Indian History in Perspective – 3 : How India Culturalized the World

Indian History in Perspective – 3 : How India Culturalized the World

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In the previous part, we had discussed how Indians had civilized the world. We had talked about how the R1a1a haplogroup (a genetic marker), the family that conquered the world, originated in India around 15,000 years before present [BP]. The R1a1a is generally associated with the spread of Indo-European language families and high culture, across central Asia and Europe. We had also seen that the worship of Devi Mata, or Mother Goddess is quite old, at the very least 20,000 BP and continues in an unbroken tradition even today in various parts of India. As early as 8,000 years ago, there is evidence of large scale planned habitations, urbanization, technological advances in dentistry, astronomy, and architecture, evidence of sophisticated information storage and transmitting techniques and a reasonably well-defined stable political and governance system. In this part we focus on how Indians culturalized the world after having civilized them.

Prior to 3000 BCE

The cow is the most sacred animals of the Hindus, and has been closely associated with Indian civilization for a very long time. Indeed genetic studies of origin and migration pattern of cows globally reveal an intensely exciting human past, and especially of adventures and voyages out of India from earliest times. For example, the Piedmontese cow of Italy originated in and migrated from north-western Indian sub-continent 25,000 years ago. Since cows cannot travel alone over long distances, humans must have migrated out of India along with cows (Zebu: bos indicus)(1). Whether these people left in search of food, or better life or perhaps even for the purpose of trade and commerce is speculative at best.


In fact, Indian Ocean was the first international sea-trade zone and there was a thriving trade between India and east horn of Africa as early as 20,000 years ago. Among other commodities traded, the most important one was the cow, and this has been confirmed by numerous genetic studies based on the Indian humped cow. These studies confirm that Indian humped cow, which is found in various parts of the world like China, Africa and Europe, developed their hump out of India. Based on the geographic spread of genetic markers and given that cows cannot travel on their own across countries, scholars agree that the cows must have been traded, transported or sold by sea-route. (Priyadarshi, 2012)


Again studies have shown that all the various types of domestic mice in the world originated in India around 500,000 years ago, but they left India 15,000 years ago. These mice went out of India in three different routes:

  1. One route is to south-east Asia and China, which matches with Munda areas
  2. Another species went to Europe, with a route matching the R1a1a migration path
  3. Another species went to Mediterranean areas via Iran

Now domestic mouse cannot live without man because it has evolved in such a way that it can survive only on human waste products. While humans started migrating out of India 50,000 years ago or earlier, mice migration was a relatively recent phenomena, which happened with the advent and spread of agriculture out of India around 15,000 years ago. (Priyadarshi, 2012)

Astronomy was an important part of Indian tradition, and as shown in previous parts, Hindu astronomers diligently documented the sky and linked various aspects of the social lives of the average Indian to the motion and position of stars. The works of Greek historians, Pliny and Arrian suggests that during the Mauryan times, Indians had a well-defined calendar, the Saptarshi calendar with a beginning at 6676 B.C.E. The Atharva Veda remembers the period when the sun rose in the Rohini Nakshatra corresponding to period earlier to 4000 BCE. (Kak, 2000). Evidence of archaeo-astronomy is also seen in Harappan sites like Mohenjo-Daro-

Mohenjo-Daro and other sites show slight divergence of 1° to 2° clockwise of the axes from the cardinal directions (Wanzke, 1984). It is thought that this might have been due to the orientation of Aldebaran (Rohiṇi in Sanskrit) and the Pleiades (Kṛttikā in Sanskrit) that rose in the east during 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE at the spring equinox; the word “rohiṇi” literally means rising. Furthermore, the slight difference in the orientations amongst the buildings in Mohenjo-Daro indicates different construction periods using the same traditional sighting points that had shifted in this interval (Kenoyer, 1998). Mohenjo-Daro’s astronomy used both the motions of the moon and the sun (Maula, 1984). This is attested by the use of great calendar stones, in the shape of ring, which served to mark the beginning and end of the solar year. (Kak, 2016)

Traditional Indian historical texts refer to various states spread out over Northern and some parts of eastern and central India. The state of Ikṣvāku was located towards the east and belonged to the so-called “Solar” tribe. The Puru state comprised the region of present day Haryana and parts of Western Uttar Pradesh, the Anu state comprised Kashmir and adjoining areas, Druhyu comprised of present day northern Pakistan, Yadu comprised of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Western Madhya Pradesh and the Turvasu comprised Eastern Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. As path-breaking historian Shrikant Talageri has comprehensively demonstrated, the Arya or the Vedic Aryans refer specifically to the Bharata sub-tribe of the Puru people. They were the speakers of the Indo-Aryan or Vedic dialect of the Rig Vedas. The Old Books of the Rig Veda are squarely located in the geographical region comprising Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, to the east of the Sarasvati River. (Talageri, 2016)


Talageri places the early old books of the Rig Veda prior to 3000 BCE. He specifically shares a conservative range of 3400-2600 BCE for the composition of Mandalas 6, 3 and 7 of the Rig Veda. Even during this Early Period, the Druhyu people are a distant memory and enemies of the Puru people. According to Puranic tradition, a large scale migration of Druhyu people took place from Punjab to Central Asia much prior to 3000 BCE when the Pauravas, Anavas and the Solar King Mandhatri of Ikshvaku dynasty, drove out Druhyu king Angara, and a later Druhyu king named Gandhara in Afghanistan after himself. (Elst, 2016) The Anavas now occupied the Punjab region and “the three great northern conglomerates of proto-Indo-European tribes in northern India had spread out in pre-Rigvedic times up to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”  (Talageri, 2016)

Druhyus, the outermost of the three tribal conglomerates, represented the linguistic proto-ancestors of most of the later extra-Indian branches of Indo-European languages, Anatolian (Hittite), Tocharian, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic. Anavas, the second tribal conglomerate, whose westward migration resulted in Iranian, Armenian, Greek and Albanian language families while the Purus, or the Vedic Aryans remained firmly within its central location in Indian sub-continent. Incidentally an example of this may be seen in European river names.

This is a normal type of hydronym, e.g. the Thames in England and the Demer in Belgium mean “dark (river)” as well, both names being cognates of Sanskrit tamas, “darkness”. (Elst, 2016)

King Bharata, after whom our country is named and who presided over the start of the Vedic corpus is already an ancient figure in the earliest books, and must have lived much before 3000 BCE. The Rig Veda also mentions Manu as an ancient figure and law-giver and as Koenraad Elst points out “the idea of a normative system established anciently by Manu, though its details must have evolved, was already present in the Veda.” The very first generation of Vedic poets are Bharadvāja (main seer of Mandala 6), Dīrghatamas, Agastya and Vasiṣṭha. (Elst, 2016)

3000 BCE

Indian sub-continent during this period was divided into three distinct zones with differing levels of civilizational advancement:

  • Urbanizing culture of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization in the North-west
  • Copper and copper/bronze age cultures in the central and north India
  • Agriculture based societies of south and east India

As per Indian calendar, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, four months after Lord Krishna left his body(2) (3). This was a period of great progress and achievements, and tremendous strides were made in the fields of architecture, metallurgy, town-planning, administration and large-scale urbanization and corresponds roughly to the end of the Early Harappan and the beginning of Mature Harappan phase of the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization. Large agricultural surpluses produced as a result of flood-supported farming supported the development of urban centers like Harappa, Ganeriwala, Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan, and Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal in modern-day India. During this time another important event was the composition of the New Books of the Rig Veda, which form a continuum with the Old Books, and are together located in the huge geographical area comprising Western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, northern India and eventually to north-western Indian subcontinent, southern and eastern Afghanistan. (Talageri, 2016)

India confronts Egypt and Babylonia by the 3rd millennium with a thoroughly individual and independent civilisation of her own, technically the peer of the rest. And plainly it is deeply rooted in Indian soil. The Indus civilisation represents a very perfect adjustment of human life to a specific environment. And it has endured; it is already specifically Indian and forms the basis of modern Indian culture. – V. Gordon Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East (1952)

The Shatapatha Brahmana, associated with the Shukla Yajur Veda, points to a period of 2950 BCE when it mentions that at that time Krittika did not swerve from the east. (Kak, 2000) TRS Prasanna of IIT Bombay has demonstrated that Kaushitaki Brahmana [KB 19.3], associated with the Rig Veda and the Shatapatha Brahmana [SB] both point to a period of 3000 BCE based on the fact that Magha and Vaishaka new-moons are three months apart, and that winter solstice is marked by Magha new-moon. It is also at this time when Shaivism started becoming an important pan-Indian tradition and the origin of Mahashivaratri may be traced back to 3000 BCE. (Prasanna, 2011) The Pashupati Seal discovered at Mohenjo-Daro is purported to be one of the earliest depictions of Shiva or Rudra, and associated with yoga and regarded as a lord of animals (pashupati).

In fact there are many aspects of Indian Hindu life today which can be seen in the Sarasvati-Sindhu seals of 5000 years ago and in a sense there is a cultural continuity between then and now. For example, a terracotta figure of a female shows the application of sindoor, which even today married women across India apply along the middle parting of their hair. The idea of respectfully greeting each other with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest (Namaste) can be found in numerous Harappan seals. Swastika, which is a very auspicious Hindu symbol is also seen in numerous Harappan seals. However as Danino points out, it is difficult to say whether the symbolism that existed then is the same as that which exists today, but the continuity between India today and India 5000 years ago cannot be denied. (Danino, 2012)

Construction of the world’s first international trading port started in Lothal in Gujarat, and from there ships sailed to Arabia, Iran, Africa and Babylonia, carrying with them not just goods but also people and ideas thereby contributing to the spread of culture and advanced civilizational best practices. The Sarasvati, whose tributaries included the Yamuna and the Sutlej, was in full flow and the huge Harappan civilization flourished on its banks. The Rig Veda has many hymns in praise of Sarasvati River and refers to it as the best of rivers.

ambitame nadītame devitame sarasvati । apraśastā iva smasi praśastim amba nas kṛdhi ॥ (4)

2500 BCE

After the Battle of the Ten Kings, the Anavas or the proto-Iranian speakers who were residents of the areas to the west of Kurukṣetra (i.e. the Punjab) started expanding west-wards and the center of the Anava culture gradually shifted from Punjab to Afghanistan. At this stage there was another important battle known as the Vārṣāgira battle.

…the confrontation took place on the then borderline between Vedic-Indian and Afghan-Iranian territory, beyond the Sarayu river (RV 4:30:18) near the Bolan pass in southern Afghanistan …The result of this “victory” is that the kings of both sides survive the battle (as we shall see), that the division of territory remains the same, and that the chroniclers of both sides can give their own versions to claim victory. (Elst, 2016)

As Elst points out, while in terms of geo-political implications, it resulted in status quo being maintained, the significance lies in the fact that this is the earliest battle which is recorded independently in the Indian as well as Iranian tradition. The founder of Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra’s patron Vištāspa, is said to have fought in this battle (Ābān Yašt, Yt.5.109, 5.113, 9.130). Vištāspa is also mentioned in RV.I.122.13 as Istāśva, and the profound implication of this is that Zarathuštra was contemporaneous with the Vārṣāgira battle and lived closer to 2500 BCE rather than 6th century BCE as he is generally dated by western historians.

By the end of third millennium BCE, a common culture corresponding to the Late Rig Vedic period was already in place encompassing:

  • Culture of Books 5, 1, 8, 9, 10 of Rig Veda
  • Zend Avesta
  • Residual elements of Kassite and Mitanni people of West Asia

Now the Mitanni people are a very fascinating historical people of Iraq because of their undeniable Vedic connection. The Mitanni kingdom in northern Iraq/Syria dated to 1460-1330 BCE and the Kassites whose conquest of Mesopotamia is dated to 1677 BCE provide tangible evidence of westward migration of Indians. The Mitannis spoke the Hurrian language which had a lot of Indo-Aryan loan-words and the names of their rulers also had Indo-Aryan names. The Kassites spoke an altogether unknown language, but some of their names are definitely IA words. Not only did Indians migrate west, they held dominant leadership positions in West Asia and ruled over large swathes for a long time and influenced their culture. Talageri argues that the ancestors of the Iranians and the Mitanni migrated from within India during the period of composition of the New Books of the Rigveda long before 2000 BCE(5).

While the Mitanni kingdom was also situated in Iraq, the Mitanni kings were descendants of a people who had left the ancestral Vedic areas sometime during the period of the New Books of the Rigveda, and, although they retained their ancestral names and perhaps some ancestral skills (horsemanship, etc.) and religious items (the names of some Vedic Gods), had, by and large, become completely West-Asianized and had lost all contacts with their ancestral areas. (Talageri, 2016)

Mature Harappan Phase began around 2600 BCE and covered 1 million sq. km over 1200 sites. Urban and well-planned they extended from Indus River in Sindh, covering Punjab, Haryana, to western Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat. The cities were extremely well-planned with sophisticated civic administration. Danino says (Danino, 1999):

What impressed the first discoverers of Harappan cities most was their sophistication, which displayed town-planning of a level that would be found only 2000 years later in Europe. Geometrically designed, the towns had fortifications (for protection against both intruders and floods), several distinct quarters, assembly halls, and manufacturing units of various types ; some bigger cities had furnaces for the production of copper tools, weapons or ornaments ; public baths (probably often part of temples), private baths for most inhabitants, sewerage through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and an efficient water management with numerous reservoirs and wells show that the ordinary inhabitant was well taken care of. Mohenjo-Daro, for instance, is thought to have had over 700 wells, some of them fifteen metres deep, built with special trapezoid bricks (to prevent collapse by the pressure of the surrounding soil), and maintained for several centuries.

Knowledge of town planning, efficient municipal government, focus on hygiene (and ritual purity), hydraulic engineering, waste water management, port management, food storage facilities, standardized system of weights and measures and extensive trade network were some of the key features of this civilization(6). These same standard weights and measures are later also seen in Kautilya’s Arthashastra almost 2000 years later which is a remarkable achievement (7).


Trade relations between Harappans and Mesopotamia, Iran, Bahrain and Oman flourished and many exclusively Indian townships and colonies came up in these locations. There was close interaction between Harappans and Ganga Plain people, and there is evidence of extensive internal as well as external trade. The earliest evidence of silk in India (and outside China) was found in Chanu-Daro datable to 2,200 BCE.

Iron Age in India is generally believed to have started earlier than rest of the world. Earlier it was understood that the Iron Age came into being in India around 1,800 BC in the Lahuradeva site in Uttar Pradesh. However the discovery of iron artefacts in University of Hyderabad campus dated to 1800 BCE and 2400 BCE, pushed the date back by at least another 6 centuries.

Iron Age may have come into existence in Telangana much before the rest of the world. At least that’s the conclusion reached by archaeologists excavating the University of Hyderabad campus who found iron artefacts dating back to roughly 2,200 BC…This, he said, predates the existing understanding about the advent of the Iron Age in the country. Worldwide, experts have put the dawn of the age around 1200 BC, marking the time when humans started exploiting metals to make basic tools (8).


  3. Traditionally it is believed that the Mahabharata War in Kurukshetra ended in 3140 BCE.
  4. Best mother, best of rivers, best of goddesses, Sarasvati; we are, as though without praise, O mother, make us praised.
  7. The first seven weights in the system followed a geometrical progression, with ratios of 1 : 2 : 4 : 8 : 16 (by which time the weight had reached 13.7g) : 32 : 64, after which the increments switched to a decimal system and went 160, 200, 320, 640, 1600, 3200, 6400, 8000 and 12,800. The largest weight found in Mohenjo-Daro is 10,865 grams. Now, if you divide its corresponding ratio of 12,800 by the ratio 16, you get 800 ; multiply this figure by the weight of 13.7 g found for the 16th ratio, and you get a theoretical weight of 10,960g — a difference of only 95g with the actual weight, or less than 0.9% ! I don’t think the weights used today in our markets reach such precision, not to speak of those traders who get their weights tailor-made! (Danino, 1999)



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Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay

Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is from a data science background and his research interest includes history, religion and philosophy. He is the author of "The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam" and "Ashoka the Ungreat".