History of ancient geography

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By Himanshu Bhatt

Hindus have always been curious to know about and write about the world and its functions, whether social or scientific. Hindus were in that sense explorers, to pursue the unknown. For example, writing of ancient battles between supernatural beings were many times allegorical to warfare between political opponents, and describing tribes, such as the Kishkindha as monkeys or Sabaras as lions, were metaphors because those animals were official totemic symbols of the clans.

In terms of Geography, Hindu scriptures had divided the eastern world island consisting of 4 continents of Asia, Europe, Oceania, and Africa, into 4 continents; namely Jambudwipa in the south, Uttarakuru in the north, Purvavideha in the east, and Apara Godaniya in the west. Jambuwipa is more or less synonymous with Bharata (Indian Subcontinent) but the names and boundaries of the others are altered from time to time, to reflect the change of the political and cultural situations. Continent bordering with each other is based on Mount Meru being at the centre.

Jambudwipa

This continent is located south of Mt. Meru. It refers to the Indian Subcontinent. The Mahabharata while naming 4 world continents, calls "Jamvudwipa otherwise called Bharata." Rajasekhara also divides his Kumaridvipa (India) into five divisions; Udichyadesa (north), Madhyadesa (central), Purvadesa (east), Pachimdesa (west), and Daksinapatha (south.) Chinese pilgrims also divide the Subcontinent into "Five Indias."

This area most sacred to the Hindu scriptures of all sects, including Buddhist, Jain, and Bonpa, because here is where Hinduism prospered.

Besides, Meru, the other venerated mountains in this continent are Kailash, which is also the name in the Mahabharata of "huge mountains of Hemakuta."[1]

In Tibetan, it is known as dZambu-linga.

The Subcontinent would go on to be recognized by Indians and the rest of the world by various names.

Jambudwipa Khvaniratha Bharata Aryavarta Hindustan Hind India
"This (Brahmaputra) is the eastern boundary of Jambudvipa, its western boundary being the mouths of the Indus and its southern boundary being the Indian Ocean or Rama Sethu." "The country lying north of the ocean and south of the Himadri is Bharata." "In the west the boundary-river (Indus), in the east the region where the sun rises (Himalayas),—as far as the black antelopes wander (between these two limits.)" "The empire of Hindustan is extensive, populous, and rich. On the East, the South, and the West it is bounded by the Great Ocean." "the ard al-Hind is a vast country which extends itself on the sea, the continent and the mountains;..." "The boundary of the land of India towards the north is Mount Taurus (Caucasus.) The western part of India is bounded by the river Indus right down to the ocean. Towards the south this ocean bounds the land of India, and eastwards the sea itself is the boundary."
Artha Shastra Vishnu Purana[2] Vasiśṭha Sutra[3] Babernama Historical Encyclopedia Indoi

Political provisions

In Yaksha's era, the Subcontinent was thought of as divided into 3; Udichya (North), East (Prachya), and Dakshina (South.)[4] In the Dharma Shastra of Baudhayana there were also 3 recognized divisions of India. Eventually there were 9 divisions of India.

Seven zones

The Vishnu Purana[5] divides India into 7 zones; Indra-dwipa, Kaserumat, Tamravarna, Ghabhastimat, Naga-dwipa, Saumya, Gandharva, and Varuna. The 9th is surrounded completely by the sea, and hence, is modern Sri Lanka.

Mountainous chains

The continent is divided into 7 mountain ranges known as kulaparvatas (mountain families.) They are Mahendra, Malaya (Southern Ghatas), Paripatra, Riksha, Sahya, Sukimat, and Vindhya.

Division into 7 continents

According to the Avesta, the world island is divided into 7 continents or “Keshvar”. Their names are: (1) Arezahi (Southwest Asia) to the west, (2) Savahi (East Asia) to the east, (3) Fradadafshu (Africa) to the southwest, (4) Vidadafshu (Indochina, Indonesia, and Australasia) to the southeast, (5) Vouru-Bareshti (Europe) to the northwest), (6) Vouru-Jareshti (to the northeast), (7) Khvaniratha (Indian Subcontinent) in the centre of the mentioned six regions).

Sakadwipa

This continent is located west of Mount Meru. It refers to West Asia beginning from the Indus River.

   
History of ancient geography
Ketumalavarsha indeed extends from Romakapura to [the] Gandhamadana [mountain].
   
History of ancient geography

—Srimad Bhagavatam

The prominent mountain associated with this continent is Gandhamadana Mountain. It is the modern-day Tirch Mir because the Mahabharata identifies Meru as being between the Malyavat and Gandhamadana.[6]

Its varshas are Jalada, Kumara, Sukumara, Manivaka, Kusumoda, Maudaki, and Mahadruma.

Its major mountain chains were Udayagiri, Jaladhara, Raivataka, Syama, Ambikeya, Ramya, and Kesarin.

Its 7 sacred rivers are the Sukumari, Kumari, Nalini, Dhenuka, Ikshu, Venuka, and Gabhasti.

Romakapura towards its end is the Anatolian Peninsula because Romaka or Rum in Hindu scriptures always refers to this region. The Romaka Siddhanta is named after it because that's where it was compiled by Indian Hindu visitors.

Kraunchadwipa

This continent is located east of Mount Meru. It refers to East Asia.

   
History of ancient geography
It is said that Bhadrasvavarsha extends from the city of Yamakoti up to the Malyavat Mountain.
   
History of ancient geography

—Srimad Bhagavatam

The prominent mountain associated with this continent is Malyavat Mountain. It is the modern-day Muztag (6638m) because the Mahabharata identifies Meru as being between the Malyavat and Gandhamadana.[7]

The Bhagavata Purana[8] says that it possess 7 mountain ranges; The Sukla, Vardhamana, Bhojana, Upabarhana, Nanda, Nandana, Sarvatobhadra. Its 7 major rivers are Abhaya, Amritaugha, Aryaka, Tirthavati, Rupavati, Pavitravati, and Sukla.

According to the Yoga-Vasiśṭha of Valmiki, Kraunchadwipa is bounded by the sweet Saccbariue Sea, and beset by a range of mountains.

Kalamadwipa

Kusadwipa

Plakshadwipa

Swetadwipa

Sunalidwipa

Puskaradwipa

Concept of the Chakravarti

See also: Chakravarti

The Chakravarti (Wheel-turner) was a ruler whose domain included vast regions. There are different kids of Chakravartis mainly the Chakravartis or emperors of India, and the Ardha-Chakravartis or Half-Chakravartis that ruled only half of India.

See also

References

  1. Mahabharata Shanti-parva Section VI: "The huge mountains of Hemakuta are otherwise called Kailasa."
  2. Vishnu Purana 2.3.1
  3. Vasiśṭha Sutra 1.15
  4. P. 103 Prāci-jyotī: Digest of Indological Studies, Volume 8 By Kurukshetra University
  5. Vishnu Purana Book 2, Chapter 3
  6. Mahabharata Shantiparva Section VI: "Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana. 4 Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold."
  7. Mahabharata Shantiparva Section VI: "Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana. 4 Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold."
  8. Bhagavata Purana V.XX.20-22