INDIA IS A LAND of ancient civilization, with cities and villages, cultivated fields, and great works of art dating back 4,000 years. India’s high population density and variety of social, economic, and cultural configurations are the products of a long process of regionaln the last decade of the twentieth century, such expansion has led to the rapid erosion of India’s forest and wilderness areas in the face of ever-increasing demands for resources and gigantic population pressures–India’s population is projected to exceed 1 billion by the 21st century.Such problems are a relatively recent phenomenon. Rhinoceros inhabited the North Indian plains as late as the sixteenth century. Historical records and literature of earlier periods reveal the motif of the forest everywhere. Stories of merchant caravans typically included travel through long stretches of jungle inhabited by wild beasts and strange people; royal adventures usually included a hunting expedition and meetings with unusual beings. In the Mahabharata and the Ramayana , early epics that reflect life in India before 1000 B.C. and 500 B.C., respectively, the forest begins at the edge of the city, and the heroes regularly spend periods of exile wandering far from civilization before returning to rid the world of evil
The formulaic rituals of the Vedas also reflect attempts to create a regulated, geometric space from the raw products of nature.The country’s past serves as a reminder that India today, with its overcrowding and scramble for material gain, its poverty and outstanding intellectual accomplishments, is a society in constant change. Human beings, mostly humble folk, have within a period of 200 generations turned the wilderness into one of the most complicated societies in the world. The process began in the northwest in the third millennium B.C., with the Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization, when an agricultural economy gave rise to extensive urbanization and long-distance trade. The second stage occurred during the first millennium B.C., when the Ganga-Yamuna river basin and several southern river deltas experienced extensive agricultural expansion and population growth, leading to the rebirth of cities, trade, and a sophisticated urban culture.
By the seventh century A.D., a dozen core regions based on access to irrigation-supported kingdoms became tied to a pan-Indian cultural tradition and participated in increasing cross-cultural ties with other parts of Asia and the Middle East. India’s inclusion within a global trading economy after the thirteenth century culminated in the arrival of Portuguese explorers, traders, and missionaries, beginning in 1498. Although there were ebbs and flows in the pattern, the overall tendency was for peasant cultivators and their overlords to expand agriculture and animal husbandry into new ecological zones, and to push hunting and gathering societies farther into the hills.