Chunar Fort on River Ganga

Book Review: Land of the Seven Rivers

land-of-seven-riversSanjeev Sanyal’s ‘Land of the Seven Rivers’ takes you back in time to the era when River Saraswati wasn’t considered a figment of delusional Indian’s imagination. Sanyal lucidly walks us through the historical and geographical eventualities that shaped the Indian sub-continent.

To write history, entirely based on facts, and neatly avoid the perils of boredom is a great feat that the author has managed to pull off.

Sanyal personally visited most of the archaeological sites he talks about.

Sometimes imagining himself to be the great traveler Ibn Battuta chronicling events of Mughal dynasties of Delhi. And at times assuming himself to be the Mauryan boatmen transporting Chunar stone to erect those timeless Mauryan pillars.

Chunar Fort on River Ganga
Chunar Fort on River Ganga

The book comprises of eight chapters and the author uncovers history of India, step-by-step, spanning over thousands of years. “Just as geography affects history, history too affects geography”, is the basic premise of this book and the author aptly describes how geographical changes not only shaped but changed the Geo-political scene of our country.

Why did the Buddha walk to Sarnath to give his first sermon?

This one liner appeared on one of those random WhatsApp forwards that keep pouring in and clutter not just your image gallery but your brains too. But this sounded like a valid question.

Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, 250km away from Sarnath where he delivered his first sermon. Why would he do that? Why would someone travel 250km (probably on foot) just to deliver a sermon? The probable answer was found in Sanyal’s book and to me it looks like a convincing answer.

Varanasi became Gautam Buddha’s natural choice as it was an important place not only for exchange of goods, but also for ideas. The ancient city stood at the crossroads between the Uttara Path (also called as Grand Trunk Road by British) and a highway that came from the Himalayas, and then continued till the south as the Dakshina Path (which began from Allahabhad and moved to Kashkinda in Karnataka and then ended at Rameswaram).

As an important crossroads, the place was already an established hub of commercial and intellectual activity  by this time, which is precisely what attracted to him.

Geography too makes history and that’s what Sanyal carefully establishes through this book.

In the start itself, the author takes on the myth of Aryan Invasion Theory that still propagates in the liberal circles. A major part of this section of the book is taken from Michel Danino’s findings in ‘The Lost River‘. Moving forward he surgically establishes that Indians possessed a sense of civilization even before Mughal invaders landed on our shores.

It’s only after Chapter Two, we get to read familiar but forgotten stuff that we were once forced to read in our schools. For the uninitiated, the first two chapters may look like history of a different country because that’s what our textbooks had made us believe.

The subsequent chapters contain a bit of everything that you need to know about the glorious past of India and probable causes of its downfall too. It is like revisiting old history lessons but this time with full attention and a zeal to know more about your country. You may not get to read in detail about the empire that Ashoka built or the monuments that Akbar built but you certainly will get to know about various geographical landmarks that played an important role in shaping India’s history. As you sail through chapters, your curiosity to know more increases manifolds. While I was reading, I had kept various tabs open on my browser just to satiate my thirst.

From plate tectonics to urbanization of Indian villages, this book takes its readers on a joyride which enables them to seamlessly traverse the corridors of history and geography simultaneously.

As I write this review, I can hear my father narrating the story of ‘Char Sahibzade’ to my nephew who has fixed his gaze on the mobile phone that plays animated version of the story. Earlier in the morning he was arguing with my mom to let him watch Maharana Pratap animation series. I wonder would he still love these historical characters when he grows up and sits through a boring history class?

And why should he read up something that happened thousands of years ago.

And then I look at the first page of the book, where Sanyal sends a message to his kids…..

To Varun and Dhruv,
that they may know where they came from…..

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