Human beings and their culture arise out of the land like other species. They are part of their natural environment to which they must adapt in order to survive. Different cultures naturally reflect the circumstances of their geographic regions, climates and ecosystems. This is more important the further back in time we go and the more we look outside of urban environments, but even these are not above this law. To understand human history, we must look to natural history, particularly for ancient cultures that were much closer to the land than we are today. This begins with the facts of geography.
The motherland or Matri Bhoomi is the first guru of the people, one might say, just as the mother is the first guru of the child. The motherland of India is not only a great teacher but also a great provider of all aspects of life and humanity, holding a spiritual as well as material abundance for her children.
Mother India is not just a cultural and spiritual formulation but also a geographical reality, a unique formation of nature. With the highest mountains in the world and perhaps the greatest set of rivers, the land of India has shaped its people and its culture probably more than anything else has. This large tropical and subtropical subcontinent comes under the influence of the same natural forces of climate and geography, giving rise to similar responses from the people inhabiting the region.
India is a vast subcontinent located between the great mountain range of the Himalayas and the sea. It is a region defined by its special geography, which strongly insulates it from outside influences. The northern mountains are effective boundaries and remain almost impassable even today. The mountains to the west are part of a large desert region that serves to effectively block any easy access from that direction as well. The mountains of the east lead to successive ranges and almost impenetrable jungles in some of the wettest regions on Earth.
India's greatest access has always been by sea. From the west and into the Arabian Sea, India has a natural maritime route to the Persian Gulf, Arabia and the Red Sea. To the east through the Bay of Bengal it has an access to Greater India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Yet the southern and Eastern routes are much easier to travel because they lead to well-watered regions, while the Western sea routes cross extensive desert coastlines. Western theories like the Aryan Invasion theory that has the main culture of peoples of ancient India come from the northwest are contrary to the facts of the geography and natural history of the region that is connected more to Southeast Asia. The easy maritime access to the southeast is why in historical times Indian civilization naturally spread by sea to Malaysia, Indochina and Indonesia, following the course of the rivers and coastlines. India's geography and ecology provide the basis for its unique culture that has sustained itself through the millennia and also influenced the cultures around it which did have such as access to arable land and vast rivers.
It is a fact of history, growing out of the natural environment and geography that through most of its history India has been a maritime nation, depending upon a network of travel and trade on large rivers into the sea. Most western views of the history of India fail to take into account the natural history or the geographical ties of India, which have always been to the south and the east.
North India forms a vast plain defined by a series of great Himalayan rivers from the Indus in the west to the Brahmaputra in the east. These rivers provide an agricultural potential unparalleled in the rest of the world. While the civilization of ancient Egypt rested upon one great river, the Nile, and that of Mesopotamia on two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, ancient India had over a dozen such rivers and in a wetter and warmer subtropical climate. These great rivers of North India lead into the ocean either by the Arabian Sea or by the Bay of Bengal and would naturally have led the culture towards maritime travel as well.
South India forms a plateau but also has its great rivers like the Narmada, Krishna, Kaveri and Godavari that draw their waters from the heavy monsoon rains. The coastal regions are particularly well watered because the western and the eastern mountain ranges trap the rain-bearing monsoon winds. As a relatively small peninsula with oceans on both sides, its geography similarly creates a compelling connection to the ocean. Even connections to North India were often easier by sea than by land routes from South India.
India is blessed with probably the best agricultural region in the world. Though densely populated, even today its population is less dense than the United States when measured in terms of arable land. Its unique subtropical mountain, river and maritime ecosystem has allowed it to develop greater populations than Europe and the Middle East combined and made it a fertile ground for cultural growth. This is another reason why the idea that India needed outside populations to provide its people or its culture makes a little sense. Not surprisingly, ancient India's accounts of history and geography emphasize this great land with the Himalayas in the north, extending down to the sea, finding that to be a world in its own right and so are not much concerned with outside regions.
The greater geographical region in which India is located is dominated by two major natural forces; the tropical (and subtropical) climate and the seasonal monsoon rains. The countries of Greater India come under the same influences, depending upon rivers that flow from their northern mountains that are extensions of the Himalayas. In terms of climate and natural history, India shares more with greater India than with West Asia, Central Asia or Europe. This is reflected in the close connections between India and Greater India that go back tens of thousands of years. These run the gamut of the natural world including climate, flora and fauna and the people inhabiting the region.
We cannot, therefore, separate human achievements from the region's natural history. We must look for interpretations and explanations that connect the rhythm of nature with the progress (or decline) of civilizations. Our ancients understood this well when they sought to harmonize their lives with natural. They saw the divine manifesting everything in nature, living and non-living – from the grandest to the most humble. The Yajur Veda says:
Isavasyamidam sarvam, yatkincit jagatyam jagat.
"All this universe is pervaded by the Lord, whatsoever moving thing there is in this moving world"
The ideals of nature worship that we see in Vedic texts and in other ancient scriptures and teachings reflect a deeper connection with the Divine Spirit pervading nature. It is not at all primitive, but a progressive, all-comprehensive understanding of life. The truth of interconnectedness and interdependency, all the need of co-existence – that the human being is a part of nature and cannot survive without it – are hidden in these rituals. It reflects a deeper inner and an ecological vision, such as we are only just now beginning to discover and appreciate in this modern, ecological age.