To form a holistic image of India, – an attempt to understand and appreciate the role of geography and ecology in molding the character and psyche of Indians is necessary.
What we observe is a harmonious adjustment of physical and cultural environments.
Further, we notice that the physical features of the subcontinent facilitating the coexistence of different levels of cultures in different regions is due to ecological and geographical conditions.
We also notice the absence of a uniform pattern of culture throughout India at any given time. We come across the phenomenon of very complex cultures coexisting with others in various stages of evolution throughout different parts of India, all through its history, depending on their ecological set-up.
Another noticeable feature is that the physical features also regulate the communication system, as are cultural levels. Based on the physical features of the subcontinent and the communication system, it is to be noted that while the main river basins constituted the areas of attraction, the tribal regions constitute the areas of retardation.
The areas of relative isolation lay between the areas of attraction and retardation. Though it is agreed that the history of any nation and its environment are mutually complementary, it should be borne in mind that geographical determinism alone cannot explain the historical process of any nation.
It can be agreed that geographical features play a significant role, though they are not the prime movers of historical process. The prime mover of historical process is man; the social animal and the toolmaker, or the collective conscious effort of all humans desirous of needed change to make their lives better, more peaceful and happier. In spite of this fact, knowledge of the basic physiographical features of India is essential to comprehend the historical process.
The Indian subcontinent is divided into:
(a) Himalayan uplands,
(b) Indo-Gangetic plains, and
(c) Peninsular India.
These three divisions are further subdivided for better understanding of the historical process. The Himalayas perennially supply water to the three great systems – Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra and provide large quantities of alluvium to the plains. Therefore, from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth of the Ganges, we have an alluvial plain spread over an area of, about 3,200 kms with a width of 320 kms.
It is no exaggerations to suggest that while the Indus plains witnessed the flowering of the first urban civilization of the subcontinent, the Gangetic plains played a crucial role in sustaining and nurturing urban life, state and imperial power structure. The Indo-Gangetic plains and peninsular India are separated by central India, covering 1,600 kms extending from Gujarat to western Orissa.
The Aravali hills in Rajasthan separate the Indus plain from the peninsula. This zone comprises the Vindhyan and Satpura ranges and the Chota Nagpur plateau. Peninsular India forms the southern edge of central India.
It was a stable rocky ancient land mass. It gently slopes from west to east. Four major rivers, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri flow into the Bay of Bengal. By creating alluvial plains, these rivers created nuclear areas in plains and deltas that continuously sustained cultural growth throughout the course of history.
The rivers, Narmada and Tapti flow westward and join the Arabian Sea in Gujarat after traversing a long distance in the hilly central India. The Deccan plateau is starting here and extends from the Vindhyas in the north to the southern limits of Karnataka. The black soil of Maharashtra and the adjoining parts of central India is suitable for plough agriculture.
It is very interesting to note that despite inadequate rainfall and irrigation facilities, early farming began in the Chalcolithic period in the Deccan plateau. The Deccan plateau ends with the Western Ghats on the west and in the east; it is separated from the eastern coastal plains by the Eastern Ghats.
The eastern coastal plains are wider than the western coastal plains. The basic peninsular offshoots of the Eastern Ghats are the Nilgiris and the cardamom hills. These geographical divisions are roughly coterminous with the present day linguistic regions.
Owing to the ecological and geographical variation, what we notice is biodiversity as well as diversity of lifestyles throughout the subcontinent of India. It is no wonder that Indian character and attitude in general are influenced by the vagaries of nature. It is thus an accepted fact that the pattern of the development of material cultures in India is influenced largely by geographical and ecological factors.
It is because of the geographical location of the subcontinent. As the Indian subcontinent is peripheral to the Orient, the oriental influences are clearly visible in the pattern of development of culture and in course of time, those influences were absorbed into a synthetic culture of India.
Until 1922, it was believed that the roots and the beginnings of Indian civilization lay in the handiwork of the Aryans, who were not natives of India and who came to India as migrants. However, the sudden discovery of the Indus civilization or Harappa culture in 1922 revealed that the beginnings of the civilized life could be traced to 5000 years BC.
Since then debate has been going on among foreign and Indian scholars regarding who could be the original or indigenous builders of this flourishing urban Indian culture. It has become a contentious issue leading to a sharp division among the scholars. While many believe that the builders of Harappa civilization are non-Aryan and pre-Aryan, or Dravidian, in recent decades the Aryan problem has reopened and now a view is prevalent that the Aryans were natives of India and the so-called invasion of the Aryans is a myth and that Harappans are also Aryans.
Efforts are being made to take the antiquity of the Harappan culture back to 8,000 years or so. Unfortunately, it has become such a hotly contested issue, that scholars and people in general are divided into warring camps, throwing insinuation against each other, causing enormous damage to the unity and solidarity, which is essential for the survival of a feeling of oneness. It cannot be proved beyond doubt, that in the distant past, there existed either a pure Aryan or a pure Dravidian race and the culture of that time cannot be labeled either as purely Aryan or purely Dravidian.
We are forgetting that this Aryan and Dravidian divide based on racial features and language, custom and tradition, is a colonial construct invented for strategic needs. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have become a prey to the selfish and narrow construct of the colonial masters and are making ourselves a laughing stock for our failure to free ourselves from mental slavery to the west. This is one of the major hurdles standing in the way of India becoming a nation for a century and more.
This divide has created an unbridgeable gulf between Indians. As if this contentious issue is not sufficient to destabilize society, another view has gained currency that the original inhabitants of Indian subcontinent are the Adivasis, who have been marginalized in the historical process by the tradition of Brahmanical hegemony.
A construct is in circulation that the Brahmanical dominance is responsible for keeping away the Adivasis, the original builders of Indian culture, from the mainstream, for treating them as outcastes or marginalized. This belief also created a stereotype of Indian society as a hierarchical and pyramidical in substance and shape.