Indians Contribution to Geography Notes by NETSET CORNER

Indians Contribution to Geography


The contribution of Indian classical geographers to Geography was based on the information obtained from Hindu mythology, philosophy, epics, sacred laws, and history. Chronologically, the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabahrat, the works of Buddhists and Jains, and the Puranas are the main sources of ancient Indian geographical concepts.

Some of the important ancient Indian scholars were Varahmihar, Brahmagupta, Aryabhatta, Bhashkaracharya, Bhattila, Utpala, Vijaynandi,, etc. In the Indian geographical literature, the term Bhogola (Geography) was used for the first time in Suryasidhanta and in the Puranas.

The Universe

The ancient Indian scholars of the Vedic and Puranic periods gave considerable thought to the origin of the universe and the Earth. Their concepts about the origin of the universe and the Earth may be summarised as:

(i) Artistic Origin

(ii) mechanical origin,

(iii) instrumental origin,

(iv) the philosophical

(i) Artistic Origin

This concept has been given in the Rig Veda. According to this concept, a number of gods were artists who performed different functions in the origin of the universe. They wove different materials into a pattern and shaped the universe by blasting and smelting.

(ii) The Mechanical Origin

This concept is also given in the Rig Veda. It suggests the sacrifice or the disintegration of the primeval body known as Adipurusa who is conceived as the soul and the nucleus of the universe and the embodiment of the supreme spirit. According to this concept, the sky, the sun, the moon, the wind, and all the terrestrial elements were the results of dismemberment of Adipurusa as a result of sacrifice ceremony.

(iii) The Philosophical Theory of Cosmology

According to this belief, in the beginning there was neither being (Sat) or not-being (Asat). There was no atmosphere, no sky, no days, and no nights. The space was empty but for a unit which was born by its own nature, perhaps due to inherent heat. This heat has been explained by Wilson as austerities but it may conveniently be considered as a physical action in the process of formation of the universe.

(iv) The Instrumental Origin

This concept is based on the occurrence of parent bodies from which the universe was created.

Agni (fire), Indira and Soma, Surya (Sun), Rudra, and other gods are mentioned as having been instrumental in the creation of the universe and the Earth. The union of the Earth and the heaven (skies) resulted in the birth of the Sun which is the most important agent in the creation of the world. The Sun was later identified with Rajpati, Vishwakarma, and sometimes with the golden egg and unborn being. The unborn being is also named as Atma (soul) who produced the universe through an intermediary body.

About the origin of the Earth, it has been mentioned in the Upanishads that in the beginning death concealed all. Water was produced after worshiping death from which the Earth originated. According to Puranas, there was neither day nor night, neither light nor darkness and nothing else.

The ancient Indian scholars gave their opinion about the eclipse (Grahna). The Aryans considered an eclipse inauspicious and herald of disaster. It was also believed that if a solar and lunar eclipse occurred in the same month, it becomes more disastrous. Vrahmihira considered the effects of eclipse month-wise and emphasised the fact that an eclipse in Posa (December) could lead to famine and its occurrence in April could result in good rainfall; he also considered an eclipse in Phagun (March) and Asadh (June) as inauspicious.

Latitudes and Longitudes (Akshansa and Deshntra)

The classical Indian scholars were conscious of the importance of latitudes and longitudes in the determination of points and locations on the Earth’s surface. In the Puranas, there are references about latitudes and longitudes. On the basis of latitudes, classical Indian scholars divided the Earth into different regions. For example, the Nirakdesha (Hell) represents the equatorial region while Meru (North Pole) is the 90° latitude. Sri Lanka is placed on the equator and the North Pole is the Mountain Meru with its antipode (Nadir) on the South Pole named as Badavanala. The meridian of Ujjain passing through Lanka and Mt. Meru was taken as the Prime Meridian by the Indian astronomers and geographers.

Earthquakes (Bhukampas)

For the earthquakes, the word Bhukampa has been used in the Puranas. It was assumed that the earthquakes were caused by deities like Veru (air), Agni (fire), Indira, and Varuna (water). This shows that the ancient Rishis and scholars had a fairly good knowledge about the origin and consequences of earthquakes. Similarly they have some knowledge about the origin of volcanoes.

Atmosphere, Weather, and Climate

The evidence in the Vedic and Puranic literature clearly reveal that the Aryans were quite familiar with atmosphere, weather, and climate. According to them, the Earth is surrounded by Antriksha (space/atmosphere) which exists between the Earth and the heaven. The Rig Veda mentions that the thickness of the atmosphere cannot be traversed by birds. Bhaskaracharya has conceived the thickness of the atmosphere to be about 12 Yojanas (about 155 km) round the Earth in which winds, clouds, rain, thunder, lightning,, fog, mist, and frost occur.

Dwipas (Continents)

As per the reference in the Puranas, the Indian geographers and astronomers of the classical period divided the Earth into the seven dwipas i.e. continents. Each dwipa was named after the dominant vegetation in the region. As per the Puranas, the seven dwipas are as under:

[1] Jambu Dwipa –  (Greater Part of Asia including the subcontinent of India.

[2] Kusa Dwipa – South West Asia

[3] Salmali Dwipa – East Africa

[4] Plaksa Dwipa – Mediterranean World

[5] Krmanca Dwipa-  North West Europe

[6]. Puskara Dwipa- North East Siberia

[7] Saka Dwipa – South East Asia.

seven dwipas puranic

Puranic Seven Dwipas

Varahamihira (505-587 AD)

Varahamihira was an Indian astronomer, mathematician and astrologer who lived in Ujjain. He is considered to be one of the nine jewels of the court of legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya of Malwa.

He contributed significantly in the field of astronomy and mathematical geography. He also described the causes of solar and lunar eclipses and their impact on human society.

Brahmagupta (597-668 AD)

Brahmagupta was an Indian mathematician and astronomer. He wrote two important works on mathematics and astronomy. His works are ‘Brahmasphutasiddhanta’ which is a theoretical treatise and ‘Khandakhadyaka’ which is a practical text. He was the first to give rules to compute with zero.

Bhaskaracharya (1114-1185 AD)

Bhaskaracharya was an Indian mathematician and astronomer. He was Head of an Astronomical Observatory at Ujjain.

His main work is ‘Siddhanta Shiromani’ which consists of four parts that deal with arithmetic, algebra, mathematics of planets and spheres respectively. He is particularly known for discovery of principles of differential calculus and its application to astronomical problems and computations. He was perhaps the first to conceive the differential coefficient and differential calculus.

Aryabhata (476-550 AD)

Aryabhata was a great mathematician, astronomer and geographer of classical Indian period. His works deal mainly with mathematics and astronomy. His major works include ‘Aryabhatiya’ and ‘Arya-Siddhanta’.

Aryabhatiya, extensively referred to in Indian mathematical literature, is a compendium of mathematics and astronomy. Its mathematical part covers arithmetic, algebra, plane, trigonometry and spherical geometry. It also contains continued fractions, quadratic equations, sums of power series and table sines.

Arya-Siddhanta, a lost work contains a description of several astronomical instruments like Gnomon (Shanku-Yantra), shadow instrument (Chhaya-Yantra), Chattatra-Yantra and water clocks.

He used letters of alphabet to denote numbers, expressing quantities. Knowledge of zero was implicit in his place value system. He gave the area of a Triangle by stating ‘for a triangle, the result of a perpendicular with half-side is the area. In his works, the concept of sine was discussed by name of Ardhya-jya and system of astronomy was called Aud-Ayaka system.

He believed that the planets’ orbits are elliptical. He insisted that Earth rotates about its axis daily and its rotation results in apparent movement of the stars. According to him, constant push by cosmic winds result in Westward turn of sphere of stars and planets at equator, thus, causing rising and setting of stars.

He scientifically explained solar and lunar eclipses in term of shadows cast by and falling on Earth.

According to him eclipses occur when Earth-moon orbital plane intersects Earth-Sun orbital plane at lunar nodes.

He described a geo-centric model of solar system. In this Sun and Moon are each carried by epicycles. According to him the order of the planets in terms of distance from Earth is the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Asterisms.

N.B- Notes will be updated time to time

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