The solid-fuel, three-stage Agni-V missile, with a range of about 3,700 miles, successfully took off from Wheeler Island, off India's east coast in the Bay of Bengal, at 8:05 a.m. local time (10:35 p.m. EDT Wednesday), India's Defense Research and Development Organization said.
The 24-hour English-language news channel Times Now showed footage of what the defense agency said was the missile rocketing through the sky at an altitude of more than 370 miles.
The agency, which built the missile for India's army, said the three stages operated as planned and the unidentified payload was used as intended.
The 57-foot-long, 1,100-pound missile, capable of carrying a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead, is expected to be operational by 2014 or 2015 after four to five repeatable tests.
It was built at a reported cost of about $482 million and would bring all of Asia, 70 percent of Europe and other regions under its strike envelope, The Times of India reported.
It could carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle, or MIRV, payloads, that can deliver multiple warheads at different targets, the agency said.
The missile -- whose name means "ignite" or "fire" in Sanskrit -- can be moved by truck or rail.
"It will be a quantum leap in India's strategic capability," DRDO spokesman Ravi Gupta said before the launch.
Gupta said India pursues no aggressive designs and said New Delhi's military program is based on building a "credible minimum deterrence," with a "no first use" policy.
"Our missiles are purely for deterrence," he said.
China, India and North Korea have publicly declared their commitment not to use nuclear weapons in warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons.
NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting such a policy, arguing pre-emptive nuclear strikes are a key option.
Russia dropped a pledge in 1993 given by the former Soviet Union not to use nuclear weapons first. It says it has a right to use nuclear weapons "in response to a large-scale conventional aggression."
Beijing and Washington had no immediate comment on India's test launch.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday Washington was aware of the impending test, adding India had a solid non-proliferation record and was engaged with the international community on non-proliferation issues.
The United States has called on all nuclear powers to exercise restraint with nuclear capabilities.
The five permanent member nations of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- are thought to have developed technology to build intercontinental missiles.