Monday, October 17, 2011


Known also as the Ganges/Brahmaputra/Meghna Delta, it is the world’s largest river delta covering about 100,000, and is 350km wide across at the coast of the Bay of Bengal. 
About 150 million people live on these rich fertile, but frequently flooded lands, about 80% of which lie in Bangladesh.

It is not, of course, only the agriculturally valuable land that is fertile, the rivers and coastal waters are also rich in the nutritious sedimentary particles carried by the waters, from as far away as the Himalayas through innumerable towns and cities along the way, making the waters rich in fish to support the traditional diet of the also highly fertile peoples, evidenced by the rapidly growing population.

Lovely as the agricultural lands are, even more so is the enormous mangrove forest the Sundarban, teeming  with wildlife and home of the Royal Bengal Tiger, which lines about half the delta coast. However, even more so than these environmental marvels, it is perhaps the human history that is by far the most spectacular.
The Ganges Delta is the entry and exit of the Ganges Basin, where one of the earliest industrialised civilisations in the world developed from about 1,500 BCE.
The origins of this civilisation are still rather obscure. Some believe its origins lie in the decline of the Dravidian Harappan civilisation of the Indus, which seems to have melted away about the same time. Whether that civilisation, with its cities and culture, which has been shown to have been in decline for a few centuries, was ended by the changing climate that caused catastrophic flooding, or crumbled under assault by nomadic Aryans moving south east from Persia seeking new grazing for their herds, is not  clear. Neither is it clear if the new arrivals were Dravidian, Aryan, or a combination of the two.
That there was an agricultural component seems likely; the Harappan culture shows no evidence of horses, which the Aryans had as did the Ganges basin culture.

What seems certain is that around the 7th Century BCE there was an urbanisation of the civilisation, and industrialisation too. The working of metals and stones, including the very available semi precious stones, and minerals such as silver, gold and copper is much in evidence.
Until recently most, or even all of the evidence of such industry was to be found in that part of the Basin now in India, Bangladesh lacking the resources for real archaeology.
However, quite apart from excavation work at Mahasthangarh, the city originally believed to mark the eastern spread of Basin culture, recent work at Wari Bateshwar and Vikrampur, on the course of the old Brahmaputra and close to the saline waters of the delta, has shown not only remarkable similar industrial activity, but such evidence of considerable trade as silver coinage contemporary with the earliest known coinage in the world from Mesopotamia.

Apart from the strong circumstantial evidence of about 250 to 300 ruined Buddhist Vihara in Bangladesh, and countless Hindu Temples and Islamic Mosques, palaces, mansion and forts, all of which demonstrate wealth involved in their building and maintenance, there is also the documentary evidence from Megasthenes in 3rd Century BCE, through the Roman Strabo in the 1st Century, to Lord Clive in the 18th Century, bearing testimony to the wealth and trade of the Delta area, as well as countless maps from the 5th Century BCE onward that acknowledge the delta, in increasing detail underlining the familiarity of the ancient world with these waters.

A crossroads of the ancient world, this great delta certainly was, and even today, nations such as India and China are seeking use of the waters as outlets of their contemporary industrial cultures.
These waters may not be deep, but wide and valuable they remain, even 3 or 4 millennia after mankind first recognised their commercial potential!

1 comment: