A thought provoking book on Indian History

If a week ago some one had asked me about India or its roots I wouldn’t have much to say- except brag about Harappans and the Vedas and the language Sanskrit. Not much information, I know but that is what I remembered from my school history. But now I know. And all thanks to the book on Indian History -‘The incredible History Of India’s Geography‘- one of the best books in my opinion.

So what do I know?Plenty! Here are some facts for you to chew from the book off course.

Snippets from the Indian History book

–>Harappans had a script that nobody has decoded yet. And this civilization was bigger than China.

Its extent- Gujarat,Rajasthan,Sindh,Punjab,Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Makran coast..Outposts were found at Afghan- Tajik border. What were Harappans doing there? Perhaps importing horses. And trading items like  beads, wood,ivory and surprise peacocks!

Harappan ruins

Photo credit: Muhammad Bin Naveed

–>A tribe called Bharata existed during the Vedic civilization. Its leader was Sudasa and his Guru -Vashishta. Sounds familiar?

This tribe defeated ten other Kings – all tribes from present Pakistan. Their success could be attributed to their weapons- bronze,copper available plenty in the area they lived, called the sapta sindhu[ Haryana, Eastern Punjab, North Rajasthan]. Perhaps this is the reason India derived the name Bharat from this powerful tribe.

What happened to the defeated tribes? That’s interesting too! They were the ancestors of the rich,powerful sometimes founding kingdoms or turning up in famous battles. To name a few, Purus ancestors of  King Porus who fought valiantly with Alexander, the Pakhta – ancestors of Pashtun tribe and Parsu- ancestors of Persians.

Vedic period
Photo Credit

–>There were two trade routes in India, the North-South route and the East-West route.

The North-South route was from the plains of Ganga, to Nasik, Hampi and towards the southern tip of India. The East-West route was from East Afghanistan to Punjab, to plains once again going towards the east of the country. Some of the important cities in North-South Axis were Allahabad, Hampi, Rameshwaram, Srilanka. What do these places remind you of?

Ramayana off-course. The prince Rama of Allahabad, his stay at Panchavati, near Nasik, the meeting of monkeys at Kishkinda, near Hampi, the building of bridge from Rameshwaram to Lanka, releasing Sita kept at Lanka…..

Now the East-West axis cities – Gandhara,Delhi, Gangetic plains, Dwarka, Manipur. These cities are mentioned prominently in Mahabharat. Gandhara from East Afghanistan was where Gandhari, mother of Kauravas came from, the Delhi was the Pandava capital, Gurgaon was the village of Dronacharya, the battle of Kurukshetra- near Haryana, Krishna’s city Dwarka, Manipur was a place that Arjuna visited.

Well were these actual stories then, not mere mythology… What do you think?

–>Indian influence is seen as far as South East Asia. Java,Sumatra, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali,Korea..

All had strong Hindu/Buddhist Kingdoms. Even today Ramayana is enacted in front of Parambanan temple at Java. Malaysia and Indonesia have a lot of words derived from Sanskrit, Brahma temples are found in Bangkok….. All this is thanks to trade routes. The eastern coast was heavily engaged with trade with these countries. Indian merchants would sail all the way to China.

During Karthik Poornima there is tradition of lighting lamps and setting them afloat in water. This was originally meant for the Indian merchants going out to sea during the month of November towards South East Asia!

Indian influence in South East Asia
Ramayana at Cambodia

Photo Credit:Decoly

–>Indians were not known for map-making.

The Arabs however wrote books, drew extensive maps, went as far as drawing false maps to fool the Europeans and restrict them from exploring eastern sea routes. Funny isn’t it? Their maps showed the Indian ocean as completely surrounded by land. To top it, an English man named Sir John Mandeville wrote a book called ‘The Travels’ that was full of long and short tales. He claimed to have traveled the world and gave some unreliable information that misled the Europeans for quite some time. However these tales zinged up the spirit of explorers like Columbus to plan their expeditions.

Book review of The Incredible History of India's Geography

–>Surveys and mapping the Indian landscape began with the coming of British to India.

William Lambton was one of the pioneers in accurately mapping the landscape. He used a telescope like instrument called the theodolite to measure angles. The instrument was heavy- half a ton and had to be carried to places of heights like hills, mounds and buildings to measure and record reading. How tough it must have been then with rocky outcrops, dense jungles, the fear of animals, hostile territory, attacks from bandits, unfriendly rulers etc. … The surveyors or map mappers back then surely needed a courageous bone not to mention an adventure streak for getting involved such activities!

My two pence on this book on History:

The Incredible History Of India’s Geography carries many such fascinating tales and is a lovely read. It is one of the better Indian history books that gives you an overview of the subcontinent from Harappan period to Independence. All in all- a worthy book to add to your Indian History collection.


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