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The Borderlands and Boundaries of The Indian Subcontinent

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The Borderlands and Boundaries of The Indian Subcontinent
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Item Code: NAP366
Author: Dilip K. Chakrabarti
Publisher: Aryan Books International
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788173055942
Pages: 250 (8 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 12.0 inch X 8.5 inch
weight of the book: 1.0 kg
About the Book

This volume has sought to examine the basic elements of geographical, historical, economic and religious interactions between the accepted outer boundary line of the Indian subcontinent and the major geographical zones which lie outside it. The various boundary lines, which were drawn from time to time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to define the sub-continent in relation to its overland neighbours. were the products of the contemporary political circumstances and the consensus between the negotiating governments, but behind the apparent precision of these boundary lines lies hidden an interaction zone of what we may call 'borderlands', stretching from Baluchistan at one point and the Arakan Yoma hills at another.

The character of these borderlands varies from one geographical sector to another, depending on a host of circumstances such as their physical geography both inside and outside the boundary line they follow, the historical circumstances which have developed across the borders, and the trading and religious networks which have been woven across them. An awareness or examination of these issues will help us to geopolitically appreciate how the subcontinent has figured in the historical and cultural world of the Asian landmass. The maritime aspects of this relationship are increasingly becoming matters of historical discussion under the garb of investigating the relationships between different participants in the trade of the Indian Ocean and the related world. As far as the overland links are concerned, this relationship has not yet strongly emerged as a field of historical-geographical study. It is far more than being a case of the study of geo- political factors which change both with technology and political circumstances. It is basically a question of feeling the historical pulse of a vast, diverse and yet in a sense interlinked arena. An understanding of these links may also help us to look critically at many general premises regarding the geography and history of the subcontinent, premises which have regrettably persisted for long without close examinations of the concerned ground realities. On a different level, the volume also offers a comprehensive view of the civilizational impact of the subcontinent across its overland limits.

About the Author

Dilip K Chakrabarti is Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology, Cambridge University. He has also been associated with Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi.


"India and West Asia" used to be a favourite topic of research in Indian archaeology in the 1970s. To a great extent that was due to the then scholarly inclination to trace most of the innovations in Indian material developments to direct or indirect impacts from West Asia. H.D. Sankalia and his colleagues in the Deccan College excelled in showing this inclination but scholars from other parts of the country were not far behind. In the eastern part of West Asia itself excavations at Tepe Yahya in the Kirman province of Iran by c.c. Lamberg-Karlovsky and at Shahr-i-Sokhta near Zabul, also in Iran, by Maurizio Tosi brought about some new understanding of the cultural developments of that region. In the Gulf region discoveries related to the Indus Civilization had been taking place for a longer period, and in Afghanistan there had been a succession of scholars beginning with W. Fairservis, L. Dupree and J.-M. Casal who had been interested in the same way. In 1973, while applying for Commonwealth Scholarship, I mentioned 'India and West Asia' as my proposed research theme. That was also the Commonwealth Scholarship research theme of M.S. Nagaraja Rao who was senior to me in Churchill College, Cambridge, by about 3 or 4 years.

My The External Trade of the Indus Civilization which was published some years later (1990) was the result of my interest in this topic. Meanwhile, I was introduced to T.H. Holdich's publications and developed the idea of the area between the Oxus and the Indus as one political. economic and cultural interaction zone. I published a paper-"India and West Asia - an alternative approach"-in the first volume of Man and Environment in 1977.

Meanwhile, other problems intervened, leaving me little time to turn my attention to the borderlands and boundaries of the subcontinent. I also realized that for a proper study of this issue, one must not think only of the Hindukush and the Karakoram but consider the whole stretch of land between Baluchistan and the Patkai range and Arakan Yoma.

The present volume is the product of this thought. That the borderlands and boundaries which have come in for consideration in this volume can still be noisy and cause diplomatic problems is amply clear not merely by far from the idyllic situation in Afghanistan but also by the recent turn of events in the north of Bhutan and in Arakan.

The volume was researched and written in 2014-16. For maps I depended on The Imperial Gazetteer of India, the publication of which roughly coincides with the general period when the boundaries of the subcontinent were formulated and laid down.


If one follows the line which marks off the Indian subcontinent from the rest of the Asian landmass from the west to the east, one passes through the following sectors: Baluchistan with a large part of it in Iran on the west and a thin wedge of its territory in Afghanistan on the north; the northwestern frontier zone from Khyber to Chitral, Gilgit and Hunza with Afghanistan and the Wakhan corridor on the north; the long line from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, which is overlooked throughout on the north by Tibet; and finally, the succession of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Bangladesh separated by the Patkai range and the hills of Arakan Yoma from the Irrawaddy plains of Myanmar on the east. It is a long journey, but more than its length, it is characterized by enormous geographical and historical complexities of the areas it passes through. The way the present boundary line of the subcontinent was laid down was the result of some compelling political forces of the day, but straddling the line in all its sectors is a vast world of geographical, historical and cultural interaction, an interaction which has shaped the course of Indian history in various degrees and ways. To understand the flow of events in Indian history through the ages and to judge the extent of their interaction with geography, it is essential that we try to understand the geographical and historical nuances of the Indian borderlands.

The concept of a frontier zone of interaction accompanied by a boundary line reflecting the political circumstances behind its formation is not anything new in geographical and historical studies. However, the boundary terminology is varied and not always susceptible to precise definitions, as K.J. Rankin and R. Schofield (2004) point out in their essay on 'the troubled historiography of classical boundary terminology'. A similar conclusion may also be noticed in J.R.V. Prescott's Political Frontiers and Boundaries (Prescott 1987). For the present volume, the term 'borderlands' will mean the politically, economically and culturally interacting zones on both sides of the border while the term 'boundaries' will denote the demarcation lines arrived at through political negotiations in comparatively recent times.

Some of the earliest discussions on the historical and geographical situations relevant to the Indian borders were made by T.H. Holdich (1901, 1910, 1916). He had varied experience in the field and was thus amply qualified to comment on the Indian frontiers in the northwest and in the Pamirs on the north. His field-experience partly comprised the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80, the Mahsud-Waziri expedition of 1881, the Zhob field-force of 1890 and the Afridih-Tirah expedition of 1897-98. In 1884-86 he was a member of the Pamir Boundary Commission and between 1891 and 1898 he was the Superintendent of the Frontier Surveys, a member of the Asmar and Pamir delimitation commission in 1894-96 and Chief Commissioner of the Perso-Baluch boundary delimitations in 1895 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography underT.H. Holdich). His first monograph, The Indian Borderland 1880-1900 (Holdich 1901), had 17 chapters with an appendix on the history of Afghanistan. The first two chapters deal with the Second Anglo- Afghan War. The character of Afghanistan as a country is well brought out by his remark (p.40) that "probably not one-tenth part of the total area of the country either is, or could be, brought under cultivation." Regarding the security of the British possessions in India he saw Kabul and Quetta as the two doors whose security was vital to the British interests:

At Quetta lies one of the keys to the front doors of India. At Kabul lies the other; and if these two doors are locked there is nothing in this year of grace 1900 that need cause us any apprehension for the future safety of the country (Holdich 1901: 50).

The third chapter deals with the Waziri expedition of 1881. Here, in the context of the Gomal valley, he refers to the trade carried by the Povindahs:

The Gomal route is to this day the great trade route along which the picturesque Povindah khafila makes its crooked way from Ghazni to India. The Povindahs are a Ghilzai people who are terribly blackmailed by the Waziris, along the edge of whose territory they trail their strings of camel in the autumn, bringing down their store of fruit and skins and Bokhara cloths for disposal either in the frontier markets or in the plains of India. They travel far, leaving their wives and children camped on the border, after they have brought them down the pass in picturesque disorder upon the top of their gigantic camels; and with them they also leave their weapons in the hands of the first civil authority whom they encounter within British limits. Having disposed of wives and weapons, they lay themselves out for a pleasant winter tour in the plains, not infrequently reaching Madras in the course of their wanderings; and not infrequently terrorizing the peaceful inhabitants of remoter villages into making a deal by means which are not recognized as lawful in the civil courts. They are, in fact, in many districts a most profound nuisance. Yet they are built of splendid material, and I should doubt whether in any city of Europe such magnificent specimens of humanity are to be found as you may jostle against any winter day in the bazaar at Dera Ismail Khan (Holdich 1901: 68).

Chapter 4 is centred around the frontier landmark of the Takht-i-Suliman peak and followed by three chapters (5-7) on the Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission. He was satisfied with the results of this 'commission':

We gained in the first instance a boundary which definitely limited the territorial progress of Russia towards India. Of that boundary Sir West Ridgeway wrote afterwards that, although a war with Russia might lead to its violation, its violation would never lead to a war, that is to say that the gain to Russia of further advance towards Herat would of itself (apart from all other political considerations) never justify the extreme pe'1aj1y of war with England (Holdich 1901: 169).

Chapter 8 deals with the developments in Baluchistan whereas Chapter 9 is concerned with southern Baluchistan and Persian Gulf. Chapter 10 dwells on the Durand Boundary which was ratified by Afghanistan and British India in 1893. Chapter 11 deals with the Kunar valley at the rear of the Khyber entrance and Chapters 12 and...13 lead first to Kafiristan and then to the Pamirs. Regarding the newly formed Wakhan corridor which carries the Afghan frontier to China at its eastern end, his opinion is (p. 289) that" It is a political intervention - a hedge, as it were-over which Russia cannot step without violating Afghanistan". Chapter 14 is about the Perso-Baluch boundary. Chapter 15 deals with the Northwest Frontier and Chapter 16 with the Tirah expedition which was undertaken to chastise the Afridihs. With this Holdich's Indian career comes to an end and in the concluding chapter of the book he thinks mostly of Afghanistan or rather, British achievements in that region.

What is clear is that Holdich who published this book after his retirement was not laying down theoretical principles of defining the borderlands or laying down boundary lines on maps. He basically discussed the topography of various parts of the Indian borderland from Afghanistan and the Pamirs to the hills further west and assessed their implications in the light of the security of British India. The position of Afghanistan as a buffer state between Russia and India was considered very desirable but behind this feeling also lurked a feeling of worry: can this arrangement last for ever?

More than that, he allows himself to dwell on the possibility of a partition in Afghanistan and points out its natural division, according to which it may be proposed.

But what would partition probably mean? For the sake of speculation let us consider Afghanistan as divided by the broad-backed water-divide of the Hindu Kush from its base in the elevated mountain regions south of the Tagdumbash Pamir till it loses itself in the hills of Bamian. This is the geographical division between Turkestan and the plains and valleys of the Kabul river. Continuing westwards, that wind-swept, uninhabited tangle of mountains that forms the backbone of the wild Hazara highlands, and gradually forks off westward to the Persian frontier, with its northern fingers pointing past Herat, and its southern shutting in the Herat valley from the broad wastes that reach to Kandahar, is the natural extension of this dividing line. The Herat valley forms an oasis balanced between the Turkestan plains of the Oxus on the north, and the basin of the Helmund on the south; and neither the ranges north of it, nor the broken ridges of the watershed south of it, present any great physical obstacle to approach. But eastwards from Herat the Hindu Kush and its western extensions constitute a great mountain barrier which is only passable at certain well-known points; and all this forms as definite a frontier as the Oxus river, and one far more difficult to step over (Holdich 1901: 373)


Preface vii
List of Mapsxiii
Introduction xv

1The Academic Context: The General Geographical and Historical Setting of Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan 3
I. Central Asia 3
II. Iran 6
III. Afghanistan 10
IV. Observations 11
2The Geographical and Historical Perspectives of Central Asia 12
Aspects of Central Asian Geography 12
1.1. The Eurasian Steppes 13
1.2. Geography of Mongolia 15
1.3. Geography of Kazakhstan 16
1.4. Geography of Uzbekistan 16
1.5. Geography of Tajikistan 17
1.6. Notes on the Pamir Mountains and Plateau, Kyrgyzstan and the Chinese Province Xinjiang 18
1.7. Geography of Turkmenistan 20
1.8. Rivers of Central Asia 21
1.9. Mountain Passes of Central Asia 23
II.Outline of the History and Archaeology of Central Asia 23
3The Geographical and Historical Perspectives of Iran, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and the Uplands from Peshawar to the Pamir Plateau, along with a Note on the Concerned Political Boundaries 47
I. Iran 47
1.1. Iranian Geography 47
1.2. Outline of Iranian History and Archaeology 49
II. Afghanistan 59
11.1. Afghan Geography 59
11.2. Outline of the Archaeology and History of Afghanistan 64
III. Baluchistan 68
111.1. Baluch Geography 68
111.2. Baluch Archaeology and History 70
IV. The Northwestern Frontier Region, from the Gomal Valley to Peshawar 74
V. From the Peshawar Area to Swat, Oir, Chitral, Gilgit and Hunza 75
VI. Ladakh 76
VII. Boundaries of Afghanistan and Related Issues 77
VIII. The Russo-Afghan Boundary 79
IX. Afganistan's Boundary with Iran 80
X. Durand Line 81
XI. Afghanistan's Boundary with China 83
XII. British Indian Baluchistan's Boundary with Iran 83
XliiI. Observations 84
4Buddhism in Central Asia 87
I. Introduction 87
II. Mark Aurel Stein's Expeditions, 1900-01, 1906-08, 1913-16 88
III. The Implications of the Discoveries around the Rim of the Taklamakan Desert 99
IV. Buddhist Remains in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan 103
V. Observations 105
5Indians as Traders in Central Asia 106
I. Introduction 106
II. Stephen Dale's Documentation and analysis, 1600-1750 108
III. Scott Levi's Analysis of the Indian Diaspora and Its Trade 112
IV. Studies by C. Markovits and Others 120


6Tibet in Relation to India from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh and the Issue of the Boundaries Including the MacMahon Line
I. Tibet: A General Introduction 133
II. An Outline History of Tibet 138
III. Buddhism in Tibet and Mongolia143
IV Position of Tibet as a Trading Hub145
IV.1 .Tibet·s Trade with China 145
Silkkim. Bhutan. Cooch Behar. Bengal. Assam151
VI. The Concerned Boundaries 155
7 Across the Patkai Range and Arakan Yoma: Myanmar163
I. Introduction 163
II. Irrawaddy Valley down to the Delta 165
II.1. The Pyu Cities165
II. 1.1Beikthano165
II.1.2 Halin 167
II.1.3 Maingmaw (Mong Mao)168
II.1.4. Binnaka 168
11.1.5. Srikshetra 168
II.2. The Cities of the Mon People170
II.3. Observations 171
III. The Cities of Arakan - Dhanywadi and Vesali172
IV The Pagan Period 174
V Observations 177
V.1. The Ahom Invasion of the Indian Northeast in 1228 and the Question of Links between Yunnan. Upper Burma. Upper Assam and Manipur 178
V2. The Boundary of East India with Myanmar 180
8Summary and Discussion183
I. Introductory 183
II. Iran 186
III. Afghanistan190
IV. Central Asia 193
IV1. The Silk Road Network of Central Asia and Beyond 194
Indian Traders in Iran. Russia and Central Asia196
VI. Spread of Buddhism 199
VII. Tibet 200
VIII. Myanmar 205
IX. The Boundaries 207
Index 223

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