The history of any country or region cannot be understood without some knowledge of its geography. The history of the people is greatly conditioned by the geography and environment of the region in which they live. The physical geography and environmental conditions of a region include climate, soil types, water resources and other topographical features. These determine the settlement pattern, population spread, food products, human behaviour and dietary habits of a region. The Indian subcontinent is gifted with different regions with their distinct geographical features which have greatly affected the course of its history. Geographically speaking the Indian subcontinent in ancient times included the present day India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. On the basis of geographical diversities the subcontinent can be broadly divided into the following main regions. These are:
(i) The Himalayas
(ii) The River Plains of North India
(iii) The Peninsular India
After seen this video, you will be able to:
- explain the physical divisions of Indian subcontinent;
- recognize the distinct features of each region;
- understand why some geographical areas are more important than the others; define the term environment;
- establish the relationship between geographical features and the historical developments in different regions;
- define the terms prehistory, prehistoric cultures, and microliths;
- distinguish between the lower, middle and upper Palaeolithic age on the basis of the tools used;
- explain the Mesolithic age as a phase of transition on the basis of climate and the tools used;
- explain the Neolithic age and its chief characteristics;
- differentiate between Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods and learn about the Prehistoric Art
The geographical setting and pre-historic cultures of India Nios chapter 2nd (1th Part)
The Himalayas are the world’s largest and the highest mountain ranges. These are approximately 2,400 kilometers long. These ranges have not only checked invasions but have also protected us from the cold winds coming from north. They also stop the monsoon winds from the seas which results in rainfall in the northern plains. However, there are some mountain passes which, though difficult, have provided access to determined invaders, traders, missionaries. These have helped in developing cultural contacts with Central Asia, China and Tibet in ancient times.
THE RIVER PLAINS OF NORTH INDIA
The Himalayas also provide India with three river systems dominated by the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. These rivers made their respective regions fertile and attracted both settlers and invaders
The Gangetic basin receives more rainfall and is more humid than the Indus region. The Gangetic plains is divided into three sub-regions: Upper, Middle and Lower. The Upper plains of the river Ganges constitute the western and southern parts of Uttar Pradesh. This region has seen active cultural developments since the ancient period. This was inhabited by the Aryans in the Later Vedic period,during which they practised agriculture. The Middle Gangetic plains, which is more fertile and has more rainfall, include eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is the region where mahajanpadas (territorial states) like Kosala, Kasi and Magadha were established in the 6th century BC. The two main religions of India, Jainism and Buddhism, also took their birth here.
THE PENINSULAR INDIA
Peninsular India includes the Deccan plateau and the coastal plains of South India.The plateau is situated to the south of the Vindhya mountains. It is divided into three major regions which largely correspond to the modern states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The northern Deccan plateau comprises of a part of Maharashtra. A number of Chalcolithic sites inhabited by people using copper and stone tools have been found in this region. Karnataka includes the southwestern Deccan. This region with the availability of water and other resources had been more suitable for human settlements than the northern part. The Raichur doab for its rice cultivation has been known as the ‘rice bowl’ of South India. It has been the bone of contention between different kingdoms. These regions were inhabited right from the prehistoric times.
INFLUENCE OF ENVIRONMENT
The settlement of people in any region is very much dependent on its environmental conditions. Environment is taken as the surroundings or conditions in which various species (men, animals and plants) exist and function. The environment mainly comprises of elements such as climate, landscape, rivers, species of plants and animals (flora and fauna), etc. Now, let us see how environment has influenced the life of people and their history since ancient past A semi-arid region is advantageous to people for settlement purpose.
For example, the Sind region having this type of climate in ancient period, resulted in the flourishing Harappan civilization. It also helped the growth of urban settlements. Similarly, the rise of Pataliputra and the importance of Magadha in Bihar can also be explained in relation to its physical features and environment. Pataliputra was surrounded by the rivers namely the Ganges, Son and Gandak which provided natural defence as well as internal communication. Moreover, the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains helped in the maintenance of a strong population base.
An area gifted with navigable rivers has well developed trade and communication networks. Our ancient literature like the Jatakas and other texts, mention many riverine routes in ancient India. Similarly, the coastal routes promote the long distance trade with different countries. The mountain passes are also very important in this context. For example, the Palghat pass linked the east and west coasts and thus helped in the growth of Indo-Roman trade in ancient times.
Prehistoric period is that period of our ancient past for which we do not have written records. Therefore our knowledge of the cultures, which developed in this period, is based only on the materials found in the archaeological excavations. The earliest man living during this period made tools and implements of stone found in his surroundings. These tools helped him to hunt and gather food in order to satisfy his hunger. Since the earliest tools used by humans were made of stones, this phase of human development is known as the Stone Age. In this lesson we shall trace the evolution of prehistoric man from a hunter and food-gatherer to a food producer. This change did not take place all of a sudden and took several hundred thousand years. On the basis of the different type of tools and techniques the stages of human development in prehistoric period are described as the Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age, the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, and the Neolithic or New Stone Age.
THE PALAEOLITHIC CULTURES
The term Palaeolithic is derived from the Greek word ‘palaeo’, which means old and ‘lithic’ meaning stone. Therefore, the term Palaeolithic age refers to the old stone age. The archaeologists have dated this culture to the Pleistocene period about two million years ago. The Pleistocene period is the geological period of the age when the earth’s surface was covered with ice, and weather was so cold that human or plant life could not survive. But in the tropical region, where ice melted, the earliest species of men could exist.
(a) Tools of the Palaeolithic Period
(b) Geographical Distribution of the Palaeolithic Sites
(c) Subsistence Pattern
(d) Subsistence Pattern
THE NEOLITHIC CULTURES AND THE ADVENT OF FOOD PRODUCTION
The last phase of prehistory is termed as Neolithic. The term Neolithic is derived from Greek ‘neo’ which means new, and ‘lithic’ meaning stone. Thus, the term ‘neolithic Age’ refers to the ‘New Stone Age’ of human culture. In Indian subcontinent it is dated back to around 8000 BC. The term ‘Neolithic’ was coined by Jonn Lubbock. The chief characteristic of this age was the new type of ground and polished stone tools. This period also marked the beginning of cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals. It led to the beginning of settled life and the growth of village settlements. The Neolithic culture had following characteristics:
(i) Beginning of agricultural activities
(ii) Domestication of animals
(iii) Grinding and polishing of stone tools having sharper edges
(iv) Use of pottery
(a) Meaning of the ‘Neolithic Revolution’
(b) Tools of the Neolithic Period
(c) Subsistence Pattern
THE PREHISTORIC ART
The rock paintings were an important and distinct feature of the Mesolithic people though their beginning may be traced to the upper Palaeolithic period. These paintings are made on the walls of rock shelters, maximum of which have been found at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. These throw light on the social and economic life on Mesolithic people. The main subjects of paintings are hunting, fishing and food gathering. Animals like boar, buffalo, monkey and nilgai are often depicted in these paintings. The social activities like the child birth, rearing of a child and burial ceremony are also shown in the rock paintings. The scenes of hunting in a group suggest that Mesolithic people lived in small groups.