Our natural heritage, the land, mountains, rivers, fauna and flora and climate have always influenced the course of political, social, economic and cultural life of the people. The evolution of the history and culture of India cannot be understood if the influence of natural heritage is not studied.
The influence of the Himalayas on Indian history: The Northern Himalayan mountain range embracing Kashmir, Lahaul, Spiti, Tehri, Kumaun, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan is the highest in the country. This forms a sort of wall about 2400 km in length in the north of the country. The Himalaya “the great sentinel of the north” has greatly influenced the course of Indian history. It has always protected the sub-continent from great political and social convulsions from the north as also from cold Siberian winds.
The northern passes of the Himalayas are covered with snow throughout the year and hence no military invasion of India took place from this side. It is because of these snow covered passes that the Chinese and Indian people have separate histories of their own. Despite these hindrances, there had been some contact links between the two countries on the north and the south of these mountains. The travellers and traders braving great hurdles came to India through these passes. This ‘little movement’ is responsible for the mixture of Mongoloid blood among the people of Bhutan, Garhwal, Nepal and Assam. It was also through these passes that many Buddhist missionaries carried the message of the Buddha to China and Central Asiatic countries.
Similarly, the North-eastern ranges of Himalayas comprising Patkoi and the Naga hills running down to the Bay of Bengal have offered great hardships to the invaders.
The protective wall of the Himalayas has given to India a continuity of its civilization and social structure from the ancient times to the present day. The religious doctrines and beliefs, the rules of marriage, the rituals of burials and the organisation of social relations are not basically different from those described in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. This continuity of Indian life is the supreme gift of the North Himalayan range.
Effects of the North-West ranges of the Himalayas: Unfortunately, the North-western ranges of the Himalayas are not very high and have no forests. The passes on this side of the Himalayas can be easily crossed. They have offered an easy access to the invaders of our country from times immemorial. These passes are the gateways through which the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Turks, Mongols, the Duranis etc. penetrated into the plains of India. Some like the Aryans came to settle permanently in India, while the others like the Hunas and the Mongols came to loot and plunder the country They came through the passes or openings like Khyber, Gomal, Kurram, Tochi and Bolan. For the security of the country, it became necessary for the rulers of India to keep these gateways always well-guarded. Our history shows that whenever the government of India neglected the defense of this side, the country had to suffer heavy losses at the hands of the invaders.
The influence of the Indo-Gangetic plain: The Indo-Gangetic plain has a very fertile soil. Its wealth and prosperity have been the chief source of its fame and trouble. Being rich in agricultural production, it was bound to attract the attention of the people living in poor and barren regions of the north-west. It was due to this reason that since ancient days there had been a continuous migration of tribals from the west to this territory. The Aryans came to settle here. The Persians and the Greeks tried to occupy the Gangetic plains. The Hunas and Mongols also tried to penetrate these fertile and prosperous regions of India.
Influence of Rivers: The Rivers of the Indo-Gangetic plain also played an important part in the life of the people. First, it was in the valley of the Indus that the earliest civilization known in India as the civilization of Harappa and Mohanjodaro flourished. Secondly, the river system irrigated the wide plain and brought economic prosperity to it. Thirdly, the rivers serve as the natural barriers for checking the advance of the invaders, especially during the rainy season. For example, Alexander had great difficulty in crossing “very broad and deep rivers” which were in flood at the time of his invasion. The invaders generally launched expeditions of India from October onwards when the rivers could be crossed easily by boats. Lastly, historically all the rivers served as convenient administrative and political boundaries. During the Mughal period, rivers served as the boundaries of the Subas and the Sarkars.
Influence of Hills and Forests: The snow-fed lofty Himalayan ranges provided natural protection to the northern and eastern parts of the country from the invaders. It is also in the Himalayan ranges that some of the best hill stations of India like Muree (now in Pakistan), Shimla, Daihousie, Mussoorie, Nainital, Shillong aid Darjeeling are situated. The hills also provide medicinal arid aromatic plants which have wide range uses in the pharmaceutical and perfume industries. The Himalayas are the great source of economic prosperity and beauty of the landscape of the Punjab and the Gangetic plains.
The influence of Deccan Peninsula: The Deccan or the South Land is separated from the Northern India by the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges. This separation has been responsible in the past for great differences in the political, economic and cultural developments in the Northern and Southern India. While the Aryan civilization and culture were flourishing in the north, the people were leading the Dravidian way of life in the far south. It was because of these natural barriers— the Vindhya mountains, for centuries together the Aryan culture did not penetrate into the south. Similarly the Deccan enjoyed freedom from political and cultural conquest of Islam for several hundred years after the Muslim occupation of the north.
In one way, however, the separation of the country into two parts has benefited India many times. The Deccan, in times of trouble, always became a sort of safety zone for the culture of the north. When the Buddhism became a popular religion in the North, the Brahmanical religion and literature found their way into the South and were saved from extinction. After the resurrection of Hinduism in the North, the Brahmanical religion again became forceful. Similarly, when the Jams found it hard to stay in the Northern India, they took shelter in the South. In the same way when the Muslims occupied the Northern India, the Hindu religion and literature continued to be patronised by the Hindu rulers of the South.
Besides, the Eastern and the Western Coasts of the Deccan peninsula had been responsible for the great maritime activities of the South Indians. The rulers of the Deccan in ancient India encouraged people to go to the South East Asian countries to propagate their culture and civilization. Without the access to the sea, we could not have spread our culture and civilization in the South East Asia.
Impact of climate and other physical conditions: The climate and other physical conditions had also their impact on the habits and character o the people. The martial races were found chiefly in the hilly districts of the north west, the western coast and the desert regions of Rajputana where a livelihood can only be earned from the soil by hard labour. The low lying areas of the U.P., Bihar, Bengal have been inhabited by the peace-loving people. Besides, in the parts of the country where rainy season lasts for several months, there people were slack in their activities from July to October throughout the ancient and the medieval times.
Spirit of Toleration: India’s natural heritage, to a great extent, has also been responsible for the spirit of toleration among the people of India. Prof Humayun Kabir in his book “Our Heritage”, says, “the vastness of Indian lands, the great variety in landscape, climate and conditions of life prepared in the minds a spirit of readiness to accept differences”.
Unity of India: The natural heritage of India is also responsible for the unity of India. “Physical features,” observes, Humayun Kabir, “so sharply mark off India from the rest of Asia that attempts either to divide the country or to expand it beyond its natural frontiers have invariably failed.”