India or Bharatvarsa is bounded on north by Himalayas and on the south by ocean. A part of Jambudvipa, the scriptures called it Bharatvarsa or where the descendants of Bharatas live. The name Hindu or India is given by the Persians.
They call it Hafta-Hindu or Sapta-Sindhu, a land watered by the river Sindhu. The ancient name Bharatvarsa has its authenticity in ancient literature that refers to Bharat clan that dominated the large area of the country.
On the north the huge range of Himalayas render very strong frontier to this country. The other mountains like Hindukush and Vindhyachal have equally played decisive roles in molding the history of land.
These features are important factors in the study of civilisation. These mountains have several passes that served as routes of movement and invasion in various periods of history.
The five passes of Himalayas—Khyber, Bolan, Tochi, Gomal and Kurram served as important ways for invasion and migrations that influenced the formation of the history of the land. Khyber and Bolan passes are the major ones. Rig-Veda refers to Tochi-Kurram pass used by Aryan invaders.
The Khyber route also finds its mention in the treatise. The invaders could have come down through the pass to the Valley of Kabul River to Peshawar. These five natural routes, known as five fingers, connect Iran and central Asia with India. The passes eased the movement and the invaders used these to conquer the land ultimately changing the entire court of history and moulding the civilisation.
Hindukush range has two passes-Qora-Kottal and Dandan-Shikan that connect Western Afghanistan and Hari Rud valley with Balkh (Bactria). This route facilitates the eastward movement towards Kabul. Between Kabul and Kandahar, a series of valleys and mountain passes offer several ways to Punjab frontiers.
These areas have remained historic shelters of warlike races. Once these people settled themselves in those strategic and difficult mountain belts it became easier for them to command the Indian plains. Thus, the peaceful tenor of life of Punjab and Western India was recurrently endangered by these strategic factors.
The Huns, Persians, Greeks, Sakas, Turks and Afghans entered the country through these passes. They not only politically dominated the land but also influenced the culture and the society. The long structured sea coasts in Southern Plateau have also remained a powerful source of contact with the world.
The vast coastline had activated the maritime activities and led to the establishment of a number of harbours. The trade relations with Rome, China, Malaysia, and South-east Asia were developed. The plains of north India were fertile land that rendered prosperity to the country. This was the cause of numerous invasions from outside. The climatic changes in north-western India changed the history of the region.
The monsoon currents did not remain as strong as earlier as a result of dry land and extension of desert. It extended from east Iran to Rajputana serving as a natural barrier repulsing the invasions through Khyber pass.
The various races that entered the region as invaders settled down here. In course of time they lost their identity. The Indian society is a mixture of various races like Aryans, Dravidians, Persians, Greeks, Turks, Mughals, Huns, Sakas, Kushans, etc. This led to the formation of a composite culture in India.
The literature of ancient India offers six geographical divisions of the country:
1. Middle region (Madhya Desa),
2. Himalayan region (Himavanta),
3. North-West region (Uttarpatha),
4. Deccan (Dakshinapatha),
5. Eastern India (Purvanta),
6. Western India (Aparanta).
The Anthropologists consider India a land of multi-races. The geographical feature of the country attracted people from outside during various periods. The Indus Valley and the Gangetic plains had such climate that brought out bumper harvests and eventually prosperity.
The races from outside coveted the prosperity of the land. They invaded the country and were impressed with the environment which made them settle here. After a few centuries the invaders mingled with the local population and it was not possible to identify them.
There are references when the groups from outside were called Sudras, but later on the assimilated into the national stream and were called Kshatriyas. India is not a land of geographical integration but it is a land of pious ceremonies. The sacred cities and lakes, rivers and mountains are scattered throughout the country. The seven holy cities, seven holy rivers and seven holy mountains give it a spiritual unity.
The sacred points like temples are placed either on the sacred mountains, sea-coasts or on the river banks. People from all ethnic groups, religious groups and social groups have quest for unity, peace and immorality.
Indian myth, religion and art introduce into man’s life an overtone binding into a greater universe. The principles set since Dravidian cultures have been re-molded through the various stages in history.
The peace prayer of the country includes not only men and animals, but all the living creatures in this universe. Through ages the country has experienced vast movements and has gone through many renaissances.
All this has contributed to the emergence of a composite culture. Despite diversities in the land due to geographical and other features there is an underlying unity in the country.
Hunting and Gathering Period:
The earth is nearly 4000 million years old and the evolution of its crust shows four stages. The fourth stage is called the Quaternary which is divided into Pleistocene (most recent) and Holocene (present); the former lasted between 1,000,000 and 10,000 years before the present and the latter began about 10,000 years ago.
Man is said to have appeared on the earth in the early Pleistocene, but now this events seems to have occurred in Africa about 2.6 million years back. The fossils of the early men have not been found in India. However, recently reported artifacts from Bori in Maharashtra take the appearance of man as early as 1.4 million years ago.
At present it appears that India was settled later than Africa, although the lithic technology of the subcontinent broadly evolved in the same manner as it did in Africa. Stone Age has been divided into four periods, Palaeolithic Age or Early Stone Age (ESA), Middle Stone Age (MSA), Late Stone Age (LSA) or Mesolithic Age and Neolithic Age.
(a) The Palaeolithic Period:
The term Palaeolithic is derived from two Greek words meaning old stone. This name is applied to the earliest people, as the only evidence of their existence is furnished by a number of crude stone implements. Tools of the Early Stone Age (ESA) or Palaeolithic period comprised of hand-axes, cleavers, discoids, etc.
The early man in India used these tools of stone roughly dressed by crude chipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. They served as weapons for hunting wild animals, and could also be used as hammers or for purposes of cutting and boring. Palaeolithic man barely manayed to gather his food and lived on hunting. He had no knowledge of cultivation and house-building. This phase generally continued till 9000 B.C.
The Palaeolithic tools, which could be as old as 1, 00,000 B.C. have been found in the Chotanagpur plateau. Such tools belonging to 20,000 B.C. 10,000 B.C. have been found in Kurnool district in Andhra-Pradesh. These tools were made up of a species of hard rock called “quartzite”, hence the Palaeolithic men in India are also known as “Quartzite men.”
In association with these, bone implements and animal remains have been discovered. Animal remains found in the Belan valley in Mirzapur district (U.P.) shows that goats, sheep and cattle were exploited. The Old Stone Age or the Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period of the Ice Age.
Phases in the Palaeolithic Age:
The Paleolithic Age in India is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people and also according to the nature of change in the climate. The first phase is called Early or Lower Paleolithic (broadly placed between 2, 50,000 B.C. and 1, 00,000 B.C.) the second, Middle Palaeolithic (between 1, 00,000 B.C. and 40,000 B.C.); and the third Upper Paleolithic (between 40,000 B.C. and 10,000 B.C.)
The Lower Paleolithic or the Early Stone Age (ESA) covers the greater part of the Ice Age and its characteristic feature is the use of hand axes, cleavers and choppers. The ESA sites are found in the valley of river Soan or Sohan in Punjab (now in Pakistan), Kashmir and the Thar desert.
The ESA tools have also been found in the valleys of Narmada, in the desert areas of Didwana in Rajasthan and in the caves and rock shelters of Bhimbetka near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh roughly belonging to 1, 00,000 B.C. The rock shelters may have served as seasonal camps for human beings.
The Middle Paleolithic or Middle Stone Age (MSA) industries are mainly based upon flakes – which are found in different parts of India and show regional variations. The principal tools are varieties of blades, points, borers, scrapers, burins and cores made of flakes.
We also find a large number of borers and blade-like tools. The geographical horizon of the Middle Paleolithic sites coincides roughly with that of the Lower Paleolithic sites.
The Upper Paleolithic phase was less humid. It coincided with the last phase of the Ice Age when climate became comparatively warm. In the world context, it marks the appearance of new flint industries and of modern men (Homo Sapiens).
In India, we notice the use of blades and burins, which have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Central Madhya Pradesh, southern Uttar Pradesh, and south Bihar Plateau and in the upper levels of the Gujarat Dunes. Caves and rock shelters for use by human beings in this phase have been discovered at Bhimbetka, 45 km south of Bhopal.
Thus it appears that Paleolithic sites are found in many hilly slopes and river valleys of the country; they are absent in the alluvial plains of the Indus and the Ganga.
(b) The Mesolithic Age:
With the end of the Ice Age and the Upper Paleolithic Age around 9000 B.C., the climate became warm and dry. Climatic changes brought about changes in flora and fauna and made it possible for human beings to move to new areas.
In 9000 B.C. began an intermediate stage in Stone Age culture, which is called the Mesolithic Age. It intervened as a transitional phase between the Paleolithic Age and the Neolithic or New Stone Age. The Mesolithic People lived on hunting, fishing and food gathering; at a later stage they also domesticated animals and practiced some sort of primitive agriculture.
The characteristic tools of the Mesolithic Age are microliths. A number of Mesolithic sites have been excavated in Western and Central India i.e., Langhnaj (Gujarat), Adamgarh (MP.), Bagor, Tilwara (Rajasthan), southern Uttar Pradesh, eastern India and also south of the river Krishna. The earliest evidence of domestication of animals comes from Adamgarh (M.P.) and Bagor in Rajasthan dated 5500 B.C. and 4500 B.C. respectively.
The cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 B.C. is suggested in Rajasthan from a study of the deposits of the former salt lake, Sambhar and Lunkaransar. The Mesolithic culture continued to be important roughly from 9000 B.C. to 4000 B.C.
The people of Paleolithic and Mesolithic age practiced painting. Prehistoric art appears at several places, but Bhimbetka in M.P. is a striking site. Situated in the Vindhyan range, 45 km south of Bhopal, it has more than 500 painted rock shelters. Many birds, animals and human beings are painted. Other sites with Palaeolithic paintings are at Singanpur near Raigarh (M.P.) in Kaimur ranges and also in the Mirzapur district (U.P.).
The Mesolithic Age was followed by Neolithic Age and then by the Chalcolithic age.
Beginning of Agriculture:
(a) Neolithic Age (The New Stone Age):
This state developed about 10,000 years ago. The stone of the tools is refined in this age. The weapons and tools are sharper and refined. These are scattered in north, south, east and western India. By this time the man had control over the supply of food. He cultivated and bred animals. The age was still called barbaric age.
The spinning wheel, use of pottery, cotton woven into thread came into being. A large number of flint arrows heads, bone harpoons, blades and sickles are found in large number. The latter settlers of this age are agriculturists. The granaries or store houses for keeping wheat are also found.
(b) Chalcolithic Age (The Bronze Age):
About 5,000 years ago the man started using bronze along with the stone. Now the man had developed to a great extent. The population was mainly urban including the priests, writers and clerks during this stage.
Though the tools available suggest that there was over-lapping in use of stone and the metal, the similarity in the shape and types of stone and bronze tools shows simultaneous use of the bronze and stone. Tin mixed with the copper was the major material used. That is why, the period is called Bronze age.
The specialists were needed to manufacture goods with the metal, like smiths, miners and the smelters. During this period, the discovery of wheel revolutionised the whole system. The transportation was improved which eventually brought about the complexities in life of the man. The commerce was developed.
The production in all fields was surplus i.e. he could sell it away for luxuries. This gave rise to capitalism. The person with more resources was able to control the power. The status of rich and poor developed and along with this came the exploitation. This age is witnessed in Indus Valley Civilisation that spread to long belt along the western India.
(c) Iron Age:
In India the Iron Age commenced around 1000 B.C. The use of weapons with iron heads is found in western Uttar Pradesh. Iron is a common element easily available as compared to copper. But in the beginning it has remained a rare element. It was not possible to clear iron from its ore. It needs more heat for the process.
It is believed that its production must have been guarded by the tribal’s who first discovered. The metal became common only later on. It was cheaper after when it became easily available. Later on iron revolutionized the techniques like agriculture, industry and also weapons. Its easy availability brought about great changes in the society.