Without geography, history is considered to be rather incomplete and lacking in vital substance, for it loses focus in the absence of the concept of space. History is thus regarded both as the history of humanity 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. Snows of the Himalayan feed the three great 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 gave rise to the first civilisation 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.
Between the northern plains and peninsular India is a large intermediate zone, called central India, extending from Gujarat to western Orissa over a stretch of 1600 km. The Aravalli hills in Rajas than separate the Indus plain from the peninsula.
The intermediate zone is characterised by the presence of the Vindhyan and Satpura ranges and the Chotanagpur plateau covering portions of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.
This region can be further subdivided: the land of the Rajputs between Udaipur and Jaipur; the Malwa plateau around Ujjain more popularly known as Avanti in ancient India; Vidarbha 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 did take place between these four apparently isolated pockets, and between this region and other physiographic divisions.
On the southern edge of central India begins the formation called Peninsular India. The rocky formation gently slopes from west to east, and four major rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal.
These four rivers-Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri have produced alluvial plains and helped the creation of nuclear areas in the plains and deltas enabling cultural growth to be sustained for prolonged periods through history.
The Narmada and the Tapti, however, have a westward flow and run into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat after running thoroughly central India. The Deccan plateau js the well-known feature of the region. It extends from the Vindhyas in the north to the southern limits of Karnataka.
The black soil in Maharashtra and in the adjoining parts of central India is especially rich. The soil yields good crops of cotton, millets, peanuts and oil seeds. It was this reason why the early farming cultures (Chalcolithic) in 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 Bharatavarsha (the land of Bharataj. It was said to form part of a larger unit called Jambu-dvipa (the continent of thejambu tree), the innermost of 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 that 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 the 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 an 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 Madhyadesa 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 the Mahabhashya by Patanjali.
To the north of the Madhyadesa 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 Orissa) and the Tamil plains are the major perennial nuclear regions which emerged as bases of power quite early.
Smaller areas such as the Konkan, Kanara and Chhattisgarh have also made a mark. Some areas such as the Kaichur Doab between the Krishna and Tungabhadra and Vengi between the 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 comparable power base.
The Middle Ganga plains, corresponding to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, emerged more successful than the Upper and 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 crap grown, surplus generation was made possible by the deep ploughing iron ploughshare, an invention necessitated by the growing population.
The Upper Plains in western and central Uttar Pradesh, largely including the Doab, was an area conflict and cultural synthesis.
Besides the possible of an extended Harappan culture flourishing he- this was also the centre of the Painted Grey Wt (PGW) culture and great activity in the Later Vedic Period.
The Lower Plains correspond to the province 1 of Bengal. High rainfall in low-lying plains created forest and marshy conditions making early settlements in Bengal difficult.
The fertility of the heavy, alluvial soil could be exploited only with the greater utilisation and control of iron technology. Thin urban culture spread into this region from the Middle Plains relatively late.
Megalithic communities which followed t Neolithic-Chalcolithic cultures in Andhra and Nothern Deccan provided the base for settled agricultir and helped in the transformation of this region.
The Megalithic burials suggest a rudimentary craft specialisation; a rudimentary exchange network which transported mineral resources to the Northern Deccan and status differentiation.
Due to their peripheral location, Sindh Baluchistan was cut-off from the mainstream cultural development. It was only from the Kushana period that these areas formed a part of a sup regional political system which included a major p of northern India. The Gandhara region was the o exception.
As early as 6th century bc, Gandhara was among the 16 mahajanapadas. The Magadhan ki Bimbisara, had contacts with the king of Gandhara Taxila the capital was a seat of learning and a central of trade with wide economic reach, with business relationships with the Romans and with Mathura central India.
Owing to its geographical position was a meeting place of different people confluence of different cultures.
The anthologies of early Tamil poems known as Sangam literature provide a vivid account i transition to a state society in the ancient stage.
In the fertile river valleys of the Kaveri, Periyar and Vaigai, agricultural surpluses were produced and they were the strongholds of the three ancient clan chiefs, Chola, Chera and Pandya.
The process of state formation was accelerated by: Roman trade, in the early Christian centuries; the rise of towns and the penetration of northern Sanskritic culture along with the Brahmans. Kerala was an integral part of Tamilaham during this early period.
At most periods of its history, India, though a cultural unit, was torn by internecine war. Famine, flood and plague killed millions of people. Inequality of birth was given religious sanction, and the lot of the humble was generally hard.
This, however, was true for any part of the ancient world of the time. Judged in the context of time, the relations among the people or between the people and the state were fair enough and humane.
Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, however, the traditions of India have been preserved without a break to the present day.
To this day, legends known to the humblest Indian recall the names of shadowy chieftains who lived nearly a thousand years before Christ, and the orthodox Hindus in their daily worship repeat hymns composed even earlier. India and China have, in fact, the oldest continuous cultural traditions in the world.
Ancient Indians are charged with having had no sense of history as they did not write history in the way it is done today or in the manner of the ancient Greeks. But with the advent of Europeans the situation began to change.
A few Jesuits succeeded in mastering Sanskrit. One of them, Father Hanxleden, who worked in Kerala during 1699-1732, compiled the first Sanskrit grammar in a European tongue. Another, Father Coeurdoux, was probably the first student to recognise in 1767, the kinship of Sanskrit and the languages of Europe, and suggested that the Brahmans of India were descended from one of the sons of Japhet.