The following points highlight the four main factors of geography that have influence on society and culture. The factors are: 1. Motions of the Earth 2. Distribution of Land Mass and Water Mass 3. Climate 4. Natural Resources.
Factor # 1. Motions of the Earth:
Our behaviour-patterns, daily work-schedules as well as festivals and ceremonies are deeply affected by the motions of the earth. Rotation of the earth on its axis gives us day and night. The division of twenty-four hours into day and night determines largely when a work is to be done or how it is to be done.
In a rural society where electrical light is virtually absent, there is a clear-cut division of what work is to be done during sun-lit hours and what work may be reserved for hours after sun-set.
The work-schedule of a ruralize clearly demonstrates this aspect. Hours of meditation or deep contemplation are, for obvious reasons, reserved for hours before sunrise and hours after sunset. The presence of adequate artificial light in modern societies, particularly in urban areas, has radically altered this kind of work-schedule.
Even then, in major areas of life the distinction between day-time activity and night-time activity still remains. The revolution of the earth around the sun produces seasonal changes. Changes in season have a profound influence upon man. His thinking as well as the nature of his activities undergo changes according as there are alterations in seasons. Different kinds of festivals are associated with different seasons. –
Factor # 2. Distribution of Land Mass and Water Mass:
The arrangement of land and water masses has a profound influence upon the life of man. The way of life of those who live in high mountains differs markedly from that of those who live near the sea. The differences are exhibited in their food habits, dresses, occupations and even in the festivals they observe.
For example, the people who live in the Himalayas have a worshipful attitude towards high peaks near their places of residence which inspire their awe and wonder. Again, those who live near the sea worship the sea which holds for them both terror and hope, problems and promises.
Factor # 3. Climate:
Climate is an important factor in the life of man. This will be evident from the contrasting activities of those who experience harsh cold climate for the major part of the year and of those who experience pleasant warm climate for the best part of the year. The influence of climate is also seen in the types of dress worn by men and women in warmer and cooler regions.
Huntington was of opinion that ‘physical strength, mental activity, and health are correlated with variations in temperature and humidity’. Many more examples may be cited to establish correlation between climate and various aspects of the lives of men. That climate exercises some influence is an undeniable fact.
Factor # 4. Natural Resources:
Availability or non-availability of natural resources is important factors to be reckoned with in assessing the probable quality of life of a group of people. Bearing in mind the exceptions, it will not be far off the mark to say that the greater the availability of natural resources, the greater is the probability of that society becoming more affluent and vice versa.
Not simply the quality of life, even the nature of life of the society largely depends on the type of natural resources which the society can make use of. Thus, a group of people endowed with abundant supply of agricultural resources would, in all probability, develop into an agrarian society.
On the contrary, those having abundant supply of industrial raw materials, such as iron ore, coal or petroleum, would have the resource-base for launching on its career as an industrial society.
Obviously, geography, climate and natural resource have a very close and deep bearing on the life of man. One important qualification should, however, be added to this generalized statement. Geographical factor, climatic factor and resource factor are only limiting factors, and not determining factors.
Now, man has obtained mastery over nature. Technological revolution in the field of transportation has virtually eliminated distances and brought nearer peoples living thousands of miles away from one another.
If the people of a particular society are creative, innovative and energetic, they may, with effort and imagination, surmount the disadvantages in terms of geography, climate and natural resource. Japan, for example, is not endowed with natural resources which conventionally form the basis of an industrial society. Yet Japan has emerged as a leading industrialized nation in the world.
There are countries in the Third World which are very rich in resources but very poor in terms of exploitation of those resources-to their advantage. It follows, therefore, that whatever importance the geographic, the climatic and the resource factors have, these are relatively minor in comparison with many other social factors which have a deep bearing on the activities of men.
Broadly speaking, these factors may, at best, limit the directions that social development is likely to take, but can, under no circumstances; determine decisively the infinite details of these societies.
These factors, according to Professor Toynbee, may be regarded as challenges to which adequate response must be given by people of a society. A strong challenge often provokes a highly creative response and, as a result, life becomes enriched in terms of variety and fullness.
But, according to Professor Toynbee, sometimes there comes a point where the severity of challenge is no longer stimulating but overwhelming. The society as a whole may not be able to rise to the occasion and resist, the tide. The identity of the society may in that event get completely lost and submerged by the overwhelming factor.
Did not the Mohenjo-Daro civilization disappear because of its inability to meet the challenge which simply overwhelmed it? These are, of course, extreme cases. Under normal circumstances, the reciprocal relationship of social and natural factors should be recognised.
Bierstedt emphasised this reciprocal relationship thus:
“Nature is vast and man is puny, but this, of all comparisons, is the least significant. Every item of culture that mart devises or invents is a new sentence in his declaration of independence from nature, and although his independence can never be complete, it is immeasurably greater than that enjoyed by any other animal. It enables him to assert his own dominion over the earth that sustains him and gives him life.”
He, therefore, concludes the discussion thus:
“Geography, in short, governs the possible, not the actual. History is not a simple function of habitat, nor culture of climate; neither mistral nor monsoon determines morality, nor soil society.”
Geographical Background of Indian Culture:
The essence of Indian Culture is found in the Rig-Vedic dictum: Ekam sad, vipra bahudha vadanti. That is. Truth is one; sages call it variously. According to Professor Nirmal Kumar Bose, this unique aspect of Indian culture is, to a certain extent, to be ascribed to the geographical characteristics of the land.
Her “vast dimensions, varied physical features, and variety of climate tended to effect different zones with different racial and linguistic peculiarities and different regional spirits”.
At the same time, India “found it possible to ‘follow a more or less sheltered course of cultural evolution” because of geographical characteristics of the land. India was “protected by the Himalayan mountain barriers which permitted only a trickle of the invaders or colonizers; necessitating the submergence of their advance parties in the local population in the absence of constant reinforcements from the rear”.
There were also the high seas on the south which afforded similar protection. Her insularity made India develop into a distinctive cultural unit and saved her from “the fate that overtook the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia”.
The magic spell of her natural unity in the midst of diversity had its impact on her culture and on all those who came to India during different period in the past, “welding them all into a vast synthesis wherein their essential elements have been preserved”.
It is interesting to note that Panikkar, the noted historian, has drawn attention to- the divisive influence of geographical factors on Indian culture. He referred to the peculiar character of the extension of land towards the south which “because of the change in climate following latitudinal differences, always creates problems of integration”.
According to him, “despite the unity of India based on Sanskrit language and culture and on Hindu religion and social institutions, geography is constantly trying to assert itself with the result that ethnically and linguistically Deccan and South India still continue to be separate from the North.
While referring to the influence exercised by geographical factors and climate on the character and mental make-up of people living in different geographical zones of India, Professor Bose observes: “In the fertile Ganga valley, which provided cheap livelihood without struggle, life of ease fostered intellectual pursuits and nature favoured philosophical speculation, resulting in the growth of art, literature, and philosophy.
This environment, however, did not foster exact sciences. Those inhabiting the coastal regions became mariners and established trade relations with the world. The residents of different regions, e.g., the Punjabis, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas, Bengalis, Gurkhas, Telugus, Tamils and others, owe some of their peculiar physical and mental characteristics, in a large measure, to the geography of their regions”.