles and are slowly growing taller, by almost an inch (2.5 cm) a year. Several ancient Indian monasteries are found nestled in the grandeur of these mountains.m
- India is the world’s largest producer of dried beans, such as kidney beans and chickpeas. It also leads the world in banana exports; Brazil is second.l
- In India, the fold and color of clothing are viewed as important markers of social classification.
- With 150,000 post offices, India has the largest postal network in the world. However, it is not unusual for a letter to take two weeks to travel just 30 miles.f
- The Bengal tiger is India’s national animal. It was once ubiquitous throughout the country, but now there are fewer than 2,000 wild tigers left.
- Alexander the Great of Macedon (356-323 B.C.) was one of the first important figures to bring India into contact with the West. After his death, a link between Europe and the East would not be restored until Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) landed in Calicut, India, in 1498.
- The British rule, lasted from 1858 to 1947 (although they had a strong presence in India since the 1700s). British influence is still seen in Indian architecture, education system, transportation, and politics.
- About 80% of Indians are Hindu. Muslims are the largest minority in India and form approximately 13% of the country’s population. In fact, India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.
- India has the world’s largest movie industry, based in the city of Mumbai (known as the “City of Dreams”). The B in “Bollywood” comes from Bombay, the former name for Mumbai.
- Mumbai (Bombay) is India’s largest city, with a population of 15 million. In 1661, British engineers built a causeway uniting all seven original islands of Bombay into a single landmass.l
- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) is known around the world as Mahatma, which is an honorific title meaning “Great Soul” in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. He devoted his life to free India from British rule peacefully and based his campaign on civil disobedience. His birthday, October 2, is a national holiday. He was assassinated in 1948.
- The banyan, or Indian fig tree, is considered a symbol of immortality and is mentioned in many Indian myths and legends. This self-renewing plant is India’s national tree.
- The official name of India is the Republic of India. The name “India” derives from the River Indus, which most likely is derived from the Sanskrit sindhu, meaning “river.” The official Sanskrit name of India is Bharat, after the legendary king in the epic Mahabharata.
- Introduced by the British, cricket is India’s most popular sport. Hockey is considered the national sport, and the Indian field hockey team proudly won Olympic gold in 1928.
- Indians made significant contributions to calculus, trigonometry, and algebra. The decimal system was invented in India in 100 B.C. The concept of zero as a number is also attributed to India.
- The national fruit of India is the mango. The national bird is the peacock, which was initially bred for food.
- Hindi and English are the official languages of India. The government also recognizes 17 other languages (Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Nepali, Manipuri, Konkani, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu). Apart from these languages, about 1,652 dialects are spoken in the country.
- India’s pastoral communities are largely dependent on dairy and have made India the largest milk-producing country in the world.
- India has the world’s third largest road network at 1.9 million miles. It also has the world’s second largest rail network, which is the world’s largest civilian employer with 16 million workers.
- Rivers have played a vital role in India’s popular culture and folklore—they have been worshipped as goddesses because they bring water to an otherwise dry land. Bathing in the Ganges in particular is thought to take away a person’s sins. It is not unusual to spread a loved one’s ashes in the Ganges.
- Raziya Sultana (1205-1240) was the first woman leader of India. She was considered a great leader, though she ruled for only three years before being murdered.
- During the Vedic era in India, horse sacrifice sanctioned the sovereignty of the king.
- It is traditional to wear white, not black, to a funeral in India. Widows will often wear white in contrast to the colorful clothes of married or single women.
- All of India is under a single time zone.
- On India’s Independence Day, August 15, 1947, the country was split into India and Pakistan. The partition displaced 1.27 million people and resulted in the death of several hundred thousand to a million people.
- India experiences six seasons: summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer monsoon, and winter monsoon.
- India is the world’s largest tea producer, and tea (chai) is its most popular beverage.
- The Taj Mahal (“crown palace”) was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631). This architectural beauty has been called “marbled embroidery” for its intricate workmanship. It took 22,000 workmen 22 years to complete it.
- The first and greatest civilization in ancient India developed around the valley of the Indus River (now Pakistan) around 3000 B.C. Called the Indus Valley civilization, this early empire was larger than any other empire, including Egypt and Mesopotamia.
- After the great Indus Civilization collapsed in 2000 B.C., groups of Indo-Europeans called Aryans (“noble ones”) traveled to northwest India and reigned during what is called the Vedic age. The mingling of ideas from the Aryan and Indus Valley religions formed the basis of Hinduism, and the gods Shiva, Kali, and Brahma all have their roots in Aryan civilization. The Aryans also recorded the Vedas, the first Hindu scriptures, and introduced a caste system based on ethnicity and occupation.
- Alexander the Great invaded India partly because he wanted to solve the mystery of the “ocean,” which he had been told was a huge, continuous sea that flowed in a circle around the land. When he reached the Indian Ocean, he sacrificed some bulls to Poseidon for leading him to his goal.
- Chandragupta Maurya (340-290 B.C.), a leader in India who established the Mauryan Empire (321-185 B.C.), was guarded by a band of women on horseback.