THE GEOGRAPHICAL BASE OF INDIAN HISTORY

History without geography is considered to be rather incomplete and devoid of its vital substance, for it loses focus in absence of the concept of space. History is thus regarded both as the history of mankind and the history of the environment. It is thus important as we go back in time to understand the geography and environment of regions that influenced Indian history. Three basic physiographical divisions may be identified in the Indian subcontinent: The Himalayan uplands; the Indo-Gangetic plains; and peninsular India.

The Himalayas are a chain of mountains which are still rising. Large amounts of alluvium are continuously carried down into the plains from these mountains due to   weathering   and erosion. The Himalayan snows feed the three great perennial river Systems-Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra. The alluvial plains of northern India extend in the form of an arc for about 3200 km from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth of the Ganga. The Indus plains give rise to the first civilization of the subcontinent, the Harappan, while the Ganga plains have sustained and nurtured city life, state, society and imperial rule from the first millennium BC.

The northern plains and peninsular India are separated by a large intermediate zone, called the central India, extending from Gujrat to western Orissa over a stretch of 1600km.The Aravalli hills in Rajasthan separate the Indus from the peninsula. The intermediate zone is characterized by the presence of the Vidhyan and Satpura ranges and the Chotangpur plateau covering portions of Bihar, Bengal and Orrisa. This region can be sub-divided into four: the land of the Rajput’s between Udaipur and Jaipur; the Malwa plateau around Ujjain more popularly known as Avanti in ancient India; Vidharbha or the sub region around Nagpur; and the Chhattisgarh plains in eastern Madhya Pradesh or Dakshina Kosala.

Despite difficulty in communication and movement across the intermediate zone, contacts between these four apparently isolated pockets, and between this region and other physiographic divisions, did take place.

On the southern edge of central India begins the formation called Peninsular India. The rocky formation gently slopes from west to east, the four major rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal. These four rivers- Mahanadi, Godaveri, Krishna and Kaveri have produced alluvial plains and helped the creation of nuclear areas in the plains and deltas enabling culture growth to be sustained for prolonged periods through history.

The Narmada and Tapti, however, have a westward flow and run into the Arabian Sea in Gujrat after running through hilly central India. The Deccan plateau is well-known feature in this region. It extends from the Vindhyas in the north to the southern limits of Karnataka. The black soil in Maharashtra and the adjoining parts of central India is especially rich.  The soil yields good crops of cotton, millets, peanuts and oilseeds. It was this reason why the early farming cultures (Chalcolithic) in the western and central India emerged here. In the west the plateau terminates with the Western Ghats and in the east its contours are marked by the Eastern Ghats. The Nilgiris and the Cardamom hills are regarded as offshoots of the basic peninsular formation. The ancient Indians knew their country as Bharatvarsha (the land of Bharata). It was said to form part of a larger unit called Jambu-dvipa (the continent of the Jambu tree), the innermost of the seven concentric island continents into which the earth, as conceived by Hindu cosmographers, was divided. Early Buddhist evidence suggests that Jambu-dvipa   was a territorial designation actually in use from the third century BC at the latest, and was applied to the part of Asia, outside China, throughout which the Mauryan empire had its influence.

However, the names ‘Hindustan’ or ‘India’ are of foreign origin. The ancient Persians (Iranians), while coming to India, had to cross Sindhu (Indus) river which they began to pronounce as ‘Hind’. With the Muslim invasion the Persian name returned in the form of ‘Hindustan’ and those of its inhabitants who followed the old religion became known as ‘Hindus’. The form ‘Hindustan’, popular in modern India, Is thus as Indo-Iranian hybrid with no linguistic justification. Also, the Persians passed the name ‘Hindu’ (i.e. Sindhu) to the Greeks who began to pronounce it the ‘Indus’. From the term ‘Indus’ was derived the name ‘India’.

Ancient literature refers to a five-fold division of India. In the mid-Indo-Gangetic plain was the Madhdyadesa stretching from River Sarasvati to the Rajmahal Hills. The western part of this area was known as the Brahmarshi- desa, and the entire region was roughly equivalent to Aryavarta as described in Mahabhashya by Patanjali. To the north of the Madhdyadesa ­lay Uttarapatha of Udichya (north-west India); to its west, Aparanta or Pratichya (western India); to its south, Dakshinapatha or the Deccan; and to its east, Purva-desa or Prachya (the Prasii or Alexander’s historians). The term Uttarapatha was at times applied to the whole of northern India, and Dakshinapatha was, in some ancient works, restricted to the upper Deccan north of the river. Krishna, the far south being termed as ‘Tamilakam’ or the Tamil country.

Like any other country of the world, the course of Indian history has largely been shaped by the geographical features of India. The Ganga-Yamuna doab, the Middle Ganga valley, Malwa, Northern Deccan, Andhra, Kalinga, (coastal Orrisa) and the Tamil plains are major perennial nuclear regions emerged as bases of power quite early. Smaller areas such as the Konkan, Kanara and Chhattisgarh also have made a mark. Some areas such as the Raichur Doab between the Krishna and Tungabhadra and Vengi between Godavari and Krishna have been continuously contested for their agricultural resource potential.

High agricultural productivity and a rich population base have contributed to the dominance of the Gangetic basin in the Indian subcontinent. No other region has had a comfortable power base. The Middle Ganga plains, corresponding to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, emerged more successful than the Upper and the Lower plains and by the time of the Mauryas had attained hegemony in the sub-continent. In the Middle Ganga Valley, where paddy was the crop grown, surplus generation was made possible by the deep ploughing iron ploughs share, an invention necessitated by the growing population.

The Upper plains in western and central Uttar Pradesh, largely including the doab, was an area of conflict and cultural synthesis. Besides the possibility of an extended Harappan culture flourishing here, this was also the center of the Painted Grey Ware (PGW)

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