Who Moved my Center?

It all started with an idle question. Where is the center of India? Most of us said Nagpur. Others thought not. So we decided to delve into the matter.

Nagpur pillar
Pillar marking the old center of India at Nagpur

We learnt that Nagpur used to be the center of India. The British, as a result of the Great Trigonometric survey, a project undertaken by the Survey of India in the 19th century, had fixed on Nagpur as the heart of the country. They erected a sandstone pillar here in 1907, marking the spot and giving distances to many major cities from here. The pillar still stands, though the centre has moved.

Sadly for the Orange City, the center has now shifted to a small farm in Karondi near Seoni in Madhya Pradesh.

Why did the center move? Good question. After partition in 1947, the boundaries of the country changed, and hence the center moved. And even though Karondi is designated as the center, it is not quite so. The geographic center actually falls at the coordinates 240 7’11’’ North and 770 41’ 49’’ East, which is in the middle of a jungle. Hence it was decided that Karondi, a small village close by, with a population of about 500, would be designated the center. Sadly, there is no particular monument or structure to mark this important place.

But what is the geographic center of a country? Well, apparently, there is no universally accepted definition. To simplify the matter, the physical centre of gravity is seen as the geographical centre. A geographical definition says ‘the centroid of the two-dimensional shape of a region of the Earth’s surface (projected radially to sea level or onto a geoid surface) is known as its geographic centre or geographical centre’ (Wikipedia).

There are also several ways to find the centre. For instance, at the simplest, you transfer the shape of a country on to a cardboard, cut it out and find the centre of gravity of this slice by pivoting it on a pinpoint. You can also simulate this process on a computer. It can also be found by averaging all of the longitude points and latitude points. Other more sophisticated methods involve the use of vector algebra and topological maps. The latest method which is most accurate involves: ‘(1) projecting regional boundary points using an azimuthal equidistant projection, (2) finding the geographic center of the projected two-dimensional region, and (3) then transforming this location back to a latitude and longitude.’ (A New Method for Finding Geographic Centers, with Application to U.S. States. Peter A. Rogerson). I am not sure I understand that, but maybe others will!

We have seen that India’s center moved because of changes in political boundaries. USA is another country where this has happened, but due to the addition of states. But in ancient times, ideologies influenced these decisions. For instance, in ancient times, because of religious and cultural mindset-overhangs, Jerusalem was considered the center of the world’s landmass. But as science strengthened its hold, this thinking had to change.

But that was not the only reason why the world’s center shifted. The increasing sophistication of calculation methods was another underlying reason. For instance, based on some calculations in the 1860s by Charles Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, the geographical center was thought to be in Egypt.  In recent decades, calculations located the center in Turkey. But even within Turkey, first it was located near the district of Kırşehir, Kırşehir Province. But in 2003, elaborate calculations by Holger Isenberg set it at 40°52′N 34°34′E, also in Turkey, near the district of İskilip, Çorum Province, approx. 200 km northeast of Ankara. This is today the accepted center.

There are also methodological issues on which experts cannot agree. For instance, whether to include offshore islands, the fact that erosion will cause borders to change over time, or rise in sea levels which will changes shoreline—all of these could confound the calculations.

Does the center have any significance or importance? Not really, except maybe for a quizzer or as a boost for tourism. Sadly in India, poor Karondi with no monument or structure to mark its centrality to the country, hasn’t even got this advantage!




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