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!

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