Indian Geography Geographical Information on Ancient India (With Maps

Though a systematic account of the classical Indian geographical concepts is not available in a book form, yet some valuable geographical information is contained in Hindu mythology, philosophy, epics, history and sacred laws. Chronologically, the Vaidikas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the works of Buddhists and Jains, and the Puranas are the main sources of ancient Indian geographical concepts.

The universe and its origin remained a point of speculation among all the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia, China, Greece and Rome. The ancient Indian scholars of the Vedic and Puranic periods gave considerable thought to this matter. The ancient Indian literature deals with many problems pertaining to cosmology and cosmography. For example, issues like whether matter existed prior to the creation of the world or whether the universe was fashioned out of a pre-existing substance or if it was made out of nothing are mentioned in the Vedas and the Puranas. The cosmology of the Vedas which has a strong bearing on the Puranic views may be summarized as (a) artistic origin of the universe, (b) mechanical origin, (c) instrumental origin, and (d) philosophical origin.

The river Ganga is said to flow from the Vindusarovar (Gangotri). In the initial phase, it was divisible into seven channels, out of which three channels, i.e., Haradini, Pavni and Nalni, flow eastward and the other three, i.e., Suchaksu, Sita and Sindhu, flow westward. The seventh channel, known as Ganga, follows a southern course in the great plains of India. It is joined by the Yamuna at Prayag (Allahabad). The Ganga, after passing through thousands of mountains and hills, irrigates hundreds of valleys and passes through thousands of forests and hundreds of caves. It then merges into the Southern Sea.

Puskara Dwipa is the land of horrors, devoid of purity, cruel and leading to the destruction of the soul. It is the land of demon, full of awful hollows which are twenty in number.

In general, the Jambu Dwipa is comparatively lower on the south and north flanks and highly elevated in the middle. The Meru lying in the heart of the Jambu Dwipa is considered to be heaven in the Pamir. The Sita river flows to the east of Meru (Pamir Knot).

Apart from the dwipas (continents), the classical Indian scholars also tried to delineate the boundaries and frontiers of the Indian sub-continent. In the Vedic and Puranic literature, India has been given different names but Bharatvarsa is the one most commonly used in them.

For example, the Niraksadesa (hell) represents the equatorial belt while Meru (North Pole) is 90 latitude. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is placed on the equator and on the North Pole is the mountain of Meru, with its antipode (Nadir) on the South Pole named as Badavanala.15The longitude of Ujjain passing through Lanka and Mt. Meru was taken as the prime meridian by the Indian astronomers.

The exact time, showing contact of eclipse or its totality, was recorded in terms of the local time of the individual places. A comparison of these records could provide the correct difference in local times and consequently the longitudinal difference between individual places.

The known world during the Puranic period was divided into seven dwipas. The areal stretch of these dwipas has been given in Figure 3.1. The seven dwipas have been described briefly in the following paras:

From the above ritus (seasons), it becomes clear that Indian in ancient times had a good knowledge of seasons, especially those of Northern India.

The views regarding the mechanical origin of the universe developed in the last phase of Rigveda period. It suggests the sacrifice (or disintegration) of the primeval body known as adi-purusa who is conceived as soul and the nucleus of the universe and an embodiment of the supreme spirit. The sky, the wind, the moon the sun, and all the terrestrial elements were the result of dismemberment of purusa as a result of sacrifice ceremony.

Indian Geography: Geographical Information on Ancient India!

The Eastern Ghats were known as Mahendra- Mali and the Malabar coast includes the Nalla-Malai, Anna-Malai and Eta-Malai ranges. There are a number of other mountains also mentioned in the Puranic literature. Some of them are Sahya (Western Ghats in Maharashtra), Suktiman (Mountains of Khandera, Ajanta, Golkunda) and Rika (from Ken to Ton rivernorth of Vindhya).

For earthquakes, the word bbukampa has been used in the Puranas. It was assumed that earthquakes were caused by deities like Vayu (Air),

Among the other geographical features of the Jambu Dwipa include the Nishad (Hindukush) extending from the Pamir knot to Kohe-Baba (Baba mountain) in the west of Kabul. It is said to be the three-peaked mountain (Trisringa) which is visible from Peshawar (Pakistan). The Vaidurya (Badakhshan) Mountain lies to the west of Pamir Knot.

In the early period of human civilization, owing to poor means of transportation and communication, knowledge of various parts of the world was very limited and it grew at snails pace. To explore the unknown parts of the world is an inherent habit of man. In fact, the ancient Indian explorers and travellers made voyages, travels, pilgrimages and military expeditions to acquire knowledge about the unknown parts of the world.

The position of a point on the earths surface in relation to equator, expressed as its angular distance from the equator, is known as latitude, while longitude is the angular distance of a given point measured in degrees east or west of the Greenwich meridian.

Among the rivers of the south, the Narmada is said to take its course from the Amarkantak Hills. Its length is said to be 100 yojna (1,280 km) which tallies with the modern measurement. It is said to debouch into the Paschimodadhi (Arabian Sea). In the Puranas, it has also been mentioned that to the south of Bharatvarsa (India) there is an ocean Mahasagra (Indian Ocean) which is more than 10,000 yojnas in extent. In the Mahasagra, there are numerous islands (dwipas).

The ancient Indian scholars were also conscious of the causes of grahrias (eclipses). It was because of this knowledge that they advocated performing of some rituals and ceremonies on the days when eclipses occurred. The Aryans considered an eclipse inauspicious and a herald of disaster. It was also believed that if a solar and a lunar eclipse occurred in the same month, it becomes more disastrous. Varahmihira has considered the effects of eclipse month wise and emphasized the fact that eclipse in Posa (December) leads to famine and its occurrence in April and May results in good rainfall, while an eclipse in Phaguna (March) and Asadh (June) are inauspicious.

The Bhadra, the river of the north is the Syr-Darya of today, flows northwards and debouches into the Aral Sea. South of the Pamir is the Kishan Ganga, flowing from the Gangabal Lake and Harmukh Glacier (about 70 km north of Srinagar in Kashmir).

The name Jambu Dwipa has been derived from the Jambu (Eugenia jambolana) tree. In the opinion of some of the ancient Indian scholars, it embraces the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, lying to the north of Salt Sea (Fig. 3.1). Jambu Dwipa is surrounded by the Salt Ocean and lies in the heart of the concentric sequence of the dwipas. This insular dwipa is further divided into sub-regions called varsas (realms)the dwelling seats of rishis (observers). Ilavrila (Pamir region) is the central varsa (realm) and the Meru (Pamir), west of which is the Ketumala varsa and in the east lies the Bhadrasva varsa. Kimpurusa (Tibetan Plateau) lies to the south of the Ilavarila varsa.

From the foregoing paras, it is abundantly clear that the rishis astronomers and scholars of the ancient Indian Vedic and Puranic period had well-developed concepts about cosmology, cosmogony, geography; and science of space. Their knowledge of the size, shape of the earth, continents, oceans, islands, eclipses, earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, rivers, lakes, bays and peoples was appreciably correct and reliable. In fact, the Indian scholars contributed significantly to the growth and development of geography and its allied sciences.

Plaska Dwipa has derived its name from Plaska tree. Wilford identified this tree with fig. One would, therefore, without hesitation, identify this dwipa with the basin and the surrounding lands of the Mediterranean Sea (Fig. 3.1).

There is mention of river Lauhitya (Brahmaputra) which debouches at Dihang near Sadya (Assam). It has its source about 100 km (60 miles) east of Daya as per ancient Hindu literature.

The Vedas, epics and Puranas have mentioned a series of mountains in Bharatvarsa. Himavat, Uttra-Kuru, Utter-Madra, Trikakud (Hindukush), Vindhya, Paripatra, Durdura and Mahendra are the main mountains described in the ancient Indian literature.

Bharatvarsa is commonly identified with the Indian sub-continent.But, in fact, no comprehensive designation was given to the Indian sub-continent in ancient Indian or foreign literature. Sapta Saindhava was the name given to the Punjab plains by Vedic Aryans. Aryavarta was the designation of Aryan domain in the days of Baudhayana and Manu; the word Ind or Indu (Hindu) was applied by Darius and Herodotus to the Indus Valley of the upper Gangetic region with which they were acquainted. It is only in or about the 4th century B.C. that Katyayna and Megesthnese gave an account of approximately the whole country down to the Padya region in the extreme south. The epics also mention the Pandya realm in the south and the peninsula and islands beyond the Bay of Bengal.

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Indian geography has a long history. In fact, various geographical concepts have been developing in our country since the dawn of Indian civilization.

Agni (Fire), Indra and Varuna (Water). This shows that the ancient rishis and scholars had a fairly good knowledge about the origin of the earthquakes. Similarly, they has some knowledge about the origin of volcanoes (jawalamukhis).

In the Ramayana, inventory of mountains, rivers, plateaus, and important places has been made, while the epic of Mahabharata may serve as an encyclopedia of geographical knowledge, and the Bhuvankosa deals amongst other things, with climatology and meteorology in detail. The Buddhist Jatakas furnish quite a good knowledge of ancient geography. The term Bhugola has been first used in the Suryasiddhanta. The author has succeeded in defining the concept of the earths surface, the word known to the ancients, Bharatavarsa and its land and people and the concept of the ancients regarding village and town planning.

The Mahabbarata locates Kraunca Dwipa in the north and west of Meru (Pamir). This dwipa is watered by thousands of streams in addition to the seven important rivers which carry great volume of water. The dwipa, therefore, is definitely a humid region with abundant rainfall. The entire North-West Europe, including British Isles, thus constitutes the parts of this dwipa.

The Himalayas are mentioned as lying in the north, extending from west to east with its bend like a bow. Its regional divisions into Antargiri (inner Himalayas) and Bahirgiri (outer Himalayas) have been mentioned in the Mahabharata. The Kailash mountain has been said to be studded with diamonds, minerals and other precious stones. This was the abode of apsaras (nymphs) and devas (deities).

The astronomers of the Puranic period established nine planets, namely, the Sun, the Moon, the Mars, the Mercury, the Jupiter, the Venus, the Saturn, the Rahu and the Ketu. The astrophysical characters of some of the planets have been described in classical literature. Budha (Mercury) has been taken to be of green colour, Sbukra (Venus) of white colour, Mangala (Mars) of red colour, Brahaspati (Jupiter) of yellow colour and Sani (Saturn) of black colour.

The concept of prithvi (earth) is the most basic concept in the study of geography. The word prithvi (earth) has been used profusely in the Vedas and the Puranas. The word Bhogol (geography) in the ancient Indian literature signifies the spherical shape of the earth. The spherical shape of the earth was visualized by Aitareya Brahmana, which who stated that sun neither sets, nor rises. We feel that is sets, but in reality, at the end of the day, it goes to the other side. Thus, it makes night on this side and day on the other. There is other evidence also like the shadow of the earth during lunar eclipse which is circular. From this it may be inferred that the earth is spherical in shape.

It promises a paradise for those who approach the dwipa from one direction, while it presents the appearance of a wasteland if one enters it from the opposite direction. Such phenomena of knife-edge boundaries between two regions of strong contrast are not uncommon. Puskara Dwipa is surrounded by an ocean of fresh water and surrounds the sea of milk. This region sprawls over the eastern and north-eastern Siberia (Russia). These countries contain numerous lakes, support nomadic people who live by hunting and are washed by Arctic waters and Bering Sea which have fresh water and low salinity.

The etymological meaning of the word Bharatvarsa gives a clear conception of its various characteristics and its historical significance. It symbolizes a fundamental unity which was certainly perceived and understood by those who coined the term Bharatvarsa derived from Bharataa sovereign king. The Altareya Brahmana refers to his coronation ceremony, subsequent conquests and Asvamedha sacrifice.

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The evidences in the Vedic and Puranic literatures clearly reveal that the Aryans were quite familiar with atmosphere, weather and climate. According to them, the earth was surrounded by antriksa (space/atmosphere) which exists between the earth and the heaven. The Rigveda mentions that the thickness of the atmosphere cannot be traversed by birds. Moreover, the Ramayana furnishes a lot of information regarding the atmosphere. Later on, Bhaskaracharya has conceived the thickness of the atmosphere to be 12 yojanas (154 km) round the earth in which winds, clouds, lightning, rain, fog and frost occur.

Salmala Dwipa has derived its name from silk cotton tree. It consists of the tropical part of Africa bordering to the west of the Indian Ocean. It includes Madagascar, the Zenj of the Arab and Persian geographers. The main characteristic of this dwipa is salmali (silk cotton) tree. This tree is commonly found on the margins of equatorial regions of monsoon lands with moderate rainfall. It is a region of high cloudiness. Consequently, no star, planet or moon is visible. The people of this dwipa are essentially food gatherers and not food producers. The vegetation cover produces enough food to satisfy their needs.

The Rigveda also mentions five seasons, i.e., Vansant (spring), Grisma (summer), Prourit (rainy season), Sarad (autumn), and Hemanta (severe winter). In the Ramayana, Valmiki has, however, referred to six seasons (ritus) in India which are given below:

The Puranas consider the earth to be floating on water like a sailing boat in a river. The Aryans considered the problem of the distribution of land and sea and held the view that more land surface was to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.

The classical Indian astronomers were also conscious of the fact that local time of a place, depending upon the position of the sun or the moon in the sky, differs from that of other places situated along other meridians. They devised a method of calculating these differences. Some significant phenomena in the sky, like a lunar eclipse, was observed simultaneously from different places.

About the Vindhyans, it has been said that it is an extensive mountain with hundreds of peaks, variegated with trees and creepers. It stretches along the banks of the Narmada river up to Kaimur through Amarkantak.

According to one school of thought, Bharat is the name of Manu, who creates and sustains people in Bharatvarsa. Some of the Puranas mention the name Bharata after king Bharatthe son of Rishabhadeva and the grandson of Nabhi.

Thus, Bharatvarsa was divided into nava khandas (nine divisions). These divisions were separated by seas. Out of the nine divisions, eight have been shown as parts of Greater India while the ninth is surrounded by the sea.

An in-depth study of the religious records, historical accounts and travelogues reveals that the ancient Indian scholars had fairly accurate concepts regarding cosmology and cosmography. They also had a good knowledge of the various dwipas (continents), mountain systems, rivers, fauna and flora of the brahmatvarsa (sub-continent) and the lands lying in its vicinity.

Apart from mountains, many drainage systems have been described in the ancient Vedic and Puranic literatures. The Rigveda has mentioned rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutudri (Sutlej), Parusni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum), Arjikiya (upper part of Indus), Susoma (Savan), Sindhu (Indus), Kubha (Kabul), Gomati (Gomala), and Krumu (Kurrum). There are references to the Indus drainage system, to Narmada, Tapti (Tapi), Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri and Tungbhadra. It abounds in elaborate descriptions of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra rivers.

Margosirsa-Pausa (November-December)

About the origin of the earth, it has been mentioned in the Upanishads that in the beginning death concealed all. Water was produced after worshipping death, from which the earth was originated. According to the Puranas, there was neither day nor night, neither light nor darkness and nothing else.

So far as the origin of the earth and the rock material of the earth-crust is concerned, the ancient Indian scholars believed in solidification orearth from ga搜索引擎优化us matter. The earth crust, according to them, was made of hard rocks (sila), clayey (bbumih) and sandy (asma).

Culturally, caste has been the strongest element in ancient Hindu way of life. Caste is basically a system of functional stratification of society maintained by religious sanction. Bharatvarsa was inhabited by four castes, i.e., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. At the apex of the caste system were Brahminsthe priestly caste of Hindu religion.

The philosophical theory of cosmogony has its origin in the song of creation which says that in the beginning there was neither being (sat), or not-being (asat). There was no atmosphere, no sky, no days, and no nights. The space was empty but for a unit which was born by its own nature, perhaps due to its inherent heat. This heat has been explained by Wilson as austerities, but it may conveniently be considered as a physical action in the process of formation of the universe.

The classical Indian astronomers were conscious of the importance of akshansa (latitudes) and deshantra (longitudes) in the determination of a point or place on the earths surface.

Originally, a dwipa signified a land bounded by water (ocean, sea, river, lake or by a combination of these water bodies) on all sides. Thus, dwipa was equally applied to an island, a peninsula or a doab (land between two rivers). The Puranas appear to have further extended the meaning of the term dwipa to include any land which was ordinarily inaccessible or detached by virtue of its being surrounded by water, sand, swamp, or even high mountains or thick forest. Thus, the Puranic dwipa, by accident or design, came to signify a natural regioneither physiographic or climatic.

The name of this dwipa has been derived from the fact that it is surrounded by Puskara (lakes of lotuses). This dwipa is bounded by a huge circular chain of lakes. The people living in Puskara Dwipa are nomads, hunters and in general primitive and savage. One side of the dwipa is a dry desert and the other side is suitable for human occupation.

The Rigveda mentions a number of gods who performed various functions during the process of creation. These gods were artists who contributed their skill to the construction and completion of the universe. They wove various materials into a pattern, and shaped the universe by blasting and smelting. The universe was compared to a house and Rig-Veda alludes to various stages in the construction of this universal house.

Unlike our modern scientists, the ancient Indian astronomers believed in a geocentric universe. In the Rigveda, we come across the description of 34 heavenly bodies including the sun, the moon, five grabs (planets) and 37 constellations. The five planets have been described as the five gods.

Earth is an oblate spheroid slightly flattened at the poles; its equatorial diameter measures 12,757 km, and its polar diameter 12,713 km. In the Vedic and Puranic literature, no definite information regarding earths dimensions is available, but later literature of the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. on astronomy gives somewhat convincing information which is as follows:

The instrumental origin of universe is based on the occurrence of parent bodies from which the universe was created. Agni (Fire), Indra, Soma, Surya (Sun), Rudra and the other gods are mentioned as having been instrumental in the creation of the earth and the heaventhe twin parents of the whole universe. The union of the earth and the heaven results in the birth of the sun which is the most important agent in the creation of the world. He is the soul of all that moveth or not moveth, the sun hath filled the air, and the earth and heaven. He was later identified with Rajapati, Viswakarma and sometimes with the golden egg and unborn being. The unborn being is also named as atma (soul) who produced the universe through an intermediary body.

This river resembles the Yarkand river which has even today been referred to as Sito by the Chinese. The river Suvamksu (Amu-Darya) flows west of the Pamirs which is also called as Bakshu in Mongolia, Potsu in China and Paksu in Tibet. This river debouches into the Aral Sea.

These dimensions were based on crude estimates. The real facts about the earth as known today are that its volume is 260,000,000,000, the equatorial circumference 24,902 miles and meridinal circumference 24,860 miles and its estimated age according to the latest researches is at least 4,500 million years. The mass or weight of the earth has been calculated as 6,586,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes. The estimates made by Surya-Siddhanta and Aryabhatta were very close to these established facts.

Saka Dwipa has been identified as a wide stretch of land to the south-east of the Jambu Dwipa, covering the present Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the islands of the South-East Asia (East Indies). This has hot and moist climate with thick cover of evergreen forests (Fig. 3.1).

The work done by Varahmihira, Brahmagupta, Aryabhatta, Bhaskarcharya, Bhattila, Utpala, Vijaynandi and others has substantially helped the development of astronomy, mathematical geography and cartography. Thus, geography of the ancient time appears to have included astronomy in its sphere. The term Bhogol (geography) in Indian geographical literature was used for the first time in Suryasiddhanta, and in the Padma Puranas a difference has been made between Bhogol (geography), Khogol (the science of space) and Jyotishakra (astrology).

In the Puranas, there are references about latitudes (akshansa) and longitudes (deshantra). On the basis of latitudes, they have divided the earth into various regions.

The universe has been described as brahmand in the ancient Indian literature. It was conceived as very immense and wide which cannot be described. In the epics and Puranas, it was however, divided into seven upper and seven internal divisions.

In the Puranic literature, the entire country from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) is designated by a single name Bharatvarsa (India). Bharatvarsa bears the testimony of Arayans.

As per references found in the Puranas, the land mass of the earth was divisible into several dwipas (continents). The word dwipa has been interpreted differently by different scholars.

The second caste consisted of Kshatriyas who were warriors, cultivators and artisans. The third caste, Vaisyas, consisted of traders and businessmen, while the Sudras used to do inferior services. The Sudras were excluded from the main street and were obliged to live outside the main village, commonly in much inferior dwellings of thatch and matting.

Apart from religious records, the travelers, accounts (religious, commercial, expedition) abound in the description of different regions of the world. The accounts of these travellers reveal that India had closer links with the neighbouring lands and Indian scholars were familiar with the geographical conditions of China, South-East Asia, Central Asia, Mesopotamia and the Trans-Oxus Asia.

The rishis of Rigveda initially formulated the principle of four directions, i.e., Purva (east), Paschima (west), Uttar (north) and Dakshina (south). By adding Zenith (Meru) and Nadir (Badavanala), it was raised to six. Afterwards eight and ten directions are frequently mentioned in the Puranic literature. The designation of directions in the Puranas and subsequent literature Saptapadarthi is significant in the sense that it bears the original concept of the gods dominating in each of them. The ten directions and the ruling deity of each direction are given as under:

The ancient Indian geography hinges on religion. Every physical phenomenon, every major or spectacular landmark on the earths surface has a religious background for Indians. Every mountain peak, every river, every crag, every huge and useful tree is sacred and is preserved in these traditions.

The ancient Indian scholars had accurate knowledge of topography, physiography, flora, fauna, natural resources, agriculture and other socio-economic activities of India and adjoining countries. They also had conjectured about the solar system and the universe. In the Aitareya Brahmana one may find materials regarding the regional geography of India. The Satapatha Brahmana furnishes a systematic description of the various branches of geography. The Vaidika Age inspired geographers and they produced valuable works in various branches of geography.

Kusa Dwipa has derived its name from kusa grass or poa grass. This dwipa stretches over Iran, Iraq and the fringing lands of the hot deserts, i.e., the south-west corner of the landmass round Meru which is left out in the regional pattern of Jambu Dwipa. This is a land of grasses and characterized by seasonal droughts. It contains seven major rivers and thousands of their branches that flow when god Indra pours down rain. In other words, these tributaries are seasonal in character. The mountains of Kusa Dwipa are covered with herbs, trees and creepers. Its mountains and rocks are full of minerals and precious stones. The presiding deity of this dwipa is Agni (Fire).

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