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South Asia

Southern region of Asia

Top 10 South Asia related articles

South Asia
Area5,134,641 km2 (1,982,496 sq mi)
Population1,947,628,100 (2020)[1]
Population density362.3/km2 (938/sq mi)
GDP (PPP)$12.752 trillion (2018)[2]
GDP (nominal)$3.326 trillion (2020)[3]
GDP per capita$1,707 (nominal)[3]
HDI 0.642 (medium)[4]
Ethnic groupsIndo-Aryan, Iranian, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, Turkic etc.
ReligionsHinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Irreligion
DemonymSouth Asian
Dependencies  British Indian Ocean Territory
Time zones
Internet TLD.af, .bd, .bt, .in, .io, .lk, .mv, .np, .pk
Calling codeZone 8 & 9
Largest cities[note 1]
UN M49 code034 – Southern Asia

South Asia is the southern region of Asia, which is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. The region consists of the countries of Afghanistan,[note 2] Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.[6] Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate and defined largely by the Indian Ocean on the south, and the Himalayas, Karakoram, and Pamir mountains on the north. The Amu Darya, which rises north of the Hindu Kush, forms part of the northwestern border. On land (clockwise), South Asia is bounded by Western Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic cooperation organisation in the region which was established in 1985 and includes all eight nations comprising South Asia.[7] South Asia covers about 5.2 million km2 (2.0 million sq mi), which is 11.71% of the Asian continent or 3.5% of the world's land surface area.[6] The population of South Asia is about 1.891 billion or about one-fourth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world.[8] Overall, it accounts for about 39.49% of Asia's population, over 24% of the world's population, and is home to a vast array of people.[9][10][11]

In 2010, South Asia had the world's largest populations of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Zoroastrians.[12] South Asia alone accounts for 98.47% of Hindus, 90.5% of Sikhs, and 31% of Muslims worldwide, as well as 35 million Christians and 25 million Buddhists.[13][14][15][16]

South Asia Intro articles: 22


Various definitions of South Asia, including the definition by UNSD which was created for "statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories."[17]

Modern definitions of South Asia are consistent in including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives as the constituent countries.[18][19][20] Afghanistan is, however, considered by some to be a part of Central Asia, Western Asia, or the Middle East.[21][22][23][24][25] After the Second Anglo-Afghan War, it was a British protectorate until 1919.[26][18][20] On the other hand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), administered as part of the British Raj between 1886 and 1937[27] and now largely considered a part of Southeast Asia as a member state of ASEAN, is also sometimes included.[21][22][28] But the Aden Colony, British Somaliland and Singapore, though administered at various times under the British Raj, have never been proposed as any part of South Asia.[29] The region may also include the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which was part of the British Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, now administered as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang but also claimed by India.[30]

However, the total area of South Asia and its geographical extent is not clear cut as systemic and foreign policy orientations of its constituents are quite asymmetrical.[21] Beyond the core territories of the British Raj or the British Indian Empire, there is a high degree of variation as to which other countries are included in South Asia.[31][22][32][33] The confusion existed also because of the lack of a clear boundary – geographically, geopolitical, socio-culturally, economically or historically – between South Asia and other parts of Asia, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia.[34]

The common definition of South Asia is largely inherited from the administrative boundaries of the British Raj,[35] with several exceptions. The current territories of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan which were the core territories of the British Empire from 1857 to 1947 also form the core territories of South Asia.[36][37][19][20] The mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan, two independent countries that were not part of the British Raj,[38] and the island countries of Sri Lanka and Maldives are generally included. By various definitions based on substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well.[39][40][41][42][43][44][45] The 562 princely states that were protected by but not directly ruled by the British Raj became administrative parts of South Asia upon joining India or Pakistan.[46][47]

United Nations cartographic map of South Asia.[48] However, the United Nations does not endorse any definitions or area boundaries.[note 3]

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contiguous block of countries, started in 1985 with seven countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and admitted Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2007.[49][50] China and Myanmar have also applied for the status of full members of SAARC.[51][52] The South Asia Free Trade Agreement admitted Afghanistan in 2011.[53]

The World Bank and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) recognizes the eight SAARC countries as South Asia,[54][55][56][57] The Hirschman–Herfindahl index of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the region excludes Afghanistan from South Asia.[58] Population Information Network (POPIN) excludes Maldives which is included as a member Pacific POPIN subregional network.[59] The United Nations Statistics Division's scheme of sub-regions, for statistical purpose,[17] includes Iran along with all eight members of the SAARC as part of Southern Asia.[60]

The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how the region is defined. South Asia's northern, eastern, and western boundaries vary based on definitions used, while the Indian Ocean is the southern periphery. Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by mountain barriers.[61][62] Much of the region consists of a peninsula in south-central Asia, rather resembling a diamond which is delineated by the Himalayas on the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east,[63] and which extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[39][64]

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity[28][65]

The terms "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia" are sometimes used interchangeably.[39][66][64][67] The Indian subcontinent is largely a geological term referring to the land mass that drifted northeastwards from ancient Gondwana, colliding with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago, towards the end of Palaeocene. This geological region largely includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[68] Historians Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot state that the term "Indian subcontinent" describes a natural physical landmass in South Asia that has been relatively isolated from the rest of Eurasia.[69]

The use of the term Indian subcontinent began in the British Empire, and has been a term particularly common in its successors.[66] South Asia as the preferred term is particularly common when scholars or officials seek to differentiate this region from East Asia.[70] According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Indian subcontinent has come to be known as South Asia "in more recent and neutral parlance."[71] This "neutral" notion refers to the concerns of Pakistan and Bangladesh, particularly given the recurring conflicts between India and Pakistan, wherein the dominant placement of "India" as a prefix before the subcontinent might offend some political sentiments.[28] However, in Pakistan, the term "South Asia" is considered too India-centric and was banned until 1989 after the death of Zia ul Haq.[72] This region has also been labelled as "India" (in its classical and pre-modern sense) and "Greater India".[28][65]

According to Robert M. Cutler – a scholar of Political Science at Carleton University,[73] the terms South Asia, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia are distinct, but the confusion and disagreements have arisen due to the geopolitical movement to enlarge these regions into Greater South Asia, Greater Southwest Asia, and Greater Central Asia. The frontier of Greater South Asia, states Cutler, between 2001 and 2006 has been geopolitically extended to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan in the west, and in the north to northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and southern Uzbekistan.[73]

The definitions are also varied across South Asian Study programmes. The Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge was established, in 1964, it promoted the study of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan,[74][75][76][77] the Himalayan Kingdoms (Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim[78]), and Burma (now Myanmar). It has since included Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.[79] The Centres for South Asian Studies at both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia include Tibet along with the eight members of SAARC in their research programs, but exclude the Maldives.[80][81] The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.[82][83]

The South Asian Studies Program of Brandeis University defines the region as comprising "India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and in certain contexts Afghanistan, Burma, Maldives and Tibet".[84] The similar program of Columbia University includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in their study and excludes Burma.[85] In the past, a lack of a coherent definition for South Asia resulted in a lack of academic studies, along with a lack of interest for such studies.[86] Identification with a South Asian identity was also found to be significantly low among respondents in an older two-year survey across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[87]

South Asia Definition articles: 57



The history of core South Asia begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens, as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago.[88] The earliest prehistoric culture have roots in the mesolithic sites as evidenced by the rock paintings of Bhimbetka rock shelters dating to a period of 30,000 BCE or older,[note 4] as well as neolithic times.[note 5]

Ancient era

Indus Valley Civilisation during 2600-1900 BCE, the mature phase

The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of South Asia from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE in present-day Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was the first major civilization in South Asia.[89] A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE.[90] According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for South Asian religions, but these links from the Indus religion to later-day South Asian traditions are subject to scholarly dispute.[91]

The Trimurti is the trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer

The Vedic period, named after the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans,[note 6] lasted from c. 1900 to 500 BCE.[93][94] The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists[95] who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[92][96] Linguistic and archaeological data show a cultural change after 1500 BCE,[92] with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion.[97] By about 1200 BCE, the Vedic culture and agrarian lifestyle was established in the northwest and northern Gangetic plain of South Asia.[95][98][99] Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-Pañcāla union was the most influential.[100][101] The first recorded state-level society in South Asia existed around 1000 BCE.[95] In this period, states Samuel, emerged the Brahmana and Aranyaka layers of Vedic texts, which merged into the earliest Upanishads.[102] These texts began to ask the meaning of a ritual, adding increasing levels of philosophical and metaphysical speculation,[102] or "Hindu synthesis".[103]

Increasing urbanisation of India between 800 and 400 BCE, and possibly the spread of urban diseases, contributed to the rise of ascetic movements and of new ideas which challenged the orthodox Brahmanism.[104] These ideas led to Sramana movements, of which Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563–483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons.[105]

The Greek army led by Alexander the Great stayed in the Hindu Kush region of South Asia for several years and then later moved into the Indus valley region. Later, the Maurya Empire extended over much of South Asia in the 3rd century BCE. Buddhism spread beyond south Asia, through northwest into Central Asia. The Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan and the edicts of Aśoka suggest that the Buddhist monks spread Buddhism (Dharma) in eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire, and possibly even farther into Western Asia.[106][107][108] The Theravada school spread south from India in the 3rd century BCE, to Sri Lanka, later to Southeast Asia.[109] Buddhism, by the last centuries of the 1st millennium BCE, was prominent in the Himalayan region, Gandhara, Hindu Kush region and Bactria.[110][111][112]

From about 500 BCE through about 300 CE, the Vedic-Brahmanic synthesis or "Hindu synthesis" continued.[103] Classical Hindu and Sramanic (particularly Buddhist) ideas spread within South Asia, as well outside South Asia.[113][114][115] The Gupta Empire ruled over a large part of the region between 4th and 7th centuries, a period that saw the construction of major temples, monasteries and universities such as the Nalanda.[116][117][118] During this era, and through the 10th century, numerous cave monasteries and temples such as the Ajanta Caves, Badami cave temples and Ellora Caves were built in South Asia.[119][120][121]

Medieval era

Outreach of influence of early medieval Chola dynasty

Islam came as a political power in the fringe of South Asia in 8th century CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh, and Multan in Southern Punjab, in modern-day Pakistan.[122] By 962 CE, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in South Asia were under a wave of raids from Muslim armies from Central Asia.[123] Among them was Mahmud of Ghazni, who raided and plundered kingdoms in north India from east of the Indus river to west of Yamuna river seventeen times between 997 and 1030.[124] Mahmud of Ghazni raided the treasuries but retracted each time, only extending Islamic rule into western Punjab.[125][126]

Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi, Nasir-u Din Mehmud, in the winter of 1397–1398

The wave of raids on north Indian and western Indian kingdoms by Muslim warlords continued after Mahmud of Ghazni, plundering and looting these kingdoms.[127] The raids did not establish or extend permanent boundaries of their Islamic kingdoms. The Ghurid Sultan Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad began a systematic war of expansion into North India in 1173.[128] He sought to carve out a principality for himself by expanding the Islamic world.[124][129] Mu'izz sought a Sunni Islamic kingdom of his own extending east of the Indus river, and he thus laid the foundation for the Muslim kingdom that became the Delhi Sultanate.[124] Some historians chronicle the Delhi Sultanate from 1192 due to the presence and geographical claims of Mu'izz al-Din in South Asia by that time.[130]

The Delhi Sultanate covered varying parts of South Asia and was ruled by a series of dynasties, called Mamluk, Khalji, Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. Muhammad bin Tughlaq came to power in 1325, launched a war of expansion and the Delhi Sultanate reached it largest geographical reach over the South Asian region during his 26-year rule.[131] A Sunni Sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlaq persecuted non-Muslims such as Hindus, as well as non-Sunni Muslims such as Shia and Mahdi sects.[132][133][134]

Revolts against the Delhi Sultanate sprang up in many parts of South Asia during the 14th century. After the death of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the Bengal Sultanate came to power in 1352 CE, as the Delhi Sultanate began disintegrating. The Bengal Sultanate remained in power through the early 16th century. It was reconquered by the armies of the Mughal Empire. The state religion of the Bengal Sultanate was Islam, and the region under its rule, a region that ultimately emerged as the modern nation of Bangladesh, saw a growth of a syncretic form of Islam.[135][136] In the Deccan region, the Hindu kingdom Vijayanagara Empire came to power in 1336 and remained in power through the 16th century, after which it too was reconquered and absorbed into the Mughal Empire.[137][138]

About 1526, the Punjab governor Dawlat Khan Lodī reached out to the Mughal Babur and invited him to attack Delhi Sultanate. Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi in the Battle of Panipat in 1526. The death of Ibrahim Lodi ended the Delhi Sultanate, and the Mughal Empire replaced it.[139]

Modern era

Emperor Shah Jahan and his son Prince Aurangzeb in Mughal Court, 1650

The modern history period of South Asia, that is 16th-century onwards, witnessed the start of the Central Asian dynasty named the Mughals, with Turkish-Mongol roots and Sunni Islam theology. The first ruler was Babur, whose empire extended the northwest and Indo-Gangetic Plain regions of South Asia. The Deccan and northeastern region of South Asia was largely under Hindu kings such as those of Vijayanagara Empire and Ahom kingdom,[140] with some regions such as parts of modern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under local Sultanates such as the Shia Islamic rulers of Golconda Sultanate.[141]

The Mughal Empire continued its wars of expansion after Babur's death. With the fall of the Rajput kingdoms and Vijayanagara, its boundaries encompassed almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent.[142] The Mughal Empire was marked by a period of artistic exchanges and a Central Asian and South Asian architecture synthesis, with remarkable buildings such as the Taj Mahal.[143] At its height, the empire was the world's largest economy, worth almost 25% of global GDP, more than the entirety of Western Europe.[144][145]

However, this time also marked an extended period of religious persecution.[146] Two of the religious leaders of Sikhism, Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur were arrested under orders of the Mughal emperors and were asked to convert to Islam, and were executed when they refused.[147][148][149] Religious taxes on non-Muslims called jizya were imposed. Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples were desecrated. However, not all Muslim rulers persecuted non-Muslims. Akbar, a Mughal ruler for example, sought religious tolerance and abolished jizya.[150][151][152][153]

British Indian Empire in 1909. British India is shaded pink, the princely states yellow.

In Aurangzeb's time, almost all of South Asia was claimed by the Mughal Empire. Under Aurangzeb's rule, South Asia reached its zenith, becoming the world's largest economy and biggest manufacturing power, estimated over 25% of world GDP, a value higher than China's and entire Western Europe's one.[144][145] The economic developments on South Asia waved the period of proto-industrialization.[154]

After the death of Aurangzeb and the collapse of the Mughal Empire, which marks the beginning of modern India, in the early 18th century, it provided opportunities for the Marathas, Sikhs, Mysoreans and Nawabs of Bengal to exercise control over large regions of the Indian subcontinent.[155][156]

Maritime trading between South Asia and European merchants began after the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama returned to Europe. British, French, Portuguese colonial interests struck treaties with these rulers and established their trading ports. In northwest South Asia, a large region was consolidated into the Sikh Empire by Ranjit Singh.[157][158] After the defeat of the Nawab of Bengal and Tipu Sultan and his French allies, the British Empire expanded their interests till the Hindu Kush region.

Contemporary era

In the east, the Bengal region was split into Muslim East Bengal and Hindu West Bengal, by the colonial British empire, in the early 1900s, a split that was reversed. However, after World War II, at the eve of India's independence, the region was split again into East Pakistan and West Bengal. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971.[159][160]

South Asia History articles: 111