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Looking beyond Indus Valley 

  New archaeological evidence suggests that the history of civilisation dates to the Rig Vedic people who lived on the banks of the Saraswati long before the Indus Valley 


You are on board a flight over Corbu-sier's Chandi-garh. You see a square-shaped city with perfectly parallel and perpendicular roads. The high-rise secretariat to the north gently blends into the lower government buildings which in turn merge with the single and double storey residential houses.

Leading to the vedic past: A storm water drain in the castle at Dholavira which existed 5,300 years ago in Rann of Kutchchh

The Shimla hills and the azure Sukhna lake are on the northern end, and there is greenery on all other sides. Now close your eyes and replace the high-rise secretariat with a fortified castle, and the other high government buildings with a fortified middle castle. There are only single storey houses on roads that are almost no different from those in Chandigarh.

In place of the mountains, the Sukhna lake and the green belt, imagine huge water reservoirs. And then, paint a mental picture of a solid fortification around this spectacular city. The second town is not a blueprint of a town planner's improvement of India's only wholly planned city. It is a real town that would have been bustling with activity some 5,300 years ago, about 250 km from modern-day Bhuj in the Rann of Kutchchh in Gujarat.

The archeologists call it the 'Dholavira excavation'. Archeologists and historians have hailed Dholavira as a Mohenjodaro on this side of the Indo-Pak border, and use it to show the expanse of the Indus Valley civilisation believed to have been destroyed by invading Aryans from Central Asia. But Ravindra Singh Bhist of the Archaeological Survey of India, who led the excavation, saw much more than just another big Harappan city. "It is a virtual reality of what the Rig Veda, the world's oldest literary record, describes," says Bhist, who is also a Sanskrit scholar.

He calls the three levels of the ancient Dholavira city parama, madhyama and avama, meaning highest, middle and lower towns, on the basis of the Vedic concepts, parameshthina, madhyamesthina and avameshtina. He is currently doing a 'compare and contrast study' of what is in the Rig Veda and what he excavated at Dholavira and Banawali. Less than a year ago another archaeologist, Amarendra Nath, exposed an ancient township under Rakhigarhi in the Hisar district of Haryana. Besides typically Harappan features, the experts also found circular and triangular fire pits or altars on the mud floor. "Whether it has Vedic relevance or not I don't know yet, but traditionally they're associated with the Rig Veda," he says. Archaeologist Madhav Acharya who excavated Kunal in Haryana is categorical that it is the Vedic people, and not light-skinned outsiders, who created the Indus Valley civilisation.

The dry Saraswati, which formed a part of the Indus river system, flowed barely 500 yards from the Kunal site. Interestingly, in the site there is a cut in the soil with a V-shaped embankment all the way from what was the river bank, to where the settlement ends. It was probably a moat with four gates built during the final phase of this habitation, and skirts the whole settlement. Of the 226 pottery pieces excavated in Kunal, 131 bear 44 of the 417 known Harappan letters. These finds, says Acharya, prove that the pre-Harappan culture was the mother of the matured Harappan culture.

That is, the people of the Rig Veda, which is replete with references to the Saraswati and Sapta Sindhu, were the people of the Harappan civilisation. Archaeologists like Jagat Pati Joshi, who excavated Surkotda in Gujarat, Bhagwanpura in Haryana and Dhadheri in Punjab, and S.P. Gupta, who has worked on practically all Indus sites in India, no longer prefer to call the Indus Valley civilisation as the Indus-Saraswati civilisation because there are more settlements of the Harappan kind along the Saraswati than along the Indus.

They are among the increasing tribe of archaeologists who have noticed that Harappan sites bear a similarity to what is described in the Vedas, and are suggesting that it is the Vedic people who created the Indus-Saraswati civilisation. These conclusions not only turn conventional wisdom on its head but make history textbooks sound almost silly. Prof B.B. Lal, former director-general of the ASI, agrees that it is time for a rethink. He refutes the theory of Mortimer Wheeler, who excavated Mohenjodaro and Harappa, that invading light-skinned Aryans from Central Asia destroyed the Indus civilisation. Lal disproves the disparity some historians have pointed out between the Harappan civilisation and the Vedic civilisation. The Rig Vedic society was not so utterly rural in contrast with the highly urbanised Harappan civilisation, he maintains.

The horse-of the Indo Aryans-was not missing from the Harappan excavations (the evidence comes from Lothal, Surkotda and Kalibangan) and the Vedic geography coincides with the very domain of the Harappan civilisation. Add to that a biological continuity within the Indus valley from 4500 BC to 800 BC, and "how can one envisage the entry of hordes of Vedic Aryans who are supposed to belong to an alien, non-Harappan biological group, around the middle of the second millennium BC?" Lal asks. Bhagwan Singh, an avid writer on the Indus Valley civilisation, sees the entire Harappan ecology in the Rig Veda. He chides those who have been "using both their brains and chair to save the Vedic Aryans from the Harappan authorship". "Now we have a continuous history of the Indian continent from 7000 BC. But isn't it ironical that we couldn't identify any of the archaeological cultures with literary cultures?" asks an archaeologist who does not want to be identified. He has no doubt that the Rig Vedic Aryans were the authors of the Harappan civilisation.

He points out that the 'outsider theory' gained currency because of a mind-set that the Aryans were primitive pastoral people who could not be identified with such a civilised lot. But now excavations have unsealed evidence of Rig Vedic people's presence in the Indus area, while not throwing up evidence of a material culture of the Aryans, if indeed they were a separate group. "Can a society continue to live without a material culture?" asks this archeologist. In his discourses in the late 50s, the paramacharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Math, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, had said: "You will find no basis at all in the Vedas and the Sastras for the theory of two races, Aryans and Dravidians...." At a different time, place and context, Swami Vivekananda saw "not one word in our scriptures, not one, to prove that the Aryans ever came from anywhere outside India, and in ancient India was included Afghanistan". Of course, neither was an archaeologist or historian. But excavations conducted by archaeologists in India and Pakistan have thrown up about 1,400 sites, of which about 900 are on this side of the border.

This resulted in serious academic debate among historians and archaeologists on Mortimer Wheeler's Aryan invasion theory. Over the years, Wheeler's story of swashbuckling, horse-riding light-skinned people coming from Central Asia or Central Europe and razing to ground the highly urbanised Harappan civilisation, has become another bed-time story. Predictably, our history books have not updated the obsolete story. However, those who believe that the Aryans of the Rig Veda were the very people who gradually improved their towns and cities, trade, art and craft, writing and living over centuries, prefer to skirt the issue or at best drop hints. One group simply dubs the other RSS-BJP agents wanting to grant the Hindus (people of the Rig Veda) the distinction of creating the splendour that was the ancient civilisation on the subcontinent. And the other, mainly field archaeologists working for the ASI, show the typical government-employee's lack of guts, fearing political persecution among other things. The boldest among them mumble about the "foreign fixation of those who call themselves progressive".

Archaeologists like Bhist have begun to look deep into the Rig Veda when they are not digging the earth. "Like the Harappans, the Aryans show a penchant for standardisation-metres in which verses were to be written, the sequence in which the Gods were to be worshipped, definite prescriptions of what hymns should be recited by whom and when... There are references in the Rig Veda to cities and fortified settlements owned by Aryans. They were invoking their Gods for the protection of their settlements in the same manner in which they prayed for the destruction of the settlements of non-Aryans," he says. Rivers in the Rig Veda were naavya-navigable. French archaeologist Dr Jean-Francois Jarrige, who has worked on Indus sites in India and Pakistan over the last 30 years, does not point to the Rig Vedic people. But his excavations at Mehargarh, Naushera and Perak have brought out an uninterrupted archaeological sequence from 7000 BC to 600 BC when the recorded history of India begins. "The whole civilisation was a matter of internal dynamics... and the region includes India, the area that is now Pakistan, and Afghanistan," he says.

According to Acharya, the Saraswati was never a major river like the Ganga and Yamuna. Yet the Rig Veda praises the river as a Devi, as Mother. Why? Because it must have been the motherland of the Vedic people. And in the last 50 years, so many Harappan sites have been found along the ancient Saraswati-Ghaggar river (Hakra river to the Pakistanis). Also, no other culture has been found on the Saraswati. "When the first Indus site was found, they never tried to find an indigenous identity of its authors. And when it was first felt that they could be the Rig Vedic people, it was rejected because there was no evidence of the horse or the fire altars. But that does not mean subsequent evidence cannot lead to history being opened afresh," elaborates Acharya. He thinks that the Harappan civilisation is best called the Rig Vedic civilisation."

Students have been taught that the Indus civilisation evolved from outside, while saying Saraswati or Rig Vedic will make it clear that it is indigenous." Unfortunately, the authorship of the Harappan world seems to have become less of a historical riddle to be dispassionately worked on, and more an issue of petty politics. The skeletons of the Harappans are threatening to disturb the peace of people centuries removed: should the verdict go in favour of the Rig Vedic Aryans, it would be seen as a denial of credit to the non-Hindus of today, in secular India. Equally it will be seen as depriving the Pakistanis of a hand in that advanced civilisation. Forgetting all the time that many religions of the world had yet to evolve, and the concept of nations as we know today, simply did not exist in the Harappan era. Crazily, a possible verdict in favour of the Rig Vedic Aryans is also viewed as amounting to a shot in the arm for those who pulled down the Babri Masjid and swear by Hindutva!

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