South Asia: An Environmental History

South Asia: An Environmental History

South Asia: An Environmental History

South Asia: An Environmental History


From the early Indus civilization, named after the river system in which it was located, through invasions from Asia and Europe to the division of India and Pakistan in 1947, and finally the human tragedy caused by the tsunami of December 2004, the people of South Asia have influenced, and been influenced by, their ecological surroundings in many ways.

Ranging from prehistory to the present and encompassing the whole of South Asia, this new volume offers the first chronological history of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka from the perspective of the crucial reciprocal relationship between humankind and the environment.

South Asia: An Environmental History shows how the civilizations of this geographically diverse region were formed (physically, ethically, and culturally) by their interactions with the environment - a relationship with particularly strong social and spiritual dimensions because of the interdependence of the predominantly agrarian population and the land. Specific topics range from ancient irrigation techniques and peasant adaptation to the environment, to the impact of imperialism on nature, the effect of post-colonial technology on contemporary life, and the enduring influence of religion on the way South Asian societies address ecological issues.


Long ago, only time and the elements shaped the face of the earth, the black abysses of the oceans, and the winds and blue welkin of heaven. As continents floated on the mantle, they collided and threw up mountains or drifted apart and made seas. Volcanoes built mountains out of fiery material from deep within the earth. Mountains and rivers of ice ground and gorged. Winds and waters sculpted and razed. Erosion buffered and salted the seas. the concert of living things created and balanced the gases of the air and moderated the earth’s temperature.

The world is very different now. From the moment our ancestors emerged from the southern forests and grasslands to follow the melting glaciers or to cross the seas, all has changed. Today the universal force transforming the earth, the seas, and the air is for the first time a single form of life: we humans. We shape the world, sometimes for our purposes and often by accident. Where forests once towered, fertile fields or barren deserts or crowded cities now lie. Where the sun once warmed the heather, forests now shade the land. We exterminate one creature only to bring another from across the globe to take its place. We pull down mountains and excavate craters and caverns; drain swamps and make lakes; divert, straighten, and stop rivers. From the highest winds to the deepest currents, the world teems with chemical concoctions that only we can brew. Even the very climate warms from our activity.

And as we work our will upon the land, as we grasp the things around us to fashion them into instruments of our survival, our social relations, and our creativity, we find in turn our lives and even our individual and collective destinies shaped and given direction by natural forces, some controlled, some uncontrolled, and some unleashed. What is more, uniquely among the creatures, we come to know and love the places where we live. For us, the world has always abounded with unseen life and manifest meaning. Invisible beings have hidden in springs, in mountains, in groves, in the quiet sky and the thunder of the clouds, in the deep waters. Places of beauty from magnificent mountains to small . . .

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