Indian History in Perspective – 2 : How India Civilized the World
In the previous part we had discussed how Indians had peopled and colonized the world. We had started out by pointing out the flaws of teaching only political history to young children in India, and on why we need to have a multi-faceted view of history encompassing archaeology, geology, genetics, politics, science and technology. We had discussed the dominant Out of Africa theory (OAT), which posits that humans originated in Africa, then migrated to India and from India they populated the rest of non-African world and also some parts of Africa. But it was also shown that there are many findings like Narmada Man skull (300,000 Before Present [BP]), Laterite Baby skull (150,000 BP) near Chennai and Rhodesia Man, which squarely contradict the OAT, and instead points to the origin of humans in Indian subcontinent. Starting from earliest times to 20,000 BP, Indians had spread to Europe, China, Australia and Americas and created human colonies and settlements.
Today the word “colony/ colonized” has assumed a negative connotation owing to Europe’s and especially Britain’s barbaric and brutal conquest and subjugation of other cultures during the last 200-300 years. This is similar to the words like Arya or Swastika, which are today associated with the dreaded Nazi pogrom of Hitler, or a word like Dravida, which is associated with Tamil separatism and militancy, but whose etymology and non-recent usage have been quite different. We must understand that the word “colony” is from the old Latin term colere or “cultivate”, the Sanskrit cognate of which is the root char (graze). When cattle grazes, there is nothing violent or destructive; it very gently moves from field to field until it is satiated or prevented by fences or by the cow-herd. Our ancestors indeed colonized the world in the same way by creating human colonies where none existed earlier. It was not a planned movement. Wave after wave people expanded in different directions, spread, intermingled and created human clusters, which eventually became societies, nations and civilizations. In this part we focus on how Indians civilized the world after having colonized them.
35,000 to 20,000 BP
Evidence suggests that people lived in quasi-sedentary settlements across different parts of Indian sub-continent, and for food they depended on gathering of wild edible cereals, fish, vegetables, fruits and animal meat. They had knowledge of making fire for cooking and for production of artifacts. They were quite conversant with the knowledge of processing vegetal products like wild grains and catching fish using net-like stone structures.
The Upper Palaeolithic populations occupied varied ecological settings – arid zones in the north-west India, semi-arid zones in north and central India and humid to sub-humid regions in south-east India. These include hilltops, hill slopes, foothill areas, plains, plateaus in woodland, savanna woodland and thorny thicket zones near small stream courses as also away from the major rivers in the forested hills like the Nallamalais of the Eastern Ghats where the source of water is mainly springs(1).
An interesting find is the evidence of worship of Devi Mata (Mother Goddess), which continues in an unbroken tradition till today, and was quite popular in North-Central India by this time. This is based on findings like those from Upper Palaeolithic level of the Belan Valley, and a shrine at Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic site at Baghor I in Son Valley. (Misra, 2006) The Belan Valley figurine in fact bears remarkable similarity with mother Goddesses figures from West Asia and Europe.
The face is featureless, a triangular formation, the trunk stick-like with a pointed, triangular portion for the legs, and probably the extremity broken. The pendent breasts and the broad loins definitely indicate that this is a female figurine. It bears a remarkable affinity in general with the female figures regarded as Fertility or Mother Goddesses from Western Asia and Eastern and Western Europe. When we find that the C-14 dating places this unique figure in the same general time bracket of 20,000-15,000 B.C it raises vital questions of culture-contacts and diffusion(2).
Kethavaram in Kurnool District of South India is home to rock art, starting from palaeolithic to recent times and shows “an evolving trend – from the realistic drawings of large deer by hunter-gatherers, through the symbolic humans of the Iron Age to the hand-prints of more recent pilgrims and garish life-size modern scarecrows”(3).
During this time, India was home to a huge variety of animals, flora and fauna, many of which have become extinct today. For example, ostrich, the flightless bird native to Africa, inhabited India about 25,000 years ago. Several geologists and archaeologists, have over the years found ostrich egg shell pieces in India, mostly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (4) .
The Y-chromosomal (patrilineal) haplogroup R1a1a (also known as R-M17), one of the most important global male lineages found in 15% of humanity, widespread in Europe, Russia and India, is closely associated with the spread of the Indo-European language families and high culture. For reasons which have little to do with science, it has been associated with the advent of the so-called Aryan culture in Indian sub-continent and the so-called Sanskritization of India and stratification of Indian society. However studies have shown that the haplogroup R1a1a in fact originated in India around 15,000 BP or earlier and was spawned by a single Indian male who lived around that time. As (Chavda, 2017) says, “The family that conquered the world, originated in India.”
In fact, studies like Sengupta (2006), Underhill (2009), Kivisild (2003), and Fornarino (2009) demonstrate that R1a1a is in fact observed with high frequency in a number of demographic groups across castes.
- West Bengal Brahmins (72%) to the east
- Chitwani Hindus of Nepal (69%) in the north-east
- Khatris (67%) in the north
- Konkanastha Brahmins (48%) to the west
- Manipuris (50%) to the north-east
- Punjabis (47%) to the north-west
- Iyengar Brahmins (31%) in the south
- Tribal South Indians like Chenchu Adivasis (26%), Valmiki of Andhra Pradesh, Kallar of Tamil Nadu
Rock art in Ramachandrapuram in Telangana dated to 12,000 BP has shown Hindu icons and motifs like humped bull, other animals and a geometric figure (circle with a trident symbol).
10,000 BP / 8000 BCE
By 10,000 BP (~8000 BCE), the quasi-sedentary lifestyle of north-central Indians eventually lead to the indigenously developed agriculture, as is evident from radio-carbon dating of excavations of various neolithic sites in Belan Valley (near Allahabad), Adwa Valley of Mirzapur District and other regions of northern India (5).
The combined testimony of the available C14 dates obtained from Koldihwa, and Tokwa in the North-Central India and Jhusi and Lahuradeva in the middle Ganga plain would push the antiquity of the Neolithic culture in the North-Central India and the middle Ganga plain around 8th millennium BC.
…the emergence of the Neolithic culture in the north-central India was not a result of some external stimuli, but it was indigenous in character. Its genesis may be traced back to the Upper Palaeolithic culture of the area. (Misra, 2006)
On the north-western front of Indian sub-continent, Bhirrana and other Saraswati Sindhu (Harappan Civilization) sites on the bank of the now defunct Saraswati river (an extension of Ghaggar river in the Thar desert ) became popular centres of human habitation by 7000 BP (5000 BCE) and became full-fledged cultural zones.
Bhirrana was part of a high concentration of settlements along the dried up mythical Vedic river valley ‘Saraswati’, an extension of Ghaggar river in the Thar desert. Isotope and archaeological data suggest that the pre-Harappans started inhabiting this area along the mighty Ghaggar-Hakra Rivers fed by intensified monsoon from 9 to 7 ka BP. The monsoon monotonically declined after 7 ka yet the settlements continued to survive from early to mature Harappan time. (Sarkar, et al., 2016)
9,000 BP / 7000 BCE
Now we will touch upon an issue, which is supposedly the worst aspect of Indian history, the so-called lack of historical sense of Indians. This has been a complaint for the past 200 years of Western historians, Indologists and their modern day successors, the eminent leftist historians of India, that not only did Indians not maintain records, they also over exaggerated events and fudged data. Yet according to ancient credible Greek and Roman sources like Pliny, Megasthenes and Arrian who thrived between 50 BCE to 200 CE, ancient Indians were very particular in maintaining genealogical and dynastic records. If not the names, they maintained generation count quite accurately. Pliny gave 6451 years for 154 kings before him, Arrian gave 6042 years for 153 kings (6) and Megasthenes mentions 138 kings between the oldest recorded king and Chandragupta Maurya. While we are not concerned with exact dates, it is evident that ancient Greeks and Romans, knew for a fact that Indians had been diligently recording historical data since 6500 BCE or 9500 years BP.
Dentistry as a medical science was quite common 9000 years ago, and ancient Indian dentists not only performed simple drilling, but also complex procedure to hollow out a cavity deep inside the tooth using sophisticated technological instruments like drills tipped with shards of flint. According to Clark Spencer Larsen, an anthropologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, “The finding provides clear and compelling evidence that earlier people had knowledge of manipulation of dental hard tissues in living people.”(7)
The implications are truly mind-boggling. At least by 9,000 years ago, India had a reasonably well-developed political system, a well-defined system for recording such data and well-engineered systems for transmitting such information over a span of thousands of years! Medical science was also quite developed and dentistry was thriving. This is not surprising as earlier we have seen how Indian astronomers had been diligently observing and documenting the skies for 24,000 years.
8,000 BP / 6000 BCE
Mehrgarh in Baluchistan has shown evidence of continuous cultural development starting from at least 7000 BCE with the domestication of wheat, barley and millets and by 6000 BCE there is evidence of organized agrarian societies and a granary. Rakhigarhi in Haryana, the largest Saraswati-Sindhu site, also shows continuous settlement from 6500 BCE. Copper became common by 6000 BCE (8).
Sivatherium (“Shiva’s beast”), an extinct genus of giraffid, a giraffe-like creature with two pairs of horns was once common in central and western India. So was the aardvark, now found only in Africa. Both these creatures became extinct by 8000 YBP with the expansion of human societies (9).
7,000 BP / 5000 BCE
The earliest astronomical observatory in Indian sub-continent dated 5000 BCE was built in Mudumala village in Telangana. The observatory spread out in about 80 acres of land consists of about 80 big menhirs (upright standing stone) over 12 feet, and about 2000 alignment stones of about 1-2 feet high. It is the only megalithic site in India, where a depiction of star constellation has been identified on a square table-like rock with a flat slanting top. According to Dr K.P. Rao, “This appears to have been deliberately planted by the megalithic people to plot the Great Bear constellation, also known as Ursa Major and referred to as Saptarshi Mandala in Indian astronomy.” (10)
A cup-mark depiction of Ursa Major was noticed on a squarish stone planted vertically. About 30 cup-marks were arranged in a pattern similar to the appearance of Ursa Major in the sky. Not only the prominent seven stars, but also the peripheral groups of stars are depicted on the menhirs (11).
Wild rice cultivation appeared in the Belan and Ganges valley regions of northern India as early as 5000 BCE and by this period agricultural communities had become quite widespread in Kashmir region. Irrigation practices began to be become common by 4500 BCE in north western Indian subcontinent. Copper metallurgy became common in north-west India by 4500 BCE. India was the earliest known civilization to mass produce zinc on an industrial scale and India was known to have started extracting zinc as early as 4th millennium BCE.
6,000 BP / 4000 BCE
The Rig Veda, which is considered to be the oldest extant scripture of the Hindus was composed by the people known as Puru and specifically by the sub-tribe of Bharata, who were inhabitants of the core Rigvedic area of the Vedic Aryans, Haryana and adjacent areas of western Uttar Pradesh. The other tribes were the Anu to their North (Kashmir, etc.), the Druhyu to their West (present-day northern Pakistan), the Yadu to their South-West (Rajasthan, Gujarat, and western M.P.), the Turvasu to their South-East (eastern M.P. and Chhattisgarh) and the Ikshvaku are placed to their East (eastern U.P, northern Bihar) (12).
According to Shrikant Talageri’s extensive research, the earliest layer of the Rigveda, corresponding to the composition of the books 6, 3 and 7 of the Rig Veda was composed well before 3000 BCE. The early books refer to north-central Indian-subcontinent geographic landmarks, artifacts and animals all of which have very pronounced (indigenous) Indo-European names, with absolutely no evidence that they ever had any other prior identity. (Talageri, 2016):
- Gaṅgā/Jahnāvī, Yamunā, Dṛṣadvatī/Hariyūpīyā/Yavyāvatī, Āpayā, Sarasvatī, Śutudrī, Vipāś, Paruṣṇī and Asiknī rivers
- place names Kīkaṭa, Iḷāspada (also called vara ā pṛthivyā or nābhā pṛthivyā, i.e. “the best place on earth” or “the centre of the earth”) and lake Mānuṣā
- animals like the buffalo, the gaur (Indian bison), the elephant, the peacock and the spotted deer
One of the earliest reference for migrations out of India is that of the Druhyu’s, which had commenced well before the composition of the Rig Veda. The Druhyu initially occupied the region comprising of present-day northern Pakistan and eventually they moved out into Afghanistan and beyond the pale of Indian civilization proper. One branch of the Anava then occupied the erstwhile territory of the Druhyu and continued to be residents of Punjab till latter times (13).
Haryana was at that time considered to be one of the best places to live, known variously as Vara ā Pṛthivyā (the best place on earth) and Nābhā Pṛthivyā (the navel/centre of the Earth) in the Rig Veda and as Vara in the Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians. On the eastern front, Varanasi was already an important centre of human habitation.
According to a study by seven departments of IIT Kharagpur in collaboration with the British Geological Survey, the holy town of Varanasi has been a continuous human settlement for at least the past six millennia. One of the aims of the study was to understand how Varanasi has been able to maintain continuity as a living civilization, unlike comparable seats of human settlement in the world.
The study was also able to dispel many myths and establish the veracity of some Hindu lore. For example, the geo-exploration established the existence of “mythological” Naimisharanya, a forest that finds mention in the Vedas and in the Kashipurana (14). The Ganges and the Sarasvati were already very important and sacred rivers for the civilizations along its banks.
The oldest Book 6 refers only to the Sarasvati (which is deified in three whole hymns, VI.61, VII.95-96, and in 52 other verses in the three Early Old Books) and to the rivers east of it: in VI.45.31 the long bushes on the banks of the Gaṅgā figure in a simile (showing their long acquaintance and easy familiarity with the topography and flora of the Gaṅgā area) … The next Book 3 refers in III.58.6 to the banks of the Jahnāvī (Gaṅgā) as the “ancient homeland” of the Gods. In III.23.3-4, it remembers the establishment of a perpetual sacred fire by Devavāta, a far ancestor of the Rigvedic king Sudas, at Iḷaspada (in Haryana) on the eastern banks of the Sarasvatī. (Talageri, 2016)
A landmark event during this period is the dāśarājña battle (so-called Battle of the Ten Kings) which described as being fought by Sudās, to the east by the Paruṣṇī River in Punjab and coalition of ten Anu tribes, to the west by the basin of the Asiknī River. The Purus were the victors in the war and drove the other tribes (mostly Iranian) westwards. This is perhaps the first recorded Indo-Iranian conflict and the battle ground was Western Punjab (today’s Pakistan) and the oldest record of Proto-Indo European migration. In a way this battle can be linked with the spread of Indo-European Language families from the original homeland in Indian-subcontinent. I am producing Shrikant Talageri’s list below, which shows the entire sweep of areas extending westwards from the Punjab to southern and Eastern Europe, in an almost continuous geographic belt. (Talageri, 2017)
- (Avestan) Afghanistan: Proto-Iranian: Sairima (Śimyu), Dahi (Dāsa).
- NE Afghanistan: Proto-Iranian: Nuristani/Piśācin (Viṣāṇin).
- Pakhtoonistan (NW Pakistan), South Afghanistan: Iranian: Pakhtoon/Pashtu (Paktha).
- Baluchistan (SW Pakistan), SE Iran: Iranian: Bolan/Baluchi (Bhalāna).
- NE Iran: Iranian: Parthian/Parthava (Pṛthu/Pārthava).
- SW Iran: Iranian: Parsua/Persian (Parśu/Parśava).
- NW Iran: Iranian: Madai/Mede (Madra).
- Uzbekistan: Iranian: Khiva/Khwarezmian (Śiva).
- W. Turkmenistan: Iranian: Dahae (Dāsa).
- Ukraine, S, Russia: Iranian: Alan (Alina), Sarmatian (Śimyu).
- Turkey: Thraco-Phrygian/Armenian: Phryge/Phrygian (Bhṛgu).
- Romania, Bulgaria: Thraco-Phrygian/Armenian: Dacian (Dāsa).
- Greece: Greek: Hellene (Alina).
- Albania: Albanian: Sirmio (Śimyu)
We have briefly surveyed the period from 35,000 YBP to 6,000 YBP (4000 BCE). What is quite evident is that Indian history is not as drab and dull as our history books portray it. Neither is it only about Indus Valley and Vedic civilization. The presence of Mother Goddess figurines in different parts of India, the prevalence of Hindu motifs in rock arts, and the decidedly Indo-European names of Indian rivers in Rig Veda, point to a long indigenous development of Hindu tradition in India. The spread of Indo-European language happened out of India, and there is enough genetic as well as literary evidence to support this.
Agriculture as well as metallurgy developed indigenously in India during very early dates. However the expansion of human settlements and civilization in India also led to the extinction of some animals, flora and fauna. And these are some of the learnings which our present generation needs to recall during this modern age of complex living and unsustainable practices. We should take inspiration from the good, but we must be cautious against repeating the bad.
4. According to a 2017 study conducted by Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and IIT Roorkee.http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/science/ostriches-were-found-in-india-25000-years-ago-claims-study/
5. Neolithic culture is usually marked by the development of agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the manufacture of pottery and textiles.
6. …From Dionysus to Sandracottus the Indians counted a hundred and fifty-three kings, over six thousand and forty-two years …
Chavda, A. (2017, May 5). Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from IndiaFacts: http://indiafacts.org/aryan-invasion-myth-21st-century-science-debunks-19th-century-indology/
Elst, K. (2016, January 5). The Conflict between Vedic Aryans and Iranians. Retrieved from Koenraad Elst: http://koenraadelst.blogspot.in/2016/01/the-conflict-between-vedic-aryans-and.html
Misra, V. (2006, January 18-20). Prelude to Agriculture in the North-Central India. Retrieved from Directorate of Archaeology (U.P.): http://archaeology.up.nic.in/doc/pan_vdm.pdf
Sarkar, A., Mukherjee, A. D., Bera, M. K., Das, B., Juyal, N., Morthekai, P., . . . Rao, L. S. (2016). Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 26555. doi:doi:10.1038/srep26555
Talageri, S. G. (2016, July 27). The Recorded History of the Indo-European Migrations – Part 2 of 4 The Chronology and Geography of the Rigveda. Retrieved from Shrikant G Talageri: http://talageri.blogspot.in/2016/07/the-recorded-history-of-indo-european_27.html
Talageri, S. G. (2017, May 9). The Recorded History of the Indo-European Migrations – Part 3 of 4 The Anu Migrations. Retrieved from Shrikant G Talageri: http://talageri.blogspot.in/2017/05/the-recorded-history-of-indo-european.html