South Asia
GDP (Nominal) $2.561 trillion (2014)
GDP (PPP) $9.05 trillion (2014)
Languages Assamese, Balochi, Bengali, Dari, Dhivehi, Dzongkha, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pashto, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu
Time zones UTC+05:00, UTC+5:30, UTC+5:45, UTC+06:00

South Asia or Southern Asia is a term created about 50–60 years ago to replace the centuries older term Indian Subcontinent, used to represent the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as northern parts of India south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land (clockwise, from west) by West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The current territories of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka form the countries of South Asia, with deviating definitions based on often substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius, Iran, and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well. South Asia is home to well over one fifth of the world's population, making it both the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is an economic cooperation organisation in the region which was established in 1985 and includes all eight nations comprising South Asia.


The area of South Asia and its geographical extent is not clear cut as systemic and foreign policy orientations of its constituents are quite asymmetrical. Aside from the central region of South Asia there is a high degree of variation as to which other countries are included in South Asia.

The current territories of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan form the central region of South Asia, while the mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan, and island countries of Sri Lanka and Maldives are generally included. Afghanistan and Myanmar are often added, and by various deviating definitions based on often substantially different reasons, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius, Iran, and the Tibet Autonomous Region are included as well.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a contiguous block of countries, started in 1985 with seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — but was extended to include Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2006. The World Factbook, based on geo-politics, people, and economy defines South Asia as comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, British Indian Ocean Territory, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement incorporated Afghanistan in 2011, and the World Bank grouping of countries in the region also includes all eight members comprising South Asia and SAARC as well.

The Centres for South Asian Studies at both the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia include Tibet along with the eight members of SAARC in their research programs, but exclude the Maldives. The South Asian Studies Program of Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley Centre for South Asia Studies also include the Maldives.

The South Asian Studies Program of Brandeis University defines the region as comprising "India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and in certain contexts Afghanistan, Myanmar, Maldives and Tibet".

Population Information Network (POPIN) includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as part of South Asia. Maldives, in view of its characteristics, was admitted as a member Pacific POPIN subregional network only in principle.

The region may also include the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which is now administered as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. A lack of coherent definition for South Asia has resulted in not only a lack of academic studies, but also in a lack interest for such studies. The confusion exists also because of a lack of clear boundary - geographically, geopolitical, socio-culturally, economically or historically - between South Asia and other parts of Asia, especially the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Indian SubcontinentEdit

The region was labelled variously as India (in its pre-modern sense), Greater India, Indian Subcontinent and South Asia. The terms "Indian subcontinent" and "South Asia" are used interchangeably. According to historians Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, 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 getting more widespread since it clearly distinguishes the region from East Asia.


The boundaries of South Asia vary based on how the region is defined. South Asia's northern, eastern, and western boundaries vary based on definitions used, while the Indian Ocean is the southern periphery. Most of this region rests on the Indian Plate and is isolated from the rest of Asia by mountain barriers. The most common school of thought proposes the frontier between South and Southwest Asia (i.e. the Middle East) lie in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan, while the frontier between South and Central Asia in northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, and southern Kyrgyzstan.


While South Asia had never been a coherent geopolitical region, it has a distinct geographical identity. The region is home to a variety of geographical features, such as glaciers, rainforests, valleys, deserts, and grasslands that are typical of much larger continents. It is surrounded by three water bodies — the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea — and has acutely varied climate zones. The tip of the Indian Peninsula had the highest quality pearls.

Indian plateEdit

Most of this region is a subcontinent resting on the Indian Plate, the northerly portion of the Indo-Australian Plate, separated from the rest of the Eurasian Plate. The Indian Plate includes most of South Asia, forming a land mass which extends from the Himalayas into a portion of the basin under the Indian Ocean, including parts of South China and Eastern Indonesia, as well as Kunlun and Karakoram ranges, and extending up to but not including Ladakh, Kohistan, the Hindu Kush range and Balochistan. It may be noted that geophysically the Yarlung Tsangpo River river in Tibet is situated at the outside of the border of the Subcontinental structure, while the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are situated inside that border.

It was once a small continent before colliding with the Eurasian Plate about 50-55 million years ago and giving birth to the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau. It is the peninsular region south of the Himalayas and Kuen Lun mountain ranges and east of the Indus River and the Iranian Plateau, extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea (to the southwest) and the Bay of Bengal (to the southeast).


The climate of this vast region varies considerably from area to area from tropical monsoon in the south to temperate in the north. The variety is influenced by not only the altitude, but also by factors such as proximity to the sea coast and the seasonal impact of the monsoons. Southern parts are mostly hot in summers and receive rain during monsoon periods. The northern belt of Indo-Gangetic plains also is hot in summer, but cooler in winter. The mountainous north is colder and receives snowfall at higher altitudes of Himalayan ranges.

As the Himalayas block the north-Asian bitter cold winds, the temperatures are considerably moderate in the plains down below. For most part, the climate of the region is called the Monsoon climate, which keeps the region humid during summer and dry during winter, and favours the cultivation of jute, tea, rice, and various vegetables in this region.

South Asia is largely divided into four broad climate zones:

  • The northern Indian edge and northern Pakistani uplands have a dry subtropical continental climate
  • The far south of India and southwest Sri Lanka have a equatorial climate
  • Most of the peninsula have a tropical climate with variations:
    • Hot subtropical climate in northwest India
    • Cool winter hot tropical climate in Bangladesh
    • Tropical semi-arid climate in the center
  • The Himalayas have an Alpine climate

Maximum relative humidity of over 80% has been recorded in Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Sri Lanka, while the area adjustment to Pakistan and western India records lower than 20%-30%.

  • The summer monsoon: Wind blows from southwest to most of parts of the region. It accounts for 70%-90% of the annual precipitation.
  • The winter monsoon: Wind blows from northeast. Dominant in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The warmest period of the year precedes the monsoon season (March to mid June). In the summer the low pressures are centered over the Indus-Gangetic Plain and high wind from the Indian Ocean blows towards the center. The monsoons are second coolest season of the year because of high humidity and cloud covering. But, at the beginning of June the jetstreams vanish above the Tibetan Plateau, low pressure over the Indus Valley deepens and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moves in. The change is violent. Moderately vigorous monsoon depressions form in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall from June to September.

Core countriesEdit

With the core seven countries, the area covers about 4.48 million km² (1.7 million mi²), which is 10% of the Asian continent or 2.4% of the world's land surface area. Macmillan Reference USA (Gale Group), 2006: "The area is divided between five major nation-states, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and includes as well the two small nations of Bhutan and the Maldives Republic... The total area can be estimated at 4.4 million square kilometres, or exactly 10 percent of the land surface of Asia.... In 2000, the total population was about 22 percent of the world's population and 34 percent of the population of Asia." South Asia, which consists of the nations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, is ethnically diverse, with more than 2,000 ethnic entities with populations ranging from hundreds of millions to small tribal groups. South Asia has been invaded and settled by many ethnic groups over the centuries - including various Dravidian, Indo-Iranian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austroasiatic groups. The amalgamation of these various groups has produced composite cultures with many common traditions and beliefs. But, the traditions of different ethnic groups in South Asia have diverged throughout earlier times, sometimes giving rise to strong local traditions such as the distinct South Indian and Bengali cultures. Other ethnic groups, successively streaming in later mainly from Central Asia e.g. Sakas, Kushans, Huns etc. influenced pre-existing South Asian cultures. Among the last of these new arrivals were the Arabs followed by the Turks, the Afghans, and the Mughals. However, Arab influence remained relatively limited in comparison to that of the Turks, Afghans and Mughals who introduced Persianate culture to the region and contributed to the birth of Urdu, a syncretic language of combined Indo-Persian heritage, which is widely spoken today.


The largest spoken language in this region is Hindi, its speakers numbering almost 422 million, the second largest spoken language is Bengali, with about 210 million speakers. Punjabi is the third most spoken language in South Asia with 130 million native speakers. Urdu is also a major language spoken in the subcontinent, especially in Pakistan, and is similar linguistically to Hindi; Hindi and Urdu together make up Hindustānī. These and several other major regional languages are part of the Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages - the largest linguistic group in the region. The second major language group is the Dravidian language family, consisting of the main South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam and several smaller tribal languages such as Oraon and Gondi. The Brahui language of the Balochistan region of Pakistan and Afghanistan also belongs to the Dravidian family.

The other great sub-branch of Indo-Iranian, the Iranian languages, also have significant minority representation in South Asia, with Pashto, Dari and Balochi being widely spoken in the northwestern part of the region, in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. The oldest Iranian language, Avestan, is used as a liturgical language by the Parsi-Zoroastrian community. Many Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, who are speakers of their language-group, are found in northeast India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Dzongkha a member of this linguistic group, is the national language of Bhutan. There are as many as 24 Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in Bhutan. Other small groups, speaking Austroasiatic languages, are also present in South Asia.