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Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India's Geography

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Did the Great Flood of Indian legend actually happen? Why did the Buddha walk to Sarnath to give his first sermon? How did the Europeans map India?
The history of any country begins with its geography. With sparkling wit and intelligence, Sanjeev Sanyal sets off to explore India and look at how the country’s history was shaped by, among other things, its rivers, mountains and cities. Traversing remote mountain passes, visiting ancient archaeological sites, crossing rivers in shaky boats and immersing himself in old records and manuscripts, he considers questions about Indian history that we rarely ask: Why do Indians call their country Bharat? How did the British build the railways across the subcontinent? What was it like to sail on an Indian Ocean merchant ship in the fifth century AD? Why was the world's highest mountain named after George Everest?

352 pages, Hardcover

First published November 15, 2012

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About the author

Sanjeev Sanyal

17 books462 followers
Sanjeev Sanyal is an economist, urban theorist and writer. He grew up in Sikkim, Kolkata and Delhi before heading off to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He spent the tumultuous summer of 1993 in South Africa as it transitioned from apartheid, and then extensively travelled through Guatemala as it emerged from civil war. These experiences made him a keen observer of rapidly changing societies, an interest that reflects in many of his varied writings.

Sanjeev spent most of his adult life battling international financial markets, a few years in Mumbai and many in Singapore. One day in 2008, mostly on a whim, he decided to move back to India and travel all over the country with his family. This resulted in his hugely popular second book, Land of the Seven Rivers. Then in 2011, again for no particular reason, he went back to finance and took up a role as the global strategist of one of the world’s largest banks. He also spent the next few years exploring the Indian Ocean rim—Oman, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Vietnam, Indonesia, and up and down India’s coastline. These travels resulted in The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History.

Currently Sanjeev lives in New Delhi where he serves as the principal economic adviser to the Indian government.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 532 reviews
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,023 followers
September 13, 2016
The author repeatedly claims uniqueness to his book by saying it is about ‘the history of India’s geography’. The introduction detailing out this objective for the book makes a case that this is an interesting way to look at Indian history and, to be honest, it is. However the rest of the book, except for the first chapter, barely acknowledges this supposed orientation.

There is nothing that distinguishes this from the other books on Indian history that I have read, except that the author is clearly nationalistic in outlook, has a penchant for wild theories, and is always willing to give priority to a good story over confusing details, in the interest of brevity or maybe, bias. The book reads like a standard, if stylized, history. And for that, there are many better books out there.
Profile Image for Rajat Ubhaykar.
Author 2 books1,644 followers
September 21, 2016
The Land of Seven Rivers is an oversimplified, inaccurate history of India with a pronounced nationalistic tilt (Sanyal seems to believe in the Out of India theory, though he is not confident enough to proclaim this outright). His writing is substandard and lacks the nuance essential to good history. (I would recommend John Keay's India: A Brief History for an unbiased, accessible, almost poetically written history of India)

I find it difficult to understand what Sanyal set out to achieve with this book. The subtitle claims it to be A Brief History of India's Geography, but that it most certainly is not. It reads more like a collection of random, often interesting, facts laid down chronologically; facts that have more to do with the various phases of urbanization in India than geography. Geography, at best, provides a background to historical events in this narrative. The Saraswati river (predictably) makes many appearances in the book, as Sanyal traces the historical evolution of Indians’ geographical knowledge through textual sources like the Vedas, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Another major theme in this book is India’s trade links with other cultures and places, through which India exported its culture and civilization. Sanyal writes about this with typical nationalistic pride that is tinged with nostalgia for the glory days.

However, what’s most annoying is how Sanyal constantly marshals silly parallels between India’s past & present in a bullheaded attempt to prove India's civilizational continuity (not that I deny it). He also makes up wild theories without providing any source for the same, which totally ruined his credibility for me. He constantly attempts to buttress his point that Indians were not an ahistorical people, as most Western scholars are wont to assert. In this, I partly agree with him. However, if one compares our sporadic, hagiographic record-keeping to the almost obsessive, detached documentation of ancient China, we fare poorly. Sanyal's primary argument to prove Indians' historical consciousness is the Ashoka edicts and how succeeding dynasties (Guptas, Tughlaqs as well as the British) inscribed their names on various edicts and hence saw themselves as the inheritors of an ancient civilization. And lastly, he has a massive boner for the lion, both as an animal and as a signifier of royal authority that has followed India down the centuries and today graces India’s official emblem.

The Land of Seven Rivers ultimately is a book that believes in the questionable motto: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Please avoid. There are much better history books out there.

Profile Image for Ashish Iyer.
762 reviews475 followers
December 15, 2019
Probably one of the best book i have come across. What i admired about this book is that it is not written like those leftist writers who shoved their narratives on your face. This book gives various perspectives to think about. This clears many many misconceptions on Indian history. What we learn in our schools are nothing but a bunch of lies. Wrote in such an interesting way that you can finish the book in one go! This book actually create more interest in Indian history, which was completed disappeared earlier by our boring school texts.

The author intertwines geography and history in a very beautiful way. The book doesn't take you much in detail. But the way it has been written is amazing. You will gain a lots of information and most of the time be surprised. A great book about Indian history which is readable, authentic and unbiased. Every page has some interesting facts about India which are exciting and insightful.
Surely a book to read to understand how India has reached today where she has.

It was fun reading this book. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Wish this kind of books was there in our schools and colleges.
Love it.
Highly recommended for everyone.

Now i have eyes on other book of his, the ocean of churn. Hope the author keep writing books like this.
Profile Image for Shahine Ardeshir.
171 reviews
March 27, 2013
The title of this book is what hooked me: "A brief history of India's geography". The problem is that the book doesn't live up to it: There is nothing brief about the history it covers, and there's less and less geography as it progresses.

The biggest problem for me was that Sanjeev Sanyal took too much. He starts as early as the Harappan civilization, and ends in modern-day India. In eight chapters, it's impossible to do justice to such a vast span of history in a country as old and diverse as India. So for me, he bit off way more than he could chew.

Also, the book becomes less and less centred around geography and becomes a series of interesting facts mish-mashed together in historical time periods. So while the content itself has interesting moments, it has no flow and ends up being repetitive in its style and unending in its direction.

A great idea for a book, but a misleading title for this one. Not worth a read at all, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Saju  Pillai.
75 reviews14 followers
October 26, 2013
Confused attempt at Indian history.

Too much of an 'Out of India' bias, a proper hardon for lions, random backward & forward skipping over large tracts of time and in general losing the plot entirely in the second part of the book hurts the otherwise adequate writing.

Readers looking for a more robust, yet eminently readable book on Indian history will be well advised to read John Keay's 'India a History'.

A slight nit, the back cover of my edition has an appreciative quote from Amish Tripathi (of the Shiva trilogy) - quoting verbatim "A fascinating new look at Indian history and civilization". Sadly there is nothing new or fascinating about this book, but more ironically we have Amish a poor writer and confuser of history patting the back of a significantly better writer with a superior hold on history.

I would keep my eye out for new attempts by Sanjeev Sanyal.

1 review
August 28, 2018
Batch 2018-2020 | M.Tech UDM
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Submitted by :
Akanksha Dewan |Ananyo Bandyopadhyay | Anushkriti | Apurva J. Sinkar | Apurva Sethia | Disha Khanna

Land of the Seven Rivers
By Sanjeev Sanyal

The book 'Land of the Seven Rivers' is a unique attempt to present a historical narrative analysing the geography of land over a period of time. Sanjeev Sanyal embarks to investigate India and take a glance at how the nation's history was moulded by its streams, mountains and urban communities. He navigates through remote mountain passes, visits antiquated archaeological destinations, crosses streams in flimsy vessels and drenches himself in old records and original copies. This is a book more for the general reader or explorer searching for a connection however not excessively requesting prologue to the authentic foundation to contemporary India. Land of the Seven Rivers is an approachable book that winds through the recognizable scene of the historical backdrop of the Indian sub-continent. It talks extensively about the culture, growth, progress and geography of India.

The Aaryans made it to the land through the Hindu-Kush mountains via Khaibar bypass. But the Indian sub-continent certainly existed since long ago. It was called the “SaptaSindhu” area; “Sapta” meaning seven, and Sindhu is amongst one of the most important rivers in the history of Indian sub-continent. It is stated that the Indian civilization shaped at the banks of these rivers and grew to what it is now. Scholars often refer that the words Hindu and India are rooted in Sindhu. Cultures have historically evolved along the banks of rivers as they facilitate the needs of a society to form and expand. The seven rivers Indus, Brahmaputra, Krishna, Saraswati, Ganga, Narmada and Cauvery (Kaveri) played a crucial role in the Indus Valley Civilization. The book has made an attempt to describe the vast intellect of Indians since historic times.

It refers to many examples which reflect the fact that India had a strong history and has shown integrity similar to country states. Following examples highlight the point: A column conveying "a statement by Emperor Ashoka from the third century BC" is one of "two Ashokan columns that Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq got transported from Topara close to Ambala, Haryana to the city of ‘New Delhi’ of its time and another pillar in the Qutub complex, New Delhi, which is pure iron piece and has not rusted since 15th century, with carving devoted to the Hindu god “Vishnu” and has conquests stories of a king named, Chandra. To link with the history, the Islamic kings allowed the pillar to stand. Another association that India has to its past – is the proportion 5:4 that was utilized in the town planning of Harappan cities in the 3000 BC. The advanced urban planning of Harappan civilisation cannot be beaten till date. The city of Dholavira in Gujarat is 771 meters by 617 meters. Thousand years later, a similar proportion is seen in Hindu writings like the Shatapatha, Brahmana and Shulbha Sutra that uses the same proportion in building fire-altars for Vedic purposes. The Iron Pillar of Delhi is designed in a similar proportion: the length of the column is 7.67 meters while the segment over the ground is 6.12 meters (a proportion of 5:4).
A third illustration is the customary Indian system of measurements and weights that to some extent looked like those utilized by the Harappan people. The distinction was about 1.8 percent – which is fairly good for a time interval of four thousand years. Even in the field of trade, India had successfully flourished with different parts of the world. This custom of trade continued for many years, till the eighteenth century, until the plunder by the East India Company after the Battle of Plassey in 1857 began, which overturned trade drastically and is continuing till today. Maybe a strong basis behind why India remained a peace-lover yet social superpower for centuries lies within its capacity to understand different cultures and societies. In the course of the narrative, we come across the greater part of the points of interest one would expect: the Vedas, Ashoka, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the different urban communities of Delhi, the Mughals, the British and their mapmakers, partition, and in addition the ascent of another India manifested by the formation and rapid growth of Gurgaon, a focal point for the call-centre industry, south of Delhi and identified by shining office towers, metro-stations, shopping centres, lavish lodgings and a large number of occupations and businesses. There are some inquisitive by-routes along the way.

Sanyal cites from ongoing hereditary testing that recommends that despite the fact that there are hereditary linkages amongst Europeans and North Indians, the specific variations of the qualities found in the two spots point to the two populaces parting from basic predecessors in the district of the Persian inlet no less than 8,000 years ago – considerably sooner than customary records of an Aryan attack from Central Asia around 1,500 BC would propose. There was no Aryan intrusion bringing the Vedic religion and the author infers that his sense is that the Harappans were a multi-ethnic culture, rather like India today. The Rig Vedic individuals could well have been a piece of this foaming blend.

As indicated by Sanyal, the Land of the Seven Rivers is "an attempt to write a brief and eclectic history of India’s geography. It is about the changes in India’s natural and human landscape, about ancient trade routes and cultural linkages, the rise and fall of cities, about dead rivers and the legends that keep them alive" (p. 3). As this depiction proposes, it is particularly an impressionistic study and to consider it a past filled with India's geology is fairly misrepresented. Topographical perspectives are considered and alluded to – waterways, streets, the working of urban communities and so on – yet they are not incorporated into the story: they are episodes to be noted as are others of a non-geological nature. There is minimal genuine endeavour to arrange the occasions inside a geological setting as far as the relief of the land, the varieties of soil or atmosphere, the sorts and profitability of agribusiness, the frameworks of water system or land residency and their relationship to social and political structures.

Obviously, one ought not be too hard on the author here for he doesn't profess to have embarked to give a precise topographical treatment of Indian history. Or maybe, as he concedes, the book centres around to some degree a distinctive arrangement of inquiries such as whether there is any fact in antiquated legends about the Great Flood; for what reason do Indians call their nation Bharat; what do the legends enlighten us concerning how Indians saw the geology of their nation in the Iron Age; for what reason did the Buddha give his first sermon at Sarnath, simply outside Varanasi; what was it like to sail on an Indian Ocean merchant ship in the fifth century AD. As will be obvious, this is a light-contact specific survey of Indian history for the general reader by an author who, as an expert market analyst, is a long way from being a specialist in Indian history. This has a few benefits. The book covers an extensive variety of material in a way that does not cause exhaustion or overpower the reader in the manner in which that more point by point narratives of India usually do. Sanyal skips deftly amongst districts and civilisations, and his fairly innocent composed style will be agreeable to numerous readers new to the material exhibited.

A satisfying element of the book is the space it gives to the expansions of Indian civilisation into South East Asia – into nations like Vietnam, Thailand, and Java – matters which regular records of this scope frequently disregard and which yet delineate for the writer a move that happened in the attitude of Indians, from a hazard taking entrepreneurial culture that drove shippers to establish new Indian settlements abroad, by around 1000 AD, a less flexible and closed civilisation significantly; less open to the potential outcomes of movement and exchange beyond India. The way to India's ongoing monetary and social resurgence has been, contends Sanyal, its recuperation of its prior soul of disclosure and exchange and correspondence with whatever remains of the world – as spoken to by the "Indian diaspora", some 25-30 million in number, which because of globalization and innovation… would now be able to look after business, individual and social connections with India in ways that would have been incomprehensible an age back.

Land of the Seven Rivers is, in short, an impressionistic study of the long range of Indian history, starting with the early people entering India from the Persian Gulf and coming full circle in the ascent of an advanced, sparkling, and progressively urban India as the sub-continent enters the 21st Century. Lacking required investigation or the sort of detail that can open to the reader genuine bits of knowledge into the lives and issues going up against Indians of past occasions, it is a book for the general explorer inquisitive to learn more about his country ; in terms of both its historical and geographical context.
Profile Image for Siddhant.
2 reviews6 followers
January 20, 2013
A clear North Indian bias. South India ignored, except for the coasts, Hampi and Kishkhindha. For all the author cares about it, the North-east probably doesn't even exist. The author's more concerned about the continuities of Indian civilization: the chakra, the lion, people adding their names to Ashokan pillars, and Indians having a sense of civilizational identity and history. A few parts, for example those about the Saraswati and the Trigonometric survey, are thought-provoking and might lead to a serious bout of googling/wiki-ing. The title and cover-info are misleading, and I wouldn't suggest this book if one wants to know about the history of India's geography or Indian history or Indian geography.

Also, not funny or entertaining; bland. Do not expect a Bill Bryson.
Profile Image for Gita Madhu.
139 reviews36 followers
March 4, 2019
Land of the Seven Rivers A Brief History of India's Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal
We live on the ground floor and, to our right, is an empty flat. The other day, the absentee landlady was over as she’s getting the flat all dolled up so she can rent it out. She popped in on us with a friend and we chatted. It so happened that she and her friend both used to be school teachers and her friend had just recently dropped out of teaching because, as she put it: schools are now full of the upwardly mobile lower classes who want to and can pay for what they consider “good education”.

Of course, her words were coloured by a certain distaste. And I was not disturbed by her reaction as I’d already witnessed worse in the mid-2000s. Around that time, as I was teaching part-time at a slightly upper middle-class school, I observed that teachers were required, on some rotational basis, to put in time, after hours, to teach the children of the very poor from the neighbourhood.

It must have been overwhelming for these good ladies, from very middle-class backgrounds, to have to put in face to face time with a horde of snotty-nosed, mostly quite literally speaking, kids. And these teachers were all wives and mothers in a very Indian system where family often still implies extended family too. Their normal days are unbelievably challenging: getting up before dawn, preparing a packed lunch for themselves, husbands, kids, elders and all those who also live with them, attending to a million and one tiny chores that ensure smooth running, handling a work day filled to the brim with noisy kids, the endless notebooks to correct, lessons to be prepared and homecoming is back to the grind after a short nap. I really really do not blame them for being cloistered and having a Marie Antoinette attitude to the poor.

This is just to put into perspective what those years were like. So there was a huge movement, rather low-key, where, on the one hand schools were, semi-voluntarily, throwing open their doors to the huge numbers of the children of the very poor and entirely illiterate. On the other hand, scattered people took initiatives on their own and taught on the roadside, in slums and at construction sites.

We had to leave the country to earn a living. When we returned after 5 years, we stayed rather close to where we had, before we left. Now school buses, filled with children from humbler backgrounds, in school uniform, with school bags, congregated outside schools, past noon. The streets, in those hours, were teeming with bright eyed bushy tailed kids from shacks and whatnot, hopping and skipping their way to school. Youths, even those working as labour, were to be seen reading newspapers. Today, most youngsters, male and female, have studied till the tenth standard, at least.

And, more importantly, today, those, who used to be most disadvantaged, can and do send their kids to what they consider the better schools. Some even dare seek the best. They do not go after hours. They attend along with everyone else. Parents and guardians sometimes pay bribes and the infamous donations to get their child a seat in such and such school.
Obviously there is heartburn. Status Quo never likes being shuffled around. But it’s happened and there’s no going back.

And you will find a beautiful and moving and inspiring passage about this transition in Sanjeev Sanyal’s Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India's Geography, towards the end of the chapter titled The Contours of Modern India, under the sub-heading Urban villages, Slums and the New Middle Class.

"out of this messy process of migration, social climbing and urban evolution a new India is emerging dominated by new middle class children of migrants..."

I would ask you to buy this book if you are an Indian and want to know more about your history and geography and enjoy reading, for it is excellently written.

I would read passages aloud in school.

And, if you’re not Indian, it’s time you read about us in a book written by an Indian.
Profile Image for Abhinav Agarwal.
Author 3 books68 followers
August 30, 2013
"Five millennia, one history, one nation, one helluva book."

Short review: This book is a second, much grander and a much better attempt by the author to answer one question. This time around though, he goes deeper and farther back in the history of the land of seven rivers - India, presents us with his findings, and posits that India has had a sense of history - one that not only goes back several unbroken thousand years, but has found echo in successive empires and invaders seeking to associate themselves with this history. As the author travels through the country - in time as well as geography - we are treated to some long-forgotten incidents that should have been part of our curricula, as well as fascinating insights into such endeavours as the mapping of the country by the colonials, which itself was a source of competitive advantage in a manner of speaking. The second question, which the author attempted to answer in his first book, but with less than middling success, is why India went into decline a thousand years ago. The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind, and you need to turn the pages to find it. The truth is out there in the hardcover. A must read. Makes it to my best books I have read in 2013. See my full review at http://blog.abhinavagarwal.net/2013/0...
Profile Image for Adithya Jain.
60 reviews45 followers
January 7, 2015
This is the best book on Indian history that I have ever come across. Although it is a narrative of India's geography and history, objective and straightforward, you'll never get bored. The fact that the author has gone through a lot of material and has been at the various places mentioned in the book, is evident from the detailed narrative. The narrative can be a little pacy at times, but the author never ceases to amaze you by the facts that he brings out in this book.

You'll enjoy it thouroughly if you are a history enthusiast. Well I'm one and I've already set it apart for reading it again.

A wonderful book and worth a read any day.
April 18, 2013
Awesome book! I always wanted to understand how our mythological world & the scientific world links together and this is the book that explains all that & more! Are the RigVedic people & the Harappan people the same? What is it to be Indian, what is our 'collective memory', genetics, tectonics, cartography - this breadth this book covers is amazing!! Really interesting read!
Profile Image for Himanshu.
33 reviews2 followers
January 30, 2016
The Land of seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal is a wonderful Read. It has beautifully linked the interconnection between history and geography and how one reinforces another.Sanjeev has come up with some major themes during the course of the book.(1)Growth of Indian civilisation has been continuous and not haphazard ( from urbanisation In harrapan period whose many facets are still preserved and used in the modern India, inscriptions on Ashokan Pillar where later kings also wrote about their own achievements, inscriptions of different kings near Sudarshan Lake, importance of ratio 1.25 in our civilisation which is preserved from the time of Harrapa and many more examples) (2) Cyclicity of events( Eg: Arabs,when they were dominating sea trades, came to western coast of India and later mixed with the native population and Mopillas are their descendants. And now they are going to Arab nations for economic reasons to complete this circle) and ( 3) Importance of Lion in Indian civilisation ( From Ashokan Pillars to later only reserved for royal hunting during Mughal period to Singapore getting its Name when a Malayan tiger was mistakenly understood as Lion by Prince of Srivijaya kingdom to finally Indian government adopted it as part of our official emblem) .

The chapters about Harrapan civilisation, following Saraswati and how earlier civilisation moved eastward owing to drying up of Saraswati are thought provoking. Specially the chapter about voyages of Indian traders as well as of Vasco Digama and Zheng He is a fascinating read, which also makes us understand the importance of cartography and its pertinence which again came to the fore during the Indian-Chinese Tension during late 1950s and culminated into a full fledged war.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes. Will mention one here:: The author met two Swedish citizen during his visit of Zanzibar. Their ancestors were Gujrati Muslims and Settled in Zanzibar in late 19th century though later forced to move out due to racial tension in 1960s. Now these two Swedish had come back to rediscover their roots. Though they had never visited India, they were communicating to each other in kutchhi language( language of Kutch region of Gujarat ) and still enjoying gujarati snacks!! And the book is full of such interesting anecdotes.

After reading it, one can understand the author’s painstaking journey of 2.5 years for writing this book and he virtually takes you to these places of history with his powerful writing.

The only negative I can recall is about lesser emphasis given to the southern kingdoms except the Cholas and and the Vijaynagram ( though southern coastal regions are exhaustively covered) and rushing during the 1700-1947 period.

There are few books which make me sad at the completion of it because the journey which you were living with the book comes to an end. This is right their at the top. Highly recommended for reader who are interested in the history and geography of India.
Profile Image for Kaśyap.
271 reviews123 followers
February 17, 2020
This is very short work that provides a glimpse of the long history of Indian civilization, beginning with the first humans entering India from the Persian Gulf, the rise and the decline of Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization, the second wave urbanisation in the central Ganga plains, the devastating Turkish invasions, and then through the millennia culminating in the rise of a modern urban India in the 21st Century.

The only problem is that the title is a misnomer. This is not a history of India's Geography. It is rather a story of the idea of Bharata, a land with over two millennia of consciousness of itself as a unique civilization, and its continuity . And the author manages to write a good entertaining narrative with a good flow despite the vast time period it covers.
Profile Image for Ankur Sharma.
8 reviews
March 8, 2013
one of most interesting book that i have read till the day, open up the whole world of possibilities and takes a peculiar view on he history of india. the most important partb of the book is when author discuss our origin as indians. it shows pan india view of the author.
the possibilities are endless a must read for each lover of history and geography.
Profile Image for Dinkar Sitaram.
12 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2013
Really good and well written. Includes a review of recent genetic evidence as well as an interesting theory about the relationship between Sanskrit and Avestan
Profile Image for Vishnu Chevli.
650 reviews559 followers
September 2, 2021
This book taught me so many things about ancient Indian culture than my history books.

The book also made me listen to more historical books
Profile Image for Arathi Mohan.
140 reviews105 followers
September 18, 2016
Got this book as a birthday gift from a dear friend. She had thoroughly enjoyed reading it and knew that I would too. This book proved to be a crash course of all the social science classes learnt in high school. Never a dull moment in the book. With interesting chapter names like "Of Genetics and Tectonics" and "Trigonometry and Steam", it is a well-paced read with nice anecdotes. It is neither geography nor history. Indeed, it is the story of the evolution of civilization over the centuries. Although it starts with the supercontinent theory and the origins of man, later it shifts focus to the region and people that would come to be known as India. The author sketches all the major civilizations that have occupied Indian territories - the Indus civilization, the Mauryan empire, the golden age of Guptas, the might of the Southern Cholas, the rocky outcrops of Vijayanagara, the coming of the Mongols (Mughals) and finally, the Europeans. The book ends on a speculative note, what the future holds for the Indian civilization.
Profile Image for Sajith Kumar.
588 reviews96 followers
May 23, 2022
India is a vast nation with varied geographical features that had shaped the contours of its civilisation and facilitated the flow of history. The dawn of India’s cultural identity was in the Indus civilisation that flourished nearly 4000 years ago. The river Indus, its five major tributaries and the now dried-up Saraswati River provided the cradle to it and the landscape is forever immortalized as Sapta Sindhu, land of the seven rivers, in the Vedas. The civilizational state that is India took root from there and continues to engage the world productively even though it had seen several ups and downs. This book is an attempt to record a panoramic picture of the country’s past right from its tectonic origins, how it was populated, the various kingdoms and ideas that dominated it, the internal and external aggressions that threatened to stamp it out and the new challenges the country faces in the modern economic framework. ‘From Gondwana to Gurgaon’ is a section’s title in the book which also describes the book’s functional objective and can even be its title. The author narrates a tale that spans several thousands of years in an uncomplicated manner fit for easy reading. Sanjeev Sanyal is an Indian economist and popular historian. He has authored several books on Indian history and was born in Kolkata.

When the Harappan civilization’s ruins were discovered more than a century ago, there were diverging surmises on how it ended. Colonial historians ascribed invasion of Aryan tribes from central Asia as the reason for its downfall. Sanyal argues that this is fallacious as it is not supported by any kind of evidence, either archeological or literary. This theory was crafted only to legitimize the colonial regime against its subjects as the British could easily be construed as the modern-day Aryans who conquered the country in just another chapter of invasions. Having done so, he poses the question of where did the Harappans go, if they were not decimated by the invaders. Eminent historians like Romila Thapar is of the opinion that the ‘material culture shows no continuities’. Actually, this is a hollow argument which was demolished by B. B. Lal, one of India’s most celebrated archeologists. The Harappan culture still lives on in India. The shape and design of the bullock carts used by Harappans and employed in India till quite recently are surprisingly similar. Namaste, a common Indian gesture to show respect to both people and gods can be observed in the Harappan clay figurines with palms folded in the same way. Even terracotta dolls of women with red vermillion on their foreheads were found. Experts are of the opinion that India’s traditional system of weights and measures is derived from the Harappans with many similarities still discernible. Ancient Chess pieces that look remarkably like modern equivalents have been found. All these point to the reality that Harappans did not just disappear, rather they live on amongst us. Drying up of the river Saraswati and other climatic factors led to the disintegration of the civilisation rather than Aryan invasion.

The above was a case of continuity where tradition flows unobstructed from the ancient to the present. However, there are many instances of a break, especially in tastes and aesthetics. Sanyal presents a very relevant case. Our present society prefers people with fair skin as mates and there are cosmetic formulas available in the market to whiten one’s skin. This is a clear break from the past as ancient Indians had a preference for dark skin. The epitome of male handsomeness in Hindu tradition is Krishna whose very name means ‘the dark one’. The depiction of blue skin is a medieval artistic innovation. Marco Polo commented that the darkest man is most highly esteemed in India and that Indians portray their gods and idols black and their devils white as snow. This preference presumably switched in the medieval period probably as a result of Muslim conquests.

The author takes a dig at left historians who evaluate Indian history through the framework of Marxism. That ideology posits economic conflict between two rival groups as the prime mover of human change. This is plainly not applicable to India and as a consequence their explanations, though conforming to political theory, look grotesque and out of place when applied to reality. The author wants them to accept that India is a civilizational state that is outside the narrow ideological perimeter of Marxism. He illustrates this with a lucid example from Rajputana. Mewar’s fight with the Mughals was a clash of civilisations. The Mewari rulers saw themselves as the custodians of Hindu civilisation embodied in the temple of Eklingji, a manifestation of Shiva. The deity was considered the real king of Mewar and the rulers used the title of Rana (custodian or prime minister) rather than maharaja. This should be recognized first to understand why Mewar put up continuous resistance to the sultans despite suffering extreme hardships over centuries. On three separate occasions, the capital Chittor was defended to the last man and even after it fell, the struggle was sustained in the hills with the help of Bhil tribesmen. One cannot explain away this behaviour merely in rational political terms.

Sanyal looks into the improvements in technology related to geography that helped the imperial powers to get their hold on India. Maps of India existed in the ancient past as well, but these showed only the coast and the large rivers which can be navigated by large marine vessels. Nobody had any idea of the hinterland. Its terrain and vastness lay beyond the grasp of all, including the local inhabitants. With the growth in high quality optical instruments in the seventeenth century, surveying found eager users. The Dutch East India Company was not just helped by the efficiencies of private sector enterprise, but also by the better quality of their maps by Mercator and Ortilius. Unfortunately, Indian rulers still failed to appreciate the significance of these even when they were unfurled and displayed before their eyes. Sir Thomas Roe, the British ambassador to the court of Jehangir, presented an atlas of the latest European maps to the Mughal, but it was politely returned after four days without any query. French maps were superior to their rivals. The best was D’Anville’s, who never visited India but collected the best available information from his Paris home. The British also took cartography very seriously. They conducted the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India that produced very accurate maps in the nineteenth century. This was a Herculean task that dragged on for forty years at great cost.

This book is a brief history of India’s geography. It narrates in a soothing way the changes accumulated in India’s natural and human landscape, about ancient trade routes and cultural linkages, rise and fall of cities, about dead rivers and the legends that keep them alive. It acknowledges the strong influence of Indian civilisation on Southeast Asia and keeps the region under consideration in several chapters. It tracks the progress of Hindu kingdoms in that region in parallel with Indian history. The author hints that the Chinese orchestrated Islamization of the region in the Middle Ages as a counterweight to Indian influence. The many incarnations of the city of Delhi over the centuries find a prominent mention in these pages. It is a history of Delhi as well. The book gets a touch of first-hand experience as the author has travelled to all the places he describes and hints at what to visit and expect there. This is a very useful tip for readers who plan to visit those places. Taken as a whole, reading this book was a feel-good experience.

The book is highly recommended.
Profile Image for Düsty.
56 reviews8 followers
January 27, 2020
Excellent book. Provides a very good semi-deep insight into India's geographical history and how the changing topography influenced the actual happenings. Vey well backed by research, the book provides a good outlook into the history of the natives as well as the invaders. If you are keen to know more about the history of India, this book is a good place to start.
Profile Image for Pritam Chattopadhyay.
1,802 reviews157 followers
January 21, 2022
"ঐতিহাসিকেরা ইতিহাস রচনা করেন না। ইতিহাস রচনা করে গোষ্ঠীবদ্ধ মানুষ -- তাদের ধ্যান-ধারণা, রীতিনীতি, কলাকৌশলানুযায়ী সমসাময়িক জীবনের দাবি-দাওয়া, আশা আকাঙ্খা, স্বপ্ন-কল্পনা মেটাবার তাগাদায় পথ চলতে-চলতে, পায়ের নিচের মাটিতে পদচিহ্ন এঁকে এঁকে। অগণিত , বিরামহীন এই পদচিহ্নে��� অধিকাংশই কালের স্থূলহস্তাবলেপে অথবা মানুষের অবহেলায় অবলুপ্ত হয়ে যায় কিছুমাত্র চিহ্ন না-রেখে, স্বল্পাংশমাত্র এদিক-সেদিক পড়ে থাকে। ঐগুলির ওপরই ঐতিহাসিকের নির্ভর। জনপ্রবাহ যে ইতিহাস পায়ে-পায়ে রচনা করে চলে তারই দু'চারটি ক্ষুদ্র ছিন্ন অংশ নিয়ে বহু দিন, বহু যুগ , বহু শতাব্দী পর ঐতিহাসিক তার নিদন্ধ-প্রবন্ধ-গ্রন্থাদি রচনা করেন। সমগ্র জীবনপ্রবাহটি প্রত্যক্ষ করার সুযোগই তার ঘটে না........" নীহাররঞ্জন রায়।

স্থান-কাল-পাত্র এই তিনের পারস্পরিক সম্পর্কের জটিল টানাপড়েনে বাঙ্ময় হয়ে ওঠে ইতিহাস।

ইতিহাসের বিচিত্র বিন্যাসের ব্যাখ্যা-বিশ্লেষণে টীকা-ভাষ্যের মতোই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ভূগোল সংক্রান্ত আলোচনা। তা মুদ্রিত ইতিহাসপাঠের এক অনন্য পরিপূরক। ইতিহাসকার মাত্রেই এক অর্থে ভূগোল ব্যাখ্যাকার।

ভূগোল শব্দের অর্থ কী ? রিচার্ড হার্টশোর্ণ সাহেব বলছেন, “Geography is the study of the earth’s surface as the space within which the human population lives” -- অর্থাৎ, যে শাস্ত্র ভূ-পৃষ্ঠকে মানবগোষ্ঠির বসবাসের স্থান হিসাবে অধ্যয়ন করে তাহাই ভূগোল।

উপরোক্ত সংজ্ঞার আলোকে বিশ্লেষণ করলে, সাদাসিধে স্কেচ-ম্যাপ থেকে উন্নত কারিগরি নির্ভর অ্যাটলাস— সর্বত্রই ভূগোল, ইতিহাস-পাঠকের মনের দিগন্তকে প্রসারিত করে বহুদূর।

ভারতবর্ষের ইতিহাস চর্চা প্রাতিষ্ঠানিক চরিত্র অর্জন করার একটি অনিবার্য পরিণাম হল বিভিন্ন ধরনের মানচিত্রের ব্যাপক ব্যবহার— পাঠ্যপুস্তকে এবং মান্য গবেষণা কর্মে।

অনেকেরই স্মরণে আছে ১৯৪৯ খ্রিস্টাব্দে প্রকাশিত কলিন ডেভিসের অ্যান হিস্টরিকাল অ্যাটলাস অব ইন্ডিয়ান পেনিনসুলা-র কথা। একগুচ্ছ মানচিত্রে ধরা হয়েছিল বিভিন্ন সাম্রাজ্যের সীমানা, আর বিভিন্ন সময়পর্বে ভারতবর্ষে ব্রিটিশ অধিকার প্রসারণের কথা।

কলিন ডেভিসের প্রয়োজনীয় কাজটির ক্ষেত্র প্রসারিত হয়েছে বহুগুণ— বিষয়ের ���ৈচিত্রে এবং পদ্ধতিগত উৎকর্ষে। ১৯৭৮-এ মার্কিন পণ্ডিত জোসেফ ই সোয়ার্জবার্গ প্রকাশ করেন বড় আকার, বহু বর্ণে মুদ্রিত আ হিস্টরিকাল অ্যাটলাস অব সাউথ এশিয়া। ইরফান হাবিবের আ হিস্টরিকাল অ্যাটলাস অব মুঘল ইন্ডিয়া প্রকাশিত হয় ১৯৮২ খ্রিস্টাব্দে।

গত কয়েক দশকে আঞ্চলিক স্তরে নানা ঐতিহাসিক মানচিত্র তৈরি হয়েছে, যেমন ব্রজদুলাল চট্টোপাধ্যায়, গৌতম সেনগুপ্ত এবং শম্ভু চক্রবর্তী সম্পাদিত অ্যান অ্যানোটেটেড আর্কিয়োলজিকাল অ্যাটলাস অব ওয়েস্ট বেঙ্গল (প্রথম খণ্ড, ২০০৫)।

সঞ্জীব সান্যাল তাঁর বইয়ের ভূমিকায় লিখছেন - "This book is an attempt to write a brief and eclectic history of India’s geography. It is about the changes in India’s natural and human landscape, about ancient trade routes and cultural linkages, the rise and fall of cities, about dead rivers and the legends that keep them alive. Great monarchs and dynasties are still important to such a history but they are remembered for the way in which they shaped geography...."

ভূমিকার উদ্ধৃত অংশটি পড়ে মনে হওয়া স্বাভাবিক যে এই বই হয়ত বা ১৯১৫ সালে প্রকাশিত অ্যাফ্রেড হোএগনার সাহেবের 'The Origin of Continents and Oceans' নামক মহাগ্রন্থের ভারতীয় প্রতিরূপ বা নিছক adaptation।

তা নয়।

সঞ্জীব বলছেন, "While the primary focus of this book is on the history of India’s geography, the converse, too, is a secondary theme that runs through the book. In other words, the book is also about the geography of India’s history and civilization. One cannot understand the flow of Indian history without appreciating the drying up of the Saraswati river, the monsoon winds that carried merchant fleets across the Indian Ocean, the Deccan Traps that made Shivaji’s guerilla tactics possible, the Brahmaputra river that allowed the tiny Ahom kingdom to defeat the mighty Mughals and the marshlands that dictated where the British built their settlements. Furthermore, the book will also consciously bring out the technologies—from kiln-fired bricks and ship building to map-making and railways—that have influenced the way we think of India..."

যেকোনও আখ্যানের মূল চরিত্র হয় মানুষ। পশুপক্ষীকে কেন্দ্র করেও আখ্যানের প্রতিপাদ্য আবর্তিত হতে পারে। জড়বস্তুরও আখ্যানের নায়ক হতে বাধা নেই। যেমন ধরুন শরৎচন্দ্রের 'মহেশ' বা নিকোলাই গোগোলের 'ওভারকোট' অথবা তিস্তা বিধৌত উত্তরবঙ্গের জনজীবনের আখ্যান কেন্দ্র করে দেবেশ রায়ের 'তিস্তাপারের বৃত্তান্ত'।

কিন্তু একটি দেশকে কাহিনীর নায়ক হিসেবে ভাবতে গেলে ভাবনায় টান পড়ে আমাদের।

গল্প-উপন্যাস, কাব্য-মহাকাব্য সবই খন্ড-মানবতার, খন্ড-ভূমচেতনার অখণ্ড উপাখ্যান। ইলিয়াড ওডিসির কথাই কল্পনা করুন না পাঠক। সবকিছুরই কেন্দ্রে আছে মানুষ, দেশ সেখানে গৌণ।

বোধকরি এরই ব্যতিক্রমী দৃষ্টান্ত সঞ্জীব বাবুর বইটি। মানুষের গল্প -- কিন্তু তার থেকেও বড় হয়ে উঠেছে 'ভারত' নামক ভূখণ্ড।

সবশেষে, শেষ পর্যন্ত জেগে থাকে, সমূহ অশান্তির অবসানে, সনাতনী শান্তি নিয়ে।

সঞ্জীব বাবুর ভাষায় -- .......the book focuses on a somewhat different set of questions:

১) Is there any truth in ancient legends about the Great Flood?
২) Why do Indians call their country Bharat?
৩) What do the epics tell us about how Indians perceived the geography of their country in the Iron Age?
৪) Why did the Buddha give his first sermon at Sarnath, just outside Varanasi?
৫) What was it like to sail on an Indian Ocean merchant ship in the fifth century AD or to live the life of an idle playboy in Gupta-era Pataliputra?
৬) How did the Mughals hunt lions?
৭) How did the Europeans map India?
৮) How did the British build the railways across the subcontinent?

সঞ্জীব বলছেন - "The process of change still goes on and, in the last chapter, we will look at the huge shifts being caused now by the process of urbanization and rapid economic growth...."

অমৃতসমান, প্রাচীন ভারতের ভৌগোলিক ইতিহাস। বহুজনপদ, গিরি, নদী, মরু কান্তারের উল্লেখ মেলে। কালক্রমে ঐ সব ভৌগোলিক পরিচয়ের এত পরিবর্তন ঘটেছে যে বর্তমান যুগের পাঠকের তা স্বপ্নলোকের কাহিনী মনে হয়। অথচ নামান্তরের অন্তরালে তারা আজও ভারতের বুকে বিরাজমান। আপাত-অপরিচয়ের যবনিকা উত্তোলন করে প্রাচীনকে নবীনের সঙ্গে পরিচিত করাই সঞ্জীব বাবুর বইয়ের উদ্দেশ্য ও লক্ষ্য। জন্ম রোম্যান্টিক, নামমুগ্ধ কবিগুরুর কথা স্মরণ করুন পাঠক। তিনি তাঁর "প্রাচীন সাহিত্য" গ্রন্থে লিখছেন -- "প্রাচীন ভারত খণ্ডটুকুর নদী-গিরি-নগরীর নামগুলিই বা কত সুন্দর। নামগুলির মধ্যে একটি শোভা, সম্ভ্রম শুভ্রতা আছে।"

সঞ্জীবের আলোচনায় এসেছে প্রাচীন যুগের নগ-নদী-নগরীর কথা। ভারতের অধিকাংশ নদীই শৈল সুতা, নগনন্দিনী। প্রাচীন কালের প্রশাসন, ব্যবসা-বাণিজ্য ও যোগাযোগ কেন্দ্র সমূহ গড়ে উঠতো নদী তীরে। নগরীর শ্রেষ্ঠত্ব, স্থিতিশীলতা সবই নদী নির্ভর। নদীর সঙ্গে নিবিড় সম্পর্ক স্থাপনের প্রথম প্রমাণ ধরা রয়েছে ঋগ্বেদেই।

এই বেদ ধ্বনিত হওয়ার প্রথম যুগে অর্থাৎ প্রথম মণ্ডলের ৩৪তম সূক্তে বেদের সাতটি নদীকে মায়ের সঙ্গে তুলনা করে বলা হয়েছে, অশ্বিনীদ্বয় দেবতার জন্য সপ্তমাতৃ জল দিয়ে—‘সিন্ধুভিঃ সপ্তমাতৃভিঃ’—হব্য তৈরি হয়েছে। সূক্তটির মন্ত্রদ্রষ্টা বা রচনাকার হলেন ঋষি অঙ্গিরার ছেলে হিরণ্যস্তুপ। দ্বিতীয় মণ্ডলের ৪১ সংখ্যক সূক্তের রচনাকার গ্রিৎসমদ ঋষি। ইনি তাঁর যজ্ঞে নদী সরস্বতীকে প্রথমে ‘অম্বিতমে’ অর্থাৎ মায়ের মধ্যে শ্রেষ্ঠ বলেছেন। পঞ্জাবে গঙ্গা নেই, কিন্তু হিন্দু এবং শিখরা বসন্তপঞ্চমীতে মা গঙ্গার পুজো করেন। উত্তর ভারতে মানুষের বিশ্বাস, গঙ্গা, যমুনা আর রহস্যময়ী সরস্বতীর সংগমে ডুব দিতে পারলে তো পুণ্য তিনগুণ হয়ে যায়। কাশ্মীরি পণ্ডিতরা আবার বসন্তপঞ্চমীর দিনে তান্ত্রিক দেবী টিকি সোরাম-এর উপাসনা করেন। বৈদিক ঋষি আরও বলেছেন, ‘নদীতমে দেবিতমে সরস্বতী’ (নদী ও দেবীগণের মধ্যে শ্রেষ্ঠ)। ঋষি গ্রিৎসমদ সরস্বতী নদীমায়ের কাছে প্রার্থনা জানাচ্ছেন, আমরা সমৃদ্ধহীন রয়েছি, আমাদের সমৃদ্ধিশালী করুন। সরস্বতীর উদ্দেশে সোমরস নিবেদন করে তিনি সন্তান চেয়েছেন। নদীরূপা মা সরস্বতীর কাছে চেয়েছেন অন্ন-জলও।

সঞ্জীব লিখছেন, "Nevertheless, the river was not forgotten. We find its memory echoed in legends, folk tales and place-names. Modern Hindus still worship the Saraswati as the Goddess of Knowledge, recalling the river’s role as an ‘inspirer of hymns’. In Haryana, one of the seasonal tributaries of the Ghaggar is called the Sarsuti.

Perhaps it is a way to remember the fact that the Yamuna was once a tributary of the lost river..."

ভারতীয় সভ্যতা, সংস্কৃতি ও কৃষ্টি অতি সুপ্রাচীন কাল থেকে বেশ কয়েকটা অধ্যায়ে ক্রমবিবর্তিত হতে হতে বর্তমান অবস্থায় পৌঁছেছে। এগুলোকে যদি কালের নিরিখে পর্যায়ক্রমে সাজানো হয়, তা হলে শুরু করতে হয় প্রাগৈতিহাসিক পর্ব থেকে – আদি প্রস্তর যুগ, মধ্য প্রস্তর যুগ ও নব প্রস্তর যুগ। এরপরে ঐতিহাসিক যুগের সূচনা – তাম্র-প্রস্তর যুগ, তাম্র যুগ, ব্রোঞ্জ যুগ ও লৌহ যুগ। লৌহ যুগেই সমাজ জীবনে আসে এক বৈপ্লবিক পরিবর্তন, যার ফলশ্রুতিতে আজও আমরা বহুবিবর্তিত হয়েই চলেছি। ভারতবর্ষে তাম্র-প্রস্তর থেকে ব্রোঞ্জ যুগ অবধি সভ্যতাকে বলা হয় হরপ্পা বা সিন্ধু সভ্যতা। আর এরপরে বৈদিক সভ্যতা, যার সূচনা তাম্র সভ্যতা থেকে শুরু করে লৌহযুগ অবধি বিস্তৃত। আবহমান কাল ধরে প্রবাহিত ভারতেতিহাসের নিয়ন্ত্রী শক্তি নগ-নদী-নগরীর সম্মিলিত শক্তি। এসেছে গিরিরাজ হিমালয়ের প্রসঙ্গ। অলকানন্দা ও ধৌলিগঙ্গার অপরূপ মিলিত রূপ এসেছে সঞ্জীবের লেখায়। অপাপবিদ্ধা প্রকৃতির রংমহলে সে এক মুগ্ধ দৃশ্যময়তার রচনা। সুউচ্চ গিরিশোভিত দৃশ্যপট আর নদীসঙ্গমের স্বপ্নবিধৃত নীল পরিবহ। অপার মুগ্ধতায় পড়তে হয় সঞ্জীবের বর্ণনা। কালিদাস তাঁর কুমারসম্ভবমে লিখেছেন -

"অস্ত্যওরস্যাং দিশি দেবতাত্মা
হিমালয়ো নাম নগাধিরাজঃ।"

লেখক বলছেন যে ভারতবাসীর সুখ সমৃদ্ধির মূল হিমালয়। ভারতের উত্তর সীমান্তের অতন্দ্র প্রহরী গিরিরাজ হিমালয় স্নেহশীল পিতার ন্যায় সতত সতর্ক। কুরুক্ষেত্রের রক্তক্ষয়ী যুদ্ধের শেষে দ্রৌপদীসহ পঞ্চপান্ডব শান্তির আশায় হিমালয় ক্রোড়ে আশ্রয়প্রার্থী। মহাভারতের শেষ কথা ইন্দ্রপ্রস্থ নয় , অশ্বমেধ নয় -- শেষ কথা মহাপ্রস্থানের পথপ্রান্তে শান্তির আলয় হিমালয়। সঞ্জীব লিখেছেন যে ভারতবর্ষের পর্বতমালাগুলি ভারতবর্ষের জীবনযাত্রার নিয়ন্ত্রক। পর্বতগুলির অবস্থান, উচ্চতা , জলীয় বাষ্প প্রতিহত করার ক্ষমতা , ভারতের বৃষ্টিপাত , জলবায়ু , আবহাওয়া , কৃষিজ পণ্য , বনভূমি , নদীপথ সবকিছুই নিয়ন্ত্রণ করে। নদীর পরিবর্তন ঘটলেও পর্বতগুলি অচল, অটল। পর্বতশৃঙ্গ ও পর্বতমালার নামান্তর ঘটেছে কিন্তু স্থানান্তর ঘটেনি।

প্রগতি অবিভাজ��য। মানবজাতির সুখ সমৃদ্ধি ভাগ করা যায় না। ভৌগোলিক সীমানা, জাতিগত আত্মপরিচয়, রাষ্ট্রীয় পার্থক্য, এসবের বাধা, প্রগতির বিশ্বজোড়া বিস্তারে কোনো বাধা হওয়া উচিত না। যা কিছু আছে, যত কিছু আছে তাতে সকলের অধিকার - জ্ঞান বিজ্ঞান শিক্ষা সংস্কৃতি, সবকিছুর উপরে সকলের সমান দখল। এশিয়া, আফ্রিকা, ইউরোপ, আমেরিকা, যে যেখানেই থাকুক না কেন সভ্যতা সব মানুষের। এই মনোভাবে যখন কোনও জাতি উদীপ্ত হয় তখন তার সামনে সব পথই খোলা। সঞ্জীব বলছেন যে খীষ্টপূর্ব ষষ্ঠ থেকে চতুর্থ শতাব্দী, ভারতীয় সভ্যতার চরিত্র খানিকটা এ ধাঁচেই। সে সভ্যতার যদি কিছু গৌরব থাকে তবে তা এটাই। ভারতবর্ষ মানবেতিহাসের অংশ হয়ে উঠতে চাইছে। ভারতীয় সভ্যতায় বিশজনীনতার ছোঁয়া, পৃথিবীর মানুষের যত গুন্ তা আয়ত্ব করার আগ্রহ; এমন ভাবে গুনাগুনের আত্তীকরণেই এ সভ্যতা উজ্জ্বল।

রাষ্ট্রগঠনে, বৈষয়িক উন্নয়নে, কেন্দ্রীভূত শাসনবাবস্থায়, সামরিক শক্তিতে, উপজাতিভিত্তিক চেতনার অবসান আগ্রহে, বহিঃবিশ্ব সম্পর্কে প্রসারিত দৃষ্টিভঙ্গিতে উত্তর ভারত সহ দেশের এক বৃহৎ অংশই ভাবিত হয়ে উঠেছিল। সে ধারণাটি বহমান রইলো না কেন? কেন সংকীর্ণতার বদ্ধভূমিতে পুনরায় প্রত্যাবর্তন? এসবের কারণ ও অনুসন্ধান ভিন্ন প্রসঙ্গ, অন্য আলোচনার বিষয়।

গঙ্গার পাড় ধরে নবজাগরণ। কিছু দূরেই উত্তর পশ্চিম ভারত। কী অবস্থা সেখানে? সেই পুরানো ভাবনা; রাষ্ট্র নেই, ঐক্য নেই, বৃহত্তর সমাজ বলতে কোনো ধারণাই নেই; আছে বহু নৃকুল, বহু সংস্কৃতি; বহু বিচিত্র ভাষা, কেবল উপজাতি। ক্ষুদ্র ক্ষুদ্র রাজ্। একমাত্র কম্বোজ ও গান্ধার ছাড়া সেই ভূভাগের অধিকাংশ অঞ্চলেই এই ছিল বাস্তবতা।

এসেছে 'হোয়াইট ম্যানস বার্ডেন' প্রসঙ্গ। এসেছেন কিপলিং। ১৮৯২ সালে প্রকাশিত ‘জাঙ্গল বুক’ নিয়ে সংশয় আজও রয়েছে আমাদের। হাতিদের করে-দেওয়া জলচুক্তি হরিণ, ভালুক, গণ্ডার সকলে কেন মেনে নেবে?

সবাই কেন একমত হবে যে গ্রীষ্মকালে জল খাওয়ার সময় কাউকে আক্রমণ করা যাবে না? পশুরাও জঙ্গলের আইন মেনে চলে? নাকি এটি কিপলিং-এর ভাবনা, ‘দেখো, আইন সকলের ঊর্ধ্বে। তাকে মেনে চলতে হয়! আইন, নাগরিক অধিকার এ সব আমরা ব্রিটিশরাই দুনিয়াকে শিখিয়ে গেলাম।’ জঙ্গলের বানরেরা (কিপলিং-এর ভাষায় বান্দরলোগ) কেনই বা স্বেচ্ছাচারী, আইনভঙ্গকারী হয়েও মানবশিশু মোগলিকে দেখে বলবে, ‘তোমার মতো হতে চাই।’ ভারতীয়রা তা হলে বান্দরলোগ? সুসভ্য ব্রিটিশ জাতিকে অনুসরণ করলেই মোক্ষ? রুডইয়ার্ড কিপলিং তাঁর সাম্রাজ্যবাদী চেতনা থেকেই তো কবিতায় লিখবেন ‘টেক আপ দ্য হোয়াইট ম্যানস বার্ডেন।’ শ্বেতাঙ্গ দায়িত্বের বোঝাটা কী? যে মানুষেরা ‘হাফ ডেভিল অ্যান্ড হাফ চাইল্ড,’ তাদের উন্নত ব্রিটিশ শাসনে আনা। বঙ্গসন্তান সঞ্জীব সান্যালের কলমে উঠে এসেছে কলকাতার ইতিহাসের খন্ডচিত্র।

চার্নক যেখানে আস্তানা গড়েছিলেন সেটা ছিল সুতানুটি, কলকাতা নয়। কাছাকাছি বস্ত্র ব্যবসার উপযোগী সুতো ইত্যাদি সামগ্রীর হাট থাকায় চার্নকেরা জায়গাটা বেছে নিয়েছিলেন নিছকই ব্যবসার কাজের সুবিধের জন্য,শহর প্রতিষ্ঠার মানসে নয়।

বরং আরও কয়েক বছর পরে,১৬৯৮-এর ১০ নভেম্বর ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানির প্রতিনিধি ক্যাপ্টেন চার্লস আয়ার ওই এলাকার জমিদার বা রাজস্ব আদায়কারী সাবর্ণ গোত্রীয় রায়চৌধুরী পরিবারের কাছ থেকে ১৩০০ টাকার বিনিময়ে সুতানুটি, গোবিন্দপুর, কলকাতা গ্রামের রাজস্ব-স্বত্ত্ব কিনে নেন।

তারও প্রায় ষাট বছর পরে, পলাশির যুদ্ধে জিতে ব্রিটিশরা গোবিন্দপুর গ্রামে নতুন ফোর্ট তৈরি আরম্ভ করার সময়ে সেখানকার বাসিন্দাদের সুতানুটি, কলকাতা-সহ তাদের জমিদারি-স্বত্ত্ব পাওয়া গ্রামগুলোয় সরিয়ে দেয়। সেই সময় থেকেই কলকাতার নগরায়ণের সূচনা।

এ বিষয়ে সঞ্জীবও খেলেছেন স্ট্রেইট ব্যাটে। তিনি বলেছেন, "Job Charnock probably chose this site from a standpoint of defensibility. The river ran along the west of the site while there were marshy salt lakes to the east. To the south there were dense, tiger-infested jungles, while to the north there was a creek that ran from the river to the salt lakes and was navigable by large boats. Many of these features are still discernible...."

এই বইয়ের সবচেয়ে চমকপ্রদ অধ্যায় নিঃসন্দেহে শেষতম অধ্যায়টি। Birds eye view অথবা ক্যাপসিউল ইতিহাস লিখনের আবেশে সঞ্জীব বর্ণনা করেছেন ভারতের বিগত ষাট বছরের ইতিহাস। এসেছে দেশভাগ। সংখ্যালঘু ও সংখ্যাগুরুর ধারণার ভিত্তিতে দেশভাগ হওয়ার পর দুটি স্বাধীন জাতীয় রাষ্ট্রেই নতুন সংখ্যালঘু ও সংখ্যাগুরু শ্রেণি তৈরি হল, এবং তাদের অস্তিত্ব ও সুরক্ষাও নির্ভরশীল হয়ে পড়ল দুই রাষ্ট্রের তৈরি নীতির ওপর। দুই দেশে দুই রকম রাষ্ট্রযন্ত্রের নিষ্পেষণে সংখ্যালঘু সমাজ, সংখ্যাগুরু সমাজ, শরণার্থী, দলিত, এমনকী আইনি ভাষায় যাঁরা রাষ্ট্রহীন, সেই মানুষরা— সকলেই দেশভাগের অন্তঃসারশূন্যতাকে স্বাধীন দেশের মধ্যে নানা ভাবে অনুভব করলেন। এসেছে গোয়ার প্রসঙ্গ। স্বাধীনতার সময়ে ছোট ছোট রাজ্যগুলিকে এক করে বর্তমান ভারতের যে চেহারা, তার অনেকটাই রূপ দিতে সক্ষম হয়েছিলেন পটেল। কিন্তু পটেল মারা যাওয়ায় গোয়া, দমন দিউয়ের মতো পর্তুগিজ শাসনে থাকা অংশগুলি কেবল নেহরুর সদিচ্ছার অভাবে স্বাধীন ভারতের সঙ্গে অন্তর্ভুক্ত হতে এক দশকের বেশি সময় লেগে যায়। সঞ্জীব লিখছেন, "Reading press reports about the liberation of Goa half a century after the event, I was struck by the extreme hostility with which Western diplomats and media of that time reacted to Indian actions. The United States and Britain pushed for a UN resolution against India, but it was vetoed by the USSR. Press reports railed against Indian aggression and shed many a tear for Goa’s Christians, ignoring the fact that leading pro-liberation activists like Tristão de Braganza Cunha were themselves Christian.

A Time magazine article ‘India: End of an Image’ dated 29 December 1961, openly called Nehru a hypocrite who preached peace abroad but used force at home. The magazine appears not to have noticed that after waiting for fourteen years for the Portuguese to come to the table, the Prime Minister was looking increasingly ridiculous...."

এসেছে ভারতের উপর চীনের আগ্রাসন।

অনেক প্রাচীন সভ্যতাগত ঐতিহ্য এবং ঔপনিবেশিকতা-বিরোধী মনোভাবের সাদৃশ্যের কারণে ভারত এবং চিন— এই দুই প্রতিবেশী রাষ্ট্র একে অপরের মিত্র হওয়াই প্রত্যাশিত ছিল। জওহরলাল নেহরু ১৯৬০ সাল পর্যন্ত অন্তত এমনটাই বিশ্বাস করতেন।

কিন্তু নেহরু, রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর-সহ বহু উদারনৈতিক বুদ্ধিজীবীদের ধারণার বিপরীতে গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী চিন তার জন্মলগ্ন থেকেই ভারত-বিরোধী নীতি অনুসরণ করে এসেছে।

ভারতীয় বৈদেশিক নীতি প্রণয়নকারীরা এই কথা উপলব্ধি করেছেন অনেক দেরিতে। উদারনৈতিক এবং মার্ক্সবাদী বুদ্ধিজীবীদের অধিকাংশই এখনও বিশ্বাস করেন যে, চিন-ভীতির ধারণাটি প্রকৃতপক্ষে ভারতীয় রাষ্ট্রনির্মিত, যা দারিদ্র বা বেকারত্বের মতো আর্থ-সামাজিক সমস্যা থেকে জনগণের দৃষ্টি ঘোরাতে সাহায্য করে।

'DUELS WITH THE DRAGON' নামক অংশে সঞ্জীব এই সমস্যাটি নিজের মতো পর্যালোচনা করেছেন। ভারত এবং চিনের মধ্যে সম্পর্কের এই অবনতির কারণ কী? চিন কোনও দিনই ম্যাকমোহন রেখাকে দুই দেশের মধ্যেকার সীমান্ত হিসেবে মেনে নিতে চায়নি। বেজিং-এর মতে, ব্রিটিশরা ১৯১৪ সালে চিনের দুর্বলতার সুযোগ নিয়ে এই সীমান্তরেখা তাদের ওপর চাপিয়ে দেয়। ১৯৫১ সালে চিন তিব্বত দখল করে। অথচ চিনের প্রায় আড়াই হাজার বছরের লিখিত ইতিহাসে এমন নজির পাওয়া যায় না। ছিং বংশের অধীনে চিন সাম্রাজ্য তার সর্বোচ্চ বিস্তার লাভ করে, এবং সে সময় তিব্বত চিনের সামন্তরাজ্য ছিল। আধুনিক কালে সমস্যা আরও ঘোরতর হয়ে ওঠে যখন তিব্বত দখলের পর চিন, নেপাল, ভুটান এমনকি সিকিমকেও তাদের এলাকা বলে দাবি করতে থাকে। বাস্তবে হিমালয় পার্বত্য অঞ্চলের এই রাজ্যগুলি কোনও দিনই চিনের অংশ ছিল না।

মধ্যযুগে যখন লাসা, পেকিং-এর বিরুদ্ধে যুদ্ধরত, তখন নেপাল ছিল তিব্বতের একটা সামন্তরাজ্য। নেপাল, তিব্বতের থেকে স্বাধীনতা পাওয়ার পর ভুটান এবং সিকিমকে অস্থায়ী ভাবে নিয়ন্ত্রণ করত। অন্য দিকে লাদাখ কোনও দিনই চিনের অংশ ছিল না, বরং তা সাময়িক ভাবে রঞ্জিত সিং-এর খালসা রাজত্বের অংশ হয়েছিল। আবার অরুণাচল প্রদেশ ছিল অস্থায়ী ভাবে অহম রাজত্বের অংশ। সুতরাং এই সমস্ত এলাকার উপর চিনের কোনও আইনগত অধিকার নেই। ১৯৬২ সালের ভারত-চিন যুদ্ধে ভারতের পরাজয়ের কারণে পরবর্তী কালে সীমান্ত বরাবর চিনের আগ্রাসী কার্যকলাপ সফল হয়েছিল। প্রচলিত ধারণা হল যে নেহরুর ভারতীয় সামরিক নেতৃত্বের পরামর্শ উপেক্ষা করা উচিত হয়নি। সত্যি বলতে কী, সরকারপক্ষ এবং সাম��িক বাহিনী, উভয়ই কিন্তু ভুল করেছিলেন। চিনের তিব্বত অধিকারের পরও নেহরুর সরকার এবং ভারতীয় সেনাধ্যক্ষরা হিমালয়কে একটি প্রতিরক্ষামূলক প্রাচীর হিসেবে মনে করতে থাকেন।

নেহরুর বাকপটু প্রতিরক্ষামন্ত্রী কৃষ্ণ মেনন দাবি করেছিলেন যে, তিনি একাই ভারতীয় সেনাবাহিনী ছাড়া চিনের মোকাবিলা করতে পারবেন। এবং সেনাধ্যক্ষগণ ইসলামাবাদের দিকে দৃষ্টি নিক্ষেপ করেন।

কিন্তু বল্লভভাই পটেল ছিলে�� ব্যতিক্রমী। তিনি নেহরুকে চিনের সামরিক আগ্রাসনের বিষয়টিতে সতর্ক করেন।

এসেছে বাংলাদেশের মুক্তিযুদ্ধের প্রসঙ্গ। ঘোষিত যুদ্ধ ১৩ দিনের। আসলে কিন্তু মুক্তিযুদ্ধ শুরু হয়েছিল ১৯৭১-এর মার্চ থেকেই। ২৫ মার্চ পাক সেনারা ধানমণ্ডির বাড়ি থেকে শেখ মুজিবুর রহমানকে ধরে তখনকার পশ্চিম পাকিস্তানে নিয়ে যাওয়ার এক ফাঁকে শেখ সাহেব একটা চিরকুটে স্বাধীনতার ঘোষণাপত্র লিখে বাইরে পাচার করে দিতে পেরেছিলেন।

পর দিন ভোরে, ২৬ মার্চ, ��াক সেনাবাহিনীর যে তরুণ বাঙালি সেনাপতি তাঁর বাহিনী নিয়ে বিদ্রোহ করে মুক্তিযুদ্ধে অবতীর্ণ হন, সেই জেনারেল জিয়াউর রহমান চট্টগ্রামের কালুরঘাট বেতারকেন্দ্র থেকে শেখ মুজিবের লেখা ওই স্বাধীনতার ঘোষণাপত্র পাঠ করেন: ‘অন বিহাফ অব আওয়ার বিলাভেড লিডার শেখ মুজিবুর রহমান, আই জেনারেল জিয়া ডিক্লেয়ার দ্য ইন্ডিপেন্ডেন্স অব বাংলাদেশ...’ শুরু হয়ে যায় মুক্তিযুদ্ধ।

তত্ত্ব ও তথ্যের এক সমৃদ্ধ ভাণ্ডার ধরা আছে এই বইয়ের আটটি অধ্যায়ে। সঙ্গে অতিরিক্ত প্রাপ্তি বিস্তৃত গ্রন্থ/প্রবন্ধপঞ্জি এবং একাধিক অতীব প্রয়োজনীয় বিষয়সূচি (ইনডেক্স), স্থাননাম-জনগোষ্ঠী-ভূখণ্ড এবং রাজ্য, এবং প্রাচীন নদীগুলির নাম। সব মিলিয়ে এক বিপুল আয়োজন— মগজের প্রভূত খোরাক। মানবগোষ্ঠীর উদ্ভব এবং প্রসার, নব্যপ্রস্তর যুগ, সিন্ধু সভ্যতা ও প্রত্নতাত্ত্বিক উপাদাননির্ভর সংস্কৃতি (১৮০০-৬০০ খ্রি.পূ.) যেমন ছুঁয়েছেন লেখক , তেমনই বিস্তারিত আলোচনা করেছেন ভারতের ঐতিহাসিক ভূগোল (১৮০০-৬০০ খ্রি.পূ.), মৌর্যকালীন ভারত, ভারতের রাজনৈতিক মানচিত্র, ভারতের অর্থনৈতিক ভূগোল, ভারতের রাজনৈতিক ভূগোল ও ভারতের অর্থনৈতিক মানচিত্র প্রসঙ্গেও।

এই আপাত সরল বিষয় বিন্যাসের অন্তরালে সক্রিয় আছে প্রাচীন ভারতীয় ইতিহাস ভাবনার একটি তীক্ষ্ণ বিশ্লেষণাত্মক কাঠামো।

আটটি অধ্যায়ের পথ অনুসরণ করে পাঠক অনুধাবন করতে পারবেন প্রাচীন ভারত-ইতিহাসের বহুমাত্রিক, বহুমুখী, বহুস্তরে বিন্যস্ত জঙ্গমতাকে।সঞ্জীব সান্যাল রচিত এই বই একটি সামগ্রিক অভিজ্ঞতা।

Profile Image for Krishna Dinamani.
24 reviews9 followers
May 23, 2021
It's a quick snapshot of Indian history and it's cyclical nature. This book generally surrounding talks history around Delhi though it do covers other locations briefly.
Profile Image for Sandeepan Mondal.
20 reviews6 followers
August 18, 2016
This book is highly recommended if you are inquisitive about how India's geography influenced its history and vice-versa. The author has done good research using mostly contemporary sources about topics which are contentious like the origin & decline of harappan civilization and out-of-India migration theories (as opposed to Aryan invasion theories). The author has also touched upon how tectonic and seismic forces shaped the world we live in today. This book makes for a fast read and the author has touched upon many aspects of the Indian influence in south-east Asia mostly, which are accurate according to the latest research in various journals and books. The reader is advised to go through the bibliography at the end of this book and read a few books from which the author has drawn his conclusions.

This book should not be treated as an academic book (for UPSC aspirants) or a history book (like John Keay's India: A history). All in all, an engaging read which succeeds in amusing the reader and firing up his imagination with respect to major happenings in India's past.
Profile Image for Piyush Behera.
33 reviews
October 6, 2015
Though Initially grudging to go for this one, I started this after the suggestion from one of my childhood pals. The initial pages though dint let my spirits down, there are theories regarding many questions which I thought to be at first inane which emerged to be the most settling issues in the hindsight. The book answers many a questions in a narrative way, binding very essence, coursing through the very historical rationality. History shall be like a story and should never be learned in rote memory which I first learned with Ramachandra Guha has also been exemplified over here. Nonetheless, four stars for this riveting and grappling read...
34 reviews2 followers
June 11, 2020
A view of Indian civilization from Vedic times to current through geographic lens. How Indias geography has changed through the times from Vedic Islamic and colonial invaders, partition, etc. Author has used documented evidences of foreign travellers during those times. How cartography played a major role in British invasion, what led to the decline of Indian economic prowess during the last 700-800 years. The author has stuck to the geography and where the evidences are available. A nice account and a different perspective of the Indian civilization as a whole.
9 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2021
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is a great book to get an overview of India’s history from early civilisations to mughals then to british raj. And then how it all led to shaping of today’s India. It doesn’t delve into details of lot of topics but it does make you more curious to read more about India’s history which lot of us have ignored while growing up. To understand geographical references I had to keep google map by my side. This also led me to mark out lot of places that I want to now visit.
Profile Image for Nishana.
25 reviews14 followers
January 18, 2021
15% history and 85% author's 'nationalistic'(arsha bharata) viewpoints
Profile Image for Manu.
359 reviews49 followers
June 16, 2016
Geography through the lens of history, the other way, or both! Whichever way one interprets it, the perspective it offers simply by traversing the length of time from "Gondwana to Gurgaon" is quite amazing.
In trying to unravel the broad contours as well as nuances of an ancient civilisation that continues to thrive, the author covers varying domains - beginning with genetics and tectonics and continuing on to trade, politics, cartography and so on. As the title suggests, the specific area around the seven rivers gets most of the focus. One reason is probably that, the events and transformation that this region has witnessed is relatively much higher than the rest of the country. But in many contexts, the author has given hat tips to other relevant regions/kingdoms. e.g. Vijayanagara, Chola, Muziris. He has also covered population influx and exodus at different points in history, and the influences of both, in India as well as in other geographies.
In terms of history, while it might be arguably selective, the author does cover the Harappa civilisation, the movement of civilisation from the Indus to the Gangetic plains, the Mauryas, Guptas, the dynasties preceding the Mughals, different emperors of the Mughal empire, the British and even the politics and policies of contemporary India that continues to create new contours. It is fascinating to see the change in GDP (global share) and population growth through history, and understand the reasons behind them.
The author seems to have traveled quite a bit, and the personal anecdotes about various historically important sites are a very good touch, lending authenticity and character. One other thing I was really impressed by is the absolutely accurate (from what I have seen around me in Bangalore) description of a cycle that a village goes through as it becomes urban, and gentrifies.
What I liked most was how, through comparisons of events past and present, the author shows the circularity of history. Like the wheel in our national emblem, we have cycles a civilisation goes through - absorbing, rejecting, morphing - and identities it creates for itself and its citizens. I am not a fan of the concept of a nation state, but this book does a great job of giving perspectives on how it exists, and why.
Profile Image for A Man Called Ove.
915 reviews219 followers
November 21, 2018
3.5/5 Liked the first half which gives some interesting info and makes some bold statements. The last chapter dealing with post-independence India was uninteresting and stale to say the least.
Edited later :- Having read The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati , and Gem in the Lotus: The Seeding of Indian Civilisation i have gained new perspective on why Sanjeev Sanyal's theories on the Indus-valley civilisation and the Aryan invasion theory may actually be right. And if u r new to the debate, this is the book for u to get started as it is a fast read without compromising on intelligence.
Profile Image for Soumya.
125 reviews27 followers
August 29, 2017
A decent 3.5.

Here's your history + geography 101 to all those who are looking forward to read something about how India emerged a nation that it is today. Though Sanyal isn't a historian himself, the simplistic writing style ignites curiosity to dig deeper and learn more. The only downside, for me, being that though the author does mention here and there about what's happening down in the Southern part of India, I had expected there would be more detailed accounts at least in some chapters of the book. I'd recommend this book to anyone who has never read books of this genre before.
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