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The Republic of India is geographically the 7th largest country and the 2nd most populous country. Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BC. It was followed by the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and ended in the 500s BC. From around 550 BC, many independent kingdoms and republics were established. In the 3rd century BC most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the 3rd century, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient "India's Golden Age." Following invasions from Central Asia between the 10th and 12th centuries, much of North India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their empire to cover large parts of the subcontinent. In North-Eastern India, the dominant power remained the Ahom kingdom of Assam. The first major threat to Mughal imperial power came from a Hindu Rajput king Maha Rana Pratap of Mewar in the 14th century and later from a Hindu state known as the Maratha confederacy. From the 16th century, European powers such as Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom established trading posts and later took advantage of internal conflicts to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection known as India's First War of Independence or the Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged the Company's control. As a result of the instability, India was brought under the direct rule of the British Crown. In the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched. Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi led millions of people in campaigns of non-violent civil disobedience. On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from British rule. At the same time Muslim-majority areas were partitioned to form the separate state of Pakistan. On January 26, 1950, India became a republic.
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