Indian contribution in progress of geographical thoughts

How geography discovered India

By: Sulagna Chattopadhyay

Bharat, better known worldwide as India, the land of the Ganga, revered by some erstwhile heroes as the Bharat Mata, embraces as you already know, a major part of the South Asian realm. We are perhaps the only nation with a double identity! How do you think the name Bharat emerged? If you still believe in Amar Chitra Katha comics, you would most definitely come up with the correct answers! However let me regale the tales of the great king Bharat, responsible for the `naamkaran’ of our vast nation, to those unfortunate souls who are still in the dark. Bharat, the sovereign king, visualized the fundamental unity of the country. The Rigveda first mentions him as a leader of a powerful Aryan tribe; while the Aitareya-Brahmana refers to his coronation ceremony, subsequent conquest and Aswamedha sacrifice. The Bhagvata Purana calls him Adhirat and Samrat, who accelerated the pace and process of Aryanisation of the people.

Being a part of India we are aware that all Indian ideas on the origin and evolution of the universe are rather a matter of religion than of science. Indian cosmological doctrines had certain fundamental presuppositions, which were strikingly at variance with Semitic ideas.

These suppositions were:

  • The geo-centric universe is very old
  • It is very large
  • Its evolution and decline are cyclic
  • There are other universes beyond your own

Who do you think coined the term `Bhogola’ a term that you so often use to describe geography? Well, it was none other than Suryasidhanta who used it for the first time in Indian geographical literature. The Puranas, however, outlined a difference between Bhogala (geography) and Khogala (science of space). It also mentions Jyotishakara (astrology). But a clear classification was lacking and ancient geography appeared to accommodate astronomy in its sphere. In fact 34 heavenly bodies or grahs were identified in the Rig Veda, and surprisingly the colors that we associate some planets with today, were known to them so many hundreds of years before. Venus, white and Mars was the red planet. Amazing!


How did the ancient Earth originate?

Incredible but true, ancient geographers believed earth solidified from gaseous matter. Its crust consequently hardened and comprised of hard rocks or sila, clayey soil or bhumih and sandy soil or asma. References to earthquakes or bhukampas and also volcanoes or jwalamukhis, are found in the Puranas. In fact it was assumed that deities like Vayu, god of air, Indra, god of rain and Varuna, god of water, caused these earthquakes.

Note the striking similarity between ancient earthquake beliefs of Aristotelian era and India. Earthquake was supposed to be profoundly affected by the elements of nature.

For the indepth article on perceptions, beliefs and realities of ancient geography, click here.

2 thoughts on “How geography discovered India

  1. Sir/madam ,
    I have written some article over the issue of DEGRADATION OF ENVIRONMENT AND ITS ADVERSE IMPACT ON HUMAN BEING.Sir if you ask then I will send it to you for publication. I eagerly waiting for your reply.

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