The sheer depths of Indian Civilisation
by Sandhya Jain on 31 Dec 2009 10 Comments

Barely seven years after Prof. B B Lal penned The Sarasvati Flows On: The Continuity of Indian Culture (2002), the defiantly-in-denial UPA has been forced to admit the existence of the Vedic Sarasvati. In response to a parliamentary question, the government revealed that a study by scientists of ISRO, Jodhpur, and the Rajasthan Government’s Ground Water Department has found irrefutable evidence of palaeo-channels and archaeological sites of pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan ages, indicating the existence of a mighty river matching descriptions of the Saraswati in Vedic literature.


Now, once again taking the bull by the horns, Prof. Lal thunders that the Harappan or Indus-Sarasvati civilisation is not only archaeologically the oldest civilisation of India, but that it is the material counterpart of the Vedic texts! Supporting this bold hypothesis is powerful evidence from hydrology, geology, literature, archaeology and radiocarbon dating. A picture clearly emerges of a vibrant material civilisation with profound metaphysical insights in the north-western region, which bequeathed us the unity and continuity that are the hallmarks of Indian tradition.


Amazingly, every little aspect of our civilisation can be traced back to the dawn of our religion and culture in the Sarasvati basin. At Nausharo in pre-partition India (now Pakistan), French excavator Jean-Francois Jarrige found a small terracotta figurine of a woman, hair painted black, and red paint in the medial parting indicating the sindoor worn by Hindu married women to this day. Carbon dating traces the levels where the image was found to circa 2800-2600 BCE. Similarly, the famous bronze statuette of the dancing girl, found at Mature Harappan levels of Mohenjo-daro, reveals the continuity of the practice of wearing serial bangles on the upper arms in parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, the very regions where Harappan culture most thrived.


The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, an unknown mariner’s account of the sea trade between India and the Red Sea in the early centuries AD, and the seventh century Chinese pilgrim Hieun-Tsang, both mention the export of beads from India. Chanhu-daro in Sindh and Lothal in Gujarat have yielded a rich bead-making industry.


Far more startling is the continuity in agriculture, which sustained this rich civilisation and the arts and crafts that in turn created a flourishing overseas trade, and wealth that made India a coveted prize for adventurers in the centuries that unfolded. Excavations at Kalibangan in the Hanumangarh district, Rajasthan, from the Early Harappan circa 2800 BCE, show fields ploughed wide apart from north to south (for tall mustard plants) and shorter east-west furrows (for gram), so that the multiple crops share the winter sunshine and do not cast shadows upon each other. This pattern endures in Indian fields to this day. This era also created the ploughshare and spoked wheel, the tandoor and roti, chulha and chapatti, and pots and pans and other vessels of daily use!


If these seem like small drops in a civilisation as vast as the ocean, the finding of terracotta figurines in various Yogic asanas, which take the Astanga yoga of Patanjali (2nd century BCE) back to Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, must make us pause. It is staggering material evidence of spiritual quest accompanying great wealth, unmatched in any ancient civilisation. It is convincing proof, if proof be needed, that the material wealth desired in Vedic mantras refers simultaneously to a deeper metaphysical quest.  


This is augmented by the famous limestone statuette of the Mohenjo-daro priest-king, with his eyes introvert and eyelids half-closed, a meditative form later associated with Buddhist tradition, especially in Tibet and China. Yet this form of dhyana is mentioned in the Bhagvadgita (ch. 6, verse 13) which states that the gaze should be fixed on the tip of the nose!


The famous seals of the Sarasvati civilisation reflect later developments in Hindu religion and culture – the worship of Siva as a linga; Pasupati seated in yogic posture surrounded by animals; buffalo sacrifice; worship of the sacred pipal; the crucial role of agni in the havana or yajna; the fire altars for individual and communal worship; the kamandalus of the sadhu; the sacred svastika…  I could go on, is nothing new?


Town planning, especially given the chaos in our cities today, will remain ancient India’s greatest contribution to civilisation. Be it Kalibangan, or Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, the grid pattern with streets running north-south and east-west was the rage. This, it is pertinent, was an era in which Egypt or Mesopotamia (the West’s favourite ‘cradle’ of civilisation) had no notion of such town planning – which must be conceded was original to India. To cap it all, there were covered drains and manholes for discharge of sullage.


Bricks were kiln-fired, and there was bonding, with bricks laid out in alternate courses – length-wise and breadth-wise – for strong walls, way back in the third millennium BCE. And clay floors were soled with fragments of terracotta nodules and large pieces of charcoal – to absorb moisture, prevent dampness travelling up the walls, and inhibiting termites!


Describing in detail the major Harappan settlements - Kalibangan in Rajasthan; Banawali and Rakhigarhi in Hissar, Haryana; Harappa in Sahiwal, Pakistani Punjab; Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan; Surkotada and Dholavira in Kachchha, Gujarat (which yielded terracotta horse figurines); and Lothal in Ahmedabad, Gujarat; Prof. Lal has traced the vast spread and efflorescence of a civilisation going back more than five thousand years. It is rich in agriculture and familiar with many types of grains and cereals and fruits; animal husbandry is known and many animals are domesticated – cow, sheep, goat, pig, camel and elephant; the spotted deer, blackbuck and sambhar are hunted for food; fish and turtle are known. Above all, there is irrefutable evidence about knowledge of the horse and its usage, with bones found at numerous sites, including Lothal, Kalibangan and Surkotada.


Vedic Harappan civilisation used its long coastline from Gujarat to Sindh and Baluchistan for a thriving sea trade with the Gulf and Africa, selling marine, mineral and forest resources to distant markets. A coffin with the deodar lid suggests that the Himalayas were sourced for wood, with logs being pushed downstream as is the practice today. There was a rich industry in bead-making, shell, ivory-working, not to mention metal, mainly copper and bronze, though gold and silver ornaments had also arrived.


Truly a Golden Age. The only thing missing is the inscrutable script, surely a precursor to Brahmi, the language that developed later. But who were these Vedic people – were they Aryan invaders as we were taught in school, or indigenous ancestors whose achievements were ‘stolen’ by ascribing them to so-called Aryans, a people who have left no traces of like achievements in any of the lands from where they supposedly descended upon the Indian plains.


It is now conclusively established that there was no Aryan Invasion, or even Migration (the current theory). What does remain, however, is a West-led mental resistance to accepting the indigenous origins of the Vedic (Hindu) religion, culture, and civilisation. But the time for intellectual arguments is over; it will take the further economic and military decline of the West to eclipse this denial.


How Deep are the Roots of Indian Civilisation? Archaeology Answers

B B Lal

Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2009

Price: Rs 390/-

Pages: 150


The writer is Editor,

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