The Correlation between Physical Geography and History in the Indian Context
The interconnection between physical geography and history has been a topic of discussion for centuries. Physical regions have varying cultural zones, including differences in language, food habits, and more. Riverine cultures have given rise to advanced societies, while mountainous regions have fostered tribal cultures. Geography has played a significant role in shaping regional differences and fostering separate identities, making it challenging for durable, pan-Indian states to rise in Indian history.
The relationship between environment and human settlements is also significant. Settlement patterns have a definite pattern based on geographical features. For example, the currently arid Harappan region, which now supports agriculture, is a testament to how the environment can change. The ascendancy of Magadha and Pataliputra is also attributed to their advantageous location.
While these explanations may not always be accurate, the interrelationship between historical processes and geographical factors was always close. However, it is not geography alone that determines settlements; the level of technological advancement also plays a significant role. Geography and environment should not be considered prime movers. The influence of nature is not fixed, nor is the relationship between man and the environment static. The limits set by nature are conquered by human experience and by human beings with their tools.
For example, the opening up of the Northern alluvial Plains was only possible because of the advent of iron technology. While geography has played a significant role in shaping the history of the world, it is not the only factor. The interconnection between physical geography and history is complex, and it is essential to consider all factors when studying the past.
India can be divided into three basic physiographic divisions, namely, the Himalayan uplands, the Indo-gangetic plains, and the Peninsular plateau. The alluvial plains and the peninsular plateau are separated by an intermediate zone, which is called central India. The Aravalli hills separate the peninsula from the Indus plains. The intermediate zone consists of the Vindhya-Satpura ranges and the Chotta Nagpur plateau. The intermediate zone can be divided into four sub-regions: the area around Rajasthan from Udaipur to Jaipur, the area around present-day Ujjain which covers the Malwa plateau, the area around Nagpur which is called Vidarbha, and the Chattisgarh plains which were called Dakshinakosala. Although communication between these pockets was not easy, there were contacts. Peninsular India begins at the edge of this intermediate zone. It gently slopes from west to east, and it is a stable landmass. The most distinguishing feature of Peninsular India is the Deccan plateau, which is a self-ploughing black soil that helps in overcoming irrigational difficulties. Good for growing cotton, millet, peanut, and oilseed, this soil led to the development of early chalcolithic cultures in the region. The peninsula ends with the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. The Nilgiri hills and the Cardamom hills are offshoots of the Peninsula.
India can also be divided into regional physical features. The Himalayas can be divided into three regions: the Eastern Himalayas that run in a north-south direction from Assam to South China, the Central Himalayas that run from Bhutan to Chitral, and the Western Himalayas that extend into Afghanistan. The passes of Afghanistan open up to the Indus plains, which can be divided into two: Punjab and Sind. The Gangetic plains are more humid than the Indus plains, and they are divided into three parts: the upper Gangetic plains, the middle Ganga plains, and the lower Ganga plains. Central, eastern, and western India have their own distinguishing features. Gujarat is on the western fringe, and it is divided into three natural regions: Saurashtra, Anarta (N. Gujarat), and Lata (S. Gujarat). The low lying Rann of Kutch is another feature. Although it appears to be a zone of isolation, it is an area of interchange and trading settlements. Coastal plains of Orissa largely lie on the Mahanadi Delta. The eastern Orissa with its fertile coastal plains provided an agrarian base and acted as a focal point.
Peninsular India consists of four major states: Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra, and Karnataka. Maharashtra covers most of Northern Deccan and has the presence of self-ploughing black soil. Neolithic settlements have mostly been agriculture-based.
The extreme south of India refers to the southernmost part of the country. This includes the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the union territory of Puducherry. The Eastern Coastal plain is a narrow strip of land along the east coast of India that runs from Tamil Nadu in the south to West Bengal in the north. In Tamil Nadu, the Eastern Coastal plain and its hinterland constitute the state of Tamil Nadu.
The Eastern Coastal plains are wider than the Western Coastal plains. The Eastern Coastal plain is a broad plain that extends from the Bay of Bengal to the Eastern Ghats. The Western Coastal plain is a narrow strip of land that runs along the western coast of India, sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea.
The Western Ghats open up in Palghat only, which is a gap in the range. This gap is located towards the northern end of the Western Ghats and Kerala is located towards the southern end. As a result, Kerala remained relatively isolated as it was not easily accessible through the Western Ghats. However, the Malabar coast of Kerala has remained connected to the world through maritime trade and has been influenced by a lot of interactions.