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The cartography of India begins with early charts for navigation and constructional plans for buildings. Indian traditions influenced Tibetan and Islamic traditions, and in turn, were influenced by the Britishmarker cartographers who solidified modern concepts into India's map making.

A prominent foreign geographer and cartographer was Hellenistic geographer Ptolemy (90–168) who researched at the library in Alexandriamarker to produce a detailed eight-volume record of world geography. Another prominent foreign cartographer was Persian geographer Abu Rayhan Biruni (973–1048) who visited India and studied the country's geography extensively.

Antiquity (before the 8th century CE)

Early forms of cartography in Indiamarker included legendary paintings; maps of locations described in Indian epic poetry, for example the Ramayana. These works contained descriptions of legendary places and often even described the nature of the mythological inhabitants of a particular location. Early Indian cartography, which remained uninfluenced by European cartography, showed little knowledge of scale. The important parts of the map were shown to be larger than others.

Based on archaeological and textual evidence, Joseph E. Schwartzberg (2008)—a University of Minnesotamarker professor emeritus of geography—traces the origins of Indian cartography to the Indus Valley Civilization (ca. 2500–1900 BCE). The use of large scale constructional plans, cosmological drawings, and cartographic material was known in India with some regularity since the Vedic period (1 millennium BCE).Schwartzberg, 1301 Climatic conditions were responsible for the destruction of most of the evidence, however, a number of excavated surveying instruments and measuring rods have yielded convincing evidence of early cartographic activity.Schwartzberg, 1301–1302 Schwartzberg (2008)—on the subject of surviving maps—further holds that: 'Though not numerous, a number of map-like graffiti appear among the thousands of Stone Age Indian cave paintings; and at least one complex Mesolithic diagram is believed to be a representation of the cosmos.'

Susan Gole (1990) comments on the cartographic traditions in early India:

Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550–c. 476 BC) may have written about world geography as early as 500 BCE. Later, Herodotus (c. 484 BC–c. 425 BCE) conducted more extensive studies and further advanced the work of Hecataeus. The Indians made maps related to both their holy scriptures, the Puranas, and for astronomy. Indian cartographic traditions also covered the locations of the Pole star and other constellations of use. These charts may have been in use by the beginning of the Common Era for purposes of navigation. Detailed maps of considerable length describing the locations of settlements, sea shores, rivers, and mountains were also made. Other early maps in India include the Udayagiri wall sculpture—made under the Gupta empire in 400 CE—showing the meeting of the Gangesmarker and the Yamunamarker.

Middle Ages (8th to 17th centuries)

The 8th century scholar Bhavabhuti conceived paintings which indicated geographical regions. The boundaries of land, granted to the Brahman priests of India by their patrons, were described in detail. The descriptions indicated good geographical knowledge and in one case over 75 details of the land granted have been found. The Chinesemarker records of the Tang dynasty show that a map of the neighboring Indian region was gifted to Wang Hiuen-tse by its king.

In the 9th century, Islamic geographers under Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun improved on Ptolemy's work and depicted the Indian Oceanmarker as an open body of water instead of a land-locked sea as Ptolemy had done. The Iranian geographers Abū Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdānī and Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi set the Prime Meridian of their maps at Ujjainmarker, a centre of Indian astronomy. In the early 11th century, the Persian geographer Abu Rayhan Biruni visited India and studied the country's geography extensively. He was considered the most skilled when it came to mapping cities and measuring the distances between them, which he did for many cities in the western Indian subcontinent. He also wrote extensively on the geology of India. In 1154, the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi included a section on the cartography and geography of India and its neighboring countries in his world atlas, Tabula Rogeriana.

European scholar Francesco I reproduced a number of Indian maps in his magnum opus La Cartografia Antica dell India. Out these maps two have been reproduced using a manuscript of Lokaprakasa—originally compiled by the polymath Ksemendra (Kashmirmarker, 11th century CE)—as a source. The other manuscript, used as a source by Francesco I, is titled Samgrahani. The early volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica also described cartographic charts made by the Dravidian people of India.

Maps from the Ain-e-Akbari, a Mughal document detailing India's history and traditions, contain references to locations indicated in earlier Indian cartographic traditions.

The cartographic tradition of India influenced the map making tradition of Tibet, where maps of Indian origin have been discovered. Islamic cartography was also influenced by the Indian tradition as a result of extensive contact. The seamless globe was invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH (1589-90 CE), and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahoremarker and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire. Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically impossible to produce metal globes without any seams, even with modern technology. These Mughal metallurgists pioneered the method of lost-wax casting in order to produce these globes.

Modern era (17th century to present)


The scholar Sadiq Isfahani of Jaunpur compiled an atlas of the parts of the world which he held to be 'suitable for human life'. The 32 sheet atlas—with maps oriented towards the south as was the case with Islamic works of the era—is part of a larger scholarly work compiled by Isfahani during 1647 CE. According to Joseph E. Schwartzberg (2008): 'The largest known Indian map, depicting the former Rajput capital at Amber in remarkable house-by-house detail, measures 661 × 645 cm. (260 × 254 in., or approximately 22 × 21 ft).'

A map describing the kingdom of Nepalmarker, four feet in length and about two and a half feet in breadth, was presented to Warren Hastings. In this raised-relief map the mountains were elevated above the surface and several geographical elements were indicated in different colors. The Europeans used 'scale-bars' in their cartographic tradition. Upon their arrival in India during the middle ages, the indigenous Indian measures were reported back to Europe, and first published by Guillaume de I'Isle in 1722 as Carte des Costes de Malabar et de Coromandel.

With the establishment of the British Raj in India, modern European cartographic traditions were officially employed by the British Survey of India (1767). One British observer commented on the tradition of native Indian cartography:

Thomas George Montgomerie organized several cartographic expeditions to map Tibet, as well as Chinamarker. Mohamed-i-Hameed, Nain Singh and Mani Singh were among the agents employed by the British for their cartographic operations. Nain Singh, in particular, became famous for his geographical knowledge of Asia, and was awarded several honors for his expeditions.In 1876, his achievements were announced in the Geographical Magazine. The awards and recognition soon started flowing in. On his retirement, the Indian Government honoured him with the grant of a village, and 1000 rupees in revenue. The crowning achievement came in 1876, when the Royal Geographical Societymarker honoured him with a gold medal as the ‘man who has added a greater amount of positive knowledge to the map of Asia than any individual of our time—Nagendra 1999.

The modern map making techniques in India, like other parts of the world, employ digitization, photographic survey and printing. Satellite imageries, aerial photographs and video surveying techniques are also used. The Indian IRS-P5 (CARTOSAT-1) was equipped with high resolution panchromatic equipment to enable it for cartographic purposes. IRS-P5 (CARTOSAT-1) was followed by a more advanced model named IRS-P6 developed also for agricultural applications. The CARTOSAT-2 project, equipped with single panchromatic camera which supported scene specific on-spot images, succeed the CARTOSAT-1 project.


  1. Sircar, 329
  2. Pinto (2006)
  3. .
  4. Sircar, 327
  5. Gole (1990)
  6. Schwartzberg, 1301
  7. Fuechsel (2008)
  8. Schwartzberg, 1302
  9. Sircar, 328
  10. Sircar, 326.
  11. Covington (2007)
  12. Kennedy, 189
  13. Scheppler, 41-42
  14. Salam (1984)
  15. See .
  16. Sircar, 330
  17. See Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th edition, volume XIV, 840–841.
  18. Sircar, 329
  19. Pinto (2006)
  20. Savage-Smith (1985)
  21. Schwartzberg, 1303
  22. Nagendra (1999)
  23. See Indian Express (1999). Modern map-making techniques on display. Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
  24. Burleson, D. (2005), "India", Space Programs Outside the United States: All Exploration and Research Efforts, Country by Country, McFarland, 136-146, ISBN 0-7864-1852-4.

See also


  • Covington, Richard (2007), Saudi Aramco World (May-June 2007), pp. 17–21.
  • Fuechsel, Charles F. (2008), "map", Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Gole, S. (1990), "Size as a Measure of Importance in Indian Cartography", Imago Mundi, 42: 99–105.
  • Kennedy, Edward S. (1996), "Mathematical Geography", Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science (1 & 3) edited by Rushdī Rāshid & Régis Morelon, Routledge, ISBN 0415124107.
  • Nagendra, Harini (1999), Re-discovering Nain Singh, Indian Institute of Science.
  • Pinto, Karen (2006), "Cartography", Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia edited by Josef W. Meri & Jere L. Bacharach, pp. 138–140, Taylor & Francis.
  • Salam, Abdus (1984), "Islam and Science", Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (2nd ed.) edited by C. H. Lai (1987), pp. 179–213, World Scientific.
  • Savage-Smith, Emilie (1985), Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their history, Construction, and Use, Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Scheppler, Bill (2006), Al-Biruni: Master Astronomer and Muslim Scholar of the Eleventh Century, The Rosen Publishing Group, ISBN 1404205128.
  • Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (2008), "Maps and Mapmaking in India", Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures (2nd edition) edited by Helaine Selin, pp. 1301–1303, Springer, ISBN 9781402045592.
  • Sircar, D.C.C. (1990), Studies in the Geography of Ancient and Medieval India, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 8120806905.

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