History without geography is largely incomplete and devoid of its vital substance. It loses focus in the absence of the concept of space. History derives its focus from the concept of space. That is why history is regarded both as the history of humankind and the history of environment. It is difficult to separate the two. The history of humans and the history of environment mutually influence each other. Reciprocal exchange between humans and nature began early, where each influenced the other. In the Indian subcontinent there are a diversity of situations, from deserts to regions of high rainfall and from vast alluvial plains to high mountains and rocky table-lands. Environment means the “physical surroundings
and conditions, especially as affecting people’s lives” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 8th edition, 1990). Soil, rainfall, vegetation, climate and environment exercise considerable influence on the evolution of human societies. The later part of the Unit introduces the different types of sources that historians use for the reconstruction of the past. There are three main types of sources: Literary; Archaeological; and Foreign Accounts. INDIAN GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS AND SOURCES
The main purpose behind describing the physical features is to acquaint you with the visible differences in the topography of the different parts of India. There is a deep relationship between the physical geography of any region and its settlement patterns.
The basic physiographic divisions are three:
1) Himalayan Uplands,
2) Indo-Gangetic plains,
3) Peninsular India.
Himalayas are the youngest fold mountains on the Earth. Large quantities of alluvium are continuously carried down into the plains from these mountains owing to weathering and erosion. The Himalayan snow feeds the three great river systems — Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra — which tend to flow perennially.
The Indus plains saw the evolution of the first civilization while the Ganga plains have sustained and nurtured urban life, state and society and imperial fabrics from the first millennium BCE.
The northern plains and Peninsular India are separated by a large intermediate zone, which may be called Central India, extending from Gujarat to western Odisha over a stretch of 1600 kms; the Aravalli hills in Rajasthan separate the Indus plains from the Peninsula. The intermediate zone is characterized by the presence of the Vindhyan and Satpura ranges and the Chotanagpur plateau covering portions of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. On the southern edge of the intermediate zone or Central India begins the formation called Peninsular India. It is defined by the flow of four major rivers
which flow into the Bay of Bengal. Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri have produced vast alluvial plains and helped the creation of nuclear areas in the plains and deltas enabling the sustenance of cultural growth through the ancient, medieval and modern periods. The Narmada and Tapti have a westward flow and run into the Arabian Sea after traversing a long distance in hilly Central India. The well-known feature of the region is the Deccan Plateau. It extends from the Vindhyas in the north to the
southern limits of Karnataka. The black soil in Maharashtra and in the adjoining part of the Central India is especially rich, for it retains moisture and is considered to be ‘self-ploughing’. The soil yields good crops of cotton, millets, peanuts and oil seeds. The early farming cultures (Chacolithic) in western and Central India emerged in this region.
Specific Major Geographical Units
So far, we have considered features of the broad geographic divisions at a general plane. Let us now take up the specific major geographical units, which at instances conform to linguistic divisions, and look into their traits from a historical perspective. The Himalayas and the Western Frontier
The Himalayas can be divided into three broad units:
The eastern mountains run to the east of the Brahmaputra in the north-south extending from Assam to south China. Although, the routes through the eastern mountains are difficult, that has not prevented the flow of cultural influences from Southeast Asia and South China in the prehistoric and historical times.
The central Himalayan region, extending from Bhutan to Chitral, lies at the fringe of the great table-land of Tibet. There have been trade and other contacts between India and Tibet across the frontier.
The narrow Hindu Kush range extends south-westward from the Himalayas dee into Afghanistan, covering ancient Gandhara. Geographically and culturally, western Afghanistan has affinities with eastern Iran but south-east Afghanistan has been culturally close with the Indian sub-continent right since the Neolithic age. The Khyber pass and other passes and the Kabul river link it with the Indus plains. It is no surprise that the site of Shortugai in this part of Afghanistan was a trading out-post of the Harappan civilization. Ancient towns like Kabul and Kandahar are situated on trade routes between
Iran and India. The great routes connecting the Indian plains with Iran and Central Asia through
Afghanistan run through the Gomal, Bolan and Khyber passes. These routes have brought in traders, invaders and varied cultural influences all through the historic times and even before. The Greeks, Shakas, Kushanas and Hunas and others made their entry into India through these routes. Buddhism and other
aspects of Indian civilization entered Afghanistan and Central Asia through these passes. Historically, thus, the Afghan and Baluchistan hills have been an important frontier zone. INDIAN GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS AND SOURCES
The Indus Plains
The passes lead to the rich plains of the Indus, which can be divided into two regions:
Punjab, and Sindh.
Punjab (today divided between India and Pakistan) literally means the land of five rivers. These are Ravi, Beas, Chenab, Zhelum, and the Sutlej. These five tributaries of the Indus flowing across a vast alluvial plain have made the region the bread-basket of the subcontinent. Punjab has been the meeting place and the
melting pot of cultures. The lower Indus valley and the delta constitute Sindh. Sindh is situated by the
Indus and produces large quantities of rice and wheat. As mentioned earlier, the Indus plain has nurtured the sub-continent’s first urban culture during the later 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE. Two of its major cities Harappa and Mohenjodaro are located in the Punjab and Sindh respectively. Gangetic Northern India
The Ganga plains can be divided into three sub-regions:
The Upper plains in western and central Uttar Pradesh largely include the Doab. This has been an area of conflict and cultural synthesis. There is increasing evidence of the extension of the Harappan culture into this zone. This was also the centre of the Painted Grey Ware culture and the scene of pulsating activity in
the Later Vedic period. At the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna at the terminal point of the Doab
is Prayagaraj (ancient Prayaga). The Middle Ganga plains correspond to eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is where ancient Kosala, Kashi and Magadha were situated. It was the centre of city life and money economy and trade since the 6th century BCE. This region provided the basis for Mauryan imperial expansion and it continued to be politically important till the Gupta period (5th century CE).
The Upper and Middle Ganga plains are geographically defined by the Himalayas on the north and the Central Indian hills on the south. The Lower plains are coterminus with the province of Bengal. The wide plains of Bengal are formed by the alluvium brought by the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The Ganga plains have nurtured greater number of settlements and have sustained a higher population density than other similar regions. It has been the heartland of Indian civilization from the first millennium BCE, through the Classical phase, up to the present. Adjoining the Bengal plains is the long Assam valley produced by the Brahmaputra. It spreads over more than 600 kms. Culturally, Assam is close to Bengal but in terms of historical development it emerges as a late starter like Odisha. INDIAN GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS AND SOURCES
Eastern, Western and Central India
Central India is an entirely different region and does not have a central focal point. The south-eastern part of the state to the east of the Aravallis is part of a sub-region called Malwa. Because of the fertility of the soil the region yields good crops. Chalcolithic settlements are distributed in good numbers in the region.
Given its geographical location, it must have acted as a bridge between the Harappans and the other Chalcolithic communities in Central India and the northern Deccan. Central India constitutes the present-day states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Central Indian belt, especially southern Bihar, western Odisha and eastern Madhya Pradesh, has been an area of tribal concentration. Cultural influences from adjoining regions have influenced and integrated the tribals into the dominant caste-peasant base of Indian society from early historic times and more so from the Gupta period. Gujarat is situated on the western fringe of the Central Indian Belt. It consists of three natural divisions: Saurashtra, Anarta (N. Gujarat) and Lata (S. Gujarat). The central peninsula of Gujarat is called Kathiawar. The low-lying Rann of
Kutch is another feature which during the monsoon turns into a swamp. Although Gujarat appears to have been a zone of isolation, actually, it is a region of continuous ancient settlements dating back from the Harappan period. Because of its protected position and the lengthy coastline Gujarat has been the focus of coastal and external trade for more than four thousand years. To the south-west of the delta of the Ganga at the eastern end of the hills of Central India are the coastal plains of Odisha. Not only has it been an agrarian base but also a centre of socio-cultural development. Odisha began to develop
her linguistic and cultural identity late in the first millennium CE. INDIAN GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS AND SOURCES
The Deccan Plateau and. the surrounding coastal plains define the contours of Peninsular India. The plateau is divided into four major regions which largely correspond to the states of Maharashtra, Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka.
Neolithic settlers in south-western Andhra based themselves on pastoralism as an adaptational strategy; the Chalcolithic communities of the northern Deccan increasingly relied on agriculture.
The Extreme South
The wide eastern coastal plain in the south and its adjoining hinterland constitute Tamil Nadu. The Kaveri plain and its delta constitute its epicentre. The rivers in the region being seasonal, the peasants of the region relied on tank irrigation since the Pallava-Chola times. The ecological variations, which supported
alternative, at times, interrelated ways of life, are attested to in the Sangam literature. The western coastal plain, too, broadens in the extreme south and corresponds to the region known as Malabar or the present state of Kerala. In addition to rice and other crops, Kerala produces pepper and spices which have been traded with the West since the post-Mauryan times. Relatively isolated by land, Kerala has been open to the sea and interestingly first the Christian and then the Muslim influence here came by sea.
INDIAN GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS AND SOURCES