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Ecology and Society

R. Rajamani

By Irfan Habib
Aligarh Historians Society and Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xii+162, Rs. 315.00


This volume is part of the series entitled A People’s History of India. It deals with the ecological history of India from pre-historic times to 1947. It is designed to deal with a range of ecological phenomena which include not only climate change but also human relation with all species of flora and fauna and those conditions of human societies that influences the responses from us to the opportunities and challenges posed by Nature. The coverage of the evolution of the environment both by itself and in relation to the evolution of human beings in the prehistoric, Pleistocene and the current interglacial Holocene periods is very good and of value to the academic and student community. The prehistoric period is just touched upon as it ends with the Continental Drift and enters the Pleistocene. The Old Stone Age followed by the New or Neolithic period is described in some detail covering the evolution of man and animals and of the tools used by human beings. The rise of cultivation and pastoralism from about 9000 bc and its implication for ecology are treated well. Then follows the developments in the Indus Valley civilization period including the depiction of wild animals on the Indus Valley seals. The period from 1500 bc to ad 700 gets exhaustive coverage under the title ‘Ancient Times’. Tillage, types of crops, domestication of animals and birds, forests and wildlife, are dealt with followed by a discussion on environment, religion and Society. The rise of Jainism and Buddhism, the doctrine of ahimsa, protection of animals, etc., are set in the context of evidence from the Rig Veda, Panchatantra and the Asokan edicts. While these edicts and the description of animals like the elephant are mentioned, the reference to the Asokan edict near Dehra Dun on the elephant ‘Gajatame’ is left out for some reason. Special mention is made of the protection of trees and forests and discouragement of forest burning. The references to the rise of cultivation and tools like the iron plough and the implications for pristine natural areas are early indications of the authors’ thesis that cultivation had a deep implication for ecological protection. The next section on Medieval India is more full of textual evidence drawing from Sanskrit and Persian texts in the pre-Mughal and Mughal period. It includes a very interesting coverage of the physical environment like earthquakes, changes in river courses and the efforts of mankind ...

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