India

Timeline. Through history.

If we don’t understand the past, how can we understand our present and future? To truly absorb, appreciate, and reflect on the country we are visiting, we need to look at pivotal moments in history. Begin your journey through the ages now.

  • Jewish timeline
  • General timeline

EARLY CIVILIZATIONS AND THE RISE OF RELIGIONS

  • 7000 Settled life emerges in Indus Valley (modern India-Pakistan border)
    2500 Large cities established in Indus Valley, the cradle of Indian civilization
    1500 Vedic Period begins. Hinduism, Sanskrit culture, and caste system are strengthened
  • 800 The first Jews? Jews said to arrive in Kingdom of Cochin on Malabar Coast
    722 Part of the Lost Tribes? Bene Israel said to arrive on Koncan Coast near Mumbai
  • 500 Buddha spreads his teaching. Jainism also develops
    326 Alexander the Great abandons efforts to extend power into India

THE FIRST GREAT INDIAN EMPIRE

  • 321 The Mauryan Empire dominates Indian sub-continent
    They create efficient trade and administration systems
    Caste system, including untouchability, strengthens
    Buddhism becomes India’s main religion under powerful Emperor Asoka
    232 Asoka’s death starts decline of empire and weakening of Buddhism
    Different tribes and local kingdoms come to control much of India
  • 175 More Bene Israel said to arrive, fleeing Hellenistic rule in Israel

A GOLDEN AGE UNDER THE GUPTAS

  • 319 The Gupta Empire reaches its peak, ruling most of India
    Major advances in trade, arts, and sciences
    Hinduism revives, and becomes India’s dominant religion
    510 Gupta army defeated by invading Hun from central Asia
    Long period of regional rule with many separate Hindu kingdoms
    550 Northern India, the traditional home of power and development
    Southern culture and prosperity grow with trade with Egypt and Romans
  • 900 Cochin Jews settle in their “Jerusalem,” the city of Cranganore on Malabar Coast

ISLAMIC RULERS, A DIVERSE POPULATION, A JEWISH "KING"

  • 1001 Muslim armies from modern Afghanistan begin great raids into Northern India
  • Cochin Jews flourish in coastal trade and enjoy close relations with local people
    1069 Joseph Rabban considered a “king” or feudal ruler in Cochin / Malabar area
    Copper plates record privileges granted to Rabban and his descendants
    Cochin community tied to wider Jewish world and “mainstream” Judaism
  • 1206 Based in Delhi, Muslim emperors dominate north and are influential in south
    Allow Hindu majority and other groups to follow their own laws and customs
    1236 Razi Sultana becomes first woman sovereign in Indian and Islamic history
  • Bene Israel have close relations with local Muslims and Hindus on Koncan Coast
    They are largely isolated from wider Jewish world and “mainstream” Judaism

TOLERANT MUGHALS, INTOLERANT PORTUGUESE

  • 1526 Muslim armies from Central Asia establish Mughal Empire
    Rule over almost entire Indian subcontinent
    Tolerate non-Islamic religions and local customs, align with local authorities
  • Paradesis (or foreigners), Sephardi Jews settle in Cochin and Cranganore
  • Portuguese, from enclave in Goa, harass non-Catholics, attack Cranganore
  • Jews flee south, to city of Cochin (Kochi) & welcomed by local Hindu ruler
    1568 Paradesi synagogue built in Cochin
    Cochin Jews gain reputation for knowledge and religiosity
  • 1632 Construction of Taj Mahal begins, part of flourishing of arts under Mughals
  • 1683 Economic boom for Cochin Jews begins, maximum population 2,500
    Play key role as trading agents and intermediaries for Dutch colonial interests
    Tension in Cochin between richer Paradesi “whites” and original “black” Jews
  • 1707 Mughal Empire rapidly weakens
    Its power dispersed among various Hindu kingdoms
    European colonists, especially British and French, also seek influence
  • 1768 Bene Israel visited by Cochin Jews & adopt more traditional Jewish customs & laws

JEWS AND THE RAJ: LIFE UNDER BRITAIN

  • 1800 Britain, through the East Indies Company and its army, effectively controls India
    City of Bombay (Mumbai) grows rapidly and key British center
  • Most Bene Israel leave villages and move to nearby Bombay
    Bene Israel population 6,000. Build first synagogues
  • Cochin, 900 miles south of Bombay, becomes economic backwater
  • Its Jews decline in influence and number. Many leave for Bombay
    New Jews in India: “Baghdadi” community from the Middle East is formed
    Most also settle in Bombay
  • 1847 British imperialism, education, technology, and English language gain influence
  • Christian missionaries expose Bene Israel to education and Jewish texts
    Passover Haggadah translated into Marathi
  • 1857 Indian Rebellion against British rule defeated after considerable violence
  • Many Bene Israel serve in British army
    1860 “Baghdadi” Jews, especially David Sassoon, prominent in Bombay business & trade
    “Baghdadi” Jews maintain Arabic language and clothing, Sephardi religious customs
    They are distant from Indian society but have close ties with British authorities
    Tensions between Baghdadis and Bene Israel in Bombay
  • 1878 Great Famine, worst of series of families under British, kills 5.5 million
    1885 Birth of modern Indian nationalism: Indian National Congress formed
    1913 Bengali poet Rabindranath Tangore wins Nobel Prize for Literature
    1914 Over a million Indian volunteers serve in WWI with British
  • Mahatma Gandhi and Congress lead mass demand for national independence
  • 1925 Liberal Jewish community established in Bombay among Bene Israel
    1945 Britain, under Labour Government, accepts idea of Indian independence
    Mohammad Jinnah and Muslim League demand separate Islamic state

PARTITION, INDEPENDENCE

  • 1947 Increasing Hindu-Muslim violence as independence draws near
    Britain hastily quits India
    They create predominantly Hindu (India) and Muslim (Pakistan) states
    Massive population exchanges and violence, over 500,000 killed
    Nehru Prime Minister. India aligned neither to US nor Soviets
    1948 Mahatma Gandhi’s calls for Hindu-Muslim unity leads to his assassination
  • India does not recognize new state of Israel
    20-30,000 Indian Jews, Bene Israel in Bombay is the largest community
  • 1950 Constitution defines India as sovereign, democratic republic
    1951 Population 361 million, 16.6% literacy rate, widespread poverty
  • Gradual migration by most of India’s Jews begins
    Bene Israel and remaining Cochin Jews move mainly to Israel
    Most of the Baghdadi community migrate to Britain
  • 1962 War against China followed by wars with Pakistan (1965, 1971)
    1964 Nehru dies. His daughter Indira Gandhi becomes prime minister in 1966
  • Israeli Chief Rabbinate rules Bene Israel are completely Jewish
    1967 Migration of Jews peak
    1968 400th anniversary of Paradesi synagogue in Cochin. Indira Gandhi attends
  • 1971 Constitution amended to define India as socialist, secular, democratic republic
    1974 India conducts first nuclear tests, on way to becoming a nuclear power
    1975 State of Emergency: Indira Gandhi assumes authoritarian powers
    1977 Indira Gandhi’s rule by decree rejected. Congress loses election for first time
    1979 Mother Teresa wins Nobel Peace prize for her work among poor
    1980 Indira Gandhi and Congress return to power
  • Christian group in north east claims they were originally Jews from lost tribes
    Become known as Bnei Menashe and start practising Judaism
    Over time, about 2,000 move to Israel where their status as Jews is debated
  • 1981 60% of India’s population live under World Bank poverty line
    1984 Unrest with Sikhs leads to assassination of Indira Gandhi

ETERNAL AND MODERN

  • 1991 Free market reforms begin, leading to growth in middle classes
    Cities grow rapidly but still today most Indians live in village & rural areas
  • A small community known as Bnei Ephraim / the Telagu Jews emerges
    They claim Jewish descent, begin studying and practising Judaism
    1992 India establishes relations with Israel. Military & trade ties grow rapidly
  • 1998 Amaryta Sen’s work on poverty and development wins Nobel Prize for economics
    2008 Mumbai (Bombay) terror attacks
  • Six people in Chabad House among the dead
  • 2011 21% live under World Bank poverty line. 74% of population are literate
    415 living languages, 29 languages (led by Hindi) with over a million speakers
    80% Hindu, 14% Muslim (world’s third largest Muslim population), 2% Christian
    2014 Narendra Modi, leader of Hindu Nationalist party BJP, becomes prime minister
    2016 GDP per capita 129th in world out of 190
  • 60,000 Bene Israel live in Israel, including children of Bene Israel parents
  • Today India’s Population: 1.339 billion
  • Jewish Population Today: 4,500-6,000
 

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