The history of india, like that of other lands, cannot be understood unless regard is paid to the physical features of the stage on which the long drama of her story has been played, and before we attempt a rapid survey of the actor's deeds we must pause to consider the manner in which the position and structure of india have affected human action.
Boundaries of India. The India with which we are concerned is the distinct geographical unit bounded on the north by the ranges of the Himalaya and Karakoram, on the north-west by the mountains to the west of the Indus, on the north-east by the hills of Assam and Cachar, and everywhere else by the sea, The unit so defined includes both a continental area, outside the tropics, extending from the mouths of the Indus in N. lat25°on the west to the mouths of the Ganges in about N. lat 23°on the east, and a triangular peninsular area,within the tropics, terminatinating at Cape Cormorin, N.lat.8°4'.
The northern land frontier measures about 1,600, the north-western about 1,200 and the north-eastern about 500 miles.
The length of the sea-coast may be taken as 3,400 miles, more or less.
Physical isolation of India. The leading fact in the postion above described as affecting history is the obvious
physical isolation of India. In ancient times, when no power attempted to assert full command of the sea, a country
so largely surrounded by the ocean was inaccessible for the most part, and could be approached by land through its continental section only. The north-eastern hills and the gigantic Himalayan and Karakoram ranges present comparatively few passable openings, and none easy of passage for considerable bodies of men. But the hills west of the Indus are pierced by many passes more or less open. The main land gates of India are on her north-western frontier, and this physical fact dominated her history for thousands of years.
Isolation destroyed by command of the sea. The command of the sea acquired by the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century and ultimately inherited by the British has destroyed the isolation of India. To a modern power possessing an adequate fleet, the sea is a bound of union not a barrier of separation, and so it has come about that India, while separation, and China by mountain ramparts, has been closely bound to the remote island of Great Britain by means of the British control of the ocean routes.
Modern importance of the ports. The ports are now the main gates, and the north-western passes are but posterns.
No hostile force entering India by any of the ancient land routes could hold more than a limited area in the north-west against a power exercising command of the sea. While the traveller from Bombay easily reaches London in a fortnight, Delhi is still almost as far from Ghazni or Samarkand as it was in the days of Mahind and babur.
Distribution of the great cities. In former times the great cities and capitals of states were built inland and usually on the banks of rivers, which offered the best means of communication and transport. Now, the position of the greatest cities is determined by the facilities for harbour accomodation, and it is desirable that the capital of the empire should be in close touch with the sea. Bombay owes her modern greatness solely to her magnifient natural harbour, which enables her to deal with the commerce of the world. Calcutta, although not so favoured by nature, is dtill a great port, and as such was well qualified to be the imperial capital, as it was from 1774 to 1912. The remoteness from the sea is a serious disadvantages to Delhi, the present official capital.
Want of harbous on the east coast. The lack of good harbours on the eastern coast fit for big modern ships has killed or half killed the ancient towns on that side of India. Ports which were good enough for the tiny vessels of ancient times are of no use for the great steamers of these days. Madras, in order to save herself from ruin, has been obliged to supply natural defiency by the construction of an artificial harbour at enormous cost. Most of the harbours on the eastern side of India, such as they were, have become so choked with sand and sit as to be almost useless, even for small coasting craft.
This physical change has involved the utter ruin of famous old ports, Kaviripaddanam, Korai,and others.
Air transport. Air transport is still in its infancy, but it has had an immense influence upon India both from the civil
and the military point of view. It has reduced the time between India and England to a matter of hours, and Karachi has already become one of the great airports on the imperial air route running between the British Isles and Australia.
India is rapidly becoming covered with a network of internal airways. Air transport has its dangers as well as its
advantages. Aeroplanes can fly over the highest mountain ranges with ease, and can land troops and drop bombs anywhere at will. India will have to be prepared to defend herself from invasion by air as well as by land and sea in the future.
Natural division between north and south. Next in importance to the physical isolation of India, as it existed for
countless years, is the natural separations of the north from the south effected by the broad belt of hill and forest
running from the Gulf of Cambay on the west to the mouths of the Mahanadi on the east. The country lying between this barrier and the Himalayas, although not altoghether devoid of hills, is essentially a plain watered by two river systems, those, of the Indus and the Ganges. the parting or watershed of the two systems is marked by the Aravalli (pariyatra) hills of Rajputana. The great plain, formed of silt deposited from the river, has been the scene of nearly all the Indian historical events interesting to the outer world. It lies outside the tropics. The peninsular region to the south of the forest barrier lies wholly within the tropics, and until recent times has been so secluded from the rest of the world that the history of its many principalities and powers, expecting some on the coast, has been little known or regarded.
The forest barrier, or Mahakantara, and the NArbada river. The forest barrier itself, Mahakantara of old books, used to be a no-man's-land, lying outside the limits of the regularly constituted states, and usually left in the hands of its wild inhabitants. It is now shared by several provincial governments, and is gradually losing its former distinct character.
In very early times this forest belt was practically impenetrable at most points, and the slight itnercourse between north and south had to be conducted usually either by sea or by a land route along the eastern coast. The forest barrier being broad and ill-defined, amore definite boundary is needed for literary use. Ancient authority, accordingly, warrants the assumption of the NArbada river as the conventional line dividing the north from the south, and this convention is suuficiently supported by the facts of history to be justified in practice.
Aryavarta, or Hindustan, and the Deccan. The northern plains were called by Hindu authors Aryavarta, 'the Aryan terriorty' and by the mohammedans Hindustan, 'the Hindu terriorty'. Modern usage sometimes extends the term Hindustan, 'to the whole of India. The ancients generally designated the whole peninsula area by the Sanskrit word dakshina, meaning 'south', which is familiar in its corrupt English form as 'the Deccan'. But the term 'Deccan' is now commonly restricted to the plateau or highlands to the north of the Kistna (Krishna) and Tungabhadra rivers, which are mostly included in the Nizam,s Dominions and the Bombay Presidency. The Far South, or Tamil Land (Tamilakam), ?which comprises the bulk of the Madras Presidency with the addition of the Mysore, Cochin, and Travancore States, is treated as distinct from the Deccan.
But historically Mysore has been more closely connected with the Deccan states than with those of Tamil Land.
The historian's three divisions of India. As a matter of fact the three divisions of Hindustan or Aryavarta,
to the north of the Narbada; the Deccan, between the Tapti and the Tungabhdra; and the Far South of Tamil Land, from the Tungabhadra; and the Far South or Tamil Land, from the Tungabhadra; to Cape comorin, usually have had separate histories.
The historian of india, therefore, finds it convenient to restrict his main narrative of events before the British
period to Hindustan, whch was most in touch with the outer world, and to devote distinct chapters to the account of events in the Deccan and the Far South. Most of the events of at all general interest occured in one or other of the three regions named above. The affairs of Mahakantara, or the central belt of jungle, of the Himalayan slopes and valleys, including Nepal, and Kashmir, as will as those of the basin of the main current of Indian history. The administrative arrangements of modern India take little account of physical features and natural geographical boundaries.
Basins of the Indus and Ganges. Within the area of Aryavarta or Hindustan we must distinguish the basin of the Indus and its tributaries, comprising the Punajb, Sidn, Katch and Rajputana to the west of the Aravalli hills, form the basin of the Ganges and its affluents. The history of the countries along the lower course of the Ganges, the modern province of Bengal, is distinct in large measure from that of the countries along the upper course of the same river, now mostly included in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. South Bihar and Tirhut, the ancient Magadha and Mithila respectively, now form part of the modern province of Bihar-Tirhut itself, Formerly a District of Bengal, having been divided into the Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga Districts north of the Ganges. The outlying peninsula of Surashtra, or Kathiawar, being most easily accessible through Malwa, was often included in the northern empires of the Gangetic basin.
The 'Lost River'. The extensive desert which now occupies so large an area in Rajputna and Sind was much smaller in ancient times, when the 'Lost River', the Hakra or wahindah flowed through the Bahawalpur state, and with its tributaries fertilized wide regions now desolate. During the Mohammedan period that river was the recognized boundary between Sind, and Hind, or india proper. It disappeared finally in the eighteenth century, but its ancient channels and the ruins of forgotten cities on their banks may still be seen. Failure to appreciate the enourmous scale of the changes in the courses of the rivers of Northern India has caused much misunderstanding of history. In olden days the command of the rivers was as important as the command of the sea is now.
The western and Eastern Ghats; the palin of Tinnevely. The long chain of hills or mountains of moderate height, known as the Sahydri or Western Ghats, which extends, with only one short break at palghat, from ther Narbada to cape comorin, palys an important part in Indian History. It shuts off from the intrior highlands the low-lying fertile strip of land between the hills and the sea, called the Konkan, which has been seat of trade with europr Since remote ages. The passes, which do not change like rivers, have necessarily determined the lines of intercourse between the coast and the kingdoms of the interior. The facilities for erecting forts on thje flat-topped hills of the Ghats and Deccan have largely influened the course of history, especially during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries, when the Maratha power was based on the possession of the hill-fortresses. The ill-defined range of the Eastern Ghats has less historical significance.
The arid plain of Tinnevely and madura in the south-east of the peninsula is a well-marked natural features which became the seat of a separate kingdom, that of the Pandyas, at a very early date.
The temptations of India. The wealth extracted by an industrious population from the teeming soil of the hot northern plains has always been a temptation to the hardy races of the less favoured parts of Asia, and has supplied the motive for innumerable invasions of armies and immigrations of more peaceful settlers. The new-comers, entering from the north, have thence pushed into the less attractive regions of the Deccan table-land, whenever they were strong enough to do so, but none of the invaders from the north were able to establish effective dominion over the extreme south. The riches of Tamil Land-especially pearls, pepper,and spices-have always been sought by foreigners who came by sea, not overland.