Indian subcontinent

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Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent.JPG
Area 4.4 million km2 (1.7 million mi²)
Population 1.749 billion (2013)[1]
Pop. density 387/km2
Demonym Subcontinental
Countries Bangladesh
Sri Lanka

The Indian subcontinent or the subcontinent is a southern region of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Definitions of the extent of the Indian subcontinent differ but it usually includes the core lands of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan;[2] Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives are often included as well.

According to some scholars, Indian subcontinent in a "more recent and neutral parlance" is referred to as South Asia.[3] These two terms are used interchangeably,[4] with South Asia term particularly common when scholars or officials seek to differentiate this region from East Asia.[5] Some publications of the United Nations include Afghanistan and Iran as part of South Asia in its geographical classification system for statistical reports,[6][7] but neither Afghanistan nor Iran is considered as a part of the Indian subcontinent.[8]


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "subcontinent" signifies a "subdivision of a continent which has a distinct geographical, political, or cultural identity" and also a "large land mass somewhat smaller than a continent". It is first attested in 1845 to refer to the North and South Americas, before they were regarded as separate continents. Its use to refer to the Indian subcontinent is seen from the early twentieth century. It was especially convenient for referring to the region comprising both the British India and the princely states under British Paramountcy.[9][10]

The term Indian subcontinent also has a geological significance. It was, like the various continents, a part of the supercontinent of Gondwana. A series of tectonic splits caused formation of various basins, each drifting in various directions. The geological region called the "Greater India" once included the Madagascar, Seychelles, Antartica, Austrolasia along with the Indian subcontinent basin. As a geological term, Indian subcontinent has meant that region formed from the collision of the Indian basin with Eurasia nearly 55 million years ago, towards the end of Palaeocene.[11][12]


Main article: South Asia

The Indian subcontinent has been a term particularly common in the British Empire and its successors.[4] The region, state Mittal and Thursby, has also been labelled as "India" (in its classical and pre-modern sense), "Greater India", or as South Asia.[13][14] The BBC and some academic sources refer to the region as the "Asian Subcontinent".[15][16] Some academics refer to it as "South Asian Subcontinent".[17][18]

The most common terms are "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia", sometimes used interchangeably.[4] According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, the Indian subcontinent has come to be known as South Asia "in more recent and neutral parlance."[3] This "neutral" notion refers to the concerns of Pakistan and Bangladesh, particularly given the recurring conflicts between India and Pakistan, wherein the dominant placement of "India" as a prefix before the subcontinent might offend some political sentiments.[13] South Asia is a widely used administrative classification and preferred term by governments. Many scholars also prefer this more recently adopted term.[13]

The United Nations includes Afghanistan in South Asia, and sometimes Iran as well, in its publications.[6] However, the different geographic groupings such as South Asia by United Nations is for reporting convenience, and do not imply any formally approved definition.[note 1] There is no globally accepted definition on which countries are a part of South Asia.[7] While Afghanistan or Iran or both are sometimes included in the region called South Asia, neither Afghanistan nor Iran is considered as a part of the Indian subcontinent.[8] Similarly, Myanmar is included by some scholars in South Asia, but in Southeast Asia by others.[13] Some question whether Afghanistan should be considered a part of South Asia or the Middle East.[20][21]

Indologist Ronald B. Inden states that Indian subcontinent is also referred to as "South Asia" to distinguish the region from East Asia.[5] A booklet published by the United States Department of State in 1959 includes Afghanistan, Ceylon (since 1972 Sri Lanka), India, Nepal, and Pakistan (including East Pakistan, since 1971 Bangladesh) as part of the "Subcontinent of South Asia".[22]


Orthographic projection of Indian subcontinent

In dictionary entries, the term subcontinent signifies a large, distinguishable subdivision of a continent.[23][24]


Geologically, the Indian subcontinent was first a part of so-called "Greater India",[12] a region of Gondwana that drifted away from East Africa about 160 million years ago, around the Middle Jurasic period.[11] The region experienced high volcanic activity and plate subdivisions, creating Madagascar, Seychelles, Antartica, Austrolasia and the Indian subcontinent basin. The Indian subcontinent drifted northeastwards, colliding with the Eurasian plate nearly 55 million years ago, towards the end of Palaeocene. This geological region largely includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[11] The zone where the Eurasian and Indian subcontinent plates meet remains one of the geologically active areas, prone to major earthquakes.[25][26]

The English term mainly continues to refer to the Indian subcontinent.[27][28] Physiographically, it is a peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east.[29][30] It extends southward into the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea to the southwest and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast.[2][31] Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by large mountain barriers.[32]


NASA images of the Indian subcontinent during day and night.

Whether called the Indian subcontinent or South Asia, the definition of the geographical extent of this region varies. Geopolitically, it had formed the whole territory of Greater India,[13][14] and it generally comprises the countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.[2] Prior to 1947, most of the Indian subcontinent was part of British India. It generally includes Nepal, Bhutan, and the island country of Sri Lanka and may also include the island country of Maldives.[33] According to anthropologist John R. Lukacs, "the Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia",[34] while the political science professor Tatu Vanhanen states, "the seven countries of South Asia constitute geographically a compact region around the Indian Subcontinent".[35] The geopolitical boundaries of Indian subcontinent, according to Dhavendra Kumar, include "India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and other small islands of the Indian Ocean".[36] Maldives, the small archipelago southwest of the peninsula, is considered part of the Indian subcontinent.[37]

Parts of Afghanistan are sometimes included in Indian subcontinent as, states Ira M. Lapidus – a professor of History, it is a boundary territory with parts in Central Asia and in Indian subcontinent. The socio-religious history of Afghanistan are related to the Turkish-influenced Central Asia and northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent, now known as Pakistan.[38][39] Others state Afghanistan being a part of Central Asia is not an accepted practice, and it is "clearly not part of the Indian subcontinent".[8]

Historians Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot state that the term "Indian subcontinent" describes a natural physical landmass in South Asia that has been relatively isolated from the rest of Eurasia.[40] Given the passage difficulty through the Himalayas, the sociocultural, religious and political interaction of Indian subcontinent has largely been through the valleys of Afghanistan in its northwest,[41] the valleys of Manipur in its east, and by maritime over sea.[40] More difficult but historically important interaction has also occurred through passages pioneered by the Tibetans. These routes and interactions have led to the diffusion of Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, out of the Indian subcontinent into other parts of Asia, while Islam arrived into the Indian subcontinent through Afghanistan and to its coasts through the maritime routes.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to the UN, "The designations employed and the presentation of material at this site do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations."[19]


  1. ^ "World Population Prospects - Population Division - United Nations". 
  2. ^ a b c "Indian subcontinent". New Oxford Dictionary of English (ISBN 0-19-860441-6) New York: Oxford University Press, 2001; p. 929: "the part of Asia south of the Himalayas which forms a peninsula extending into the Indian Ocean, between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Historically forming the whole territory of Greater India, the region is now divided into three countries named Bangladesh, India and Pakistan."
  3. ^ a b Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, pages 3, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415307872, Quote:"Indian subcontinent — or South Asia — as it has come to be known in more recent and neutral parlance"
  4. ^ a b c John McLeod, The history of India, page 1, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31459-4
    Milton Walter Meyer, South Asia: A Short History of the Subcontinent, pages 1, Adams Littlefield, 1976, ISBN 0-8226-0034-X
    Jim Norwine & Alfonso González, The Third World: states of mind and being, pages 209, Taylor & Francis, 1988, ISBN 0-04-910121-8
    Boniface, Brian G.; Christopher P. Cooper (2005). Worldwide destinations: the geography of travel and tourism. Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-7506-5997-0. 
    Judith Schott & Alix Henley, Culture, Religion, and Childbearing in a Multiracial Society, pages 274, Elsevier Health Sciences, 1996, ISBN 0-7506-2050-1
    Raj S. Bhopal, Ethnicity, race, and health in multicultural societies, pages 33, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-19-856817-7
    Lucian W. Pye & Mary W. Pye, Asian Power and Politics, pages 133, Harvard University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-674-04979-9
    Mark Juergensmeyer, The Oxford handbook of global religions, pages 465, Oxford University Press US, 2006, ISBN 0-19-513798-1
    Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, pages 3, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-30787-2
  5. ^ a b Ronald B. Inden, Imagining India, page 51, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1850655200, Quote:"It is very common today in academic and official circles to speak of the Indian subcontinent as 'South Asia', thereby distinguishing it from an 'East Asia'."
  6. ^ a b Country classification, Data sources, country classifications and aggregation methodology, United Nations (2012), pages 135, 136, 138
  7. ^ a b Michael Mann (2014). South Asia’s Modern History: Thematic Perspectives. Taylor & Francis. pp. 13–15. ISBN 978-1-317-62445-5. 
  8. ^ a b c Ewan W. Anderson; Liam D. Anderson (2013). An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-136-64862-5. , Quote: "To the east, Iran, as a Gulf state, offers a generally accepted limit to the Middle East. However, Afghanistan, also a Muslim state, is then left in isolation. It is not accepted as a part of Central Asia and it is clearly not part of the Indian subcontinent".
  9. ^ "subcontinent". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ "Indian subcontinent". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ a b c Robert Wynn Jones (2011). Applications of Palaeontology: Techniques and Case Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 267–271. ISBN 978-1-139-49920-0. 
  12. ^ a b Hinsbergen, D. J. J. van; Lippert, P. C.; Dupont-Nivet, G.; McQuarrie, N.; Doubrovine; et al. (2012). "Greater India Basin hypothesis and a two-stage Cenozoic collision between India and Asia". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 (20): 7659–7664, for geologic Indian subcontinent see Figure 1. doi:10.1073/pnas.1117262109. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, Religions of South Asia: An Introduction, page 3, Routledge, 2006, ISBN 9781134593224
  14. ^ a b Kathleen M. Baker and Graham P. Chapman, The Changing Geography of Asia, page 10, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 9781134933846
  15. ^ Lizzie Crouch and Paula McGrath, "Humanity's global battle with mosquitoes", Health check, BBC World Service
  16. ^ K. Alan Kronstadt, Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U. S. Interests, page 7, Diane Publishing, 2011, ISBN 9781437929539
  17. ^ Aijazuddin Ahmad, Geography of the South Asian Subcontinent: A Critical Approach, page 17, Concept Publishing Company, 2009, ISBN 9788180695681
  18. ^ Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, page xiii, Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN 9780674039070
  19. ^ "Standard Country or Area Codes for Statistical Use". Retrieved 2012-08-25. 
  20. ^ Keith Robbins (2012). Transforming the World: Global Political History since World War II. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 386. ISBN 978-1-137-29656-6. , Quote: "Some thought that Afghanistan was part of the Middle East and not South Asian at all".
  21. ^ Phillip Margulies (2008). Nuclear Nonproliferation. Infobase Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-4381-0902-2. , Quote: "Afghanistan, which lies to the northwest, is not technically a part of South Asia but is an important neighbor with close links and historical ties to Pakistan."
  22. ^ Superintendent of Documents, United States Government Printing Office, The Subcontinent of South Asia: Afghanistan, Ceylon, India, Nepal and Pakistan, United States Department of State, Public Services Division, 1959
  23. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, Merriam-Webster, 2002. Retrieved 6 December 2016; Quote: "a large landmass smaller than a continent; especially: a major subdivision of a continent <the Indian subcontinent>"
  24. ^ Subcontinent, Oxford English Dictionaries (2012), Retrieved 6 December 2016; Quote: "A large distinguishable part of a continent..."
  25. ^ Bethany D. Rinard Hinga (2015). Ring of Fire: An Encyclopedia of the Pacific Rim's Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanoes. ABC-CLIO. pp. 89–90. ISBN 978-1-61069-297-7. 
  26. ^ Alexander E. Gates; David Ritchie (2006). Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes. Infobase. pp. 116–118. ISBN 978-0-8160-7270-5. 
  27. ^ McLeod, John (1 January 2002). "The History of India". Greenwood Publishing Group – via Google Books. 
  28. ^ Milton Walter Meyer, South Asia: A Short History of the Subcontinent, pages 1, Adams Littlefield, 1976, ISBN 0-8226-0034-X
  29. ^ Chapman, Graham P. & Baker, Kathleen M., eds. The changing geography of Asia. (ISBN 0-203-03862-2) New York: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2002; p. 10: "This greater India is well defined in terms of topography; it is the Indian sub-continent, hemmed in by the Himalayas on the north, the Hindu Khush in the west and the Arakanese in the east."
  30. ^ Dhavendra Kumar (2012). Genomics and Health in the Developing World. Oxford University Press. pp. 889–890. ISBN 978-0-19-537475-9. 
  31. ^ John McLeod, The history of India, page 1, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31459-4
  32. ^ "Asia" > Geologic history - Tectonic framework. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009: "The paleotectonic evolution of Asia terminated some 50 million years ago as a result of the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Eurasia. Asia’s subsequent neotectonic development has largely disrupted the continents pre-existing fabric. The neotectonic units of Asia are Stable Asia, the Arabian and Indian cratons, the Alpide plate boundary zone (along which the Arabian and Indian platforms have collided with the Eurasian continental plate), and the island arcs and marginal basins."
  33. ^ John McLeod, The history of India, page 1, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31459-4
    Stephen Adolphe Wurm, Peter Mühlhäusler & Darrell T. Tryon, Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas, pages 787, International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies, Published by Walter de Gruyter, 1996, ISBN 3-11-013417-9
    Haggett, Peter (2001). Encyclopedia of World Geography (Vol. 1). Marshall Cavendish. p. 2710. ISBN 0-7614-7289-4. 
  34. ^ John R. Lukacs, The People of South Asia: the biological anthropology of India, Pakistan, and Nepal, page 59, Plenum Press, 1984, ISBN 9780306414077
  35. ^ Tatu Vanhanen, Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries, page 144, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 9780415144063
  36. ^ Dhavendra Kumar (2012). Genomics and Health in the Developing World. Oxford University Press. p. 889. ISBN 978-0-19-537475-9. 
  37. ^ Mariam Pirbhai (2009). Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: Novels of the South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific. University of Toronto Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-8020-9964-8. 
  38. ^ Ira M. Lapidus (2014). A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 269, 698–699. ISBN 978-0-521-51430-9. 
  39. ^ Louis D Hayes (2014). The Islamic State in the Post-Modern World: The Political Experience of Pakistan. Ashgate. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-1-4724-1262-1. ;
    Robert Wuthnow (2013). The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Routledge. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-1-136-28493-9. 
  40. ^ a b c Asher, Catherine B.; Talbot, Cynthia (2006-03-16), India Before Europe, Cambridge University Press, pp. 5–8, 12–14, 51, 78–80, ISBN 978-0-521-80904-7 
  41. ^ John L. Esposito; Emad El-Din Shahin (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. pp. 453–456. ISBN 978-0-19-063193-2.