South Asia
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South Asia

South Asia
South Asia (orthographic projection) without national boundaries.svg
Area5,134,641 km2 (1,982,496 sq mi)
Population1,814,014,121 (2018) (1st)[1][2]
Population density362.3/km2 (938/sq mi)
GDP (PPP)$12.752 trillion (2018)[3]
GDP (nominal)$3.461 trillion (2018)[3]
GDP per capita$1,908 (nominal)[3]
$7,029 (PPP)[3]
HDIIncrease0.642 (medium)[4]
Ethnic groupsIndo-Aryan, Iranian, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, etc.
ReligionsHinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism
DemonymSouth Asian
Desi (colloquial)
Dependencies British Indian Ocean Territory
Time zones
Internet, .bd, .bt, .in,
.lk, .mv, .np, .pk
Calling codeZone 8 & 9
Largest cities[note 1]
UN M49 code034 - Southern Asia
142 - Asia
001 - World

South Asia or Southern Asia is the southern region of Asia, which is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. The region consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[5][note 2] 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.[5] 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% population of global Hindus, 90.5% of global Sikhs, 31% of global Muslims, 35 million Christians and 25 million Buddhists.[13][14][15][16]


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] After the Second Anglo-Afghan War, it was a British protectorate until 1919.[25][18][20] On the other hand, Myanmar (formerly Burma), administered as part of the British Raj between 1886 and 1937[26] and now largely considered a part of Southeast Asia as a member state of ASEAN, is also sometimes included.[21][22][27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30][22][31][32] 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.[33]

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines South Asia as a region of indefinite boundaries usually thought of as including all or some of the following countries: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.[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 as well.

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][48]

United Nations cartographic map of South Asia.[49] 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.[50][51]China and Myanmar have also applied for the status of full members of SAARC.[52][53] The South Asia Free Trade Agreement admitted Afghanistan in 2011.[54]

The World Bank amd United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) recognizes the eight SAARC countries as South Asia,[55][56][57][58] 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.[59] Population Information Network (POPIN) excludes Maldives which is included as a member Pacific POPIN subregional network.[60] 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.[61]

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.[62][63] 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,[64] and which extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[39][65]

While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity[27][66]

The terms "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia" are sometimes used interchangeably.[39][67][65][68] 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.[69] 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.[70]

The use of the term Indian subcontinent began in the British Empire, and has been a term particularly common in its successors.[67] South Asia as the preferred term is particularly common when scholars or officials seek to differentiate this region from East Asia.[71] 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."[72] 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.[27] However, in Pakistan, the term "South Asia" is considered too India-centric and was banned until 1989 after the death of Zia ul Haq.[73] This region has also been labelled as "India" (in its classical and pre-modern sense) and "Greater India".[27][66]

According to Robert M. Cutler - a scholar of Political Science at Carleton University,[74] 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 2001-2006 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.[74]

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,[75][76][77][78] the Himalayan Kingdoms (Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim[79]), and Burma (now Myanmar). It has since included Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.[80] 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.[81][82] The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.[83][84]

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".[85] The similar program of Columbia University includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in their study and excludes Burma.[86] 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.[87] 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.[88]



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.[89] 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

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.[90] A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE.[91] 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.[92]

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.[94][95] The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists[96] who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[93][97] Linguistic and archaeological data show a cultural change after 1500 BCE,[93] with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion.[98] By about 1200 BCE, the Vedic culture and agrarian lifestyle was established in the northwest and northern Gangetic plain of South Asia.[96][99][100] Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-Pañc?la union was the most influential.[101][102] The first recorded state-level society in South Asia existed around 1000 BCE.[96] In this period, states Samuel, emerged the Brahmana and Aranyaka layers of Vedic texts, which merged into the earliest Upanishads.[103] These texts began to ask the meaning of a ritual, adding increasing levels of philosophical and metaphysical speculation,[103] or "Hindu synthesis".[104]

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.[105][failed verification] 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.[106]

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 A?oka suggest that the Buddhist monks spread Buddhism (Dharma) in eastern provinces of the Seleucid Empire, and possibly even farther into Western Asia.[107][108][109] The Theravada school spread south from India in the 3rd century BCE, to Sri Lanka, later to Southeast Asia.[110] Buddhism, by the last centuries of the 1st millennium BCE, was prominent in the Himalayan region, Gandhara, Hindu Kush region and Bactria.[111][112][113]

From about 500 BCE through about 300 CE, the Vedic-Brahmanic synthesis or "Hindu synthesis" continued.[104] Classical Hindu and Sramanic (particularly Buddhist) ideas spread within South Asia, as well outside South Asia.[114][115][116] 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.[117][118][119] 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.[120][121][122]

Medieval era

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

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.[123] By 962 CE, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in South Asia were under a wave of raids from Muslim armies from Central Asia.[124] 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.[125] Mahmud of Ghazni raided the treasuries but retracted each time, only extending Islamic rule into western Punjab.[126][127]

The wave of raids on north Indian and western Indian kingdoms by Muslim warlords continued after Mahmud of Ghazni, plundering and looting these kingdoms.[128] 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.[129] He sought to carve out a principality for himself by expanding the Islamic world.[125][130] 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.[125] 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.[131] 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.[132] A Sunni Sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlaq persecuted non-Muslims such as Hindus, as well as non-Sunni Muslims such as Shia and Mahdi sects.[133][134][135]

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.[136][137] 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.[138][139]

About 1526, the Punjab governor Dawlat Khan Lod? 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.[140]

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,[141] with some regions such as parts of modern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under local Sultanates such as the Shia Islamic rulers of Golconda Sultanate.[142]

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.[143] 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.[144] At its height, the empire was the world's largest economy, worth almost 25% of global GDP, more than the entirety of Western Europe.[145][146]

However, this time also marked an extended period of religious persecution.[147] 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.[148][149][150] 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.[151][152][153][154]

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.[145][146]

The economic developments on South Asia waved the period of proto-industrialization.[155]

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.[156][157]

Modern era

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

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.[158][159] 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. 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.[160][161]


The Indian peninsula, and the Himalayas on the northeast, is the result of the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate through tectonic activity between 20 and 50 million years ago.

According to Saul Cohen, early colonial era strategists treated South Asia with East Asia, but in reality, the South Asia region excluding Afghanistan is a distinct geopolitical region separated from other nearby geostrategic realms, one that is geographically diverse.[162] The region is home to a variety of geographical features, such as glaciers, rainforests, valleys, deserts, and grasslands that are typical of much larger continents. It is surrounded by three water bodies – the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea – and has acutely varied climate zones. The tip of the Indian Peninsula had the highest quality pearls.[163]

Indian plate

Most of this region is resting on the Indian Plate, the northerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate, separated from the rest of the Eurasian Plate. The Indian Plate includes most of South Asia, forming a land mass which extends from the Himalayas into a portion of the basin under the Indian Ocean, including parts of South China and Eastern Indonesia, as well as Kunlun and Karakoram ranges,[164][165] and extending up to but not including Ladakh, Kohistan, the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan.[166][167][168] It may be noted that geophysically the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet is situated at the outside of the border of the regional structure, while the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are situated inside that border.[169]

It was once a small continent before colliding with the Eurasian Plate about 50-55 million years ago and giving birth to the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau. It is the peninsular region south of the Himalayas and Kuen Lun mountain ranges and east of the Indus River and the Iranian Plateau, extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea (to the southwest) and the Bay of Bengal (to the southeast).


The climate of this vast region varies considerably from area to area from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north. The variety is influenced by not only the altitude but also by factors such as proximity to the seacoast and the seasonal impact of the monsoons. Southern parts are mostly hot in summers and receive rain during monsoon periods. The northern belt of Indo-Gangetic plains also is hot in summer, but cooler in winter. The mountainous north is colder and receives snowfall at higher altitudes of Himalayan ranges.

As the Himalayas block the north-Asian bitter cold winds, the temperatures are considerably moderate in the plains down below. For the most part, the climate of the region is called the Monsoon climate, which keeps the region humid during summer and dry during winter, and favours the cultivation of jute, tea, rice, and various vegetables in this region.

South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones:[171]

Maximum relative humidity of over 80% has been recorded in Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Sri Lanka, while the area adjustment to Pakistan and western India records lower than 20%-30%.[171] Climate of South Asia is largely characterized by monsoons. South Asia depends critically on monsoon rainfall.[172] Two monsoon systems exist in the region:[173]

  • The summer monsoon: Wind blows from the southwest to most parts of the region. It accounts for 70%-90% of the annual precipitation.
  • The winter monsoon: Wind blows from the northeast. Dominant in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The warmest period of the year precedes the monsoon season (March to mid June). In the summer the low pressures are centered over the Indus-Gangetic Plain and high wind from the Indian Ocean blows towards the center. The monsoons are the second coolest season of the year because of high humidity and cloud covering. But, at the beginning of June, the jetstreams vanish above the Tibetan Plateau, low pressure over the Indus Valley deepens and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves in. The change is violent. Moderately vigorous monsoon depressions form in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall from June to September.[171]

Land and water area

This list includes dependent territories within their sovereign states (including uninhabited territories), but does not include claims on Antarctica. EEZ+TIA is exclusive economic zone (EEZ) plus total internal area (TIA) which includes land and internal waters.

Rank Country Area EEZ Shelf EEZ+TIA
1  India 3,287,263 2,305,143 402,996 5,592,406
2  Pakistan 881,913 290,000 51,383 1,117,911
3  Afghanistan 652,864 0 0 652,864
4  Bangladesh 147,570 86,392 66,438 230,390
5    Nepal 147,181 0 0 147,181
6  Sri Lanka 65,610 532,619 32,453 598,229
7  Bhutan 38,394 0 0 38,394
8  Maldives 298 923,322 34,538 923,622
Total 5,221,093 4,137,476 587,808 9,300,997



Ethno-linguistic distribution map of South Asia

There are numerous languages in South Asia. The spoken languages of the region are largely based on geography and shared across religious boundaries, but the written script is sharply divided by religious boundaries. In particular, Muslims of South Asia such as in Afghanistan and Pakistan use the Arabic alphabet and Persian Nastaliq. Till 1952, Muslim-majority Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan) also mandated only the Nastaliq script, but after that adopted regional scripts and particularly Bengali, after the Language Movement for the adoption of Bengali as the official language of the then East Pakistan. Non-Muslims of South Asia, and some Muslims in India, on the other hand, use their traditional ancient heritage scripts such as those derived from Brahmi script for Indo-European languages and non-Brahmi scripts for Dravidian languages and others.[174]

The Nagari script has been the primus inter pares of the traditional South Asian scripts.[175] The Devanagari script is used for over 120 South Asian languages,[176] including Hindi,[177]Marathi, Nepali, Pali, Konkani, Bodo, Sindhi and Maithili among other languages and dialects, making it one of the most used and adopted writing systems in the world.[178] The Devanagari script is also used for classical Sanskrit texts.[176]

The largest spoken language in this region is Hindi, followed by Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi.[174] In the modern era, new syncretic languages developed in the region such as Urdu that is used by the Muslim community of northern South Asia (particularly Pakistan and northern states of India).[179] The Punjabi language spans three religions: Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism. The spoken language is similar, but it is written in three scripts. The Sikh use Gurmukhi alphabet, Muslim Punjabis in Pakistan use the Nastaliq script, while Hindu Punjabis in India use the Gurmukhi or N?gar? script. The Gurmukhi and Nagari scripts are distinct but close in their structure, but the Persian Nastaliq script is very different.[180]

English, with British spelling, is commonly used in urban areas and is a major economic lingua franca of South Asia.[181]


In 2010, South Asia had the world's largest population of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs,[15] about 510 million Muslims,[15] as well as over 25 million Buddhists and 35 million Christians.[13] Hindus make up about 68 percent or about 900 million and Muslims at 31 percent or 510 million of the overall South Asia population,[182] while Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Sikhs constitute most of the rest. The Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians are concentrated in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, while the Muslims are concentrated in Afghanistan (99%), Bangladesh (90%), Pakistan (96%) and Maldives (100%).[15]

Indian religions are the religions that originated in the India; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.[183] The Indian religions are distinct yet share terminology, concepts, goals and ideas, and from South Asia spread into East Asia and southeast Asia.[183] Early Christianity and Islam were introduced into coastal regions of South Asia by merchants who settled among the local populations. Later Sindh, Balochistan, and parts of the Punjab region saw conquest by the Arab caliphates along with an influx of Muslims from Persia and Central Asia, which resulted in spread of both Shia and Sunni Islam in parts of northwestern region of South Asia. Subsequently, under the influence of Muslim rulers of the Islamic sultanates and the Mughal Empire, Islam spread in South Asia.[184][185] About one-third of the Muslims are from South Asia.[186][187][188]

Country State religion Religious population as a percentage of total population
Ahmadiyya Buddhism Christianity Hinduism Islam Kiratism Sikhism Others Year reported
Afghanistan Afghanistan Islam - - - - 99.7% - - 0.3% 2019[189]
Bangladesh Bangladesh Islam
0.06% 0.6% 0.4% 9.5% 89.5% - ~0.0% - 2011[190]
Bhutan Bhutan Vajrayana Budhhism - 74.8% 0.5% 22.6% 0.1% - - 2% 2010[191][192]
India India None - 0.7% 2.3% 79.8% 14.2% - 1.7% 1.3% 2011[193][194]
Maldives Maldives Sunni Islam - - - - 100% - - - [195][196][197]
Nepal Nepal None - 9% 1.3% 81.3% 4.4% 3% - 0.8% 2013[198]
Pakistan Pakistan Islam 0.22% - 1.59% 1.85% 96.28% - - 0.07% 2010[199]
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Theravada Buddhism - 70.2% 6.2% 12.6% 9.7% - - 1.4% 2011[200]


The population of South Asia is about 1.749 billion which makes it the most populated region in the world.[201] It is socially very mixed, consisting of many language groups and religions, and social practices in one region that are vastly different from those in another.[202]

Largest urban areas

South Asia is home to some of the most populated cities in the world. Dhaka, Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi and Lahore are some of the world's largest megacities.

Rank City State/Province Country Population[203] Area (km2)[203] Density (/km2)[203] Classification
1 Delhi National Capital Region  India 25,399,141 2,072 12,100 Capital region
2 Karachi Sindh  Pakistan 20,431,848 3780[204] 5500 Metropolis
3 Dhaka Dhaka Division  Bangladesh 20,283,552 360 43,500 Capital city
4 Mumbai Maharashtra  India 20,185,064 546 32,400 Megacity
5 Kolkata West Bengal  India 14,667,000 1,204 12,200 Megacity
6 Lahore Punjab  Pakistan 12,414,000 1772[205] 12,700 Megacity
7 Bengaluru Karnataka  India 10,248,000 1,116 8,400 Megacity
8 Chennai Tamil Nadu  India 9,714,000 375 25,900 Metropolis
9 Hyderabad Telangana  India 8,754,000 971 10,000 Metropolis
10 Faisalabad Punjab  Pakistan 7,873,910[206] 5856 1340 City District

Population projections

Population of South Asian countries in 1950, 1975, 2000, 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100 projection from the United Nations has been displayed in table. The given population projections are based on medium fertility index. With India and Bangladesh approaching replacement rates fast, population growth in South Asia is facing steep decline and may turn negative in mid 21st century.[1][2]

Rank Country Population (in thousands)
1950 1975 2000 2025 2050 2075 2100
1  India 376,325 623,103 1,056,576 1,445,012 1,639,176 1,609,041 1,450,421
2  Pakistan 37,542 66,817 142,344 242,234 338,013 394,265 403,103
3  Bangladesh 37,895 70,066 127,658 170,937 192,568 181,282 151,393
4  Afghanistan 7,752 12,689 20,779 43,531 64,682 76,199 75,974
5    Nepal 8,483 13,420 23,941 31,757 35,324 31,818 23,708
6  Sri Lanka 7,971 13,755 18,778 21,780 21,814 19,194 15,275
7  Bhutan 177 348 591 811 905 845 686
8  Maldives 74 136 279 522 586 564 490
Total 476,220 800,335 1,390,946 1,958,046 2,293,069 2,313,208 2,120,014


Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

India is the largest and fastest-growing economy in the region (US$2.957 trillion) and makes up almost 80% of the South Asian economy; it is the world's 5th largest in nominal terms and 3rd largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates (US$10.385 trillion).[3] India is the only member of powerful G-20 major economies and BRICS from the region. It is the fastest-growing major economy in the world and one of the world's fastest registering a growth of 7.3% in FY 2014-15.

India is followed by Bangladesh, which has a GDP of ($314.656 billion) and a GDP per capita of $1888, which is 4th in the region. It has the fastest GDP growth rate in Asia. It is one of the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world, and It is also listed among the Next Eleven countries. It is also one of the fastest-growing middle-income countries. It has the world's 39th largest GDP in nominal terms and is the 29th largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates ($829.272 billion). Bangladesh's economic growth crossed 7% in fiscal 2015-2016 after almost a decade in the region of 6%, It's expected to grow by 8.13% in 2019-2020.

Pakistan has an economy of ($314 billion) and ranks 5th in GDP per capita in the region.[207]

Next is Sri Lanka, which has the 2nd highest GDP per capita and the 4th largest economy in the region. According to a World Bank report in 2015, driven by a strong expansion in India, coupled with favorable oil prices, from the last quarter of 2014 South Asia became the fastest-growing region in the world[208]

The major stock exchanges in the region are Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) with market Capitalization of $2.298 trillion (11th largest in the world), National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) with market capitalization of $2.273 trillion (12th largest in the world), Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) with market capitalization of $72 billion.[209] Economic data is sourced from the International Monetary Fund, current as of April 2017, and is given in US dollars.[210]

Currency Population
Nominal GDP
GDP per capita


GDP growth




 Afghanistan ? Afghani 37,171,921 $21.657 billion $601 3% 6%
 Bangladesh ? Bangladeshi Taka 161,376,708 $314.656 billion $2,067 8.2% 5.44%
 Bhutan Nu. Ngultrum 754,388 $2.31 billion $3,215 5.9% 4.1%
 India INR Indian Rupee 1,352,642,280 $2.971 trillion $2,198 7.0% 4.8%
 Maldives ? Rufiyaa 515,696 $4.825 billion $14,501 4.1% 2.5%
   Nepal Rupee 28,095,714 $27 billion $919 7.7% 6.2%
 Pakistan Rs Pakistani Rupee 212,228,286 $278.019 billion $1,357 5.2% 4.3%
 Sri Lanka / Rupee 21,228,763 $92.504 billion $4,265 3.0% 5.8%

Health and nutrition

Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Population undernourished (2015)[219] 26.8% 16.4% N/A 15.2% 5.2% 7.8% 22% 22%
Population below poverty line (CIA Factbook)[220] 35.8% 7.5% 12% 21.2% 16% 25.2% 24.3% 8.9%

According to WHO, South Asia is home to two out of the three countries in the world still affected by polio, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 306 & 28 polio cases registered in 2014 respectively.[221] Attempts to eradicate polio have been badly hit by opposition from militants in both countries, who say the program is cover to spy on their operations. Their attacks on immunization teams have claimed 78 lives since December 2012.[222]

A weekly child examination performed at a hospital in Farah, Afghanistan

According to the World Bank's 2011 report, based on 2005 ICP PPP, about 24.6% of the South Asian population falls below the international poverty line of $1.25/day.[223] Afghanistan and Bangladesh rank the highest, with 30.6% and 43.3% of their respective populations below the poverty line. Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka have the lowest number of people below the poverty line, with 2.4%, 1.5% and 4.1% respectively. India has lifted the most people in the region above the poverty line between 2008 and 2011, around 140 million. As of 2011, 21.9% of India's population lives below the poverty line, compared to 41.6% in 2005.[224][225]

The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world and is nearly double that of Sub Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity, and economic growth.[226]

According to the World Bank, 70% of the South Asian population and about 75% of South Asia's poor live in rural areas and most rely on agriculture for their livelihood[227] according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation. In 2015, approximately 281 million people in the region were malnourished. The report says that Nepal reached both the WFS target as well as MDG and is moving towards bringing down the number of undernourished people to less than 5% of the population.[219] Bangladesh reached the MDG target with the National Food Policy framework – with only 16.5% of the population undernourished. In India, the malnourished comprise just over 15 percent of the population. While the number of malnourished people in the neighborhood has shown a decline over the last 25 years, the number of under-nourished in Pakistan displays an upward trend. There were 28.7 million hungry in Pakistan in the 1990s – a number that has steadily increased to 41.3 million in 2015 with 22% of the population malnourished. Approximately 194.6 million people are undernourished in India, which accounts for the highest number of people suffering from hunger in any single country.[219][228]

The 2006 report stated, "the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region". Corruption and the lack of initiative on the part of the government has been one of the major problems associated with nutrition in India. Illiteracy in villages has been found to be one of the major issues that need more government attention. The report mentioned that although there has been a reduction in malnutrition due to the Green Revolution in South Asia, there is concern that South Asia has "inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children".[229]

General statistical data

Below is the latest general statistical data for South Asian nations. Their total population, area and GDPs have been cited along with their shares of percentage of this attribute of total South Asia in bracket. Republic of India accounts for most of landmass, population and GDP and hence, heavily influences average of South Asian development attributes. Sri Lanka and Maldives are leaders in the region in terms of Human Development Index and GDP per capita while Afghanistan scores lowest in terms of both the attributes in the region.

(km2) (%Share)
Population in thousands
(2019) (%Share)[1][2]
(per km2)
Nominal GDP
(in millions) (2019) (%Share)[233]
GDP per capita


(in millions) (2019) (%Share)
GDP (PPP) per capita (2019) HDI


 Afghanistan Kabul 652,230 (12.7%) 38,042 (2.07%) 58.3 $18,734 (0.51%) $513 $76,714 (0.55%) $2,101 Decrease0.496 (low)
 Bangladesh Dhaka 147,570 (2.87%) 163,046 (8.88%) 1,104.9 $317,465 (8.67%) $1,906 $829,270 (5.92%) $4,992 Increase0.614 (medium)
 Bhutan Thimphu 38,394 (0.75%) 763 (0.04%) 19.8 $2,842 (0.08%) $3,423 $9,310 (0.066%) $10,193 Increase0.617 (medium)
 India New Delhi 3,287,263 (64.02%) 1,366,418 (74.45%) 415.6 $2,935,570 (80.16%) $2,172 $11436,697 (81.68%) $8,484 Increase0.647 (medium)
 Maldives Malé 298 (0.006%) 531 (0.03%) 1,781.8 $5,786 (0.16%) $15,563 $6,708 (0.048%) $21,320 Increase0.719 (high)
   Nepal Kathmandu 147,181 (2.87%) 28,609 (1.56%) 194.3 $29,813 (0.81%) $1,048 $87,472 (0.62%) $2,984 Increase0.579 (medium)
 Pakistan Islamabad 796,095 (15.5%) 216,565 (11.8%) 245.8 $284,214 (7.76%) $1,388 $1,235,663 (8.82%) $5,839 Decrease0.560 (medium)
 Sri Lanka Colombo 65,610 (1.28%) 21,324 (1.62%) 325 $86,566 (2.36%) $3,947 $319,791 (2.28%) $14,680 Increase0.780 (high)
South Asia 5,134,641 (100%) 1,835,297 (100%) 357.4 $3,662,255 (100%) $2,064 $14,001, 625 (100%) $7,629 Increase0.642 (medium)

Governance and politics

Systems of government

Countries and territories from extended definitions

Country or region Capital Administrative division type Head of government Area (km2) Population Official language Coat of arms
British Indian Ocean Territory British Indian Ocean Territory Diego Garcia British Overseas Territory Commissioner 54,400 2,500 English Coat of arms of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Shield).svg
Iran Iran Tehran Islamic republic Supreme Leader 1,648,195 83,183,741 Persian Emblem of Iran.svg
 Myanmar Naypyidaw Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic State Counsellor 676,578 51,486,253 Burmese State seal of Myanmar.svg
China Tibet Autonomous Region Lhasa Autonomous Region of China Chairman 1,228,400 3,180,000 Tibetan, Mandarin National Emblem of the People's Republic of China.svg

India is a secular federative parliamentary republic with premier as head of government. With most populous functional democracy in world[235] and world's longest written constitution,[236][237][238] India has been stably sustaining the political system it adopted in 1950 with no regime change except that by a democratic election. India's sustained democratic freedoms are unique among the world's newer establishments. Since the formation of its republic abolishing British law, it has remained a democracy with civil liberties, an active Supreme Court, and a largely independent press.[239] India leads region in democracy index. It has a multi-party system in its internal regional politics[240] whereas alternative transfer of powers to alliances of Indian left-wing and right-wing political parties in national government provide it with characteristics of a two-party state.[241] India has been facing notable internal religious conflicts and separatism however consistently becoming more and more stable with time.

Foundation of Pakistan lies in Pakistan movement started in colonial India based on Islamic nationalism. Pakistan is a federal parliamentary Islamic republic and was the world's first country to adopt Islamic republic system to modify its republican status under its otherwise secular constitution in 1956. Pakistan's governance is one of the most conflicted in the world. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan has become a concern for the South Asian region. Out of 22 appointed Pakistani Prime ministers, none has been able to complete a full term in office.[242] The nature of Pakistani politics can be characterized as a multi-party system. Pakistan's governance is one of the most conflicted in the region. The military rule and the unstable government in Pakistan have become a concern for the South Asian region. In Nepal, the government has struggled to come in the side of democracy, and it only showed signs in the recent past, basically in the 21st century, to support the democratic system.

Bangladesh is a unitary parliamentary republic. Law of Bangladesh defines it as both Islamic[243] as well as secular.[244] The nature of Bangladeshi politics can be characterized as a multi-party system. Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy.[245] Bangladesh also stands out as one of the few Muslim-majority democracies. "It is a moderate and generally secular and tolerant -- though sometimes this is getting stretched at the moment -- alternative to violent extremism in a very troubled part of the world", said Dan Mozena, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh's legal code is secular, more citizens are embracing a conservative version of Islam, with some pushing for sharia law, analysts say. Experts say that the rise in conservatism reflects the influence of foreign-financed Islamic charities and the more austere version of Islam brought home by migrant workers in Persian Gulf countries.[246]

Afghanistan has been a unitary presidential Islamic republic since 2004. Afghanistan has been suffering from one of the most unstable regimes on earth as a result of multiple foreign invasions, civil wars, revolutions and terrorist groups. Persisting instability for decades have left country's economy stagnated and torn and Afghanistan remains one of most poor and least developed countries on the planet, leading to the influx of Afghan refugees to neighboring countries like Iran.[189]

The unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic of Sri Lanka is oldest sustained democracy in Asia. Tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils led to Sri Lankan civil war that undermined the country's stability for more than two and a half decades.[247] Sri Lanka however, has been leading region in HDI with per capita GDP well ahead of India and Bangladesh. The political situation in Sri Lanka has been dominated by an increasingly assertive Sinhalese nationalism, and the emergence of a Tamil separatist movement under LTTE, which was suppressed in May 2009.

Nepal was the last Hindu state in world before becoming a secular democratic republic in 2008. The country has been ranked among world's poorest in terms of GDP per capita but has made considerable progress in development indicators outpacing many other South Asian states.

Bhutan is a Buddhist state with a constitutional monarchy. The country has been ranked as the least corrupt and peaceful with most economic freedom in the region in 2016. Myanmar's politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Maldives is a unitary presidential republic with Sunni Islam strictly as the state religion.

Myanmar's politics is dominated by a military Junta, which has sidelined the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Governance and education index rankings of South Asian countries
Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan India Maldives Nepal Pakistan Sri Lanka
Inequality-adjusted HDI (2018)[4] (global ranking of 150) No data 101 107 99 87 112 120 54
Corruption Perception Index (2019)[248] (global ranking of 168) 173 146 25 80 130 113 120 93
The Worldwide Governance
Indicators (2015)[249]
Government Effectiveness 8% 24% 68% 56% 41% 13% 27% 53%
Political stability and absence
of violence/terrorism
1% 11% 89% 17% 61% 16% 1% 47%
Rule of law 2% 27% 70% 56% 35% 27% 24% 60%
Voice and accountability 16% 31% 46% 61% 30% 33% 27% 36%
Population below poverty line (2011)[250] 35.8% 31.5% 23.7% 21.9% 16% 25.2% 21.4% 8.9%
Primary School Enrollment[251] 29% 90% 85% 92% 94% 96% 73% 98%
Secondary School Enrollment[252] 49% 54% 78% 68% N/A 72% 38% 96%

Regional politics

The dominant political powers in the region are India,[253][254][255]Pakistan,[256][257] and Bangladesh. India is by far the largest country in the area covering around three-fourths the land area of the South Asian region.[] India has the largest population of around three times the combined population of the 6 other countries in the region.[258] India is also the world's largest democracy. India's defense budget is $66.5 billion which exceeds to the whole Pakistan's Federal budget of $42 billion for 2018-19 greatly.[259]

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC has been the primary regional supranational body comprising all current South Asian nations. The idea of cooperation among South Asian countries was first discussed in New Delhi in April 1947.[260] In 1970s, South Asian countries agreed upon forming a trade bloc within the region. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 accelerated efforts to form a union to restrengthen deteriorating regional security.[261] After agreements, the union was finally established in Dhaka in December 1985.[262] However, deterioration of India-Pakistan ties have led India to emphasize more on sub-regional groups SASEC and BBIN. Due to 2016 Uri terror attack on Indian security forces, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives pulled out of 19th summit of SAARC that was supposed to be held in Pakistan which led to its ultimate cancellation.[263][264] South Asia continues to remain least integrated region in the world. Meanwhile, in East Asia, regional trade accounts for 50% of total trade, it accounts for only a little more than 5% in South Asia.[265]

Populism is a general characteristic of internal politics of South Asian nations.[266] Diplomacy among the countries of South Asia has been mainly driven by populist politics, with the centre-stage taken by India-Pakistan conflict ever since their independence in 1947, and then the creation of Bangladesh under tense circumstances in 1971. During the height of Cold war, the elite political leaders of Pakistan aligned with the US, while India played crucial role informing the Non-Aligned Movement and while maintaining goodwill relations with the USSR.

Regional groups of countries

Name of country/region, with flag Area
Population Population density
(per km2)
Capital or Secretariat Currency Countries included Official languages Coat of Arms
Core Definition (above) of South Asia 5,220,460 1,726,907,000 330.79 N/A N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka N/A N/A
UNSD of South Asia 6,778,083 1,702,000,000 270.77 N/A N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka N/A N/A
SAARC 4,637,469 1,626,000,000 350.6 Kathmandu N/A Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka English N/A
BBIN 3,499,559 1,465,236,000 418.69 N/A N/A Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal N/A N/A
SASEC 3,565,467 1,485,909,931 416.75 N/A N/A Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives N/A N/A

See also


  1. ^ Among the top 100 urban areas of the world by population.
  2. ^ Afghanistan is considered to be part of Central Asia. It regards itself as a link between Central Asia and South Asia.[6]
  3. ^ According to the UN cartographic section website disclaimers, "DESIGNATIONS USED: The depiction and use of boundaries, geographic names and related data shown on maps and included in lists, tables, documents, and databases on this web site are not warranted to be error free nor do they necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations."[49]
  4. ^ Doniger 2010, p. 66: "Much of what we now call Hinduism may have had roots in cultures that thrived in South Asia long before the creation of textual evidence that we can decipher with any confidence. Remarkable cave paintings have been preserved from Mesolithic sites dating from c. 30,000 BCE in Bhimbetka, near present-day Bhopal, in the Vindhya Mountains in the province of Madhya Pradesh."
  5. ^ Jones & Ryan 2006, p. xvii: "Some practices of Hinduism must have originated in Neolithic times (c. 4000 BCE). The worship of certain plants and animals as sacred, for instance, could very likely have very great antiquity. The worship of goddesses, too, a part of Hinduism today, maybe a feature that originated in the Neolithic."
  6. ^ Michaels: "They called themselves arya ("Aryans," literally "the hospitable," from the Vedic arya, "homey, the hospitable") but even in the Rgveda, arya denotes a cultural and linguistic boundary and not only a racial one."[93]



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Further reading

  • Anthony, David W. (2007), The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press
  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009), Empires of the Silk Road, Princeton University Press

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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