2ndlook

The 2ndlook Gold Report – 2010

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on May 29, 2010

Buy gold … young man!

2ndlook has proposed to all and sundry, to buy gold for the last 20 months. Interestingly, a Chinese-blogger-online financial advisor, with some fan-following, going as Maoxian says, “I’d wager $20 that no one can show me an audited trading record for any system that has traded GLD since its inception that has beaten simply buying and holding GLD since then.”(errata – an American blogger, and not Chinese).

Now, 2ndlook is not a hedge fund, or a financial advisor! And will not pretend to be one either. But 2ndlook will take a 2ndlook, and put a context and perspective that others will not. And answer your question, “Is it the time to buy gold!

How far and how high will gold go? Some history before that.

Nixon and Kissinger - 1972 (Courtesy - nytimes.com)

Nixon and Kissinger - 1972 (Courtesy - nytimes.com)

The Nixon Chop

On August 15th, 1971, ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon emerged from Camp David, on an evening television show, and announced the end of dollar redemption against gold.

For the 10 years, France had been redeeming gold, even sent a French warship to escort gold from US to France. On August 13th, 1971, Britain also made an official request for dollar-redemption – and Nixon shut the door on that possibility.

And that was the end of Bretton Woods Agreement!

Dollar anchor shifts – from gold to oil

Over the next 10 years, the world saw severe stagflation (economic stagnation + price inflation). Gold prices zoomed from US$35 an ounce to US$800 an ounce.

Gold does not have any price-correlation is traditional wisdom! Correlation like inverse, perverse, reverse, positive!

Gold does not have any price-correlation is traditional wisdom! Correlation like inverse, perverse, reverse, positive!

From 1980, President Ronald Reagan, in the next 8 years, persuaded his Middle East allies to pump out more oil – cajoling, mixed with threats – ranging from the Iran to US-led increase in oil production. The resultant drop in oil prices cooled down inflation, strengthened the US dollar.

Surplus revenues from oil-sales by Middle East oil producers, were used to fund US deficit. By 1990, surplus petro-dollars vanished, with the drop in oil prices, and the increased cost of running welfare states in the Middle East.

In the last decade, it was the turn of the Chinese and the Japanese to prop up the dollar.

IN China, many people refer to the dollar as mei jin, or “American gold.” Government officials, businessmen and people on the street all use the term. So if a Chinese person tells you that he owes you 100 American gold, don’t expect a big fortune, because he’s planning to pay you $100.

US has been able to find lenders to bridge their deficit for more than 50 years. From the 1950s to 2010. Europe till the 70s, Middle East up to the 90s, Japan and China, till 2010!

Can the US find another target to fund their deficits.

The collapse of Soviet Union

In the 70s, with out-sized gains in oil, platinum and aluminum prices, the Soviet economy became a powerhouse, funding anti-US regimes across Africa, South America, Asia and the Middle East. Soviet Russia, one of the largest gold producers in the world, made windfall gains.

The expansion in subsidies by the USSR in the 1970-1990 period to its allies and sympathetic regimes created a huge pressure on Soviet finances. A simultaneous drop in oil and gold prices in the 1985-1995 period severely dented Soviet export earnings, leading to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. In USSR’s economy, after WWII, commodities like oil, natural gas, metals (like gold, platinum, uranium) and timber accounted for 65%-80% of Russian exports.

Reagan managed to increase oil production, decrease Soviet earnings - and create an economic crisis  in the USSR! (Cartoon by David Horsey from seattlepi.com).

Reagan managed to increase oil production, decrease Soviet earnings - and create an economic crisis in the USSR! (Cartoon by David Horsey from seattlepi.com).

Gold sales by central banks

The Central Bank Gold Sales Agreement, further dented gold prices, 1995 onwards. Gordon Brown, the then British Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been under pressure to ‘reveal’ details of British gold sales during this period.

The (British) bullion was sold in 17 auctions between 1999 and 2002, with dealers paying between $256 and $296 an ounce. Since then, the price has increased rapidly. Yesterday, it stood at $1,100 an ounce.

Dark stories are told that this was stolen gold during WWII, going around as the Yamashita gold, the Nazi gold, with marginal characters like Edmond Safra, playing an important role. It is suspected that the Soviet Union unloaded a lot of gold during the glasnost and perestroĭka period under Gorbachev.

The upshot of this was that for the first time in modern history (1800-2000), ‘declared’ gold reserves of governments across the world, reduced to a historic low of 20% of total global reserves.

The Great Collusion

By the end of The Great Depression, and the start of WWII, public sector (all the Governments of the world) owned some 50%-65% of the gold in the world. That is now reduced to less than 20%.

Will the State(s) sit back and allow the citizenry to become so independent – and the State to become ‘powerless’?

Improbable!

Global conclaves on economic matters (the G20 Summits, WTO Summits, the Copenhagen Summit) are getting organized easily and often. A global, mass nationalization of gold to ‘save the global economic system’ may be called for! Instead of warring with each other, Governments may decide to collude and jointly loot their respective citizens in a coördinated manner!

Was the US crackdown on Swiss banks a precursor to the global gold nationalization?

Central Banks own ≈20% of the world’s gold

Central banks the world over, claim to own something over 30,000 tonnes of gold – about 20% of the world’s total gold stocks. Officially, that is. Some of it is double counting. The most obvious example is IMF gold.

Most of IMF’s gold reserves are actually pledge papers by founder-member countries that they will pony up the gold. A book entry. This pledge was covered by a back-to-back with a reverse sale agreement by the IMF back to the pledgor -called ‘restitution agreement’ in IMF lingo.

The Bretton Woods agreement gave birth to IMF and World Bank (Pictured above: Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau speaking at the opening of the Bretton Woods conference on July 8, 1944.; picture credit - nytimes.com).

The Bretton Woods agreement gave birth to IMF and World Bank (Pictured above: Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau speaking at the opening of the Bretton Woods conference on July 8, 1944.; picture credit - nytimes.com).

The hoax of IMF gold

Of the 3005 tons which is held by IMF at ‘designated’ depositories (meaning pledgor central banks), 2600 is covered by the restitution agreement. Of the balance, 403 tons, only some 191 tons remains with IMF. In fact, IMF does not have any gold – apart from 191 tons.

What it has, are pieces of paper that various central banks have given, ‘promising’ gold to the IMF – and this ‘promised’ gold was held in safe custody by the pledgor-central bank on behalf of the IMF.

Is this the right gold price

Estimated global economic output is some US$70 trillion. Gold is now ruling at some US$1200-1250 (per ounce). Total global reserves of gold (private, public, central banks, et al) are estimated at 130,000-140,000 tonnes. In dollar terms, the value of gold stock is US$5.0-5.5 trillion.

Gold futures (Image Source - Wall Street Journal).

Gold futures (Image Source - Wall Street Journal).

If all the liquid capital in the world is measured in gold, then the total capital to output ratio turns out to be 1:14 ratio. For every 1 unit of gold, there are fourteen units of economic production (US$5 trillion of gold gives an output of US$70trillion). Of course, to make this liquid capital productive, other forms of capital are also required – namely land, buildings, factories, technology, education, healthcare, et al. Those could also be similarly valued – and added to the gold capital in the form of gold. Currency would become proxy for gold – and hence all currency units will be ignored as store of capital. Looking at the past, adjusting for inflation,

Gold is still at half the peak set in 1980, after adjusting for inflation. Then, prices rose to $US850, equal to $US2266 today.

If one were to measure gold as a proportion of global /national economy, it may give us a better idea about where gold is headed. Looking at it from this perspective, the upside for gold is definitely less than 100%. Based on current pace of liquidity creation – that is printing of Euros, dollars, yuan, yen, rupees, that various governments are printing. In Western markets, it is seen that

The yellow metal remains in a $1220-$1260 channel for the time being, and is still showing a Kilimanjaro-sized 975 tonne pile of long positions standing and casting a…long shadow in the market.

and … gold revealed some ‘disconcerting’ technical signals on the price charts and that in coming days ‘prices may not ‘necessarily strengthen.’

These weak signals, are largely due to some expected dampening in demand from India during June to September, in the generally slack monsoon season (though not quite so, last year).

Helicopter Ben is using his famous 'printing' technology!

Helicopter Ben is using his famous 'printing' technology!

Gold shortage!

There have been many reports about shortage of gold – in coins and bars form. Now this is strange.

In India, there is no such talk or shortage! The probable reason is that in India, gold lumps are also accepted by customers – without hallmarking! The jewellers, assayers and valuers are dime a dozen. Hence, gold fraud by the trade can be easily detected – especially in raw gold. Not to mention, that there are ‘dharam-kantas’ in every town and village across India – which does gold assaying for free.

In jewellery form, however, there is rampant mis-declaration of purity. So, buying gold in India is, as of now, not a problem!

Due to this ‘shortage’ in some Western markets, for sometime gold futures were cheaper than gold for physical delivery. The US mint and the Perth mint in Australia have suspended coin sales – supposedly, as they were swamped by orders, and demand.

Let us look at old mining and productions figures, to get some context.

All the gold in the world

Annual global gold production at some 2200 tons, is itself seen as an issue! Gold mining companies are “digging deeper to extract dwindling reserves, with mines in South Africa extending as far as 3.8km down” Apart from having to dig deeper, the other issue is “Ore grades have fallen from around 12 grams per tonne in 1950 to nearer 3 grams in the US, Canada, and Australia.”

China, Australia and the 16 other largest mining nations averaged weekly output of 42.3 tonnes last year, researcher GFMS estimates. Even though prices have fallen 5.8 percent to $US1177.10 from a record $US1249.40 an ounce May 14, the median prediction in a Bloomberg survey of 23 traders, analysts and investors is that it will reach $US1500 by the end of the year.

Investment, including bars and coins, almost doubled to 1901 tonnes last year, exceeding jewellery demand for the first time in three decades, according to GFMS. Jewellery will jump 19 per cent to 2100 tonnes this year and industrial use 8 per cent to 398 tonnes, Sydney-based Macquarie Group says.

The gap in demand and supply is being met by scrap sales.

In Southeast Asia, scrap sales, which are routed through Australia and sold on to India, are already up.

“When gold gets to these sorts of levels, Southeast Asia gets interested in dishoarding,” said Nigel Moffatt, treasurer at the Perth Mint in Australia. “We’ve been seeing it now for some weeks.”

Which way the wind blows?

With the world’s largest private reserves of gold, and as the world’s largest consumer of gold, India has a significant role to play in gold prices.

The Bloomberg poll of 23 traders (linked and extracted above), gives a consensus estimate of some US$1500 an ounce.(31.1034768 grams). Which translates to about Rs.21000-23000 per tola (10 gm) range. Dollar rupee exchange rate will also make a difference. That is an appreciation of about Rs.3000-5000 – some 15%-25% from current prices (Rs.18,100-18,500 range). A strong and stable gold price during July-September period could easily see gold cross 21,000 by October. A weak 3 quarter, will corner gold to the 20,000 barrier.

In another post, Maoxian remarks,

Two years ago when I wrote the post, Jim Sinclair’s Crazy Bet, I annoyed the tinfoil hatters. One commenter wondered where a pajama blogger dude sitting in a crappy little Third World apartment would get the money to take a million dollar bet. :-)

I thought it was time for an updated post/chart given the Greek drama and Euro crisis. Recall that Sinclair’s wager was: “Gold will trade at USD $1650 before the second week of January 2011.” Price could still make it there, but looking at the chart, it seems as improbable to me now as it did back in 2008.

Will Government’s scam people out of gold

Let us deconstruct this price upmove.

A US$1650 gold price @Rs.50 to a USD price means some Rs.26,500 per tola. At that rate, in Jan 2ndweek, we are talking about a 45% appreciation in 6 months. Take gold at US$1650 @Rs.42 to a USD, translates to about Rs.22,300 per tola.

At about 21,000-23,000, Indian consumer buying is likely to be anemic – and investment demand from OECD+China will have to make up for weak Indian demand. At Rs.26500 per tola, the Indian consumer may start selling gold – and we may see a small replay of the Hunt Brother’s silver saga in gold. Scrap sales of gold out of India may dampen prices much.

The third scenario may see gold at about 33000-36000 per tola. To do this the Indian rupee must trade at Rs.60 to a dollar, to get Indian consumers to part with their gold. Like the successful scam by Winston Churchill-Montagu Norman between 1929-1939 to loot the Indian peasant of his gold.

We may see a variation on that play!

On the sands of Saraswati – Indus दशकोण – 3

Posted in Environment, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on May 15, 2010
"Curse upon Agade", a text recounting the ruin of the capital, cursed by the gods when king Naram-Sin destroyed the temple of Enlil in Nippur. Clay tablet, 12.6 x 6 cm. Inv.: AO 6890. Location :Louvre, Paris, France Photo Credit : Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

“Curse upon Agade”, a text recounting the ruin of the capital, cursed by the gods when king Naram-Sin destroyed the temple of Enlil in Nippur. Clay tablet, 12.6 x 6 cm. Inv.: AO 6890. Location :Louvre, Paris, France Photo Credit : Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

The curse of Akkad

As the various cities of the Saraswati-Indus Basin declined, some two thousand kilometers away, the Akkadian Empire also vanished. Was that a co-incidence?

A curious 4000-year old story, The Curse of Agade (also spelt as Akkad /Akkade), a favorite with Babylonian scribes, has been of much interest to modern scholars and researchers. For more than 75 years now, these texts have been analysed and examined. Many versions of this lament were recovered from Sumerian sites (like Nippur). This ‘lament’ was long thought to be a mythical-literary text – with little historical value. Wrongly thought! This poem described how,

The large fields produced no grain
The flooded fields produced no fish
The watered garden produced no honey and wine …

He who slept in the house, had no burial
People were flailing at themselves from hunger

This extract above, from clay tablet, known as the Curse of Akkad, dated 2200 BC, gained documentary credibility after some recent research.  This study showed that it was not Gutians who destroyed Akkad, but it was the multi-century drought.

This study, indicated a prolonged drought in the Akkadian region. To confirm Akkad’s drought, soil samples were analysed. This study confirmed (Weiss 1993) that a prolonged drought significantly, affected the Akkadian empire.

Collapse of the Akkadian Empire - Figure 4 (de Monocal, 2001). Collapse of the Akkadian empire occurred at 4170, as documented by detailed radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites. Windborne sediments and deep-sea sediment cores from the Gulf of Oman (down wind from eolian dust source areas of Mesopotamian sites) are used to reconstruct aridity. The increase of eolian dolomite and calcite ate 4025 BP reveals a 300 year drought. (Chart courtesy - CULTURAL RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE HOLOCENE By Richard Prentice)

Collapse of the Akkadian Empire – Figure 4 (de Monocal, 2001). Collapse of the Akkadian empire occurred at 4170, as documented by detailed radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites. Windborne sediments and deep-sea sediment cores from the Gulf of Oman (down wind from eolian dust source areas of Mesopotamian sites) are used to reconstruct aridity. The increase of eolian dolomite and calcite ate 4025 BP reveals a 300 year drought. (Chart courtesy – CULTURAL RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE HOLOCENE By Richard Prentice)

Pretty much like what the Indian pollen deposits research did, (Gurdip Singh – 1967-71), in the lakes of Rajasthan.

Pollen dust on Rajasthan’s lake beds

The Akkadian drought also coincided with low rainfall for an extended period of time in North-Western India. Fossil remains of pollen dust (Gurdip Singh – 1967;1971) during this period shows a marked drop in rainfall. Surveys in Rajasthan lake beds showed,

After about 3500 yr B.P., the Lunkaransar profile indicated a desiccated lake bed; because no pollen was preserved, the pollen-climate calibration function was of no use for estimating the amount of the precipitation decline.

This drought and the tectonic movements were seemingly linked from India to Turkey – right upto Africa. North America was not spared from this climatic phenomenon. Sympathetic evidence has been found in Europe of this huge climatic disruption.

A severe drought in parts of low-latitude northeastern Africa and southwestern Asia ~4200 yr ago caused major disruption to ancient civilizations. Stable isotope, trace element, and organic fluorescence data from a calcite flowstone collected from the well-watered Alpi Apuane karst of central-western Italy indicate that the climatic event responsible for this drought was also recorded in mid-latitude Europe.

Ice-core samples at Kilimanjaro seem to indicate a similar climatic cycle. These simultaneous and

abrupt drought events occurred conspicuously at ca. 12,000–11,500, 8500, 7500, 4500, 4000–3700, and 2000 uncalibrated radiocarbon years B.P. Further investigations are required to gain a more precise chronology of these events, which appear to have been crucial for some of the most salient developments in Africa’s prehistory.

Over a long period, from 2200 BC-1500 BC. It affected large parts of Africa. This extended period of drought may have covered most of South-Western Asia.

Some drastic tectonic activity also coincided with this drought. In Turkey, it produced volcanic activity which disrupted lives. In India it affected Sindhu /Indus, and the Yamuna rivers. And gave birth to Ganga.

Most famously, this tectonic activity dried up the Saraswati river.

The Greeks have something to say

The drying up of the Saraswati river and the changes in the Sindhu /Indus river course, created many ghost towns, especially in North West India, upto the Sindh region. Strabo’s 17-volume work Geographica, has something interesting to say about deserted and abandoned villages and townships. It mentions thousands of villages and cities, in India – abandoned, during Alexander’s raid into Northern India.

Some 1500-2000 years after the demise of Saraswati and the change in the course of the Indus.

Aristobulus … says that when he was despatched upon some business into the country, he saw a tract of land deserted, which contained more than a thousand cities with their dependent villages ; the Indus, having left its proper channel, was diverted into another, on the left hand, much deeper, and precipitated itself into it like a cataract, so that it no longer watered the country by the (usual) inundation on the right hand, from which it had receded, and this was elevated above the level, not only of the new channel of the river, but above that of the (new) inundation.

What do the Indian texts say?

The Evolution of Mahabharata (Table courtesy - Delhi: Ancient History By Upinder Singh).

The Evolution of Mahabharata (Table courtesy – Delhi: Ancient History By Upinder Singh).

Saraswati in classical Indian texts

For centuries now, Indians ‘knew’ of the ‘lost’ Saraswati river. What is the source of this Indian oral narrative?

Saraswati is mentioned more than 60 times in the Rigveda. But, the Ganga gets only one mention – and that too, possibly a latter-day insertion. Saraswati, as the river is the “purest among the rivers, flowing from the mountains to the sea.” The sixth book of Rig Veda (6.61.2), describes the powerful Saraswati, in her course through the mountains, “slayeth the Paravatas.” In the Gritsamada verse (II.41.16), Saraswati is ambitame, naditame, devitame Saraswati. (“Saraswati, best of mothers, best river, best goddess.”).

As the river dried, Saraswati changed from being a river goddess to the goddess of learning, wisdom and music. Was it because most of the Indic texts and knowledge was composed along the banks of the Saraswati? Was the extinct river honoured by being elevated to ‘devi’ status!

As the Saraswati progressively dried up, migration to the Indo-Gangetic plains gathered steam. Indian textual narratives also changed. There are added allusions in Mahabharata to the underground Saraswati and there are numerous mentions of Ganga in the Mahabharata.

The earliest available report of the drying up of this river is in the epic literature of the Mahabharata where it says that the river went underground at Binasana, near the present town of Sirsa. The Mahabharata also mentions the reappearance of the Saraswati at three places down stream, then known as Chamasodbheda, Sirobheda and Nagobheda. (from The Lost Courses of the Saraswati River in the Great Indian Desert: New Evidence from Landsat Imagery, by Bimal Ghose, Amal Kar and Zahid Husain © 1979 The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

This people “movement is reflected in the shift from Vedic literature that is centred on the Sarasvati to the Puranic literature that is centred on the Ganga.” How is the Saraswati river related to the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’? How is the dried up River Saraswati important to Indian history? How and why did the Saraswati river dry up?

Saraswati dries up

On the reasons for Saraswati drying up, the most acceptable hypotheses proposes that “tectonic activity in the northern Punjab … bifurcated the water of the Himalayas from the western drainage system of the Indus to the eastern drainage system of the Ganges”. Researchers have reconstructed that the original Saraswati possibly,

originated in Bandapunch masiff (Sarawati-Rupin glacier confluence at Naitwar in western Garhwal). Descending through Adibadri, Bhavanipur and Balchapur in the foothills to the plains, the river took roughly a southwesterly course, passing through the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and finally it is believed to have debouched into the ancient Arabian Sea at the Great Rann of Kutch. In this long journey, Saraswati was believed to have had three tributaries, Shatadru (Sutlej) arising from Mount Kailas, Drishadvati from Siwalik Hills and the old Yamuna.

Chronology of the Saraswati river system  |  Source & courtesy - Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert      A. V. Sankaran  |  Click to open larger image.

Chronology of the Saraswati river system | Source & courtesy – Saraswati – the ancient river lost in the desert A. V. Sankaran | Click to open larger image.

Based on satellite imagery and research, there is an apparent correlation between the dried up Saraswati river bed and most of the ‘Indus-Valley civilization’ archaeological sites.

Earlier, even before the LANDSAT pictures from NASA, surveyors were intrigued about

the source of the perennial supply of subsurface water in western part of the Great Indian Desert where annual rainfall is so meagre and erratic (less than 150 mm) that it cannot contribute substantially to the perennial wells of the area.

Some 160 years ago, Saraswati’s dry river bed impressed most who saw it. In the middle of nineteenth century, a British surveyor described Saraswati’s dry river bed which

runs through an open country with little or no cultivation, and may be increased to any breadth; camels may march by it fifty abreast on either side of column of troops.

While the Saraswati dried up, it left behind tell-tale markers.

ISRO has dug up 23 tube wells along the course of the river mapped by it across 70 kilometers west of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

The results have been startling. All the wells have provided good quality drinking water with very little Total Dissolved Salts (TDS). The water itself was found at a depth ranging from 35 to 60 meters which is unusual for the area which is covered with sand dunes.

“We also dug a well 50 meters away from the channel and yielded water with very high TDS content proving quality water exists only around the old river bed of the extinct river,” he added.

In 1968, deep bores were sunk along the dried river bed.

The alternate plentiful supply and scarcity of water in the river is confirmed by the boring in the river bed by Raikes, 1968.

This tectonic-climatic disturbance affected a large swath of the Indian sub-continent. What part of India did this combination of drought and tectonic activity affect?

Contours of the Indus Valley-Saraswati Basin

Most affected by this global drought and tectonic movements was a cluster of Indian cities and villages along the Saraswati Basin. In the last 60 years, archaeologists look at the area covered by the thousands of these sites,

… so vast in its extent that at its peak it is estimated to have encompassed a staggering 1.5 million sq km — an area larger than Western Europe. In size, it dwarfed contemporary civilisations in the Nile Valley in Egypt and in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys in Sumer (modern Iraq). Its geographical boundaries are now believed to extend up to the Iranian border on the west, Turkmenistan and Kashmir in the north, Delhi in the east and the Godavari Valley in the south …

Over the last nearly 60 years, research has expanded. It has also shown that

Out of nearly 2,600 archaeological sites of varying sizes, over 1500 archaeological settlements were found on the Sarasvati river basin; there are also major settlements (some of) which are larger than the settlements of Harappa and Mohenjodaro (100 ha. each), Lakhmirwala (Bhatinda) (225 ha.), Rakhigari (Hissar) (224 ha.), Gurnikalan One (Bhatinda) (144 ha.), Hasanpur (Bhatinda) (100 ha), Ganweriwala (Bahawalpur) (81.5 ha), Kotada (Jamnagar) (72 ha.), Nagoor (Sukkur) (50 ha.), Nindowari (Jhawalan) (50 ha), Tharo Waro Daro (Sukkur) (50 ha.), Mangli Nichi (Ludhiana) (40 ha.) (underlined text supplied).

What is in a name

Saraswati archaeological sites, given a misleading name of ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ are the oldest date-able evidence of Indian culture – going back to earlier than 3000 BC. With retro-fitted history, the ‘discovery’ of the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ was inconvenient, for Western history, based on Biblical logic of the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology.

There are two fallacies with the nomenclature of ‘Indus Valley Civilization’. There is no proof altogether, that the Indus Valley Civilization was separate and different from Indian civilization. By the simple act of naming it as Indus Valley Civilization, Marshall-Woolley-Wheeler-Piggott have made out illogical assumptions – without a shred of evidence. One – as though Indus Valley was apart from the Indian civilization. Para-dropped by a passing alien ship, maybe? Or two, the subsequent evolution and developments in India were discrete and unrelated to the Saraswati sites. There is no evidence to support either of the ‘ideas’.

The other major reason is that since the sites are clustered around the Saraswati river bed, the term Indus Valley ‘civilization’ is misleading – and no longer valid. This cluster of sites should correctly be called Saraswati Basin sites.

How did the entire Saraswati theory come about? How did this start off?

The Probable Course of the Sarawati River

The Probable Course of the Sarawati River

The Saraswati Theory

After Indian independence (1947), faced with an acute shortage of research sites, Indian academic establishment broke new ground.

India was left with just one Indus site, in Gujarat and a couple of other sites towards the north, so there was an urgency to discover more Indus sites in India. This has been among the big achievements of Indian archaeology post-independence – that hundreds of Indus sites today are known, not only in Gujarat but also in Rajasthan, in Punjab, in Haryana, and even in Utter (sic) Pradesh.

Mohenjo daro and Harappa excavations now fall in modern Pakistan. In the face of limited access to sites in Pakistan, Indian archaeologists focused on Indian sites. Many sites were discovered in the post-colonial Indian area – apart from Harappa and Mohenjo daro. There are whispers that historians and archaeologists from India (especially, the Saraswati school) have been denied access. Some Indian archaeologists have charged HARP with interjection of newer kinds ‘politics’ into research of the Saraswati Basin and Indus Valley.

Since Harappa and Mohenjodaro were the first to be excavated in the 1920s, Sir John Marshall, who headed the team of explorers, called it the Indus civilisation because it flourished in the valley of that river. Marshall’s announcement wowed the world and pushed India’s known history back by about 2,000 years. At the time of Independence there was no real need to change the epithet as barely a dozen Indus sites had been explored. With the prime sites, Mohenjodaro and Harappa, going to Pakistan, however, a feverish hunt began in India to locate and excavate Indus sites — a race that its neighbour soon joined. In doing so, they began uncovering a civilisation … vast in its extent … (from The Indus Riddle, By Raj Chengappa, ellipsis supplied).

Building the Saraswati hypotheses

Considering the importance of the Saraswati sites, to the world (and Indian) history, Indian academics used a multi-disciplinary approach. Evidence from extensive radio-carbon dating, satellite imagery, hydrological studies, statistical analysis was integrated for creating a context for Saraswati sites.

since 1972 topographical, hydrological and national remote-sensing investigation done by the Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad and the Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad, brought out evidence for the existence of a mighty river in the region over which the Ghaggar flows today. Tectonic disturbances around 1800 B.C. which raised the Aravalli ranges in Rajasthan, it was said, changed the directions of the important rivers flowing down the Shiwaliks. The Yamuna turned east and went on to join the Ganga, making that river the mightiest in the subcontinent. The Sutlej began to shift westwards towards the Indus. Thus the once mighty river was swallowed up …

In the 1980-90 decade, India’s own satellite went into space, remote sensing costs decreased and applications increased. After years of mapping and images, it became apparent that the ‘mythical’ Saraswati river in fact did in fact exist at one point of time. Researchers, from India, A Ghosh and from Pakistan, MR Mughal have shown that the drying up of Saraswati, was a fact. It is surmised that

tectonic events must have severed the glacier connection and cut off the supply of melt water from the glacier to this river; as a result, the Saraswati became non-perennial and dependent on monsoon rains. The diversion of the river water through separation of its tributaries led to the conversion of the river as disconnected lakes and pools; ultimately it was reduced to a dry channel bed. Therefore, the river Saraswati has not disappeared but only dried up in some stretches

Further, it is but a natural corollary, that “as the river dried up completely in the second millenium BC, albeit in several stages and with several reversals …” settlements and towns at Saraswati were abandoned.

It has been pointed out how

“Lothal, believed to be the oldest dockyard in the world, is located at the head of the Gulf of Khambhat, now situated about 23 km away from the shoreline and about 12 m above the mean sea-level, on the left bank of river Bhogawa … clear evidence of southward shifting of shoreline by about 23 km”

4000 year-old Indian oral history has now been vindicated by modern research.

Different strokes

These tectonic shifts that dried up Saraswati, also had different effects on the cities of the Indus-Saraswati complex.

Some 90 miles down-stream from Mohenjo daro, is the Manchar Lake, at Sehwan, spread over large area. It was recently estimated at some 24 sq. km, and in 1890, as some “twenty miles by ten” – that is some 200 sq. miles, the largest fresh-water lake in Asia. These tectonic shifts , probably, created the Mancher lake at Sehwan. This lake plausibly, flooded Mohenjo daro some 7 times. The many layers of silt at Mohenjo daro can be accounted for the flooding of the Lake Mancher, at Sehwan. Even today peopled by the Mohana fishermen-tribe, who some believe to be remnants of the original Mohenjo daro residents – an assumption based on thin evidence.

There are modern recorded parallels of such events.

In 1819 an earth tremor in Kutch created a huge natural dam 75 miles long and upto 16 miles wide that disrupted the flow of the Eastern Nara branch of the Indus. After 7 years, however, the rivers floodwaters created a breach and the Nara resumed its flow to the sea.

Harappa seems to have suffered more due to reduction in the inflow in the Ghaggar-Hakra rivers due to change in the flows of either the Yamuna (into the Ganga) or the Sutlej (into the Indus).

To this cataclysmic event, add the long travelling global drought.

Politics and theology in archaeology

Artifices and contradictions in the story proposed by Marshall-Woolley-Wheeler-Piggott structure started showing up, as more and more data piled up. Outcome – the Saraswati Theory, a more unified approach to history.

Channels have been mapped, soil sediments studied, groundwaters analysed and earthquake history investigated. And not all of this is recent work. European colonial surveyors, agents and adventurers of all kinds who travelled at ground level, as it were, observed, measured and recorded what they saw. They also noticed that this arid, thinly populated wasteland was densely peppered with the remains of ancient, permanent settlements — many of them city-size, which could never have existed without abundant year-round water. In some cases, these pioneers recorded what they heard too, such as folk traditions which told of a time when a great river flowed through the region.

The earliest and the most well-known Indus Valley and the Saraswati Basin sites are now in Pakistan. Pakistani sites are controlled by an ‘independent’ American-Pakistani project – named HARP (Harappa Archaeological Research Project). Accepting the Sarswati thesis is, but anathema, in Islamic Pakistan, which is an important part of the HARP project. Not to forget, that it makes Western historical research of the last 150 years redundant – which complicates research. More than 10,000 libraries will have to junk more than a million history books.

Table Source - A. S. Gaur* and K. H. Vora, National Institute of Oceanography

Table Source – A. S. Gaur* and K. H. Vora, National Institute of Oceanography

What further held up research in the Saraswati belt was the fact that two sides squared up are the US-Pakistan HARP collaboration, on one side. The Saraswati team on the other.

Neither is asking or willing to give a quarter in this struggle to write history – the history of mankind. Seemingly, the Saraswati vs Indus has acquired overtones of India vs Pakistan.

And may history be damned!

Most of the Saraswati Basin work was done at Indian institutions, under differing degrees of political patronage and dispensations. With multinational collaboration from India, Pakistan, Europe and USA, with many false starts and tangential movements, the Saraswati Theory has acquired a certain acceptance.

This acceptance, in spite of spirited opposition from HARP, has possibly made the WASP-Pakistan, narrow-cast establishment under the Farmer-Sproat-Witzel combine defensive. Not to be outdone, having failed at the exclusion and shutting out game, the same players are trying to work from ‘within’ the Indian system.

Foreign universities are all for bartering their technological expertise and resources to get an opportunity to work on the unexcavated sites here … Director, ASI, told The Indian Express, “We have received applications from a number of foreign institutions like Harvard University, Cambridge University and others …”

Before rushing pell-mell into such ‘joint-ventures’, it may be worthwhile to remember the dubious role played by Western archaeologists in various parts of the world.

Tales you lose, Heads I win

Some ‘historians’ have come up with the thinnest of ‘evidence’ against the Saraswati theory. Like rivers from neighbouring geographies with similar sounding names.

Much like York became New York, so also there is Megiddo (of the battle fame), Makedonia  (home of Alexander), Mary Magdeline came from Magadan, Megasthenes came from Magasthan  (Magan, land of the Magi) – all candidates for Magadha cognates. Kannauj near Patna finds an echo in Kahnuj of ancient Carmania (now Kerman, the largest province in modern Iran). Byzantium is a Vaijayanti cognate. Byzantine traditions were influenced by India. The name Byzantium itself was possibly derived from Vaijayanti – also the ancient capital of Satavahana Empire,  now in Goa. The Greek and Egyptian cities of Thebes are possibly cognates of To Po (Upper Tibet) – now known as Tibet. As does Judea – derived from Ayodhya->Yehudiya->Judea.

Saraswati, a celebrated river, also had cognates. Harahvati /Harkhawati in South-West Afghanistan is another ‘suspect’ for the Saraswati mentioned in the Vedas, Sarayu with Harirud. There are other such thin claims that Gomti and Gomal in Baluchistan are the same.

Archaeology in India is a young discipline. Since most Indian population centres have been existence for centuries, archaeological excavations have not been possible or wide ranging. India’s population density also does not allow vast archaeological projects to happen. And anyway, both ,

Indian and foreign archaeologists often invoked invasion /diffusion as tools for explaining away the origins of fully-fledged archaeological cultures ranging in age from the Lower Paleolithic to the early historic period as well as individual traits concerning pottery, technology and other aspects. Africa, West and Central Asia and Europe were the favourite source areas. (From Theory in Archaeology: A World Perspective By Peter J. Ucko, page 132)

Lower Paleolithic is about 250,000 years ago and early historic period in India is 3000 years ago.

Where are the texts, the systems

The real marker in this case may be the depth of the civilization. Why is it that there is no evidence of Sanskrit in all these ‘Central Asian’ locations from where these ‘Aryans’ came from? Why did Vedic learning survive only in India? How is it that Vedic Gods survived only in India – and not in the ‘Aryan homelands’. How come there are lakhs of Sanskrit texts in India, but none where Sanskrit supposedly originated from? In Central Asia!

And such legless theories, abound. For instance, the mythical ‘Indus Valley priest-king’, based on, “a few stone sculptures of seated male figures, such as the intricately carved and colored Priest King, so called even though there is no evidence he was a priest or king.”

One the other hand, the Saraswati river theory, supported by strong evidence, is picking up more adherents and evidence. Fortunately, there are many sites in India, where research can continue, without access to Mohenjo daro and Harappa. For instance the

excavation of Lothal, an Indus port town located off the Gujarat coast. It shattered notions that the Indus was a landlocked civilisation, conservative and isolated, and as a result sank without a trace. Rao uncovered a dock 700 ft long — even bigger than the one currently at Visakhapatnam. It took an estimated million bricks to build it. Next to the dockyard were massive granaries and specialised factories for bead-making. Hundreds of seals were found, some showing Persian Gulf origin, indicating that Lothal was a major port of exit and entry.

Possehl, who made a recent study, found that in 2000 BC in Pakistan’s Sindh district the sites were down from 86 to 6 and in Cholistan, 174 to 41. But in India the sites in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan exploded from 218 to 853. Possehl asks: “How can this be construed as an eclipse? We are looking at a highly mobile people.”

Dwellers from these settlements moved to other cities. The HARP-Pakistani school of thinking sticks to the old artifice,

“that the Indus River changed course, which would have hampered the local agricultural economy and the city’s importance as a center of trade.

But no evidence exists that flooding destroyed the city, and the city wasn’t totally abandoned … and … a changing river course doesn’t explain the collapse of the entire Indus civilization.

So, what does explain this, Witzelbhai? Blue-eyed, blonde, White Aryan invaders, thundering down the Khyber, I presume!

Alternate model

As the Saraswati River became erratic ... and started drying. (Click to get larger image).

As the Saraswati River became erratic … and started drying. (Click to get larger image).

We do not see archaeological finds of the Saraswati type in the rest of India, because the rest of India continued with life, at existing settlements. Most Indian cities have been settled for centuries – and have not seen vast archaeological excavations. And in all these centuries, Indic peoples moved up and down from South to North to South to East and West – from living settlements to living settlements.

Given the vastness of the Indus empire, V.H. Sonawane, director, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History in the MS University of Baroda, points out: “The first casualty is the earlier notion of a Harappan homogeneity. It is clear that there was tremendous regional diversity just as we have in modern India.”(from The Indus Riddle, By Raj Chengappa, ellipsis supplied).

As Gregory Possehl confirms, that there “was no general “eclipse” but a process of deurbanization and a shift eastward in the general distribution of the population.”

In the ’70s, when Braj Basi Lal, a former ASI director-general, began excavating Kalibangan, a site in the desert sands of Rajasthan, he was amazed to find evidence of a field of crossed furrows dated to around 2900 BC, preserved by a strange quirk of nature. Looking around he found that farmers in the region used a similar ploughing technique even after 5,000 years. The ancient houses had tandoors (earthen ovens) similar to ones found in kitchens in the villages in the area. As Lal says, “It was as if the present was the past and that despite the passage of time not much had changed.” (from The Indus Riddle, By Raj Chengappa, ellipsis supplied).

Independent research in Pakistan, by the noted specialist, RM Mughal echoes the same. The ability of the Indic people to live with diversity in skin colour, language, food, lifestyle, trade and thinking is an age old phenomenon.

Mughal’s studies in Pakistan have helped chalk out an approximate chronology of the changes. The beginnings of village farming communities and pastoral camps were reported as early as 7000 to 5000 BC. But developed farming communities, which grew wheat and barley, emerged around 4300 BC. In a site called Mehrgarh near the Bolan river in Baluchistan province, there are signs of agricultural surplus with the establishment of community storage silos. The conclusion: Sorry to use the cliche, but we had unity in diversity even then. (from The Indus Riddle, By Raj Chengappa, ellipsis supplied).

To make sense of this cataclysmic event, one also needs to read the account of how the Ganga was brought down from the heavens – which we will in the next post. The Ramayana takes much time in describing how the Ganga was ‘persuaded’ down from the heavens. The holy Indian trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh contributed their efforts and might to his ‘cause’.

An Indian summer

1972. India, basking in the warm after-glow of the military victory in the 1971 War with Pakistan. The Oil crisis was yet to hit India. Indians were taking hesitant first steps towards a remittance economy. Rich, expatriate neighbours, relatives and friends were spreading the words of ‘phoren’ opportunities to Indians. The 1973 Oil shock and the Bombay High discovery were a few years in the future.

As were India’s remote sensing satellites (1979).

Oral chronicles

That year, was the first time I heard about the supposedly subterranean Saraswati river. From my grand-father, at Haridwar संगम sangam (meaning union). The Indian oral narrative, goes that Saraswati meets up with ‘sister’ rivers, Ganga and ‘Jumna’ at Haridwar. I did the dip at संगम sangam, as any संगम sangam of rivers is a considered shubh (a fertility symbol?) – and a dip is called for. Later, my mother too, corroborated the Saraswati ‘story’.

The Kaveri </i><i>sangam</i> at Srirangapatinam (Picture courtesy - Travelpod; by Indian nature).

The Kaveri sangam at Srirangapatinam (Picture courtesy – Travelpod; by Indian nature).

In (was it?) 1973, a small rivulet, which joins the Musi at Hyderabad, (a tributary of Krishna river) was at full flow, due to huge cloud-burst.

That year, on dubki poonam, (the first full moon after Diwali, reserved for a bath at any river), the entire extended-family was bundled into a few vehicles, to go for a dip in this insignificant ‘river’. Never after 1973, did I see that rivulet flow so strongly again.

In 1977, at Seringapatinam, we did a dip at the Kaveri sangam – a संगम sangam of two arms (Kaveri and Lokapavani) of the same river. At Rishikesh, the संगम sangam of Ganges and Chandrabhaga, I did daily dips for about 45 days in 1972. Also at Rishikesh, is the Triveni ghats, the meeting of Gunga, Jumna and Saraswati. I am yet to go to the Triveni ghat at Somnath – the joining of Kapil, Hiran and River Saraswati (again).

My experience was pretty much like the experience of Anusha, a housewife-mother-blogger from Mumbai, who writes

125 Kms from Varanasi is the sacred city of Allahabad where the three greatest rivers of India meet … The Ganga … from the Himalayas, Gangotri, passing … Rishikesh and Haridwar … industrial city of Kanpur, before arriving at Allahabad to join her sisters as she makes her way to Kashi. Yamuna also begins … in the Himalayas, at Yamunotri … passes through Mathura and Brindavan, (after) association of Krishna, … arrives at Allahabad … she joins the Ganga … Saraswati arrives at Allahabad from god alone knows where, for she is an underground river, … remains unseen … The place where these 3 rivers merge is the Triveni Sangam

The three rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep but calm and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, but forceful and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater.

Much before the Saraswati paper by Yashpal et al (1980), based on NASA-LANDSAT images. Much before Indian Remote Sensing satellites went up in 1979.

A leading educationist and currently chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Yash Pal, who had published in 1980 in his own words “a small paper on the existence of Saraswati river which attracted attention,” concurred with the view. “Surveys so far have brought out clearly the path the river had taken when in flow,” the national research professor told The Pioneer. He did a stint with ISRO (which has played a pivotal role in the probes so far) from 1973-1980 where he set up the Space Application Centre.

A case of India’s oral history vindicated by modern research!

Droughts, food and culture: ecological change and food security in Africa’s …

By Fekri A. Hassan

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,048 other followers

%d bloggers like this: