A Four-billion-year Story The Making of India



Sixty-five years ago, A. L. Basham highlighted the making of India in his book, The Wonder that was India (1954). It acknowledged human presence 100,000 years ago; the dawn of agriculture around 10,000 BC; the rise of the first villages; ancient goddess figurines; the Indus Valley civilizations; and the great discovery by Sir William Jones of India’s languages linked to the languages of Europe. Basham also emphasized the importance of the Himalayas and the great fertile plains watered by the multiple tributaries of the Ganges—the spiritual and cultural center of ancient India. With intensely eco-nomic and political perspectives today, we are likely to adopt the narrower focus of Ranbir Vohra’s The Making of India: A Political History (2013), which leads us through British colonialism to India’s emergence as an independent democracy of over a billion people. In recent years a broader perspective has emerged that extends far beyond the beginnings of Indian civilization or even beyond the first nomadic migrants. Discoveries of geology, biology, and paleontology define the making of India as a vast narrative, the creation of a stage with ancient roots upon which modern humans have only recently com-menced their walk-on drama. This perspective impels us to think historically, sequentially, and diachronically rather than topically or synchronically. India turns out to be a dramatic example of continental migration culminating in a collision that has shaped Asia far beyond India’s borders. The making of India emerges as a dynamic, moving sequence where the most ancient planetary and biological events are seen as contingencies of the present world and human existence. This per-spective is more than history; it is big history; more than narrative, it is a grand narrative.