- Monsoon & Mountain passes
- The Himalayas
- The Sindhu or Indus
- Deccan Plateau and Central India
- Western Side of Central Indian Plateau
- Climate & Coastal Regions
- Indian Geography in Ancient Literature
- Essay Fodder
History of India cannot be understood without some knowledge of its geography. This article is mere compilation of following Old NCERTs:
- Ch.4 Old NCERT Class 11: Ancient India by R.S.Sharma (1990)
- Ch.4 Old NCERT Class 11: Medieval India by Meenaxi Jain (2002)
- 1AD: Men understood the direction of South West Monsoon, and traders sailed with the South West Monsoon from Western Asia, Mediterranean area and came to India and South East Area.
- They returned with the advent of North-East Monsoon westward.
- thus the discovery of monsoon enabled India to carry trade and cultural links with Western Asia.
|Western Gangetic plain||37-60||wheat and Barley|
|Middle Gangetic plains||60-125||Thicker vegetation. difficult to clear with stone-copper tools.||rice|
|Lower Gangetic plains and Brahmaputra||125-250||Thick forests. Impossible to clear without iron tools/axes. But with invention of iron tools- this Assam region was also contested by kings and emperors during early medieval times.|
Therefore, natural resources of the Western area were utilized first, and of eastern area later.
large scale human settlements generally spread from West to East.
- Himalayas protected early civilizations from the cold Siberian winds. Since cold was not so severe in the plains, Aryan people could live outdoors for longer periods and did not need heavy clothing.
- The great Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra plains with most fertile land, natural resources and perennial rivers =gift of the Himalayas.
- The Himalayas form a formidable barrier against the foreign invasions from the north. This was important during pre-industrial times when communication was very difficult.
- There are some important passes in Himalayas, through which interaction with western, central and northern Asia has been maintained since time immemorial.
- Among these, the use of the Khyber pass was very frequent and is known as the gateway to India.
- since early times there has been a more or less constant intercourse between East Africa, Arabia, Central Asia and India maintained by the migrations of herds of mammals
- India received large accessions by migration of the larger quadrupeds from Egypt, Arabia, Central Asia.
- Even from the distant North America by way of land bridges across Alaska, Siberia and Mongolia.
- Suleiman ranges could be crossed through Khyber pass
- Kirthar ranges could be crossed through Bolan Pass.
- Through these passes, two-way traffic between India and Central Asia has been going since pre-historic times.
- This helped Irani, Afghani even Soviet Central Asian invaders and immigrants to come to India.
- Kashmir Valley was surrounded on all sides by high mountains, yet could be reached through several passes.
- Winter: forced Kashimiris to towards plains
- Summer: attached shepherds from plains towards mountains
- This two-way movement facilitated the exchange of ideas and cultures. Kashmir became the center for cultivation of Sanskrit. It had the largest number of Sanskrit manuscripts.
- Similarly Nepal valley-was accessible to Gangetic plains through number of passes, and helped in cultural interaction.
- Rivers in the foothills of Himalaya had smaller width=easier to cross in the Ancient days when bridge-Architecture was not developed.
- Heart of historical India=Gangetic plains. It was formed by rivers, swollen through tropical rains and Himalayan snow melting.
- In Ancient times, difficult to construct roads=men and material moved through rivers.
- Even the Ashokan stone pillars were carried to different parts of India through boats.
- in modern times, urban sites developed at railroad junctions and mining zones (as we saw in geography location factor articles) but in the ancient times, rivers served as arteries of commerce and communication. Important cities such as Hastinapur, Prayag, Varanasi, Pataliputra were situation on the river banks.
- bad: they caused heavy floods in northern plains. Many ancient sites and buildings have been washed away beyond recovery.
- Rivers also formed political boundaries in the ancient-medieval times. For example:
|region||river boundaries North||South|
|Chola Kingdom||South Pennar||Vaigai river|
Tungbhadra river provided natural frontier between kingdoms:
- made it difficult for Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas to move southwards and
- made It difficult for Pallavas and Cholas to move northwards.
- Eastern Ghats=not very high, and eastward flow of river caused many oenings. Thus, communication between Andhra-Tamilnadu was not difficult
- Even helped in development of the port cities of Arikamedu, Mahabalipuram, Kaveripattanam on Coromandal coast
- Area west of Aravalli =Thar desert, Rajasthan=human settlement difficult.
- but South-Eastern part of Rajasthan =relatively fertile since ancient times + existence of Khetri copper mines. Hence we can find human settlements here since Chalcolithic period.
- Gujarat: Katiawar peninsula=less rain + Coastal area of Western Gujarat= indented= several harbours. Therefore, since Ancient times, Gujarat famous for foreign trade.
- can be divided into two parts: east and west
- Western part including Malwa served as important hinterland for Gujarat ports. Therefore many wars fought to control Malwa and Gujarat. (Shaka, Satvahan, Maratha and Rajput)
- Each area bound by rivers and mountains + difficulty in communication=>in course of time, every region grew into distinct culture, language and lifestyle. But in North and Western India, many languages derived from same Indo-Aryan stock. And Sanskrit camee to be cultivated and understood all over the country.
- Vindhya mountains formed the boundary between North and South. Dravidian languages lived south of Vindhya and Aryan languages lived in North.
- But Vindhya didn’t constitute insurmountable barriers. There was two way trade, migration=>helped in composite culture.
- earliest settlements are found in hilly areas and river valleys between such hills. Because this region provided all types of stones for construction and tool making.
- Until the invention of burnt brick, the stones were main construction Material. More temples were made in Stone in Deccan and South India than in North India.
- Tin+ Copper=Bronze.
- Tin was scarce even in Ancient times. But there is reason to believe it existed in Rajasthan and Bihar but all used up. Harappan procured some tin from Rajasthan but main source was Afghanistan. Because of this scarity Harappen used less bronze than the civilizations of Asia, Egypt and Crete. Hence India doesn’t have a proper ‘bronze age’.
- But during early centuries of Christian era, India made trade connection with Burma and Malayasia=> tin imported and used plenty to making bronze status of gold, particularly in South India.
- In South Bihar- East MP and Karnataka
- once the art of steel making was known, we used iron for war, clearaing jungles and regular-deep cultivation.
- Formation of Magadh Empire owed much to iron availability in this region.
|Lead||Found in Andhra- hence Satavahanas used lead coins.|
|Silver||From Kharagpur hills. used in the earliest punch marked coins.|
|Gold||Kolar-Karnataka. exploitation starts in 2ADHence, Kolar considered to be earliest capital of the South Gangas.Although much of the gold in early times was imported from Central Asia and Roman empire.|
Since domestic supply of gold low=gold coins became rare with time.
|precious stones||Odisha, Central and South India. Precious stones were traded with Romans in early centuries of Christian era.|
(Keep referring to Map while reading this)
- there are six countries in this area: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh
- In ancient times this whole mass of land was known as Bharatavarsha or Hindustan;
- Name Hindustan is derived from river Sindhu, because westerners pronounced it as Hindu or Indu.
- Our constitution uses both names India and Bharat
|western and north-western side||Pamir plateau and Sulaiman Kirthar ranges|
|western side||Arabian Sea|
|eastern side||Bay of Bengal|
|Southern borders||Indian Ocean.|
Physically the subcontinent can be studied in three parts : (i) The Himalayas, (ii) The Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plain (iii) The Deccan plateau.
are stretched from Afghanistan in the west upto Myanmar in the east.
|Peaks||Himlaya has ~114 peaks which are more than 20,000 feet high. Notable: Gauri Shankar or Everest (the highest mountain in the world) Kanchanjanga, Dhaulagiri, Nanga Parvat and Nanda Devi.|
|Western Boundary||The Hindukush mountains, right from the Pamirs, form the natural western boundary of the Indian subcontinent.|
- To the south of the Himalayas lies the great plain of India which is more than 3200 kms long and about 240 kms to 320 kms broad.
- It is formed by the solid waste of the Himalayas brought by hundreds of descending streams.
- The alluvium thus formed made the plains most fertile.
- There are three great river systems, originating from the Himalayas, which supply perennial water to this great plain.
- A big tract of land to the west of Yamuna and east of Indus in this plain is devoid of any water system at present.
- This tract includes the states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
- But now it has been proved that in ancient times the river Saraswati and its tributaries used to flow in this area.
- rises from the Kailasa Manasarovar area in the Tibetan plateau,
- runs west and north west for about 1300 Kms, between the Karakoram range.
- Then joined by the Gilgit river, it turns south and reaches the plains where the five rivers join it to form Panchananda desha or Punjab.
- These five tributaries of the Sindhu from east to west are:
- Sutlej (Satudri): was once a tributary of the lost river Saraswati, but changed its course.
- Beas (Vipasa)
- Ravi (Parushru)
- Chenab (Asikrii)
- Jhelum (Vitesta).
- rising from the Himalayas, reaches the plain at Hardwar and passes through the states of Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal, then joins the Bay of Bengal.
- In the west of it flows the river Yamuna also rising from the Himalayas.
- Vindhyan rivers
- Chambal, the Betwa and the Ken join the Yamuna before its confluence with the Ganga at Allahabad.
- the Son, joins the Ganga near Patna in Bihar.
- From the Himalayas side, rivers like the Gomati, the Sarayu, the Gandak and the Kosi join the Ganga in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
- There are several mouths through which the Ganga falls into the Bay of Bengal.
- The main stream is called Bhagirathi or Hooghli on which are situated the towns of Murshidabad, Hooghly and Kolkata.
- The eastern most mouth of the Ganga is called the Padma.
- originating from the eastern part of the lake Manasarovar in the Kailasa
- flows eastward through the plateau of Tibet under the name of Tsangpo.
- Then it turns south and enters in India where it assumes the name Dihang.
- Later, the rivers Dihang and Luhit join and are called Brahmaputra or Lauhitya.
- Passing through Assam and Bengal it joins the eastern most mouth of the Ganga, i.e., Padma.
- But before falling into the Bay of Bengal another mighty river, the Meghna, joins it.
- The delta thus formed is one of the most fertile part of Bengal and is known as Sundarban delta.
Peninsular India can be studied under two distinct sections.
- The mountain ranges of the Vindhyas
- The mountain ranges of the Satpura
They run parallel to each other from east to west. In between these two, flows the river Narmada going towards the Arabian sea.
- The only other river flowing towards west is Tapti, lying a little south of the Satpura.
- All other rivers of the Peninsula run from west to east failing into the Bay of Bengal indicating that the plateau is titled towards east.
- The northern portion of the plateau, separated by the Vindhya Satpura ranges is known as the Central Indian plateau, while the southern portion is called the Deccan plateau.
- stretches from Gujarat in the west to Chhota Nagpur in the east.
- Thar desert, lies to the north of the Aravalli range.
- To the south of it is the Vindhyas, which rises abruptly from the Narmada side, i.e., south, and has a slopy formation in the north.
- The Maiwa plateau and the tablelands of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand are parts of this.
- As a result, all the rivers on this side flow towards north or north-east to join the Yamuna and the Ganga.
- The eastern stretches of the Vindhyas, known as the Kaimur ranges, extend almost up to the south of Banaras and run parallel with the Ganga up to the Rajmahal hills.
- Between the Ganga and the Rajmahal is a narrow defile or a passage from Chunar in the west (i.e. Mirzapur, U.P.) to Teliagarhi in the east. This is the only high road, which connects Western and Eastern India.
- Its strategic importance from the military point of view was fully understood which is evident by the presence of hill forts of Rohtas and Chunar in the east and Kalijar and Gwalior in the west.
- It is said that the passes of Shahabad and Teliagarhi, situated at a distance of only about five kilometers from each other, served as the gateway to Bengal.
- Gujarat having several low hills and watered by a number of rivers like Mahi, Sabarmati, and lower courses of Narmada and Tapti.
- The Kathiawar peninsula and the Rann of Kutch are marshy and dry during the hot season.
- the surface of the Deccan plateau slopes down from west to east.
- On the western side lies a range of high cliffs running south to north leaving a narrow strip of plain between it and the sea. It is called the Western Ghats- rises up to 3,000 feet.
- The plateau is higher in the south being about 2000 feet in the Mysore region and about half of that in the Hyderabad.
- The Eastern Ghats, consisting of groups of low hills, is marked by several gaps through which many peninsular rivers join the Bay of Bengal.
- The hills going southwards gradually receding from the sea turn westward to join the Western Ghats at the Nilgiri.
- The plain between Eastern Ghats and the sea is wider than that of Western Ghats.
- Except the Narmada and the Tapti, which run towards west and join the Arabian sea, all the rivers of the Peninsular India run from west to east.
- Most of them rise from the Western Ghat and traversing the whole breadth of the plateau, fall in the Bay.
- The Mahanadi forms a broad plain known as the Chattisgarh plain in the northeast. It passes through Orissa before joining the sea.
- The valley of Godavari with its tributaries, has a large flat land in the north but it narrows in the east before meeting the sea.
- Further south, the Krishna, with its tributaries like the Tungabhadra, divide the Deccan plateau into two sections.
- Further south, the Kaveri and its tributaries form another important river system.
Vs. Northern Rivers
- Southern Rivers are devoid of a perennial water source like the Himalayas,
- these southern rivers are mostly dry during the hot season,
- hence less valuable for irrigation and navigation purposes.
The fertile coastal plains provide opportunities for maritime activities and trade.
The western coastal plain stretches from the Gulf of Cambay in the north to Kerala in south.
- The rainfall in this region is very high. There are no big rivers but smaller rivers provide easy communication and irrigation.
- There are some good harbours in the Konkan region and also in the Malabar.
- On the other hand the eastern coast has a few natural harbours but during the historical period maritime activities lead to more vigorous and fruitful contacts with the south-east Asian countries.
- The southern tip of the peninsula is known as Cape Comorin or Kanyakumari.
- To its south-east is the island of Sri Lanka. An almost continuous chain of islands and shoals connect India with SriLanka are called Adam’s Bridge.
- The mango shaped island was known in ancient times by the name of Tambaparni, a corrupt word from Sanskrit Tambraparni, i.e., having a look or shape of tambula or betel leaf. It was also known as Simhaladvipa.
- The Indian subcontinent is situated mostly in the tropical zone.
- Himalayas guard us from the cold arctic winds from Siberia, hence we have a fairly warm climate throughout the year.
- regular six ritus of two months each and three seasons of four months.
|March-June||Hot, temperature goes up to 48° C or more in some regions.|
|Jul-Oct||Rainy season for four months, due to south-west monsoon. important for the Kharif crops|
|Winter||Western disturbances in the winter gives rise to the second crop of the year called the Rabi during winter season.|
|Haryana and Rajasthan including parts of Sind and Gujarat||In modern times these regions receive less rainfall. But the evidence show that in ancient times it received higher rainfall and hence the Harappan civilization flourished in this region.|
|northern portion of the Indus region and the whole of the Ganga plain||100-200cm|
|North Eastern||200-400 cm. or even more|
Corrupt forms of the word “Sindhu” river:
|Chinese||Tien-Chu / Yin-Tu|
Within Indian Literature
|Panini (6th Cent.BC)||first definite mention of Bharata as a region. But for him Bharata was only one out of 22 janapadas specified from Kamboja to Magadha, all in Northern India.|
|Buddhist literature||speaks of seven Bharata regions (Sapta-Bharatas) corresponding to the ancient Sapta-Sindhu. and were other names of India mentioned by|
|Patanjali (150 B.C.)||used the term Aryavarta for northern part of India lying between the Himalayas and the Pariyatraka or the western part of the Vindhyas.On the west it was bounded by the Adarsavali or Aravalli and on the east by the Kalakavana or the Rajmahal Hills.|
Puranas define Bharatvarsha as:
- the country that lies north of the ocean (i.e. the Indian Ocean)
- south of the snowy mountains (Himalayas)
- formed the southern part of Jambu-dvipa.
- marked by the seven mountains chains, viz. Mahendra, Malaya, Sahya, Suktimat, Riksha (mountains of Gondwana), Vindhya, and Pariyatra (western Vindhyas up to the Aravallis);
- where dwell the descendants of the Bharatas, with the Kiratas living to its east, the Yavanas (Ionians or Greeks) to its west,
- its own population consisting of the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras (i.e. the Hindus).
But the name Bharatavarsha is not a mere geographical expression like the term India. It has historical significance, indicating the country of the Bharatas, made up of seven sacred rivers and cities:
|7 rivers||7 cities|
- This was further sustained by the peculiar Hindu institution of pilgrimage. Each of the principal Hindu faiths like Vaishnava, Saiva, or Sakta and other sects have their own list of holy places. And these are spread throughout the length and breadth of India and not confined to a single province.
- In the same spirit, Sankara established his four Mathas (religious schools) at the four extreme points of the country viz.
|NORTH||Jyotirmatha near BadriKedar on the Himalayas|
|WEST||Saradamatha at Dwarka in the west|
|EAST||Goverdhana matha at Puri|
|WEST||Sringeri matha in Mysore.|
use following points, as and where applicable in descriptive/essay/interview.
- At most periods of her history. India, though a cultural unit has been torn by internecine war.
- In statecraft her rulers were cunning and unscrupulous. Famine, flood and plague visited her from time to time, and killed millions of her people.
- Inequality of birth was given religious sanction, and the lot of the humble was generally hard.
- Yet, our overall impression is that in no other part of the ancient world were the relations of man and man, and of man and the state, so fair and humane.
- In no other early civilization were slaves so few in number
- No other ancient law-book are their rights so well protected as in the Arthashastra.
- No other ancient lawgiver proclaimed such noble ideals of fair play in battle as did Manu.
- In all her history of warfare Hindu India has few tales to tell of cities put to the sword or of the massacre of noncombatants.
- The ghastly sadism of the kings of Assyria, who flayed their captives alive, is completely without parallel in ancient India.
- There was sporadic cruelty and oppression no doubt, but, in comparison with conditions in the early cultures, it was mild.
- Therefore, we can say The most striking feature of ancient Indian civilization is its humanity
- In some of the sacred texts like the Bhagavata Purana, or Manusmriti are found passages of patriotic fervour describing Bharatavarsha as the land fashioned by the Gods themselves (devanirmita sthanam) who even wish to be born in it as heaven on earth
- above these as the culminating utterance — Mother and Mother-Country are greater than Heaven. (“Janani janmabhurnischa svargadapi gariyasi”).
- All these prayers and passages show that a Hindu has elevated patriotism into a religion.
- In the words of a distinguished British critic, “the Hindu regards India not only as a political unit, naturally the subject of one sovereignty – whoever holds that sovereignty, whether British, Mohamedan, or Hindu – but as the outward embodiment, as the temple -nay, even as the Goddess mother – of his spiritual culture… He made India the symbol of his culture; he filled it with this soul. In his consciousness, it was his greater self”.
- But besides religion, the political experiences of the ancient Hindus also aided them in their conception of the mother country.
- The unity of a country is easily grasped when it is controlled by a single political authority.
- The ancient Hindus were familiar with “sovereignty” from very early times. It is indicated by such significant Vedic words as Ekarat, Samrat, feeling of oneness. They regard this as their motherland.
- Its vastness can be measured when compared to Europe and finding it almost equal except for the former Soviet Union.
- Europe has several nations with their own history, tradition, language, etc. On the contrary, although there always had been many states in India but their social and cultural setup had been broadly the same throughout.
- Sanskrit was the most respected language besides the local languages.
- States were administered and governed on the basis of law-books called Dharmashastras.
- Places of worship and pilgrimage are distributed throughout the country.
- These cultural bonds gave the Indians a sense of unity and nationality.
- There are several regions which have a distinct sense of regional spirit and cultural traits.
- Larger kingdoms and empires rose from these units and weakened, in due course, giving way to another unit to come up.
- Some historians have defined it as forces of centralisation and decentralisation acting and reacting with each other.
- In other words, forces of integration and disintegration were always at work. But it will be more appropriate to say that the Indian system of polity recognised the chakravarti concept of conquest, where every king should aspire for ruling the whole country.
- Thus empires fell and new ones arose from it, but the tradition continued. Even the early conquerors from the north-west like Inds-Greeks, Saka-Pallavas, Kushanas, etc., established kingdoms and empires but never failed to show their eagerness to adopt Indian ideas of polity and willingness to assimilate themselves in the main stream of Indian society.
- Even in earlier periods these regions maintained their individuality despite their political ups and downs.
- The old kingdoms of Kosala, Magadha, Gauda, Vanga, Avanti, Lat and Saurashtra in the north, and Kalinga, Andhra, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chera, Chola and Pandya in the south, among others, seem to possess eternal lives.
- Empires rose and fell, they vied with each other very frequently, but these states under different names and under various ruling dynasties, continued their individual existence almost throughout the course of history.
- India has a long coast line on its three sides.
- The people living here were experts in maritime activities and trade with other countries on both sides.
- No dynasty other than the Cholas in the south has even attempted to conquer lands beyond the sea. But it was not a lasting attempt.
- we find that Indians had spread in many parts of the known world, but in the South East Asia they developed a lasting cultural influence in countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.
- These were individual efforts by traders and princes and not by any State. A distinct contrast from the European colonist must be noted here. Indians never attempted genocide or cruel suppression; they established large kingdoms and became part of that land.
- They gave their religion and philosophy to them but assimilated their religion and philosophy as well.
- Thus it can be said in conclusion that the geographical features of India not only shaped its history and culture but also the mind and thoughts of the people.
Next we see the Stone Age, Neolithic, Paleolithic and chalcolithic cultures of Ancient India.