Traditionally Indian sub-continent was divided into five major regions from the later Vedic period (c.1000 to 600 B.C.). The Aitareya Brahmana1 while describing the various kinds of ruler-ships mentions the five divisions Praci (Eastern), Daksina (Southern), Pratici (Western), Udici (Northern) and Madhyama (Middle). This five-fold division of the Indian subcontinent is repeated in the Bhuvanakosa section of the Puranas, the Kavya-mimariisa of Rajasekhara, in the eighth chapter of Book-III, of Saktisangamatantra and the Chinese chronicles of the seventh century A.D.
When the Dharmasutras were compiled (c. 800 B.C. to c. 400 B.C.) Madhyadesa was the epicentre of the cultural activities of the Aryans. From the Baudhayana Dharmasutra we know that the western limit of this region extended to the place where the Sarasvati disappeared. In the East it extended to Kalaka forest somewhere near Prayaga. In the North side it is extended to the Himalayas and to the South up to Pariyatra Mountain (Western part of the Vindhyas).
Manu (c. 200 B.C.-c. 200 A.D.) calls this region Aryavartta and the limits of this region remained the same as stated by Baudhayana. But the Eastern limit of this region reached Kajangala, which is the hilly region to the east of Anga i.e. modern Bhagalpur district of Bihar when the Mahavagga was compiled. The eastern limit of this region extended to Pundra (Northern Bengal) when the Divyavadana was compiled in the fourth century A.D. According to the Kavyamlmamsa (c. 900 A.D.) this region extended up to Varanasi in the east. In the south it extended up to Mahismati Mandhata on the Narmada up to Prthudaka situated at Pehoa 14 miles from Thanesvara. But at this time this region was known as Antarvedl and not Madhyadesa.
Udicya or Uttarapatha:
According to the Dharmasutra of Baudhayana the region to the west of the place where the Sarasvati disappeared from Vinasana was Udicya or Uttarapatha. The eastern limit of this region was Thanesvara. But in the earliest Brahmanical or Buddhist works we do not find mention of the limits of region either in the north, in the south or in the west. There is no doubt that the Rigvedic Indians occupied a large part of this region. According to the Kavyamimamsa the whole of the Indus valley was included in this region.
From the Dharmasutra of Baudhayana and the Manusmriti we know that the western limit of this region was `Kalaka` forest near Prayaga. But when the Mahavagga was compiled before c. 350 B.C. even Arica formed part of Madhyadesa and when the Divyavadana was compiled (fourth century A.D.) even northern Bengal formed part of Madhyadesa. Thus with the expansion of Aryan culture the area included in this region was much reduced.
From the Dharmasutra of Baudhayana it is clear that the region to the south of the Vindhyas was known as Daksinapatha. The fact is supported by the statement of Manu.
According to the Mahavagga and the Divyavadana this region was situated to the south of the city of Satakarnika. We know that the Satavahana rulers called themselves Daksinapathapati and their kingdom, at its height, included the whole of the Deccan from the Andhra region to Maharashtra. But it did not include far south that included the kingdoms of Cholas, Pandyas, Keralaputtas and the Satiyaputtas.
From the Kavyamimamsa also it is clear that the region to the south of the Narmada was called Daksinapatha. The Allahabad Stone Pillar inscription refers to thirteen kingdoms of Daksinapatha in which were included all the states from South Kosala in the north to Kanci in the south. In some inscriptions the Tamil country is separately mentioned which shows that far south was not included in Daksinapatha.
This region is referred to in Rock Edict V of Asoka and Nasik inscription of Gautam I Balasr I and there are many references to it in the Mahabharata. According to the Kavyamimamsa this region was located to the west of Deva-sabha. According to this work, Devasabha included states of Surastra, Daseraka, Travana, Bhrgukaccha, Anarta, Brahmanavaha and Yavana etc. According to R.G. Bhandarkar northern Korikan was called Aparanta. But in the literary references there is no mention of the exact limits of this region.
In the Inscriptions of ancient India the subcontinent is generally divided into two parts namely Aryavarta i.e. northern India and Daksinapatha i.e. India to the south of the Narmada river. But Aryavarta is sub-divided into four parts Madhyadesa, Pracya, Aparanta and Udicya. In Madhyadesa were included the present states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan and eastern Malwa. The Pracya region corresponded generally to the states of Bihar, Bengal and Assam while in the Aparanta region were included Sindh, western Rajasthan, Gujarat, western Malwa and the region in the vicinity of the Narmada. Udicya region corresponded to Afghanistan, North-West Frontier Province and western Punjab. These five cultural divisions had many differences in food habits as well. For example the Indian medical works such as the Bhela Samhita and the Kasyapo Samhita separately describe the food of the people of the northwestern, the eastern and the southern regions. India together with Pakistan and Bangladesh being a subcontinent cannot be treated as one unit when describing the food-habits of the people. One cannot understand the marked differences in food-habits of the people of different regions without a proper grasp of its physical and cultural variety.
This is truly the ancient times when means of transport in this sub-continent were not so well developed as now and famine in one part of the country and abundance in another was not something unusual.