The northern plain lies just south of the Himalayas. This fertile region is watered by mighty rivers: the Indus, which gives India its name, the Ganges (GAN jeez), and the Brahmaputra (brah muh POO truh). These rivers and their tributaries carry melting snow from the mountains to the plains, making agriculture possible. To the people of the Indian subcontinent, rivers are sacred, especially the Ganges. An Indian name for river is lokmata, or “mother of the people.”

The Deccan is a triangular plateau, or raised area of level land, that juts into the Indian Ocean. The Deccan generally lacks the melting snows that feed the rivers of the north and provide water for irrigation. As a result, much of the region is arid, agriculturally unproductive, and sparsely populated.

India's third region, the coastal plains, are separated from the Deccan by low-lying mountain ranges, the Eastern and Western Ghats. Rivers and heavy seasonal rains provide water for farmers. From very early times, coastal people used the seas for fishing and as highways for trade.

Life-Giving Monsoons

Today, as in the past, a defining feature of life in the Indian subcontinent is the monsoon, a seasonal wind that is part of the global wind pattern. In October, the winter monsoon blows from the northeast, bringing hot dry air that withers crops. During May and June of each year, the wet summer monsoon blows from the southwest. These winds pick up moisture over the Indian Ocean and drench the land with daily downpours.

The monsoon has shaped Indian life. Each year, people welcome the rains that are desperately needed to water the crops. If the rains are late, famine and starvation may occur. However, if the rains are too heavy, rushing rivers will unleash deadly floods.

Cultural Diversity

India's great size and diverse landscapes made it hard to unite. Many groups of people, with differing languages and traditions, settled in different parts of India. At times, ambitious rulers conquered much of the subcontinent, creating great empires. Despite their conquests, the diversity of customs and traditions remained.

A map shows the physical geography of the Indian subcontinent.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

The Indian subcontinent has a diverse range of geographic features. Where did most people in ancient India settle? Why?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments