The launch of the "Mangalyaan" orbiter by the Indian Space Research Organization from the Sriharikota space center in India's southern Andhra Pradesh state was shown live on television. Mangalyaan is Hindustani for the Mission Mars Orbiter.
The orbiter was launched at 2:38 p.m., local time. Only the United States, Russia and the European Union have had successful Mars missions to date.
India's low-cost Mars mission was begun last year and completed in 15 months at a cost of less than $75 million.
The BBC quoted some observers as saying the Mars shot is part of the expanding space race among Asian powers including India, China, Japan and South Korea.
The Mangalyaan will gather data to help understand the Martian weather systems and also search the Red Planet for methane.