The Geography of India’s History

One of the topics that’s interested me for a while is the interplay of Geography and History. So it is with great pleasure that I am presently reading Sanjeev Sanyal’s “Land of Seven Rivers“.

I am still only about 25% into the book, but it’s already been a fascinating read. The book starts with the Harappan civilisation and then moves on to explore the geography behind India’s great epics – The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

My interest being more in the geography, I started a project to map a few of these historical places on to a map of modern India. Thanks to the features in Google Maps, I was able to place some of these locations on to my map. Here it is:

The places highlighted in blue are key locations from the Harappan civilisation. It is also called The Indus Valley Civilisation, but as places such as Rakhigarhi and Lothal indicate, the civilisation covered a vast area, extending well beyond the Indus Valley. The following image indicates the true spread of this ancient civilisation.

Harappan civilisation
By Avantiputra7Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Moving on from that civilisation, we enter the age of the great Indian Epics – The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

Places marked in green on my first map indicate the places described in the Mahabharata while places marked in orange have been mentioned in the Ramayana.

There is some doubt on which came first. Though many feel it is the Ramayana, Sanjeev Sanyal makes some interesting points that are worth reflecting on.

If we look at the map, it is clear that most of the key places mentioned in the Mahabharata are located immediately to the east of the places we know of from the Harappan civilisation. While The Ramayana makes mention of places spread further towards the east, such as Ayodhya, and south, extending all the way to Sri Lanka via Chitrakoot, Panchavati and Kishkinda (near modern-day Hampi). If we assume that ‘civilisation’ spread outwards from the Indus (and Saraswati) valley civilisations, does that indicate that the Mahabharata possibly came before the Ramayana?

The next phase of the book talks about the birth of Buddhism, which pushes the narrative even further to the East. But that’s a topic for later!

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