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Chapter 2 – Geography

The Hindus have made less progress in this than in any other science. According to their system, Mount Meru occupies the centre of the world487. It is a lofty mountain of a conical shape, the sides composed of precious stones, and the top forming a sort of terrestrial paradise. It may have been suggested by the lofty mountains to the north of India, but seems no part of that chain, or of any other that exists out of the fancy of the mythologists.

It is surrounded by seven concentric belts or circles of land, divided by seven seas.

The innermost of those circles is called Jambudwip, which includes India, and is surrounded by a sea of salt water488.

The other six belts are separated from each other by seas of milk, wine, sugar-cane juice, &c., and appear to be entirely fabulous.

The name of Jambudwip is sometimes confined to India, which at other times is called Bharata.

That country, and some of those nearest to it,

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appear to be the only part of the earth at all known to the Hindus.

Within India, their ancient books furnish geographical divisions, with lists of the towns, mountains, and rivers in each; so that, though indistinct and destitute of arrangement, many modern divisions, cities, and natural features can be recognised.

But all beyond India is plunged in a darkness from which the boldest speculations of modern geographers have failed to rescue it489.

It is remarkable that scarcely one Shanscrit name of a place beyond the Indus coincides with those of Alexander’s historians, though many on the Indian side do. It would seem, therefore, as if the Hindus had, in early times, been as averse to travelling as most of them are still; and that they would have remained for ever unconnected with the rest of the world if all mankind had been as exempt from restlessness and curiosity as themselves.

The existence of Indian nations in two places beyond the Indus furnishes no argument against

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this observation. Those near the sea coast were probably driven by political convulsions from their own country, and settled on the nearest spot they could find. (See Appendix III.) Of those in the northern mountains we cannot guess the history; but although both seem, in Alexander’s time, to have lost their connection with India, and to have differed in many respects from the natives of that country, yet they do not appear to have formed any sort of acquaintance with other nations, or to have been met with beyond their own limits.

At present, (besides religious mendicants who occasionally wander to Baku, the sacred fire on the Caspian, who sometimes go to Astrachan, and have been known to reach Moscow,) individuals of a Hindu tribe from Shikarpur, a city near the Indus, settle as merchants and bankers in the towns of Persia, Turkistan, and the southern dominions of Russia; but none of these are given to general inquiry, or ever bring back any information to their countrymen.

Few even of the neighbouring nations are mentioned in their early books. They seem to have known the Greeks, and applied to them the name of Yavan, which they afterwards extended to all other conquerors from the north-west; and there is good reason to think that they knew the Scythians under the name of Sacas490. But it was within India that they became acquainted with both those

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nations, and they were totally ignorant of the regions from which their visitors had come. The most distinct indication that I have observed of an acquaintance with the Romans is in a writer of the seventh or eighth century, quoted by Mr. Colebrooke491, who states that the Barbaric tongues are called Parasica, Yavana, Raumaca, and Barbara, the three first of which would appear to mean Persian, Greek, and Latin.

The western country, called Romaka, where it is said to be midnight when it is sunrise at Lanka, may perhaps be Rome also. It is mentioned in what is stated to be a translation from the “Sidhanta Sirimoni492,” and must, in that case, have been known to the Bramins before they had much communication with the Mahometans. China they certainly knew. We possess the travels of a native of that country in India in the fourth century; and the king of Magada is attested, by Chinese authors, to have sent embassies to China in the second and subsequent centuries. There is a people called China mentioned in Menu, but they are placed among the tribes on the north-west of India; and,

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moreover, the name of Chin was not adopted till long after Menu’s age.

Unless we put faith in the very learned and ingenious deductions of Colonel Wilford, it will be difficult to find, in the essays on geographical subjects which have been drawn from Shanscrit sources, any signs of an acquaintance with Egypt; although the trade carried on for centuries by Greek and Roman navigators from that country might have been expected to have brought it into notice.


487. Some consider Mount Meru as the North Pole: however this may be, it is, in all the geographical systems of the Hindus, the point to which everything refers.

488. Col. Wilford, Asiatic Researches, vol. viii. pp. 291. 298, &c.

489. The ill success with which this has been attempted may be judged of by an examination of Col. Wilford’s Essay on the Sacred Isles in the West, especially the first part (Asiatic Researches, vol. viii. p. 267.); while the superiority of the materials for a similar inquiry within India is shown by the same author’s Essay on Gangetic Hindostan (Asiatic Researches, vol. xiv. p. 373.), as well as by an essay in the Oriental Magazine, vol. ii. See also the four first chapters of the second book of the Vishnu Purana, p. 161.

490. Supposed to be the same with the Sam of the ancient Persians, as reported by the Greeks.

491. Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 453.

492. Ward’s Hindoos, vol. ii. p. 457. Romaka is also mentioned as meaning Rome by Col. Wilford (Asiatic Researches, vol. viii. p. 367., and elsewhere); but it is to be observed that Rome and Italy are, to this day, quite unknown in the East. Even in Persia, Rum means Asia Minor; and theCaesar of Romealways meant the Byzantine Emperor, until the title was transferred to the Turkish Sultan.

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