Kabul to Kolkata – How invaders came down through the ages.

Ever wondered why wave after wave of attacks on India, always happened from the northwest, and mostly through the Khyber Pass? Why was it that the attacks followed a predictable path across the Gangetic plains? Ever wondered why Indian forts are located where they are? Jaipur, Gwalior, Chunar, Rohtasgarh?

I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to it, until I started reading the great R. C. Majumdar’s magnum opus — his “The History and Culture of the Indian People”. The very first volume, has two chapters that are very interesting — ‘The Geological background of Indian History’ and ‘The Geographical background of Indian History’.

The first one, talks about the geological features of India, the soil types, flora and fauna and their impact on the growth of the Indian civilization. The second chapter though, is what interested me more, since it deals with India’s geography and how it relates to movement of humans across the land.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Physical_Map_of_India.jpg

I shan’t be regurgitating the entire chapter here, but just pointing out some interesting things.

Take a look at the physical map of India above. Now, it is obvious, if one looks at the northeast, that the Himalayas fall a fairly impenetrable wall protecting the subcontinent and hence, have stopped invasions from that direction into our lands.

Let us now turn our attention to the northwest. From where most of the invasions have happened. We know that the northwest of the subcontinent is guarded by tall mountain ranges known as The Hindukush (Hindu Killer – but that will be for another time). Now, there are three different ways to approach India from there.

Kabul to Peshawar
Herath to Kandahar
Along the Makran Coast

The first way, is across the Khyber Pass, through the Kabul valley to Peshawar and then down to the plains of Punjab. The second way lies south of the Hindukush range, and goes from Herath to Kandahar and then onward to the plains. The third path is along the Makran coast.

The second and third paths, lead to the inhospitable Thar deserts in Rajasthan, and hence were seldom used as entry points into Bharat. That left the hoary old route followed by folks from Alexander all the way down to Nadir Shah. This one.

Coming down from Kabul to Peshawar and then through the plains of Punjab to Delhi.

Right, so the invaders could go down south from Punjab, either to Delhi (which happened later in our history, or to other regions. How and why was geography important for that?

Let’s look at this map

Look at this again. Across the center of India, run two parallel mountain ranges, the Vindhya and the Satpura Ranges. The Narmada valley, lies in between the two ranges and then extends into the Baghelkhand and Chotanagpur plateaus. The northeastern edge of the ranges (to the extreme right of this picture) ends in the Rajmahal hills. The Ganga, takes a sharp turn southwards after those hills.

That low plateau is the only way to get to the east from the western part of the nation and that’s the journey that anyone attacking the kingdoms of the Gangetic Plain would take.

Kabul to Kolkata – How invaders came down through the ages.

Now, does this map make sense to you? As the invaders came down south, they veered east near Jaipur and marched through Gwalior, Chunar, Rohtasgarh upto Teliagarh and then down south between the Rajmahal range and the Ganga into Bengal.

And THAT is why all those forts line that part of the country. THAT is why Gwalior was such an important location for defending the lands to the east. The geography acts to funnel the armies from the west, through this gap as they move towards the east. This resulted in 2 things

Makes sense, doesn’t it? I bet that if we were to do a similar exercise by mapping out all the forts of Shivaji Maharaj in the western part of the land, we would see how the terrain would have dictated the location of the forts and ultimately the destiny of the many kingdoms that arose and fell in that part of our land.

I would strongly urge you to read that chapter by Dr. R. C. Majumdar in his book to get a true appreciation for how geography dictated history in our land.

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