In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Peace, War, and Violence in Hinduism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Tradition
  • The Epics and War
  • Kingdoms and Empires
  • British Colonial Rule
  • Gandhian Studies
  • Sikh Homeland Advocacy
  • Tamil Separatist Movement
  • War and Tension: India and Pakistan
  • Hindu Nationalism and Violence
  • Contemporary Peace and Violence Studies

Hinduism Peace, War, and Violence in Hinduism
Christopher Key Chapple
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0038


To understand issues of peace and violence in Hinduism, one must take into account a long and complex history. As many as 600 kingdoms are thought by historians to have been in existence simultaneously at various phases of Indian history. To maintain peace among kingdoms, governance through the principles of dharma helped ensure social stability. Hindu empires included the Gupta in the north (320–550 CE) and Vijayanagara in the south (1336–1614). On occasion, neighboring kingdoms entered into disputes leading to warfare, to be conducted according to the rules laid out in religious texts such as Kautilya’s Arthasastra. Peace within the Hindu kingdoms was also disrupted when Central Asians or Europeans invaded and sought to replace Hindu traditions with their own faith, Islamic or Christian. Waves of invaders included Persians, Greeks, Shakas (Scythians), Afghans, and Huns, as well as British, French, and Portuguese. A sizable portion of the subcontinent’s population converted to Islam during the Delhi Sultanate (1211–1386) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1750). The Sikh religion, founded by Guru Nanak (1469–1537) in the Punjab, developed a militaristic tradition starting with its tenth leader, Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708). Christianity entered South India in the decades immediately following the death of Christ, gaining followers in some areas. A small number of individuals converted to Christianity during the European incursions (1650–1947). Violence of various forms has arisen among religious faiths in India, pitting Hindu against Muslim, Muslim against Sikh, Sikh against Hindu, and most recently, Hindu against Christian. The ideal of peace was advocated by many faiths within India, particularly the Jainas, who continue to observe a personal commitment to nonviolence. Their model helped to inspire Mahatma Gandhi as he developed a political movement based on nonviolence and truth. In this article, readers will be able to find information on ancient, medieval, colonial, postcolonial, and contemporary India.

General Overviews

These resources include summary narratives of peace and conflict in India from ancient times to the present. Larson 1995 focuses on the aftermath of partition. SarDesai 2008 gives an overview of Indian history up to the present. Smith 1958 specializes in the premodern and colonial eras. Robb 2002 condenses this material into an accessible format. Thapar and Spear 1966 give a detailed history up to the time of independence.

  • Larson, Gerald. India’s Agony over Religion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

    In this comprehensive study, Larson lays out the primary origin of India’s simmering tensions: the partition of the nation in 1947. He traces the history of earlier conflicts in India between Muslims and Hindus and narrates how the British inflamed passions during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. He provides a measured assessment of the development of the Hindu nationalist movement.

  • Robb, Peter. A History of India. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

    This concise overview covers the major eras of Indian history, with a focus on politics and economics. It devotes fifteen pages to eighteen topical bibliographies, from “Early and Medieval History” to “Indian Economic and Social Development.”

  • SarDesai, D. R. India: The Definitive History. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008.

    Comprehensive history from prehistoric times up to the present. Includes a selective bibliography.

  • Smith, Vincent A. The Oxford History of India, 3d ed. Edited by Percival Spear. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.

    This comprehensive history, frequently reprinted, includes a comprehensive account of the various times of war and peace in the Indian subcontinent. Though told from the British colonial perspective, its exhaustive treatment merits attention.

  • Thapar, Romila, and Percival Spear. A History of India. 2 vols. London: Penguin, 1966.

    This comprehensive set (Volume 1 by Thapar, Volume 2 by Spear) includes solid bibliographic essays of additional works. It predates the discussion of works calling the Aryan invasion into question and does not include post-Nehru developments such as the rise of the Bharata Janata Parishad (BJP). Volume 1, Early India; Volume 2, From the Sixteenth Century to the Twentieth Century.

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