state that the Indus culture was Saraswati-based and Rg Vedic seek to
prove that the Aryans
were of Indian origin and that all those who came to India in historical
times were foreigners. Do archaeological and literary evidence support
this claim? The doyen among the historians of ancient India speaks:
consider India to be the original which they place in the Sarasvati
basin. According to S. P. Gupta, formerly of the National Museum, New
Delhi, "the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation represents one very important
aspect of the developed Vedic civilisation." He adds that the Harappan
culture was "the gift of both the rivers and perhaps more of the latter
(Sarasvati)." He thinks in terms of Indus versus Sarasvati and India
versus Pakistan. In his view, the existence of more than 700 Harappan
sites on the Sarasvati and its tributaries, in contrast to not even
100 Harappan sites on the Indus and its tributaries, underlines the
importance of the Sarasvati. V. N. Misra of the Deccan College, Pune,
also supports the view that the Indus culture was Sarasvati-based. But
we cannot gloss over the other aspects of the comparison between the
Indus and the Sarasvati.
To begin with, the
Sarasvati is identified with the Ghaggar or the Hakra. The river is
called the Ghaggar in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, and the Hakra beyond
the Indian border in Pakistan. It must be dearly understood that the
Hakra-Ghaggar is a tributary of the Indus. Further, none of the major
Harappan sites, including Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Dholavira, is located
on the Hakra or the Ghaggar; only Kalibangan is dose to the Ghaggar.
Banawali in Hissar district is not as important as Kalibangan, and Kunal
in the same district cannot be taken as a Harappan site because of its
own distinct characteristics. No Harappan settlements appear in Ambala
and Sirsa districts where the Ghaggar is important. This is the finding
of R. C. Thakran of Delhi University who has surveyed the Harappan sites
in Haryana. According to him, the dry bed of the Ghaggar has 55 pre-Harappan
or early Harappan sites, 117 mature Harappan sites and 581 late Harappan
sites. A similar survey made in the Hakra area in the Cholistan desert
(Bahawalpur) in Pakistan by the Pakistani archaeologist M. R. Mughal
shows 40 early Harappan, 174 mature Harappan and 50 late Harappan sites.
Thakran's survey shows that a good many people from decaying towns in
the southwest migrated towards the northeast and settled in the Ghaggar
area in the late Harappan phase.
We notice a sharp
contrast between the upper and lower basins of the dried-up Sarasvati.
While settlements dramatically fall in number in Cholistan in the Hakra
area in the post-urban period, 581 post-urban settlements appear in
the Ghaggar area. But far more urban sites appear on the Pakistani segment
of the Sarasvati than on the Indian segment. However, we need adequate
data to draw any firm conclusion from such surveys. Although Mughal
gives the size and culture content of some sites, I have not been able
to get such data from Thakran; S. P. Gupta also does not help us. We
have to know the size of each site as well as the extent and nature
of the Harappan culture found in it. For example, according to Mughal,
50 late Harappan sites in Bahawalpur or Cholistan Show Cemetery H-related
materials, but these contents symbolise the coming of a new people because
of a new type of pottery and burnt bones found in the graves. In this
sense these sites in the dry bed of the Hakra may contain Aryan elements
also. Until 1981, nearly 750 Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture sites were
found in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, and about
450 Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) culture sites in the mid-Ganga
plains. But most of these sites, including the Harappan ones, are labelled
on the basis of potsheids found in them. Because of this, key sites
like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro may be equal to hundreds of Harappan sites.
Therefore, on the basis of the present data, the Sarasvati sites cannot
be considered more important than the Sindhu sites.
The Hakra of the
Ghaggar basin is only one of several areas which show the earliest elements
of the Harappan culture. Kot Diji (KD) and 72 Kot Diji Phase sites,
located in the central Indus Valley region, are far more important.
The KD Phase clearly was critical in the development of the Harappan
phase, or Indus Valley civilisation. Several sites in Baluchistan also
reveal some elements of the Harappan culture. Hence the Sarasvati can
neither be called a major contributor to the Harappan culture nor equated
with the Indus in this respect. However, if in future the Sarasvati
sites reveal Harappan cultural contents that surpass those of the well-known
Harappan sites outside the Hakra and the Ghaggar zone, the Sarasvati
will certainly get far more credit. Religious fundamentalists want to
establish the superiority of the Sarasvati over the Indus. In the Harappan
context, they think that after Partition the Indus belongs to Muslims
and only the Sarasvati remains with Hindus. The Sarasvati receives much
attention in the Rg Veda and several suktas are devoted to it; so they
want to use it for their purpose. But it seems that there are several
Sarasvatis, and the earliest Sarasvati cannot be identified with the
Hakra and the Ghaggar. In the Rg Veda the Sarasvati is called the best
of the rivers (naditama). It seems to have been a great river with perennial
water. The Hakra and the Ghaggar cannot match it. The earliest Sarasvati
seems to be identical with the Helmand in Afghanistan which is called
Harkhwati in the Avesta. In the Avesta H is the same as the Sanskrit
S. As the Vedic people expanded they took this name to Punjab, Haryana
and Rajasthan, and also to Garhwal, Prayag and Rajgir. A river of this
name also appears in both West Bengal and Gujarat. Similarly the Rg
Vedic Sarayu, identical with the Avestan Harirud in Afghanistan, became
the Ramayanic Sarayu in Ayodhya. The Sarayu occurs in the fourth, fifth
and tenth mandalas of the Rg Veda, and two Aryan chiefs had settled
on its bank. As the Aryan settlers moved eastward from the bank of the
Harirud they carried the river's name along with them. This also happened
with those who had settled on the bank of the Rg Vedic Gomati or the
present Gomal in Baluchistan. Now a river near Lucknow bears this name.
According to the Ramayana, Rajagrha or Girivraja was the best city in
the land of the Kekayas in western Panjab. Obviously this name was transferred
later to Magadha.
Was the Harappan
Culture Rg Vedic?
think that the Harappan culture was created by the Rg Vedic people.
In 1978, this was convincingly refuted by the noted archaeologist B.
B. Lal in terms of the time-frame, geography and the cultural contents
of the Rg Veda and Harappa. But in 1997, he appears as a convert to
the view he had controverted. He does not accept the chronological gap
between Harappa and "the Vedic texts", points to the presence of the
horse in Harappa, and dismisses the theory of the "glaring disparity
between the cultures represented by the Harappan remains and the Vedic
The Vedic texts,
according to the general consensus of the Vedicists, belong to circa
1500 B.C.-500 B.C. The Rg Veda may be placed in the late or post-urban
phase of Harappa; it cannot be linked to the mature Harappa. La produces
the fundamentalist argument that the Aitareya Brahmana refers to the
shifting of the vernal equinox from Mrigasiras to Rohini, which occurred
around 3500 B.C., and thus he places the Rg Veda in the fourth millennium
But modern astronomers
who have studied the original texts state that "the equinoxes are not
explicitly mentioned in the Brahmanas." It should be noted that the
nakshatras do not move but the point of the equinox moves. But the movement
of the point of the equinox or the visuvan when day and night are of
the same duration is mentioned neither in the Vedas and the Brahmanas
nor in the Vedanga Jyotisa. Hence there is no ground to place the Rg
Veda in the fourth millennium B.C. More important, in view of its geography
and dose similarity with the Zend Avesta, the RgVeda cannot be dated
in isolation. The mention of the exact names of the Vedic deities in
the Mitanni inscription of 14th century B.C. shows that the period of
the Rg Veda cannot be much earlier than the 15th century B.C. A good
many archaeological traces of the horse from the Rg Vedic area belong
to circa 1500 B.C.
Pleading for the
Vedic identity of the Harappan culture, Lal states: "Just as there were
cities, towns and villages in the Harappan ensemble - as there are even
today in any society - there were both rural and urban settlements in
the Vedic times." But linguists and archaeologists who have worked on
this subject reject this view. Linguistically, the Indo-Iranians reveal
no cities, fortifications, palaces, temples, writing, irrigation, specialised
crafts or trade. This finding applies to both Proto-Indians and Proto-Iranians.
However, Lal quotes the Rg Veda verse X. 101.8 with Griffith's translation
in which the gods are asked "to make iron forts, secure from all assailants."
Although he rightly questions the meaning of ayes pur as iron fort,
he asserts that pur means a fortified town.The Vedic people had their
purs, for there is the story that to fight the Asuras effectively the
Devas set up the counter-purs and also counter-kingship. But those who
have adequately examined the references to pur in the Vedic texts, particularly
in the Rg Veda, do not consider it a fortified town. Wilhelm Rau, a
German Vedicist, and George Erdosy, a Canadian archaeologist, who have
studied the Vedic pur in depth, do not identify the Vedic settlements
with the Harappan.
According to Rau,
"Not a word is said in our texts of the characteristic features of the
Indus cities, of brick walls, brick houses, brick-paved streets laid
out on an orthogonal pattern, of granaries or public baths." He holds
that towns are mentioned at the very end of the Vedic period. Erdosy
elaborates the idea put forward by Macdoneel and Keith, and questions
the very existence of pur in the sense of fort on contextual grounds.
Thus he considers "renewed insistence on equating the Rg vedic and Harappan
civilisations" to be "eccentric assertions".
In our opinion the
myths and metaphors relating to the pur suggest that it was either a
dwelling unit or a cluster of such units which appeared in the post
urban Harappan phase. Particularly the early Vedic stone purs may indicate
the recently discovered rock shelters in which the pastoral people lived
in the hilly tracts of the North-West Frontier.
Lal finds "ample
evidence... of sea trade", and speaks of '"tremendous wealth" obtained
from it. In support he quotes a verse from the Ninth Book of the Rg
Veda together with its translation by the 19th century British Sanskritist
Griffith. The verse reads: "rayah samu dranscaturo asmabhyam soma visvatah,
a pavasva sahasrinah". The translation reads: "From every side, O Soma,
for our profit, pour thou forth four seas filled full of riches thousandfold."
We may add that the Ninth Book in which this verse occurs was solely
devoted to Soma, and added to the main text later. Further, Griffith's
translation of asmabhyam as 'for our profit' creates an impression of
profit arising out of trade; such a confusion is not created by Karl
Friendrich Geldner, whose German translation of the Rg Veda (1951) is
considered the most authoritative translation of the century. We should
also note that the four seas are termed imaginary by Griffith.
In this context
the commentary of Sayana makes more sense. According to it, the sacrifice
prays to Soma for the possession of the whole world bounded by the four
seas. In any case there is no reference whatsoever to tremendous wealth
derived from sea-trade.
This does not mean
that the early Vedic people were unfamiliar with the sea. The Russian
archaeologist V. I. Sarianidi and the Indian historian R N. Nandi suggest
that people migrated to the Indus Valley along the Persian Gulf and
the Makran coast. Nandi has looked into most references to the sea in
the Rg Veda. On the basis of the references from Books I and X he speaks
of "peddling of goods" and "petty trading" in the context of land trade
but we cannot infer sea trade from these references.
The early Vedic
people were primarily pastoral though their agriculture was not negligible.
Although rich in vocabulary, apart from words denoting buying and selling,
the Rg Veda has no term for commerce as a specific activity. Its early
portions have no term for leasing and hiring, and for lending and borrowing.
The term rna appears in the early portions, but it indicates the mutual
obligation to pay one another. The RgVeda does not know of slaves, wage-earners
or hired labourers engaged in production. And yet all these features
can be expected if its culture were urban. Fired bricks are a striking
feature of the Harappans, and no Bronze Age civilisation can boast of
them on such a large scale. But this important construction material
is unknown to the Rg Veda. In the great British archaeologist Mortimer
Wheeler's view, there is no granary in the pre-classical world comparable
in terms of specialist design and monumental dignity to the examples
from the two Indus cities. But because of the absence of urbanism, the
Vedic people did not need granaries, and consequently the Rg Veda has
no term for granary.
Since the Harappan
script has not been decoded, we may leave it out for the present. But
the animals portrayed on the inscribed objects certainly deserve attention.
According to the analysis of I. Mahadevan, as many as 1,164 objects
depict unicorn as a field animal. But in the Harappan context it is
taken to be a fabulous animal resembling, perhaps, an ox. Nevertheless,
in our view the unicorn should be considered a fabulous rhinoceros because
of its one horn. The Harappan unicorn shows one long horn and a short
hump close to it - which is exactly the case with a rhinoceros. However,
in addition to what is called unicorn the rhinoceros is clearly portrayed
on 40 inscribed objects. Thus this animal is associated with as many
as 1,204 inscribed objects, including seals. Wheeler notes that this
animal is most frequently represented in the Harappan seals. In the
seals and sealings of Lothal, unicorns form the overwhelming majority
of animal symbols. But this most favourite animal of the Harappans is
not known to the Rg Veda. The term ganda or khadga is used for the rhinoceros
in Sanskrit, and the term ekasrnga for both the unicorn and the rhinoceros,
but none of these terms occurs in the Rg Veda.
On the other hand,
the horse, the hallmark of the earlyVedic people, is a trait of neither
the early nor the mature Harappan culture. Lal refers to horse traces
in the Harappan sites of Mohenjo-daro, Lothal, Surkotada and Kalibangan,
and S. P. Gupta adds Harappa, Malvan and Rani Ghundai to this list,
but what about the date, number and authenticity of these traces! Rau,
an older champion of the Aryan Harappa, places the skeletal remains
of the horse in Lothal and Mohenjo-daro in their late levels. He adds
that the presence of the animal in Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Lothal and
Ropar is restricted to the later phase of the Harappan culture. Malvan
is not even a Harappan site, and its Period I, in which horse bones
appear first, is "essentially a post-Harappan, Chalcolithic occupation."
The horse reported from Rani Ghundai in Baluchistan is attributed to
the third millennium B.C., but has been found to be a semi-ass or an
onager on examination.
considering a good many excavations in the large Harappan area, horse
traces are too few. That is why Lal "would like to have more and more
examples." At any rate the life of the Harappans was not horse-centred,
as was the case with the early Vedic people, particularly their chiefs.
Further, the RgVeda is full of war. The early Vedic assemblies, including
the gana, sabha, samiti, vidatha and parisad, performed military functions
also. The importance of warfare in the life of the Vedic people is brought
out in a well-researched monograph by Sarva Daman Singh. He points out
that although the Harappans were fully familiar with the wheeled vehicle,
there is "no proof of the battle-chariot before the advent of the Aryans".
The absence of the war chariot is consistent with the military weakness
of the Harappans, which has been underlined by several archaeologists.
According to Wheeler, the military element does not loom large amongst
the extant Harappan remains.
We may not look
for Vedic bows and quivers in the Harappan remains, but even other weapons
are very poorly represented. On the other hand, according to the Swedish
archaeologist Asko Parpola, the Indo-Aryan archaeological complex of
circa 1900-1700 B.C. in south Turkmenistan and north Afghanistan shows
an "abundance of weapons." This "suggests that the ruling elite...was
actively engaged in warfare." Certain tools and implements could be
common to all Neolithic and Bronze Age Societies, but that does not
establish specific similarity. However, unlike the Harappan culture,
bronze did not play a vital role in the Aryan culture. Because of this,
terms for tin and bronze are absent in the Rg Veda. The Aryans were
basically pastoral people who adopted the skills and crafts of the sedentary
people on their arrival in India. This explains the presence in the
Rg Veda of agricultural terms which do not occur in other ancient Indo-European
languages. This text used vrika, sira and langala for plough, andphala
for ploughshare. Only vrika occurs in other Indo-European languages.
Lastly, the RgVedic society is male dominated, while Harappa shows the
dominance of the mother cult in religion. That Harappa was not 'Aryan'
is also the view of Jim Shaffer.
It is argued that
the Aryans went from India to western Asia. But where is the evidence
for the presence of the Aryans in India around 2300 B.C. when the earliest
specimens of their language appear in Mesopotamia! If the Aryans used
the Harappan script, why did they not take it to western Asia! When
Buddhists went to Central Asia they carried the Brahmi script, and under
the Kushans Prakrit inscriptions appear in Brahmi and Kharosthi in Bactria.
Buddhist manuscripts appear in Turfan and Khotan. Since the Aryans did
not have their writing, examples of their language appear in cuneiform
script and the Hittite hieroglyphs. The Proto-Elamite script became
extinct in about 2800 B.C., and the Harappan in about 1900 B.C. Hence,
because of the time factor they could not use any of these. Although
the Proto Indo-Aryans and the Proto Indo-Iranians lived in north and
south Central Asia from circa 2500 B.C. onwards, because of the absence
of writing even in the second millennium B.C. we do not get any specimen
of their language. It is a misfortune for the champions of the theory
of the Indian origin of the Aryans that there is no inscriptional evidence
of Aryan presence in India. But in discussing this problem we cannot
ignore such evidence from western Asia. We cannot study the Rg Veda
in complete isolation from the general cultural development of the ancient
world. All told, the attempt to impose a Vedic identity on the Harappan
culture resembles similar attempts to exploit archaeology for political
purposes in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and several
The Indus culture
and the Ganga culture
While attempts are
made to identify the Vedic culture with the Harappan culture, the importance
of the Vedic culture and its archaeological counterparts is ignored
by emphasising the impact of the Harappan tradition on the Ganga culture.
Some Indian archaeologists notice Harappan influence in the mid-Ganga
Chalcolithic and later cultures, though archaeologists elsewhere in
the world proceed with caution. Stray elements of the Harappan culture
such as beads may have reached the Ganga plains, but neither the basic
traits of the PGW/later Vedic culture in the upper Ganga plains nor
those of the NBPW/early Pall texts culture in the mid-Ganga plains had
Harappan ancestry. General modes of subsistence such as agriculture,
cattle keeping and elementary crafts may share common features in a
good part of the subcontinent in the first millennium B.C. But what
about such diagnostic Harappan traits as town life, fired bricks and
script in the PGW phase! Even when the script appeared in the mid-NBPW
phase it was entirely different from the Harappan. The Harappans wrote
from right to left while Brahmi was written from left to right. The
effective use of iron inaugurated a new socio-economic structure in
the mid-Ganga plains in the fifth century B.C. But iron was not derived
from the Indus culture, and so is the case with coinage, which also
played a vital role in the new structure.
The PGW made a complete
break with the Harappan tradition of pottery. The Harappans practised
open kiln firing while the PGW potters practised closed kiln firing.
The latter manufactured dishes and bowls in contrast to the dish-on-stand,
goblets, storage jars and so on, of the Harappans. Although older local
connections may be expected, the pottery experts do not trace the PGW
from any Chalcolithic pottery. Similarly, the NBPW held nothing in common
with the Harappan ceramic tradition. So far weights and measures used
in NBPW times are not known to us with certainty. Accidental similarities
between the Harappan weights and weights of coins in the Kautilyan Arthasastra
are rightly attributed to the availability of the same type of seeds
in different parts of the country. According to Wheeler, the Harappan
foot seems to vary between 13.0 and 13.2 inches while the Harappan cubit
ranges from 20.3 to 20.6 inches. Such measures are not known in the
NBPW phase. Pre-industrial weights and measures varied from area to
area. Inscriptions show that land measures differ from region to region
according to the length of the hand of the local ruler in early medieval
times. If the Aryans came from outside, it is said, why did not they
bring tin to make bronze! We may refer to the famous bronze dagger of
the 12th century B.C. from Fort Munro in the Sulaiman range west of
the Indus, which came from the north west or the direction of the "Aryan
invasions". A shaft-hole bronze axe found at Chanhudaro in a late Harappan
layer may have come from the same direction. Similar is the case of
a fine copper axe-adze which has its analogies at three places in northern
Iran and at two places in northern Caucasia. Despite these examples,
bronze did not play any pivotal role in the life of theAryans who were
basically a pastora people. It is because of this that terms for tin
and bronze do not occur in the Rg Veda.
When bronze appeared
in the Ganga plains tin did not come from Afghanistan, but most probably
from the south Bihar plateau and its rich deposits in Bastar in Madhya
Pradesh. But how the people of the Ganga plains learned to mix tin with
copper and manufacture bronze needs to be investigated. In kin-based
societies, technology may have been diffused through kin migrations,
but the situation may have been different in class- and caste based
societies. The mature Harappan culture could not be basically kin-based.
However, artisans looking for subsistence and rehabilitation may have
spread technology after the desertions of the Harappan settlements around
2000 B.C., the Chalcolithic settlements in central and western India
around 1000 B.C., and the urban settlements in a major part of the country
in A.D. 300-600. Such desertions explode the myth of cultural continuity
in some areas, but they also open the possibility for diffusion in other
areas. The American archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer attributes the
disappearance of Harappan writing either to the break down of long-distance
trade or to the dominance of the Vedic ritual-ridden priests. The first
explanation is too simplistic. Long-range trade shrank substantially
for nearly three centuries after circa A.D. 600 in India, but writing
continued as usual. How the Vedic priests extinguished the Indus writing
is a mystery; some archaeologists argue that Harappan society was dominated
by the priests. The only possible explanation is the influx of numerous
pre-literate pastoralists who did not need writing. However, their arrival
eventually led to the spread of horse, spoked wheel, cremation, fire
cult and, above ah, the Indo-Aryan language in the mid-Ganga plains.
Perhaps the proto Dravidian dialects were spoken in pre NBPW pockets
as can be inferred from their random survival in Purnea and. Nepal.
In several ancient societies the victorious were culturally conquered
by the vanquished, but the Aryan immigrants seem to have been strong
and numerous enough to open a new chapter in the history of the Indian
culture. Wheeler's theory of the Aryan destruction of the Indus culture
cannot be proved archaeologically. But his view that the Indus civilisation
utterly failed to transmit its physical civilisation from its primary
homeland will hold good until more evidence is available.
The view that the
Indus culture was non-Vedic may not be acceptable to the Hindu fundamentalists,
The implications of the fundamentalist position are well known in India
and even abroad. By arguing for the Indian origin of the Aryans they
want to prove that all those such as Muslims who came to India in historical
times are foreigners. However, some Western archaeologists exaggerate
the continuity of the cultural tradition in India. Formerly Western
historians and sociologists generally stressed the changelessness of
India, and archaeologists attributed important changes mainly to external
factors. Now some archaeologists overemphasise India's insularity, which
implies its inability to attract new peoples and technology. Some of
them rightly reject the view that the Harappan civilisation wasRg Vedic.
But several of them see in the advent of the Vedic culture a continuity
of the Harappan or the Chalcolithic tradition rather than a breakthrough/transformation.
The commitment to cultural continuity may be seen as a reaction to overemphasis
on pleas for radical changes in modern socio-economic structure. All
this reminds us of the eternal or sanatana 1 dharma propagated in present-day
(Ram Sharan Sharma
is among the most eminent historian of ancient India. He is a former
Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi.)