Indian empires - why were so ephemeral?


Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
I am sorry, you can make all the snide remarks, digs, innuendos you like [which you can because of your numbers] but I entirely reject the notion of your supposed unipolarity being as it is informed by your nationalistic scape.

This unipolarity or glimpses of it that we see in history were brought about by outside invaders, be they Turkic, Afghan or British. The only exception I think of this is the blip on the radar of the Maurya Empire that occurred a long, long, long time ago for very short interval of time.

South Asia or the geographic India is analogous to Europe - with differance that it has twice more people, thrice more diversity and was only integrated by foreigner's [last being British] invading and stitching it together with "tak tak" of a Gatling gun.

The reality was South Asia was a continent like Europe. Divided and with fractures deeper and wider then anything they had in Europe. In addition there was horizontal division of society along caste lines. This prevented the rise of a single strong empire and as any such empire had to bridge the vast divisions in society. This militated again rise of a strong empire that had the stabilty to integrate the sub-continient. Instead took outside invaders to do ot.

This one is a small example how Pakistani see their history, naming their navy frigate on a South Indian Muslim king who never had any links to "Indus Valley"
Oct 2015
. . . For example, Jodhpur State - 1250 to 1949, Jaipur State - 1128 to 1947.
Thanks, missed them.

We have had Kashmiris, UPians, Punjabis, Haryanvis, Gujaratis, Andhraites and Kannadas as Prime Minister of India.
So many things happen to create doubts in our minds, but it seems in final analysis Indian democracy works. Ram Bharosay (Courtsey God), as some say.

BTW, I love Pakistani and (not talking about politic or military) and the Bangladeshi people (not talking about illegal migrants who create all sorts of problems).
Same here.

Like in your son's case, my sister also knows friendly & helpful Pakistani in USA.
Oct 2015
The longest lasting empires / kingdoms in West India (=Pakistan) were

Ror dynasty (c. 450 BC to 489 AD): History is very patchy. Ruled from Rohri, Sindh, Pakistan

Habbari dynasty (854-1011): Ruled from Mansura, rulers were of Arabic origin but subjects were Sindhi.

Soomra dynasty (1024-1351): Arose from Soomra tribe who were Sindhi speaking.

Samma dynasty (1336-1527): Rajput Muslims. Ruled from capital at Thatta. Were subordinate to others for some years. Necropolis on Makli Hills came up in their rule.

The longest lasting empires / kingdoms in East India (=Bangladesh) was

Samtata Kingdom (c. 232 BCE - c. 800 CE): ruled from modern Sonargaon in Bangladesh
Oct 2015
Well, two Bengalis have been Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Suhrawardy and Nurul Amin. Not making the third a Prime Minister cost Pakistan, Bangladesh. What is wrong if a Muslim of Bihari origin becomes the Prime Minister of Pakistan?
Coming to think of it, if Shiekh Mujibur Rahman been made the Prime Minister of united Pakistan in 1971 then today Pakistan would have been a much more powerful country. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who rocked the apple cart so that the apples fell apart.

I am reading 'India at Risk' by Jaswant Singh and here is the narration:

On 26 Mar 1969, Gen Yahya Khan, who led the coup, announced that Pakistan should return to representative form of government with a constitution to be devised by representatives of the people. Elections were held in Dec 1970 in which Mujibur Rahman (Awami League) had 160 seats out of 300 in united Pakistan while Bhutto had 81 only.

In Jan 1970 Gen Yahya Khan went to East Pakistan, met Shiekh Muzibur Rahman, and refred to him as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. On return to West Pakistan, he was guest of Bhutto for "duck shoot" on 17-18 Jan 1970. Something happened in the meeting.

[The announcement of new Prime Minister was delayed. Bhutto thretened to create unprecedented unrest in West Pakistan. There were secret parleys from Bhutto's side who offered that he himself will be the President (No. 1) and Mujib can be the Prime Minister (No. 2). Mujib read it as rejection of electoral mandate. On 7 Mar 1971 (3 months after election results) he called for establishment of independent Bangladesh.]

[Faced with a partition of Pakistan, Yahya Khan was left with no alternative but to impose martial law. Pakistan Army in East Pakistan launched Operation Serachlight on 26 Mar 1971 which snowballed into a civil war in which up to 3 million Bangladeshis died and up to 10 million fled into India.]

[Around 26 Mar 1971 Mujib was arrested and taken to West Pakistan. Bangladesh effectively was free on 16 Dec 1971 when Pakistani Army surrendered to joint command of Indian Army & Mukti Bahini. Mujib was released by Pakistan on 8 Jan 1972 and finally the people's mandate carried the day.]

In the above, General Yahya Khan comes out as a well-intentioned guy, except that towards the end he got swayed or blackmailed or brainwashed by Bhutto. It is Bhutto who comes out as power-hungry, ready to sacrifice & sabotage the democratic mandate for personal gain.

Talk of ephemeral, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on 15th Aug 1975 thus got only 3.5 years to steer Bangladesh.




India at Risk by Jaswant Singh, 2013, Rupa Publications, pages 101-107
Content in brackets is based on Wikipedia
Last edited:
Oct 2015
Perhaps one of the reasons India empires didn't last long may be the lack of ruthlessness by the Indian rulers. It seems to Indian conquers did not seem to exterminate the conquered dynasty, and as a result the when the hold of the ruling dynasty weakened, the original kingdoms re-established themselves.
Hi Bart,

Nice to hear from you after a long time.

There is much truth in what you say and we do not fully realize importance of this aspect. I am just noting a few facts from memory (so no references given):

War was regulated by religion - for example fighting stopped at sunset and the soldiers retired. There was a ban on using poisoned arrows (Dharma-shastra statement).

Indian wars were short, lasting only a few hours. Only the soldiers in the front fought while those behind just shouted and moved their weapons in the air. Soldiers of one side could go over to the other side and join the opposite army. (This para is based on Memoirs of Niccolao Manucci, 17th century).

A war could be going on in a field but a farmer in a nearby field could continue to work on or till his land.

Victory and defeat were settled by give-and-take of treasure. The defeated king accepted the overlordship of the victor king and continued to rule (unless he dies in battle).

A new war ethics in India was brought by Mahmood Ghazni. One of the kings in his letter to another has noted 'He (Mahmood) is like no other Invader'.

Thus not resorting to concept of 'total war' and 'not exterminating all able bodied men in enemies' is one likely factor affecting duration of empires. These ethics were introduced after arrival of Buddhism I believe.




Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
New Delhi, India
Samtata Kingdom (c. 232 BCE - c. 800 CE): ruled from modern Sonargaon in Bangladesh

The capital of the kingdom of Samatata, or San-mo ta-cha, is placed at from 1200 to 1300 li, or from 200 to 217 miles, to the south of Kamrup, and 900 li, or 150 miles, to the east of Tamralipti, or Tamluk. The first position corresponds almost exactly with Jasar, or Jessore, which is most probably the place intended. The bearing and distance from Tamluk would take us to the iminhabited part of the Sundari-vana, or Sundarbans, etween the Huranghata river and Bakarganj. But in a country so mucb intersected by watercourses as Lower Bengal, the road distance is about one-fonrth greater than the direct distance, measured on the map. Thus, Jessore, which is 103 miles from Dacca, and 77 miles from Calcutta by road, is only 82 and 62 miles distant from them by direct measurement.

Accordingly, Hwen Thsang's distance of 150 miles by route will not be more than 120 miles by direct measurement on the map, which is only 20 miles in excess of the actual direct distance between Jessore and Tamluk. But as Tamluk is not approachable by land from the east, the pilgrim must have travelled at least one-half of the route by water, and his distance of 150 miles may be accepted as a fair estimate of the mixed route by land and water, which could not be actually measured. The name of Jasar, or " The Bridge," which has now supplanted the ancient name of Murali, shows the nature of the country, which is so completely intersected by deep watercourses, that before the construction of the present roads and bridges, the chief communication was by boats.

Murali, or Jasar, is most probably the Gange Regia of Ptolemy. The country of Samatata is mentioned in the in scription of Samudra Gupta on the Allahabad pillar, in which it is coupled with Kamrup and Nepal. It is mentioned also in the geographical list of Varaha Mihira, who lived in the beginning of the sixth century. According to Professor Lassen, the name signifies "bas pays littoral," which accords exactly with Hwen Thsang's description of it as a low, moist country on the seashore. The inhabitants were short and black, as is the case at the present day with the people of Lower Bengal. From all these concurrent facts, it is certain that Samatata must be the Delta of the Ganges, and as the country is described as 3000 li, or 500 miles, in circuit, it must have included the whole of the present Delta, or triangular tract be tween the Bhagirathi river and the main stream of the Ganges.

Hwen Thsang mentions several countries lying to the east of Samatata, but as he gives only the general bearings and not the distances, it is not easy to identify the names. The first place is Shili-cha-ta-lo, which was situated in a valley near the great sea, to the north-east of Samatata. This name is probably intended for Sri-Kshatra, or Sri-Kshetra, which M. Vivien de Saint-Martin has identified with Sri-hata, or Silhat, to the north-east of the Gangetic Delta. This town is situated in the valley of the Megna river, and although it is at a considerable distance from the sea, it seems most probable that it is the place intended by the pilgrim. The second country is Kia-mo-lang-lda, which was situated beyond the first, to the east, and near a great bay. This place may, I think, be identified with the district of Komilla, in Tipera, to the east of the Megna river, and at the head of the Bay of Bengal.

The third country is To.lo.po.ti, which was to the east of the last. M. Julien renders the name by Dwaravati, but he makes no attempt to identify it. I would, however, suggest that it may be Talaingvati, that is, the country of the Talaings, or Pegu. Vati is the common termination of the names of the Burmese districts, as Hansavati, Dwryavati, Dinyavati, etc. The next name is I-shang-na-pu-lo, which was to the east of the last, then still further to the east was Mo-ho-chen-po, and beyond that to the south-west was the kingdom of Yen-mo-na-cheu. The first of these names I take to be the country of the Shan tribes, or Laos the second is probably Cochin China or Anam; and the third, which M. Stanislas Julien renders by Yamana-dwipa, is almost certainly Yava-dwipa, or Java.
"Ancient Geography of India", Alexander Cunningham


Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
Des Moines, Iowa
It seems that OP is asking why India was not repeatedly united for extended periods of time in a manner similar to how China was repeatedly united for extended periods of time under different dynasties such as the Han, Tang, Ming, and Qing. This is a question that has been posed and discussed on this forum many times. So far, the answers given on this thread seem to cluster in one of three categories, and I find all three answers to be quite unsatisfactory for the following reasons:

1) Some have claimed that China's greater political unity compared to India is because it is more ethnically homgeneous than India. However, this is a case of mixing up cause and effect. China's great ethno-linguistic homogeneity (when compared to India) is precisely because of China's history of political unity. The existence of a single, centralized state encompassing all of China was highly conducive to the formation of a single "Chinese" identity (at first among the literate elites, and later among the masses). China today may have >90% of its population belonging to a single ethno-linguistic group, but this certainly was not always the case. HackneyedScribe has already mentioned the numerous regional identities which existed in China before and after the Qin dynasty (the first dynasty to unite China).

2) Some have claimed that geography explains why China was historically more united than India, but I find this completely unconvincing. The Indo-Gangetic plain, in particular, is an exceptionally flat and even territory with few if any major obstacles that impede movement. This is precisely why foreign hordes like the Turks and Mughals could easily move across this region and quickly establish their military hegemony (see the example of Babur's lightning campaign in North India). At best, geography might explain why empires based in North India struggled to expand south into the Deccan (as seen in Aurangzeb's struggle to subdue the difficult upland regions of Maharashtra), but it certainly wouldn't explain why the Indo-Gangetic plain itself was so fractured.

3) Others have pointed to China's more sophisticated bureaucratic institutions when compared to India's, and its superior ability to suppress balkanizing tendencies. This response is definitely on the right track. However, it begs the question of why China adopted relatively advanced bureaucratic institutions while Indian regimes remained essentially patrimonial right up until modern times, when they were all subsumed under the British Raj. Certainly, this was not due to any lack of effort or interest by Indian rulers, since many of them tried to build more centralized and lasting regimes (such as Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara).

When I have more time, I will make a follow-up post containing my own thoughts on this question.
Sep 2016
After nearly 200 years of unleashing the most efficient war machine the world had seen that mulched a diverse sub-continent [more varied then Europe, as large but with twice the population] this is what [below] the British military might integrated by force of arms. A collage of peoples most of whom were unaware of each others existence. English was the language that allowed them have intercourse with each other.

The environment is also staggeringly diverse. Sibi in Pakistan is one of the driest places on earth and Cherrapunchi in India is one of the wettest places on earth.



And then there is everything in between. In terms of climate, flora, fauna and peoples.
Very Beautiful!
I think the question gives an impression quite different from reality, but that would depend on what you really mean.

I think this all boils down to the dynasty and empire dichotomy. If you accept that a single empire/large kingdom can be ruled by successive dynasties within the heartland of the Empire, then Indian empires do last quite a while.

Magadha, for instance, would continue from Haryanka (when the Kingdom started to expand) to Nanda/Maurya to Kanva. These dynasties apparently weren't replaced from the outside, but from those who used to serve within the Magadhan Empire in various official positions.

If an empire ends when the ruling dynasty lost control of territories, then I guess your question made sense. In that case, it seems like extreme regional identities would be the best answer. The Kingdoms of Kosala and Panchala, for instance, re-appeared whenever Magadha/Bengal fractured and weakened.

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