Whose History is it anyway?
There have been many articles from time to time in the media which raise questions on antiquity, nativity, unity and scientific advances of Indian Civilization. The historians also have struggled when mythology contains history. This debate has got intricately tied up with the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) which speculates that Vedas were created between 1500-1200 BC. AIT also maintains that, the creators of Vedas – Aryans came to India from a Western route spending some common period with Iranians as a part of collective tradition and the new-comers had a conflict with a native population in India. The date of 1200-1500 BC was speculated by Max Muller initially, which later almost became orthodoxy. The commonalities between Indo-European languages made it a possibility though initial speculation was around India being a common homeland for speakers of Indo-European languages. Later discoveries of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were dated prior to this period and were considered to belong to a different civilization altogether. The inability to decipher the seals found near Indus came handy to call the civilization as even Dravidian, even though there was no clear evidence. The late date to Vedas shifted all the remaining dates i.e of Brhamanas and Sutras, Mahabharata war and so on. This also led to giving credit to lot of ancient Indian advances to Greeks and Babylonians whenever common advances were found across the civilizations. The theory led to native versus outsider and Aryan versus Dravidian debate as well outsider versus aborigines debate. This was in complete contrast with Indian tradition and internal references in ancient Indian literature. While all these theories have been disputed and there is adequate evidence to point to the antiquity, nativity, unity and scientific advances in ancient India, our educators of history have acted ignorant and neglected their duty to inform the general public of both sides of the debate. This has resulted even media reacting with shock even when reputed people from India and abroad accept Indian source to many advances in Mathematics most notably Pythagoras Theorem. Further Hindus believe they have a unified tradition where people from all parts of India have contributed to. Arya was a term for nobility with cultural connotations, Aryavarta was a region to the North of Vindhyas and Dravid was a region south of Vindhyas, including states like Mahasrastra. The linguistic analysis no doubt has pointed to two groupings – Indo-Aryan (most North Indian languages and Sinhalese which have commonality with Iranian and European languages) and languages of South India, called as Dravidian. Both the groups have common Sanskrit terms as well as borrowed from each other. There are structural similarities, across both the groups, while retaining their distinctive roots. Migration of people over centuries also has given a unifying touch. Additional differences have come in due to borrowing of Persian and some Arabic words in Hindi during Muslim Rule. Let us look at each of antiquity, nativity, unity and Scientific advance claims. The books/articles written by Subhash Kak, Koenraad Elst, Srikant Talageri, David Frawley and Rajaram Navaratne give pointers to lot of work done by historians that support all these claims very well. This article primarily restates their conclusions in a simple, compact manner.
In 1790 AD, the Scottish mathematician John Playfair demnonstrated that starting date of the astronomical observations still in use among Hindu astrologers had to be 4300 BC. The Indian calculations were further confirmed by Playfair’s contemporary, the French astronomer Jean-Sylvanian Bailey, who stated : “The motion of stars calculated by the Hindus before some 4500 years ago vary not even a single minute from the modern tables of Cassini and Meyer. The Indian tables give the same annual variation of the moon as that discovered by Tyco Brahe – a variation unknown to the school of Alexandria and also to Arabs”. All these had to be based on actual observations, as any back-calculation required advanced mathematics that was available only in 16th Century AD. The truly strong evidence for a high(older) chronology of Vedas is the Vedic information about equinox. An equinox occurs when the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the Sun. At that instant, the tilt of Earth’s axis neither inclines away from nor towards the Sun. The point at which this equinox happens itself changes along the elliptical journey of earth around the Sun, slightly each year. One whole journey of equinoxes takes around 25,791 years. If we can read the Vedic and post-Vedic indicators they mention constellations on the equinox points which were there from 4000 BC for the Rigveda (Orion) through around 3100 BC for the Atharva Veda and the core Mahabharata (Aldebaran) down to 2,300 BC for the Sutras and Shatapatha Brahmana (Pleiades). Other references to the constellational position of solstices (longest and shortest days) confirm this chronology. Thus the Kaushitaki Brahmana puts the winter solstice at the new moon of the sidereal month of the Magha (i.e. the Mahashivarathi Festival), which now falls 70 days later: This points to a date in the first half of the third millennium BC. The same precessional movement of the twelve months of the Hindu Calendar (which are tied to the constellations) vis-s-vis the meteorological seasons is what allowed Herman Jacobi(1894 AD) to fix the date of the Rigveda to the 5th to 4th Millennium BC. Indeed its regular references to the beginning of Monsoon, which nearly coincides with summer solstice, provide a secure and unambiguous chronology through the millennial Vedic literature. Puranas have maintained a list of Kings between Mahabhabharata war and later periods. We also have records from Aryabhatta and Varahamihira and computations are also done by assigning average tenure to different kings. Traditional date for Mahabharata is around 3137 BC whereas Varahamihira suggested a date of 2437 BC and some have suggested 1927 BC. But all the dates are much earlier than very late dates given by AIT. In addition to this India had a tradition of “Saptharshi cycle” of 3600 years. The medieval Kashmiri historian Kalhana claimed that the last “Saptharshi Cycle” started in 3076 BC. This takes to the earlier cycle’s start date to 6,676 BC. This would roughly co-incide with the Puranic dynasty reported by Graeco Roman authors starting with 6,776 BC. Pliney wrote that Indians date their first King to 6,424 years before Chandragupta Maurya (324 BC), which adds up to 6,776 BC. Nearly same date is associated with Dionysus (Roman Equivalent). Both these traditions converge to Manu first Aryan patriarch who established kingdom in North India, after having survived the flood.
The AIT advocates have generally maintained that Indus civilization is native and Vedic Civilization is alien. They characterized Indus Civilization as urban and Vedic Civilization as nomadic, based on superficial reading of Vedas and incomplete information about Indus Civilization. As more and more Harappan sites are discovered they seem to be along the original River Saraswati. Recent archaeological discoveries indicate that the Sarasvati river dried up around 1900 BC, leading to the collapse of the Harappan civilization that was principally located in the Saraswati region (accounting for about 70 percent of all the Harappan sites). The Rigveda celebrates the Sarasvati as the greatest river of its day, going from the mountains to the sea (giribhya asamudrat in RV 7.95.2). Given the understanding of the drying up of Sarasvati, with its preeminent status during the Rigvedic times, it follows that the Rigvedic hymns are generally anterior to 1900 BC. If one accepts the theory that the Sarasvati stopped reaching the sea in 3000 BC, then the Rigvedic hymns are prior to 3000 BC. The Vedic tradition is primarily Bharata tradition. Bharatas belong to Puru tribe. Puru is one among the five tribes : Purus, Anus, Yadus, Trahyus and Druhyus. Purus moved towards Saraswati region, Yadus and Trahyus moved to rest of India. With sage Agastya group of people moved down South. Anus moved to Kashmir and also to Iran. There are references to war of 10 Kings in Vedas, after which set of people moved towards Afghanistan and Iran. Much earlier Druhyus supposedly moved to farther lands – possibly anywhere from Greece to Ireland and Russia. Between Anus and Druhyus most of the regions from Afghanistan, Iran and rest of Europe were covered by the Aryan Civilization over millennia. Afghanistan however was integral to Indian Civilization as noted in Mahabharata. In general, there is greater evidence of westward movement than eastward movement. India being a fertile and relatively more populous region may have been more of a source than destination of these movements. The people moved carried the Aryan culture of worshiping Gods associated with nature along with them. The Greek, Roman , Germanic and other traditions have direct linkage with Indian mythology and so do languages directly relate to Sanskrit and not through Iran. Iranians rather are sub-set of Indians and this goes against the grouping where Indo-Europeans are super-set, followed by Indo-Iranians super-set and Indians being part of that. Iranians are the last to depart India and Iranian records corroborate that they are outsiders to Iran.
Most of the Vedic struggle between Devas and Asuras is between Indians and Iranians. Indians also initially called Gods as Asuras, but later there was a divide between Devas and Asuras. Any struggle is between closely related cousins and not between foreigners and aborigines. Puranas and epics clearly state all higher castes in fact all castes as natives of India. The key premise that raised questions on Vedic Tradition being a later and separate tradition is answered by the discovery of Harappa Sites along the bank of Sarasvati and dating of drying up of Saraswati. These findings establish that Vedic Tradition was earlier than Harappan and Harappan has evolved from or has a strong kin-ship with Vedic tradition. The speakers of South Indian Languages have largely remained to south and have done forays to South East Asia. There is no evidence that they are clear-cut groupings genetically either across India. There is also no evidence of Dravidian invasion or replacement of one set of people by another. As Ambedkar mentioned in his paper “Castes in India” , “whether a family is Aryan or Dravidian never troubled the people of India until foreign scholars came and began to draw the line”. Even though tribals are considered aborigins some tribes have languages that are of foreign origin.(Munda and speakers of Tibeto-Burmese Languages).
Vedic sages had an advanced understanding of astronomy. They were very clear about centrality of sun in solar system and also had a sense of invisible force that is making celestial bodies go around the sun. There was no divide between pursuit of spirituality and science, as the sages pursued both. The sages made use of science and mathematics in religious rituals. In the Sulabha Sutras appended to Baudayana’s Shrauta Sutra, mathematical instructions are given for the construction of Vedic altars. One of its remarkable contributions is the theorem usually ascribed to Pythagoras, first for a specialized case of a square (the form in which it was discovered) and then for the general case of the rectangle. “The diagonal of the rectangle produces the combine surface which length and breadth produce separately”. This and other instances of advanced mathematics presented by Baudhayana have been shown by American Mathematician A Seidenberg to be the origin of similar mathematical techniques and discoveries some of whom have been securely dated to 1700 BC. So 1700 BC was a terminus post quem for Baudhayana’s mathematics which would reasonably dated to the beginning of the later part of Harappan period which ended in 1900 BC. Seidenberg was told that it was inconsistent with AIT chronology; however, he was convinced that original discoveries were done in India. Seidenberg maintained that “Whatever difficulties in chronology we may see, it is smaller than the difficulty of deriving the Vedic ritual theorem from Babylonia. (The reverse derivation is easy). The application involves geometric algebra and there is no evidence of geometric algebra from Babylonia. And the geometric of Babylonia is secondary whereas in India it is primary”. He finally maintained that “Hence we do not hesitate to place the vedic rituals or rituals like them far back of 1700 BC.. Elements of geometry found in Egypt and Babilonia stem from a ritual system of the kind described in the Sulavasutras”. Baudhayana’s Shaura Sutra refers to a solistice in Magha. This can be associated with a date somewhere around 2300 BC. This date is consistent with the analysis of Seidenberg. In terms of cultural transmission India is no longer a late receiver rather it is an extremely ancient source.. The solar zodiac is commonly believed to have originated in, Babylonia in 600 BC. The Chinese 27 part zodiac was associated with 2400 BC by Needham and commonality between Indian Nakshtra system was identified. However due to AIT dating, Needham wrongly concluded that India must have borrowed the Nakshatra system from China. . It is possible that both Lunar and Solar zodiacs have originated in India and both China and Babylonia may have borrowed these systems from India. In summary Indian tradition is very ancient, native, united and scientifically advanced. The astronomical indications in Vedas are consistent and track well with their evolution from 4th Millennium BC. The Sutras also give indications of belonging to 2-3 Millennium BC. Mahabharata war is traditionally believed to be around 3,137 BC but definitely before the drying up of Saraswati River in 1900 BC. The Indian “Panchangas” have observations starting from 4,300-4,500 BC, as confirmed in 1790 AD itself by a Scottish Mathematician and a French Astronomer. This corpus of evidence is hard to reconcile with the AIT and has been standing as a growing challenge to the AIT defenders for last two centuries.
Most of the material for this article has come from my reading of the articles/books by Koenraad Elst, Srikant Talageri, Subhash Kak and Rajaram Navratne. The article is written with the view to increase the reach of all their good work. My thanks to all of them.