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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Chronological Framework for Bharatiya Culture – Part 2

In this series of articles, we are introducing the research ‘On the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture’ by Shri Subhash Kak, to readers old and new. (To read Part 1 of the series, click here.)

New discoveries and insights

The recent discrediting of the Aryan invasion model has been caused primarily by archaeological discoveries. These discoveries have been reinforced by new insights from the history of science, astronomy, and literary analysis.

The main points of the evidence are highlighted below:

  • It has been found that the Sapta Sindhu region—precisely the same region that is the heartland of the Vedic texts—is associated with a cultural tradition that has been traced back to at least 8000 BC without any break. It appears that the Sarasvati region was the centre of this cultural tradition, and this is what the Vedic texts also indicate. The term “Aryan” in Bharatiya literature has no racial or linguistic  connotations.
  • According to the work of Kenneth Kennedy[5] of Cornell University, there is no evidence of demographic discontinuity in the archaeological remains during the period 4500 to 800 BC. In other words, there was no significant influx of people into Bharat during this period.
  • Fire altars have been discovered in the third-millennium site of Kalibangan.[6] It appears now that fire altars were in use at other Harappan sites as well. Fire altars are an essential part of the Vedic ritual.
  • Geologists have determined that the Sarasvati river dried up around 1900 BC. Since Sarasvati is mentioned in the Rgvedic hymns as the  largest river, one conclusion that can be drawn is that the Rgveda was composed prior to 1900 BC.
  • Study of pottery styles and cultural artifacts has led archaeologists such as Jim Shaffer of Case Western Reserve University to conclude
    that the Sindhu-Sarasvati culture exhibits a continuity that can be traced back to at least 8000 BC. Shaffer summarizes:[7] “The shift by  Harappans [after the drying up of the Sarasvat river around 1900 BC] is the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium BC.” In other words, there has been no Aryan invasion.
  • A. Seidenberg reviewed the geometry of the fire altars of Bharat as summarized in early Vedic texts such as the Satapatha Brahmana and compared it to the early geometry of Greece and Mesopotamia. In a series of papers,[8] he made a strong case for the view that Vedic geometry should be dated prior to 1700 BC.
  • It has now been discovered[9] that altar constructions were used to represent astronomical knowledge. Furthermore, an astronomical code has been found in the organization of the Vedic books. This code establishes that the Vedic people had a tradition of observational astronomy, which means that the many astronomical references in the Vedic texts that point to events as early as 3000 or 4000 BC can no longer be ignored.
  • Recent computer analysis[10] of the texts from Bharat have shown that the Brahmi script, the earliest example of which comes from Sri Lanka around 500 BC,[11] is derived from the earlier script of the Sindhu-Sarasvati age. This again is strong evidence of cultural continuity. There is also continuity in the system of weights.
  • The archaeological record shows that the Sindhu-Sarasvati area was different from other ancient civilizations in many cultural features. For  example, in contrast to ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, it shows very little monumental architecture. It appears that the political organization  and its relationship to other elites in the Bharatiya society was unique. This is paralleled by the unique character of the Vedic literary tradition  with its emphasis on knowledge and the nature of the self.
  • Remains of the horse have been discovered in the Harappan ruins.[12] A clay model of a horse was found in Mohenjo Daro. New findings from the Ukraine show evidence of horse riding as early as 4000 BC. Given the trade routes connecting the Harappan world with Central Asia and onward to the Ukraine and beyond, there is no reason to suppose that the Harappans were not familiar with the horse.

Taken together, the cumulative evidence completely belies the Aryan invasion theory. If an influx of people into Bharat took place, it had to be much earlier than 4500 BC (if one considers the demographic evidence) and perhaps before 8000 BC (if one considers other related evidence).

On the other hand, it is equally plausible that the Sapta Sindhu region was the original homeland of the Indic people from where their ideas and culture diffused to Iran and Europe, as remembered in Puranic legends.

Linguistic issues

Recently, linguists have called into question the very assumptions that are at the basis of the genealogical model of the Indo-European family of languages.[13] It is accepted that the ancient world had great language diversity, and that population increase, greater contacts and trade with the emergence of agriculture, coupled with large-scale political integration, led to extinction of languages and also to a transfer of languages across ethnic groups. In such a complex evolutionary process, it is meaningless to pin a specific language on any racial type.

In the Bharatiya linguistic area itself there exist deep structural relationships between the north Bharatiya and the Dravidian languages. It is likely that the Vedic period represents an age long after the contact between these two linguistic families had begun; in other words, the early Vedic period might represent a synthesis between the north Bharatiya and the Dravidian cultural histories.

For some time it was fashionable to assume a Dravidian invasion of Bharat before the Aryan invasion, but there is no good reason why we should place the majority of neolithic Dravidians anywhere outside of Bharat.

Chronology of the Vedic literature

With the collapse of the Aryan invasion and immigration theory and the questioning of the assumptions upon which it was based, we must look afresh at the chronology of the Vedic literature. Certain key dates in Bharatiya literature were decided by assuming the flow of ideas from Greece to Bharat.

For example, the Sutra literature was dated to after 300 BC primarily because it was assumed that the geometry of the Sulba Sutras came after Greek geometry. Now that Seidenberg has shown that essentially the same geometry was present in the earlier Brahmanas, which definitely predate Greek geometry, the question of the chronology of the Sutra literature becomes important.

Using astronomical references it appears that the Vedic Samhitas should be dated to the third millennium BC, the Brahmanas to the second millennium BC, with the Upanisads and the Sutras coming somewhat later. Sengupta did pioneering work[14] on this latter problem but his research has not received the attention it deserves.

First, it should be stated that the archaeological and textual evidence compels us to assume that the Indic area became a single cultural area at least around 5000 BC. The Bharatiya civilization was created by the speakers of many languages, but the language of the earliest surviving literary expression was Vedic Sanskrit, which is itself connected to both the north and the south Bharatiya languages.

The distinctive character of the earliest Indic tradition is becoming clear from new analyses of ancient art.[15] For example, David Napier shows[16] how the forehead markings of the Gorgon and the single-eye of the cyclops in Greek art are Indic elements. Although he suggests that this may have been a byproduct of the interaction with the Bharatiya foot soldiers who fought for the Persian armies, he does not fail to mention the more likely possibility that the influence was through the South Bharatiya traders in 2nd-millennium BC-Greece.

This is supported by the fact that the name of the Mycenaean Greek city Tiryns—the place where the most ancient monuments of Greece are to be found—is the same as that of the most powerful Tamilian seafaring people called the Tirayans. Other evidence regarding the spread of Indic ideas to Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Graeco-Roman world, and greater Europe has also become clear.[17]

The genealogies of the Puranas and the later Vedic literature also reach back at least into the third or the fourth millenna BC. The Puranas list ninety-four generations of kings before the Bharata War. The later Vedic literature, starting with the Satapatha Brahmana, indicates a shift in the locus of the civilization outside of the original area of the Sindhu and the Sarasvati valleys.


(To be continued…)

(Featured image for representational purpose only. Source)


5. Kennedy (1995).

6. Lal (1997).

7. Shaffer and Lichtenstein (1995).

8. Seidenberg (1978).

9. For example, see Kak (1994a, 1995a,b, 1996a, 1998b,c).

10. Kak (1988).

11. Allchin (1995), pages 176-179.

12. See Sharma (1995); for new evidence on the domestication of the horse several thousand years before the older postulated period of the second millennium BC, see Anthony et al. (1991).

13. Kak (1994b).

14. Sengupta (1947).

15. Kak (1998b, 1998d).

16. Napier (1986, 1998).

17. Kak (1998d); see also Alvarez (1978) and Taylor (1992).


ResearchOn the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture

Author: Subhash Kak

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