The Geography of Rajputana

(by Brig. A. Mason, M.C., R.E.)

[May 11 2007]

It was James Tod who first put the term 'Central India' on the map when he submitted to the Governor-General in 1815 the results of the surveys he had carried out in Rajasthan (or 'Rajputana') in the previous decade. For in 1806 he was sent as a subaltern to the embassy of Mr. Graeme Mercer, which was sent to the camp of Sindia, then among the ruins of Mewar, later known as Udaipur.

He described the area as being between the Indus river on the west, the Sutlej river on the North, the Sindh river on the East and the Vindhya Mountains on the South. In 1817 he was appointed Political Agent of Government with sole control over the five principal states of Rajasthan, which were Mewar or Udaipur, Marwar or Jodhpur, Jessulmer, Dotah and Boondi, according to the Second Edition.

After an introduction and a Memoir, he opened with a chapter on the geography of the area, followed with eight chapters of History of the Rajput tribes, a sketch of their system of tribal control and religious affairs, another of the desert and then completed his report with over 60 chapters of tribal Annals and 20 chapters of personal narrative describing his own travels in the region.

In 1822 he had to leave India for health reasons, and finished his report in 1832. He was for some time Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society and died in 1835 at the age of 53. In addition to the Annals he described his last journey, which included Mount Abu and the Jain shrines of Grinar, as well as other historic places in and near the peninsula of Kathiawar. His history and geography are not now easy to follow, since his spelling of names is old-fashioned and he does not always give dates. He sometimes uses his own terms: for example, he calls the Marathas, who admittedly did not normally inhabit Rajputana, though they played an important part in its history, "The Goths of India", and be translated "the Vindhya Mountains" as "the barrier", which is a useful reminder of the belief that few of the early Aryan invaders of India penetrated it and reached the Deccan.

His geography is descriptive and useful and he rightly stressed the importance of the rivers and mountains, but it is not proposed to quote him at length.

Rajputana consists of the Indian desert or Thar on the west and the Aravali Range of Mountains in the east. Each feature measures about 400 miles from north to south and less than 200 miles from east to west. The Malwa Plateau may be thought of as of about half that area and to some extent separated by the general direction of the drainage to the southwest and also of the eastern portion to the north-west. The railways naturally tend to follow the same directions.

The meaning of Aravalis is "The Refuge of Strength" and they appear in history rather more than the Plateau. Both are cut off from the southern peninsula mainly by the river Narbada or Narmada. The mountains are also largely cut off from the desert by the Luni River which rises in a salt lake at Sambhar, near Jeypur and empties into the great western salt-marsh, the Rann of Kachch, which is still partly an arm of the Arabian Sea. It is the Chambal river, the most important tributary of the Jumna, which is able, thanks to its own tributaries, to play a part in separating the Plateau of Malwa from the Mountains of the Rajput States.


ŠA Mason 2007 All rights reserved