It began five hundred years ago when the very first modern maps of India were drafted. Travellers. Wanderers, explores and traders came overland from the West and carried back tales about the India of their perception. The first maps of India were drawn based on the accounts of these men. When the sea route to India opened, sailors ferried back information about the ports they touched on their way to India. Marine charts of the routes along the ocean coasts and artistic representations of port cities followed.
As Europeans came in large numbers to trade and conquer, new territories further inland were mapped. The British surveyed and mapped India under their rule to settle borders, calculate tributes, assess taxes and record defence positions. Later, as scientific knowledge and instruments improved, extensive terrestrial surveys and compilation of their results into maps took place. At the end of the colonial period, once again maps identified the boundary between the new nations of India and Pakistan on maps of the sub-continent.
Mapping India presents an overview of important maps that eloquently reflect the changing social and political fortunes of India. These maps speak of the commercial interests and wars that led to the colonization of India, and show territories the size of countries that were conquered, ceded or controlled through treaties. They also record changed courses of rivers, routes taken by armies, people living in communities in new cities, places where famines occurred, how the highest peak was discovered and named, when native royalty gathered to pay respect to the British Emperor, and the destination to which Mahatma Gandhi marched with his supporters for the salt satyagraha.
From the earliest chronicles of India to its post-Independence strides, Mapping India is the story of India recounted through its maps.
Manosi Lahiriis a professional geographer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from University of Calcutta and a Master’s degree in Human Geography from University of Delhi. As a ford Foundation scholar, she took a course in Urbanisation at Centre for Urban Studies, University College, London and read for a Master’s degree in Geography of Monsoon Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She completed her PhD in Geography at University of Delhi.
Manosi was a lecturer at Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi and undertook consulting work for several UN agencies. Her interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) started when she was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Durham in 1986. She founded ML Infomap, a pioneering GIS company, in 1993 to propagate GIS technology. In the intervening years the company has grown as a leader in the field and is accepted as a standard bearer in geographic information on India.
Manosi has several publications to her credit: The Bihar GIS, and the series Understanding Geography for Middle Schools and Exploring Geography. Her widely acclaimed travelogue, Here Be Yaks: Travels in Far West Tibet, describes the source of the Sutlej and her journeys to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. Mapping India has been an area of interest that she has pursued for several years.
She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from GIS Development at MapIndia 2010.
Manosi has travelled extensively and is a keen reader. She has two daughters and lives in Gurgaon, India.
Two millennia ago, when Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus c. CE 100-178) wrote cosmographia or Geography, little would he have known the impact his work would have on the drawings of the first maps of the world. The illustrious geographer and mathematician, who lived in Alexandria in Egypt, had listed many places by their latitude and longitude from astronomical observations. For the next 1,500 years, generations of geographers use these measurements to draw maps that perpetuated images of the known world.
In the map of South Asia (Fig. 1.1), Indiostena region was the approach to India Intra Gangem from the west, enclosed between the two rivers, the Indus and the Ganges. From his observations, cartographers drew in the Indus (iindis flu) and the Ganges (ganges flu) originating from lakes in the high northern mountains. They drew in the naua gimna flu (Jamuna River) and several places like maddura (Madurai), Sorethe (Surat) on thebe flu (Tapi River), mananda flu (Mahandi River) and Mesolus flu (Masulipatam River). Ptolemy’s Indian peninsula was smaller than we know it to be today and his concept of the Indian Ocean was that of an enclosed sea. A striking feature of the map of South Asia was the enormous island Taprobana (Tamraparni in Sanskrit) on the southwest of the Indian peninsula. Today, we know this island as Sri Lanka. Ptolemy’s Geography was the source of the first maps of South Asia made in the West and was in use till as late as the 15th century in Europe.
Indian cosmographers seem to have made little, if any, contribution towards defining the land known variously as Bharat, Indae, Indoustan and Hindoostan. Their ‘maps’ were imaginatively drawn on the basis of religious concepts and myths about the creation of the universe, but had little to do with realistic representations of land and sea. These cosmographs tended to be artistic representations showing man’s place on earth as described in ancient tales, often bearing no relation whatoever to existing ground conditions or the shape of islands and continents (Fig. 1.2).
This is not to say that Indians did not have a mental image of their land. In the 8th century, Shankaracharya, the great Indian sage, had defined the Char Dhams or Four Abodes of God at the farthest ends of Bharat. The mother country extended from Dwarka in the west to Puri in the east, and from Badrinath in the north to Rameswaram in the south. And long before that, pilgrims went to the peeths or religious places as far west as Hinglaj in Baluchistan, Amarnath in Kashmir, Kamaksha in Assam and Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India. But cosmographs did not identify these places in images to guide people to them. Indigenous maps that well represented the land and charts of the surrounding seas began appearing around the 17th century. If others existed earlier, they have not reached us.
Arab geographers had developed Mecca-centric maps more than a thousand years ago to show the direction of places to the holy city. The astronomer and scholar, Al-Beruni (c. 973-1048) made an exhaustive table of coordinates of 600 important places of the world. But unlike Ptolemy’s tables, these were not used by later Arab cartographers to make maps and add toponyms. His world map, with the south oriented to the top of the sheet (Fig. 1.3), showed the distribution of land and sea. It also depicted eastern Africa smaller than widely accepted during his time.
His world map influenced Arab cartographers through the medieval period. But there are no known maps of India in Al-Beruni’s Kitab fi tahqiq ma li’i-hind. It was in the Mughal period that an indigenous atlas showed recognizable maps of India and other regions. These werein the atlas of the world included in Shahid-i-Sadiq in 1647.
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