& Culinary Influences Essay, Research Paper

Asian Indian History Overview & Food Culture

India, a nation with varying cultures, languages, climates and people, boasts a span of history of more than 4000 years. Also, with a population of nearly 960 million and 300 hundred languages along with 700 dialects, the various historical influences have significantly affected the cultural aspects of Indian culinary arts.

Between the years of 3000 and 1500 BC, India’s earliest and greatest civilization took place in the Indus Valley and Plains (http://www.incore.com). Commerce being concentrated in two major cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Indians specialized in the trade of metals, pottery, and jewelry. In addition, they had advanced architecture, streets and drainage systems.

Around 1500 BC, the beginning of the Vedic period, the Aryans (light-skinned people) invaded and defeated the Dravidians (dark-skinned people) while destroying the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (http://www.incore.com). As the Aryans settled in the Indus Valley area, they founded the basis of Hinduism and Sanskrit, the official Indian language. Additionally, introduced was the Caste system, which divided the Indian population into 4 varnas: Brahmans, the priests; Kshatriya, political rulers or warriors; Vaishya, traders and agriculturists; Shundra, worker class (http://member.aol.com).

Traditionally, Asian Indians have been known as vegetarians, however, by the end of the Vedic period, Buddhism and Jainism were founded and the religious practiced ahimsa, “non-harming.” Yet, at the beginning of the Epic period (1000-800 BC), cows became sacred animals due to the decrease in the cattle population and “ghee” (clarified butter), milk, and yogurt being vital for temple rituals (http://asiarecipe.com).

As one of the most affluent eras of Indian History, the Mauryan Dynasty played a large role in shaping the nation of India. Established by Chandra-Gupta Maurya, who ousted the Greek Alexander the Great from Northern India circa 320 B.C., two thirds of the Indian peninsula was united during this time-period. Another influential leader of the dynasty, Ashoka, grandson of Chandra-Gupta Maurya, contributed in the spreading of Buddhism throughout the country. However, after his death in 232 B.C., the Mauryan Empire started to decline and started to be invaded by various surrounding tribes constantly.

The next grand empire of Indian History was the Gupta Empire, which was established in 320 A.D. Also known as the “Golden Age” by various historians, the era brought both peace and prosperity. It was a period where favoritism towards Hinduism revived and Buddhism declined. In addition, it was the Gupta Empire when the eminent book on the “art of love,” Kama Sutra was written. Around 535 A.D., the White Huns (a tribe from central Asia) invaded Northern India and the Gupta Empire ended. This was the initiation of major Muslim influences into Indian history. In the year 612 A.D., Harshavardan (a Muslim leader) defeated the Huns and established his own empire in India. However, his empire ended soon after his death.

Circa tenth century, Muslims from Mongolia and Afghanistan constantly invaded India and Muslim influences deeply penetrated the Indian peninsula. In addition, in the duration of this time-period, a sultanate was established in Delhi. Because of constant Muslim invasion, by fourteenth century Muslims had complete control over India. Near the end of the fourteenth century, Tamerlane, another Muslim leader, attacked India, destroyed Delhi and killed more than one hundred thousand Hindus, and established his reign.

In 1526, Baber, Tamerlane’s grandson, established the Moghul (Persian word for Mongolian) Empire. Once again, many accomplishments by many affluent leaders were made during the Moghul Dynasty. Baber’s son, Akbar, was influential in endeavoring to treat Muslims and Hindus in an equal manner. Additionally, Shah Jehan, another great leader built the Famous Taj Mahal. In the year 1726, the empire broke down along with the occurrence of the death of the last leader of the Moghul Empire, Aurengzeb.

In spite of the political and physical takeover from the Muslims, a definite impact was conspicuous in Indian cuisine. The concept of Mughlai cuisine was created where Middle Eastern non-vegetarian fare encountered and was conglomerated with the traditional Indian gravies (http://asiarecipe.com). Spices were starting to be added to cream and butter while the trend of cooking rice with meat initiated as well. Additionally introduced were kebabs and pilafs, also known as pulaos. The idea of ending the meal with a dessert originated from the Muslim influences in culinary arts.

Starting in the fifteenth century contact with Europeans was established. The Initial contact was by Vasco de Gama from Portugal in 1497. During that time, the Dutch, French, and British competed with Portugal to acquire trade with India. Eventually, the British East India Co. monopolized all trade with India in 1757. This monopoly symbolized the moving in of the British into India. Lord Cornwallis, governor-general of India, declared the British rule and divided India into 16 provinces under British domination (Kittler and Suchner 362). The government excluded Indians from high government jobs and continuously discriminated them in various societal aspects. Oppositions from Indians towards the British government were rampant such as the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the founding of the All-Indian Muslim league in 1906, and the Sepoy rebellion of the Bengal Army in 1857.

The most prominent character throughout Indian history that favored non-violent and non-cooperating was Mohandas (Mahatma) K. Gandhi. Originally a British trained lawyer from South Africa, Gandhi begun the Non-Cooperation Program in 1920 (http://www.indiagov.org). His continuous efforts to free the Indians from the British rule played a big part in leading the nation to its independence on August 15 1947.

After the British Rule, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru served as the first prime minister of the democratic republic of India (Kittler 362). There were several border disputes with China and Pakistan, which ultimately led to the formation of the country Bangladesh out of Eastern Pakistan. India officially became a republic on January 26, 1950, and Dr. Rajinder Prashad was elected as the first President of the Indian Republic. “India is currently the world’s largest democracy” (Kittler and Suchner 362).

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Kittler, Pamela Goyan, Kathryn P. Suchner. Cultural Foods – Traditions and Trends. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2000.

NYLAPS’ History of India. “Many Different Groups Have Made Contributions to the Indian Civilization.”