Geologically, the subcontinent originates from Insular India, an isolated landmass that rifted from the supercontinent of Gondwana during the Cretaceous and merged with the landmass of Eurasia nearly 55 million years ago, forming the Himalayas. Historically, as well as to the present day, it is and has been the most populated region in the world, holding roughly 20–25 percent of the global population at all times in history. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in South Asia, delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakan in the east. The neighboring geographical regions around the subcontinent include the Tibetan Plateau to the north, the Indochinese Peninsula to the east, and the Iranian Plateau to the west and the Indian Ocean to the south.
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". Its use to signify the Indian subcontinent is evidenced from the early twentieth century when most of the territory was either part of the British Empire or allied with them. It was a convenient term to refer to the region comprising both British India and the princely states.
The term has been particularly common in the British Empire and its successors, while the term South Asia is the more common usage in Europe and North America. 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".Indologist Ronald B. Inden argues that the usage of the term South Asia is becoming more widespread since it clearly distinguishes the region from East Asia. While South Asia, a more accurate term that reflects the region's contemporary political demarcations, is replacing the Indian subcontinent, a term closely linked to the region's colonial heritage, as a cover term, the latter is still widely used in typological studies.
Since the partition of India, citizens of Pakistan (which became independent of British India in 1947) and Bangladesh (which became independent of Pakistan in 1971) often perceive the use of the Indian subcontinent as offensive and suspicious because of the dominant placement of India in the term. As such it is being increasingly less used in those countries.[note 8] Meanwhile, many Indian analysts prefer to use the term because of the socio-cultural commonalities of the region. The region has also been called the "Asian subcontinent", the "South Asian subcontinent", as well as "India" or "Greater India" in the classical and pre-modern sense.
From left to right, rifting of the Indian subcontinent away from Gondwana at 150 million years ago (Ma), 120 Ma, 80 Ma and during the Paleocene.
The Indian subcontinent was formerly part of Gondwana, a supercontinent formed during the late Neoproterozoic and early Paleozoic. Gondwana began to break up during the Mesozoic, with Insular India separating from Antarctica 130-120 million years ago and Madagascar around 90 million years ago. during the Cretaceous. Insular India subsequently drifted northeastwards, colliding with the Eurasian Plate nearly 55 million years ago, during the Eocene, forming the Indian subcontinent. The zone where the Eurasian and Indian subcontinent plates meet remains geologically active, prone to major earthquakes.
According to anthropologist John R. Lukacs, "the Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia." According to historian B. N. Mukherjee, "The subcontinent is an indivisible geographical entity." According to geographer Dudley Stamp, "there is perhaps no mainland part of the world better marked off by nature as a region or a 'realm' by itself than the Indian subcontinent."
This natural physical landmass in South Asia is the dry-land portion of the Indian Plate, which has been relatively isolated from the rest of Eurasia. The Himalayas (from Brahmaputra River in the east to Indus River in the west), Karakoram (from Indus River in the east to Yarkand River in the west) and the Hindu Kush mountains (from Yarkand River westwards) form its northern boundary. In the west it is bounded by parts of the mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Spīn Ghar (Safed Koh), Sulaiman Mountains, Kirthar Mountains, Brahui range, and Pab range among others, with the Western Fold Belt along the border (between the Sulaiman Range and the Chaman Fault) is the western boundary of the Indian Plate, where, along the Eastern Hindu Kush, lies the Afghanistan–Pakistan border. In the east, it is bounded by Patkai, Naga, Lushai and Chin hills. The Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea forms the boundary of the Indian subcontinent in the south, south-east and south-west.
Given the difficulty of passage through the Himalayas, the sociocultural, religious and political interaction of the Indian subcontinent has largely been through the valleys of Afghanistan in its northwest, the valleys of Manipur in its east, and by maritime routes. More difficult but historically important interaction has also occurred through passages pioneered by the Tibetans. These routes and interactions have led to the spread of Buddhism out of the Indian subcontinent into other parts of Asia. The Islamic expansion arrived into the Indian subcontinent in two ways: through Afghanistan on land, and to the Indian coast through the maritime routes on the Arabian Sea.
In terms of modern geopolitical boundaries, the Indian subcontinent constitutes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, besides, by convention, the island country of Sri Lanka and other nearby island nations of the Indian Ocean, such as Maldives and the British Indian Ocean Territory,[original research?] unlike "South Asia" sometimes the expression "Indian subcontinent" may exclude the islands of Maldives and Sri Lanka. According to Chris Brewster and Wolfgang Mayrhofer, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan constitute the Indian subcontinent. Brewster and Mayrhofer also maintain that with Afghanistan and Maldives included the region is referred to as South Asia. The periphery of the subcontinent, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and the island chains of the Maldives, features large Muslim populations, while the heartland, including most of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, are overwhelmingly Hindu or Buddhist. Since most of these countries are located on the Indian Plate, a continuous landmass, the borders between countries are often either a river or a no man's land.
The precise definition of an "Indian subcontinent" in a geopolitical context is somewhat contested as there is no globally accepted definition on which countries are a part of South Asia or the Indian subcontinent. Whether called the Indian subcontinent or South Asia, the definition of the geographical extent of this region varies.Afghanistan, despite often considered as a part of South Asia, is usually not included in the Indian subcontinent. Maldives, an island country consisting of a small archipelago southwest of the peninsula, while largely considered a part of the Indian subcontinent, sometimes is mentioned by sources, including the International Monetary Fund, as a group of islands away from the Indian subcontinent in a south-western direction.
^It is sometimes simply just referred as the subcontinent in South Asian contexts.
^For example, a history book intended for Pakistani B.A. students by K. Ali uses the term "Indo-Pakistan" instead.
^ ab"Indian subcontinent". New Oxford Dictionary of English (ISBN0-19-860441-6) 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."
^ abJohn McLeod, The history of India, page 1, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN0-313-31459-4; note: McLeod does not include Afghanistan in Indian subcontinent or South Asia; Jim Norwine & Alfonso González, The Third World: states of mind and being, pages 209, Taylor & Francis, 1988, ISBN0-04-910121-8 Quote: ""The term "South Asia" also signifies the Indian Subcontinent"" Raj S. Bhopal, Ethnicity, race, and health in multicultural societies, pages 33, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN0-19-856817-7; Quote: "The term South Asian refers to populations originating from the Indian subcontinent, effectively India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; Lucian W. Pye & Mary W. Pye, Asian Power and Politics, pages 133, Harvard University Press, 1985, ISBN0-674-04979-9 Quote: "The complex culture of the Indian subcontinent, or South Asia, presents a tradition comparable to Confucianism." Mark Juergensmeyer, The Oxford handbook of global religions, pages 465, Oxford University Press US, 2006, ISBN0-19-513798-1 Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, pages 3, Routledge, 2004, ISBN0-415-30787-2
^ abBaker, Kathleen M.; Chapman, Graham P. (11 March 2002), The Changing Geography of Asia, Routledge, pp. 10–, ISBN978-1-134-93384-6, 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.
^Milton Walter Meyer, South Asia: A Short History of the Subcontinent, pages 1, Adams Littlefield, 1976, ISBN0-8226-0034-X Jim Norwine & Alfonso González, The Third World: states of mind and being, pages 209, Taylor & Francis, 1988, ISBN0-04-910121-8 Boniface, Brian G.; Christopher P. Cooper (2005). Worldwide destinations: the geography of travel and tourism. Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN978-0-7506-5997-0. Judith Schott & Alix Henley, Culture, Religion, and Childbearing in a Multiracial Society, pages 274, Elsevier Health Sciences, 1996, ISBN0-7506-2050-1 Raj S. Bhopal, Ethnicity, race, and health in multicultural societies, pages 33, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN0-19-856817-7 Lucian W. Pye & Mary W. Pye, Asian Power and Politics, pages 133, Harvard University Press, 1985, ISBN0-674-04979-9 Mark Juergensmeyer, The Oxford handbook of global religions, pages 465, Oxford University Press US, 2006, ISBN0-19-513798-1 Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, pages 3, Routledge, 2004, ISBN0-415-30787-2
^Judith Schott & Alix Henley, Culture, Religion, and Childbearing in a Multiracial Society, pages 274, Elsevier Health Sciences, 1996, ISBN0750620501
^Raj S. Bhopal, Ethnicity, race, and health in multicultural societies, pages 33, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN0198568177
^Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, pages 3, Routledge, 2004, ISBN0415307872
^Ronald B. Inden, Imagining India, page 51, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000, ISBN1850655200
^McArthur, Tom (2003). Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press. p. 309. ISBN9780198607717.
^Ali, K. (1980). A New History of Indo-Pakistan up to 1526 (4th ed.). Lahore: Aziz Publishers.
^B.H. Farmer, An Introduction to South Asia, page 1, Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1983, ISBN9780416726008, "The 'Indian sub continent' is a term that certainly recognises the dominant position of India in both area and population. Since the partition of Indian Empire, use of this term becomes offensive to the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis." Jona Razzaque, Public Interest Environmental Litigation in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, page 3, Kluwer Law International, 2004, ISBN9789041122148 "Yet, because citizens of Pakistan (which was carved out of India in 1947 and has had recurring conflicts with India since then) and of Bangladesh (which became separated from Pakistan by civil war in 1971) might find offensive the dominant placement of India in the term "Indian subcontinent", many scholars today prefer the more recently adopted designation 'South Asia.'" Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, Religions of South Asia: An Introduction, page 3, Routledge, 2006, ISBN9781134593224 S K Shah, India and Its Neighbours: Renewed Threats and New Directions, page 26, Vij Books India Pvt Ltd, 2017, ISBN9789386367501 "Indian analysts, who talk of the Indian sub-continent, wish to keep in mind, in their analyses, the common historical, political, religious and cultural heritage of these three countries. The term sub-continent is used less and less in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The political leadership and the policy-makers in these two countries do not wish to be reminded of this common heritage. Any highlighting of this common heritage by Indian analysts is viewed by them with suspicion—— as indicating a hidden desire to reverse history and undo the 1947 partition."
^Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, page xiii, Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN9780674039070
^K. D. Kapur, Nuclear Non-proliferation Diplomacy: Nuclear Power Programmes in the Third World, page 365, Lancers Books, 1993, ISBN9788170950363|Daya Nath Tripathi (ed), Discourse on Indo European Languages and Culture, page 193, Indian Council of Historical Research, 2005, ISBN9788178271200 Muhammad Akram Khan, What Is Wrong with Islamic Economics?: Analysing the Present State and Future Agenda, page 183, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013, ISBN9781782544159
^ abSushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, Religions of South Asia: An Introduction, page 3, Routledge, 2006, ISBN9781134593224
^ abKathleen M. Baker and Graham P. Chapman, The Changing Geography of Asia, page 10, Routledge, 2002, ISBN9781134933846
^Pannell, Clifton W. (2009). "Asia". Encyclopædia Britannica. 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.
^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, ISBN3-11-013417-9 Haggett, Peter (2001). Encyclopedia of World Geography (Vol. 1). Marshall Cavendish. p. 2710. ISBN0-7614-7289-4.
^"the Indian Subcontinent occupies the major landmass of South Asia" John R. Lukacs, The People of South Asia: the biological anthropology of India, Pakistan, and Nepal, page 59, Plenum Press, 1984, ISBN9780306414077. "the seven countries of South Asia constitute geographically a compact region around the Indian Subcontinent". Tatu Vanhanen, Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries, page 144, Routledge, 1997, ISBN9780415144063
^Chandra K. Sharma, Geology of Nepal Himalaya and Adjacent Countries, page 14, Sangeeta Sharma Books, 1990, ASIN B0006EWSCI
^ abEwan W. Anderson; Liam D. Anderson (4 December 2013). An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN978-1-136-64862-5., 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".
^Ludwig Paul, Persian Origins, page 31, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003, ISBN9783447047319, "Maldive Islands which are scattered about the sea south-west of the Indian subcontinent, extending over more than 1,000km in a north-south direction."