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The History of India


Boundaries and extent of India

India is bounded by the Hemalaya mountains, the river Indus, and the sea. Its length from Cashmir to Cape Comorin is about 1,900 British miles; and its breadth from the mouth of the Indus to the mountains east of the Baramputra considerably upwards of 1,500 British miles.

Natural Divisions

It is crossed from east to west by a chain of Natural mountains, called those of Vindya, which extends divisions. between the twenty-third and twenty-fifth parallels of latitude, nearly from the desert north-west of Guzerat, to the Ganges.

Hindostan and the Deckan

The country to the north of this chain is now called Hindostan, and that to the south of it, the Deckan.1

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Natural divisions of Hindostan

Hindostan is composed of the basin of the Indus, that of the Ganges, the desert towards the Indus, and the high tract recently called Central India.

The upper part of the basin of the Indus (now called the Panjab) is open and fertile to the east of the Hydaspes, but rugged to the west of that river, and sandy towards the junction of the five rivers. After the Indus forms one stream, it flows through a plain between mountains and the desert, of which only the part within reach of its waters is productive. As it approaches the sea, it divides into several branches, and forms a fertile though ill-cultivated delta.

The basin of the Ganges (though many of the streams which water it have their rise in hilly countries, and though the central part is not free from diversity of surface) may be said on the whole to be one vast and fertile plain. This tract was the residence of the people who first figure in the history of India; and it is still the most advanced in civilisation of all the divisions of that country.

A chain of hills, known in the neighbourhood by the name of Aravalli, is connected by lower ranges with the western extremity of the Vindya

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mountains on the borders of Guzerat, and stretches up to a considerable distance beyond Ajmir, in the direction of Delhi; forming the division between the desert on the west and the central table land. It would be more correct to say the level of the desert; for the south-eastern portion, including Jodpur, is a fertile country. Except this tract, all between the Aravalli mountains and the Indus, from the Satlaj or Hysudrus on the north to near the sea on the south, is a waste of sand, in which are oases of different size and fertility, the greatest of which is round Jessalmir. The narrow tract of Cach intervenes between the desert and the sea, and makes a sort of bridge from Guzerat to Sind. Central India is the smallest of these four natural divisions. It is a table land of uneven surface, from 1,500 to 2,500 feet above the sea, bounded by the Aravalli mountains on the west, and those of Vindya on the south; supported on the east by a lower range in Bundelcand, and sloping gradually on the north-east into the basin of the Ganges. It is a diversified but fertile tract.

Natural divisions of the Deckan

The Vindya mountains form the southern limit of Hindostan; but beyond them, separated by the deep valley of the Nerbadda, is a parallel chain called Injadri or Satpura, which must be crossed before we reach the next natural division in the valley of the Tapti. This small tract is low; but the rest of the Deckan is almost entirely occupied by a table land of triangular form, about the level of that of Central India, supported on all sides by

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ranges of hills. The two longest ranges, which run towards the south, follow the form of the peninsula, and between them and the sea lies a low narrow tract, forming a sort of belt round the whole coast. The hills which support the table land are called the Ghats. The range to the west is the highest and most marked; and the low tract beneath it narrowest and most rugged.

The table land itself is greatly diversified in surface and fertility. Two parts, however, are strongly distinguished, and the limit between them may be marked by the Warda, from its source in the Injadri range, north-west of Nagpur, to its junction with the Godaveri, and then by the joint rivers to the sea. All to the north and east of these rivers is a vast forest, spotted with villages, and sometimes interrupted by cultivated tracts of considerable extent. To the south-west of the rivers, the country, though varied, is generally open and cultivated.

Guzerat and Bengal are regarded by the natives as neither included in Hindostan nor the Deckan; they differ greatly from each other, but each has a resemblance to the part of Hindostan which adjoins to it.

Though the Deckan, properly speaking, includes all to the south of the Vindya mountains, yet, in modern practice, it is often limited to the part between that chain and the river Kishna.

Superficial measurement and population of India

The superficial extent of India is estimated at 1,287,183 square miles. The population may be

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taken at 140,000,000; but this is the present population; in very early Hindu times it was certainly much less, and in later days probably much greater.2

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The population is very unequally distributed. In one very extensive district of Bengal Proper (Bardwan), it was ascertained to be 600 souls to the square mile.3 In some forest tracts, ten to the square mile might be an exaggeration.

Though the number of large towns and cities

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in India is remarkable, none of them are very populous. In their present state of decline, none exceed the population of second-rate cities in Europe. Calcutta, without its suburbs, has only 265,000 inhabitants; and not more than two or three of the others can have above 200,000 fixed population.4

Climate and seasons

A tract, extending from 8° north latitude to 35°, and varying in height from the level of the sea to the summits of Hemalaya, must naturally include the extremes of heat and cold; but on the general level of India within the great northern chain, the diversity is comparatively inconsiderable.

The characteristic of the climate, compared to that of Europe, is heat. In a great part of the country the sun is scorching for three months in the year5; even the wind is hot, the land is brown and parched, dust flies in whirlwinds, all brooks become dry, small rivers scarcely keep up a stream, and the largest are reduced to comparatively narrow channels in the midst of vast sandy beds.

In winter, slight frost sometimes takes place for an hour or two about sunrise; but this is only in the parts of the country which lie far north, or are much elevated above the sea. At a low level, if towards

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the south, the greatest cold in winter is only moderate heat; and on an average of the whole of India, it is not much more than what is marked temperate on our thermometers; while the hottest time of the day, even at that period, rises above our summer heat. The cold, however, is much greater to the feelings than would be supposed from the thermometer.

In the months which approach to neither extreme, the temperature is higher than in the beat of summer in Italy.

The next peculiarity in the climate of India is the periodical rainy season. The rains are brought from the Indian Ocean by a south-west wind, (or monsoon, as it is called,) which lasts from June to October. They are heaviest near the sea, especially in low countries, unless in situations protected by mountains. The coast of Coromandel, for instance, is sheltered from the south-west monsoon by the Ghats and the table land, and receives its supply of rain in October and November, when the wind blows from the north-east across the Bay of Bengal. The intenseness of the fall of rain can scarcely be conceived in Europe. Though it is confined to four months, and in them many days of every month, and many hours of every day, are fair, yet the whole fall of rain in India is considerably more than double that which is distributed over the whole twelve months in England.

The variations that have been mentioned divide the year into three seasons: the hot, the rainy, and

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the cold, or rather temperate; which last is a good deal longer than either of the other two.

Natural productions


The fertile soil and rich productions of India have long been proverbial.

Its forests contain many timber trees, among which the teak is, for ship building, and most other purposes, at least equal to the oak. The sal is a lofty and useful timber tree: sandal, ebony, and other rare and beautiful woods are found in different quantities, but often in profusion. Banyan trees, cotton trees6, sissoo (or blackwood trees), mangoes, tamarinds, and other ornamental and useful trees are scattered over the cultivated country. The babul, (Mimosa Arabica, or gum arabic tree,) with its sweet-scented yellow flower, grows in profusion, both in the woods and plains, as do two kinds of acacia and various other flowering trees. Mulberries are planted in great numbers, and are the means of furnishing a large supply of silk. The cocoa, palmyra, and other palms are common. The first of these yields a nut filled with a milky fluid, and lined with a thick coating of kernel, which is serviceable as food, and on account of the oil which is manufactured from it to a vast extent. The shell is used for cups and other vessels, some of which are in universal use. The thick husk, in which the nut is enveloped, is composed

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of fibres, which form a valuable cordage, and make the best sort of cable. The wood, though not capable of being employed in carpenter’s work, is peculiarly adapted to pipes for conveying water, beams for broad but light wooden bridges, and other purposes, where length is more required than solidity. The bamboo, being hollow, light, and strong, is almost as generally useful: when entire, the varieties in its size make it equally fit for the lance of the soldier, the pole of his tent, or the mast which sustains the lofty ensign of his chief; for the ordinary staff of the peasant, or for the rafter of his cottage. All scaffolding in India is composed of bamboos, kept together by ropes instead of nails. When split, its long and flexible fibre adapts it to baskets, mats, and innumerable other purposes; and when cut across at the joints, it forms a bottle often used for oil, milk, and spirits.

The wood of the palm is employed in the same manner as that of the cocoa tree: its leaves also are used for the thatch, and even for the walls, of cottages; while the sap, which it yields on incision (as well as that of the bastard date tree), supplies a great proportion of the spirituous liquor consumed in India.

The mahua (a timber tree of the size of an oak, which abounds in all the forests,) produces a fleshy flower, from which also a great deal of spirit is distilled; while it is still more important as an article of food among the hill tribes. To return to the palms, another beautiful specimen bears a nut,

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which, mixed with the pungent and aromatic leaf of the bitel vine, and the gum called catechu, is chewed by all classes throughout India. Sago is the produce of another, kind of palm.

The mountains of Hemalaya present a totally different vegetation. Pines, oaks, and other forest trees of Europe and Asia, rhododendrons, and many other magnificent shrubs, abound throughout the chain, often on a gigantic scale.

Spices, &c.

Pepper and cardamums grow in abundance on the western coast, and cinnamon on Ceylon: capsicum, ginger, cummin, coriander, turmeric, and various other spices are every where a common produce of the fields. We are indebted to India for many well-known aromatics, and the wildest hills are covered with a highly scented grass, the essential oil of which is supposed by some to have been the spikenard of the ancients. Many trees supply medicines – as camphor, cassia fistularis, aloes, &c.; others yield useful resins, gums, and varnishes.

The woods are filled with trees and creepers, bearing flowers of every form and hue; while the oleander, gloriosa superba, and many other beautiful shrubs, grow wild in the open country. The lotus and water lily float on the surface of the lakes and ponds; and there are many sweet-scented flowers, the perfume of which, though otherwise exquisite, is in general too powerful for Europeans.

Agricultural production

Whole plains are covered with cotton, tobacco, and poppies for opium; even roses are grown, in

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some places, over fields of great extent, for attar and rose-water. Sugar-cane, though still more abundant, requires rich and well-watered spots, and is not spread over the face of the country like the productions just mentioned. Large tracts of land are given up to indigo, and many other more brilliant dyes are among the produce of the fields. Flax, mustard, sesamum, palma Christi, and other plants, yield an ample supply of oil, both for culinary and other purposes.

The principal food of the people of Hindostan is wheat, and in the Deckan, jowar and bajra7: rice, as a general article of subsistence, is confined to Bengal and part of Behar, with the low country along the sea all round the coast of the Peninsula: in most parts of India it is only used as a luxury.8 In the southern part of the table land of the Deckan the body of the people live on a small and poor grain called ragi.9

Though these grains each afford the principal

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supply to particular divisions, they are not confined to their own tracts. Bajra and jowar are almost as much consumed as wheat in Hindostan, and are grown, though in a less degree, in the rice countries: wheat is not uncommon in the Deckan, and is sown in the rice countries: rice is more or less raised all over India in favourable situations, as under hills, or where a great command of water is obtained by artificial means.

Barley is little eaten, and oats, till lately, were unknown; but there are several smaller sorts of grain, such as millet, panicum Italicum, and other kinds, for which we have no name. Maize is a good deal grown for the straw; and the heads, when young and tender, are toasted and eaten as a delicacy by the villagers; but I doubt if the grain is ever made into bread.

There are many kinds of pulse, of which there is a very great consumption by people of all ranks; and a variety of roots and vegetables10, which, with a large addition of the common spices, form the ordinary messes used by the poor to give a relish to their bread. Many fruits are accessible to the poor; especially mangoes, melons, and water melons, of which the two last are grown in the wide beds of the rivers during the dry weather. Gourds and cucumbers are most abundant. They are sown

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round the huts of the poor, and trailed over the roofs, so that the whole building is covered with green leaves and large yellow flowers. The mango, which is the best of the Indian fruits, is likewise by much the most common, the tree which bears it being everywhere planted in orchards and singly, and thriving without any further care. Plantains or bananas, guavas, custard apples, jujubes, and other fruits of tropical climates, are also common.11 Grapes are plentiful, as a garden fruit, but not planted for wine. Oranges, limes, and citrons are also in general use, and some sorts are excellent. Figs are not quite so general, but are to be had in most places, and in some (as at Pima, in the Deckan,) they are, perhaps, the best in the world. Pine apples are common everywhere, and grow wild in Pegu.12

Horses, camels, and working cattle are fed on pulse.13 Their forage is chiefly wheat straw; and

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that of the jowar and bajra, which, being full of saccharine matter, is very nourishing. Horses get fresh grass dried in the sun; but it is only in particular places that hay is stacked.

There are, in some places, three harvests; in all, two. Bajra, jowar, rice, and some other grains are sown at the beginning of the rains, and reaped at the end. Wheat, barley, and some other sorts of grain and pulse ripen during the winter, and are cut in spring.


Elephants, rhinoceroses, bears, and wild buffaloes are confined to the forests. Tigers, leopards, panthers, and some other wild beasts are found there also, but likewise inhabit patches of underwood, and even of high grain, in the cultivated lands. This is also the case with wild boars, hyenas, wolves, jackalls, and game of all descriptions, in the utmost abundance. Lions are only found in particular tracts. Great numbers of many sorts of deer and antelopes are met with in all parts. Monkeys are numerous in the woods, in the cultivated country, and even in towns. Porcupines, ichneumons, a species of armadillo, iguanas, and other lizards, are found in all places; as are serpents and other reptiles, noxious or innocent, in abundance.

There are horses in plenty, but they are only used for riding. For every sort of draught, (ploughs, carts, guns, native chariots, &c.,) and for carriage of all sorts of baggage and merchandise, almost the whole dependence is on oxen. The

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frequency of rugged passes in some parts, and the annual destruction of the roads by the rains in others, make the use of pack cattle much greater than that of draught cattle, and produce those innumerable droves which so often choke up the travellers’ way, as they are transporting grain, salt, and other articles of commerce from one province to another.

Camels, which travel faster, and can carry more bulky loads, are much employed by the rich, and are numerous in armies. Elephants are also used, and are indispensable for carrying large tents, heavy carpets, and other articles which cannot be divided. Buffaloes are very numerous, but they are chiefly kept for milk, of which great quantities (in various preparations) are consumed14: they are not unfrequently put in carts, are used for ploughing in deep and wet soils, and more rarely for carriage. Sheep are as common as in European countries, and goats more so. Swine are kept by the lowest casts; poultry are comparatively scarce, in small villages, from the prejudice of the Hindus against fowls; but the common fowl is found wild in great numbers, and resembles the bantam kind. The peacock, also, is common in a wild state. White cranes and egrettes are extremely numerous throughout the year; and grey cranes, wild geese,

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snipes, ortolans, and other birds of passage, come in incredible numbers at their season. Eagles are found in some places, as are various kinds of falcons. Vultures are very common, and kites beyond number. Most English birds are common (except singing birds); besides parrots, or rather peroquets, and various birds of splendid plumage, for which we have not even names.

Fish is abundant, and is a great article of food in Bengal, and some other countries.

Crocodiles are often seen both in rivers and large ponds.


None of the minerals of India have attracted attention except diamonds and iron. The steel of India was in request with the ancients, and is celebrated in the oldest Persian poem, and is still the material of the scymitars of Khorasan and Damascus. The inferior stones – opals, amethysts, garnets, chrysolites, beryls, cornelians, agates, &c. – are found in considerable quantities. Most of the pearls in the world, and all the best, are taken up from beds near Ceylon. Rock salt is found in a range of mountains in the Panjab; and salt is made in large quantities from the water of the Samber Lake in Ajmir, and from that of the sea. Saltpetre is so abundant as to supply many other countries.

The conformation of the countries and the peculiarities of climate and seasons have great effect on military operations in India. The passes through the chains of hills that intersect the

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country regulate the direction of the roads, and often fix the fields of battle. Campaigns are generally suspended during the rains, and resumed at the end of that season, when grain and forage are abundant. The site of encampments is very greatly affected by the supply of water, which must be easy of access to the thousands of cattle which accompany every army, chiefly for carriage. One party is often able to force his enemy into action, by occupying the water at which he intended to halt. A failure of the periodical rains brings on all the horrors of famine.


1. The Mogul emperors fixed the Nerbadda for the limit of their provinces in those two great divisions, but the division of the nations is made by the Vindya mountains. It is well remarked by Sir W. Jones and Major Rennell, that both banks of rivers in Asia are generally inhabited by the same community. The rule applies to Europe, and is as true of the Rhine or the Po as of the Ganges and the Nile. Rivers are precise and convenient limits for artificial divisions, but they are no great obstacles to communication; and, to form a natural separation between nations, requires the real obstructions of a mountain chain.

2. These estimates cannot pretend to accuracy. Hamilton (Description of Hindostan, vol. i. page 37.) conjectured the number of square miles to be 1,280,000, and the population 134,000,000.

An official Report laid before the Committee of the House of Commons on Indian affairs, October 11. 1831, will (if certain blanks be filled up) make the extent in square miles 1,287,483, and the population 140,722,700. The following are the particulars:

Square Miles Population
Bengal Lower provinces 153,802 37,500,000
Bengal Upper provinces 66,510 32,200,000
Bengal cessions from Berar 85,700 (a) 3,200,000
Total Bengal 306,012 72,900,000
Madras 141,923 13,500,000
Bombay 64,938 (b) 6,800,000
Total British possessions 512,873 93,200,000
Allied States 614,610 (c) 43,022,700
Ranjit Sing possessions in the Panjab (d) 60,000 3,500,000
Sind 100,000 1,000,000
Total of all India 1,287,483 140,722,700

The superficial extent of the British territories and those of the allies is given in the above Report; the former from actual survey, and the latter partly from survey and partly from computation.

The population of the British territories is also from the Report, and is founded on official estimates, except in the following instances, where I computed the numbers.

a. The cessions from Berar amount to near 86,000 square miles; of these, 30,000 on the Nerbadda are comparatively well peopled; and I have allowed them sixty souls to the square mile. The remaining 56,000 are so full of forests, that I have only allowed twenty-five souls to the square mile.

b. For one district, under Bombay (the Northern Concan), the extent is given from survey, but without a guess at the population. I have allowed the same rate as that of the adjoining district (the Southern Concan), which is 100 to the square mile. It is probably too much, but the amount is so small as to make the error immaterial.

c. No estimate is given of the population of the allied states, some parts of which have 300 or 400 the square mile, while others are nearly deserts. On consideration, I allow seventy souls to the square mile, which makes the population 43,022,700.

d. The area and population of Sind, and the population of the Panjab, are taken from Burnes’s Travels, vol. ii. p. 286. and vol. iii. p. 227. The extent of the Panjab is little more than a guess, which I have hazarded, rather than leave the statement incomplete.

The extent of Europe is about 2,793,000 square miles, and the population 227,700,000. (“ Companion to the Almanack for 1829,” from Walkenaer and Balbi.) If we deduct the 1,758,700 square miles in Russia, Sweden, and Norway, as proposed by Major Rennell, for the sake of comparison, we find the rest of Europe containing 1,035,300 square miles, and India 1,294,602, being nearly a third greater than Europe. But Europe, when freed from the northern wastes, has the advantage in population; for, after deducting Russia, Sweden, and Norway, about 60,518,000 souls, Europe has still 167,182,000 souls, and India only 140,000,000.

3. Mr. Bayley, Asiatic Researches, xii. 549.

4. For Calcutta, see the Report of the House of Commons, October 11.1831. For Benares, see Asiatic Researches, xvii. 474.. 479., where it is stated that 200,000 constitutes the fixed population of the city and suburbs, and that 100,000 more may come in on the greatest occasions of pilgrimage.

5. The thermometer often rises above 1000 during part of the hottest days. It has been known to reach 120°.

6. This is not the low shrub which bears common cotton, but a lofty tree covered at one time with flowers of glowing crimson, and at another with pods, in which the seeds are encased in a substance resembling cotton, but lighter and more silky in its texture.

7. Jowar (Holcus sorgum). It grows on a reedy stem to the height of eight or ten feet, and bears irregularly shaped clusters of innumerable round grains, about twice as big as mustard seed. It is common all over the Levant, under the name of dtirra (or dourrah); and in Greece, where it is called kalambaki; there is likewise a coarse sort in Italy, called melica rossa, or sorgo rosso. Bajra (Holcus spicatus) resembles a bulrush, the head being covered with a round grain, smaller, sweeter, and more nourishing than that of jowar.

8. It was probably the circumstance of our early settlements in Bengal and on the coast of Coromandel that led to the common opinion that rice is the general food of India.

9. Cynosurus corocanus.

10. As the egg plant or brinjal, the love-apple or tomato, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, spinach, and many other sorts, wild and cultivated, known or unknown in Europe.

11. One of the most remarkable, and in some places the most common, is the jack, an exceedingly rich and luscious fruit, which grows to the weight of sixty or seventy pounds, directly from the trunk of a tall forest tree.

12. Several Chinese fruits have lately been introduced with success, and some European ones, of which the peach and strawberry are the only kinds that are completely naturalised. The apples are small and bad; and pears, plums, &c. do not succeed at all.

13. In Hindostan it is a sort called channa, of which each pod contains a single pea on a low plant, from the leaves of which the natives make vinegar. It is the Cicer arietinum of botanists, and exactly the Cece of Italy. In the Deckan the pulse used is 616, a small hard pea, which must be boiled before it is eaten, even by animals.

14. The commonest of these are clarified butter (ghi), and a sort of acid curd (dahi) which is called yourt in the Levant. Cheese is scarcely known, and butter never used in its natural state.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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