Harappan Trilogy: a preamble
Middle of third millennium BC was the golden era of Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization. It stretched from Afghanistan beyond Hindu Kush Mountains in the west to the Ganges-Yamuna doab in the east, Himalayas in the north and the Arabian Sea in the south. The area was over a million square miles and the biggest empire of the time, bigger than Sumerian and Egyptian civilisations put together.
After the Last Glacial Maximum about 13,000 years ago, the Himalayan glaciers receded just far enough north to leave a vast fertile alluvial plain between the Hindu Kush mountains in the north west and the Aravalli hills in the east. This area was flooded every year like clockwork by the river Indus. This vast land was fed by waters of seven great rivers – Sindhu (Indus), Parushni (Ravi), Vitasta (Jhelum), Vipasa (Beas), Sutudri (Sutlej), Asikni (Chenab) and Saraswathi (Gaggar-Hakra).
The Indus Valley civilisation was at the peak of development in the middle of the third millennium BCE with several large urban centres such as Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Dholavira and Rakhigarhi. Archaeological excavations show uniform developments across the empire, suggesting area wide communications, exchange of ideas and resources across the vast land. The Harappan seals have been discovered as far away as Mesopotamia and Egypt in the west and in places at the southern peninsula of Indian sub-continent, suggesting travel and communications over vast distances. This vast civilisation appears to have disappeared over a period around 1900 to 1300 BCE. There are several theories for their demise. Drying up of River Saraswathi, Monsoon moving further east, desertification of Rajasthan, several major tectonic upheavals, over use of natural resources, breakdown of civic order, economic downturn of Mesopotamian civilisation and finally an invasion from beyond its borders – the now infamous Aryan Invasion. It could be either one or a combination of these caused the demise of this amazing civilisation. There is growing acceptance that the Harappan civilisation gradually evolved into the historic civilisation of the Gangetic plains.
The question of who were these people has been asked for centuries. Not many people subscribe to the “Aryan Invasion” theory anymore. It is now generally accepted that the population of Indus Valley civilisation was made up of indigenous people and there was a gradual migration and integration of Indo-European speaking people from the central Asia. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was probably difficult for scholars to accept that such an advanced civilisation could have pre-dated a population, which they considered lacking in cultural development. The conclusion that there was an “invasion” of the Aryans from the steppes of central Asia was drawn based on tenuous philological evidence. So far there has not been any evidence to suggest mass destruction or warfare among the ruins that have been excavated so far to suggest any invasion. There is, however, a grain of truth in that the warfare was conducted in battlefields rather than the cities being attacked or ransacked during the pre-history.
There are still thousands of Harappan sites waiting to be excavated. The excavations so far have revealed a highly advanced civilisation with well-developed city planning including roads, civic engineering, water supply and drainage. Some of the discoveries show that the system of drainage could be compared to any modern day city. Earliest settlements of Mehrgarh date back to seventh millennium BCE had houses built of sun baked bricks, ploughing and irrigation of streams of river Bolan by building the earliest dams – ‘gabarbands.’ During the so-called urban period during the middle of the third millennium BCE saw mushrooming of large cities in both Indus and Saraswathi valleys. Best known are Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, both of which are in the Indus valley. They extended over 200 hectares and had an estimated population of over 80,000 at their peak. They were equivalent of present day New York and London. Only about 10% of these two sites have been excavated so far.
The Indus script, which dates back to being one of earliest scripts dating back to fourth millennium BCE, still defies our experts and remains a mystery. Very little was known about the people who lived in these cities until recently. Now we know what they looked like, what kind of clothes they wore, their jewellery, their food habits and religious practices to some extent.
All the cities of Indus Valley Civilisation show an extremely high standard of engineering and mathematical skills not seen in any other contemporary civilisation. For example all the high streets of the large cities such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were set in major cardinal axes. A sound knowledge of astronomy and mathematics along with engineering skill was essential for such an achievement. Mathematical texts ‘written’ by eminent sages such a Baudhayana, Apastambha, Manava and Katyana have been placed between 800 BCE and 200 BCE. The dating again is based purely on linguistic evidence comparing with other contemporary texts and they could easily have been a few centuries before. Apasthambha described both Pythagorean theorem and Pythagorean triples dating at least 200 years before Pythagoras.
There is a school of thought, which subscribes to the idea that the Vedas were composed by the Harappans or the Meluhhans as the Mesopotamians called them, during the third millennium BCE. Rig Veda is the oldest of the Vedas and has been dated by the historians to have been composed around 1700 BCE. Niraj Mohanka of New Dharma takes it even further to 4000 BCE as the timeline for Rigveda. There was no archaeological evidence to suggest the dating of the Vedas until recently. This was based purely on linguistic and philological evidence. The evidence is hidden within the books themselves. However evidence is emerging now that the earliest recensions of the Vedas might have been composed a long time ago during the Bronze Age dating back to 3000 BCE. There are now both archaeological and textual evidence emerging which show that both the Vedas and Harappans belong to same time period. One of the grammar texts – Rigveda Pratisakya – used for analysis and understanding of Rigveda has been dated back to between 3100 and 800 BCE. New evidence is emerging all the time, which is putting our history further, and further back. It will not be long before the Indus script is unravelled and we may get an answer to if the Harappans wrote the Vedas.
Rig Veda is the oldest of four Vedas – Sama, Yajur and Atharvana being the other three. It is organised into ten books or ‘Mandalas’ and consists of 1028 hymns. Numbering of the books is rather arbitrary and again based on linguistics. For example, the first book of the Rigveda in considered much younger than the second. The language of the Vedas was considered ‘archaic’ as long ago as the time of the great grammarian, Panini, who has been dated to have been around sixth century BCE. Dr David Frawley suggests that the positioning of vernal equinox in the Vedic scriptures suggest that the authors were from 6000 BCE. Astronomical configurations shown in the Vedas and Bramhanas suggest that these were written well before 3000 BCE. I recommend a visit to www.Indiahistoryonline.com. It has an excellent link to an extremely well researched chronology of history, of not only the Vedic people but also other religions of the world.
Zarathustra (Zoroaster) is considered to be the author of religious text of the Avestans, Yasna Haptanghaiti. This has been dated to around the middle of the second millennium BCE. Geography of Ariana is quite clear in the book and puts in squarely in present day Iran and to some extent Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. There is very little known about people who lived in these parts before Zoroaster. According to the Avestan Gathas, he teaches the Avestan King Vishtaspa and overcomes obstacles placed by other priests and ruling classes. The dating of both these individuals has been severely contested, some placing Zoroaster from 700 BCE to as far back as 7000 BCE. The language used in the Yasna Haptanghaiti is old Avestan and the date of the language is still contested.
There is archaeological evidence to show that there were significant tectonic activity in the area and several of the rivers were diverted during the second and third millennium BCE. Diversion of several major rivers left parts of the country barren and unliveable. River Yamuna moved eastwards to join Ganges, Drishadvati and Beas dried up and Sutlej turned west to drain into Indus because of the uplifting of the western tectonic plate. This caused the Saraswathi to dry up almost completely leaving two segments of seasonal streams – Gaggar in Northwest India and Hakra in lower Pakistan. This meant most of Rajasthan in India and Cholistan in Pakistan turned into desert over a millennium. There are remnants of settlements from the Bronze Age dotted on either side of the dried up bed of the once mighty river in the Thar Desert. Recent Landsat satellite photography show the water still flowing all the way from the foothills of Himalayas and the Shivaliks all the way down to the Arabian Sea at the Kutch. Even now, area from Greater Iran to north West Pakistan shows regular seismic activity with regular earthquakes. We were reminded of the devastating earthquake of Bhuj, which left thousands dead in 2001. The massive earthquake of 1819 lifted the Asian plate along a corridor of nearly 100 kms by an average of 10 meters causing the major rivers to back up for decades. It is still called the “Allah’s bund” in Pakistan.
As the desertification of Rajasthan and Cholistan progressed, the Urban phase of the Harappan civilisation ended around 2000 BCE and post-urban civilisation lost much of the characteristics and reverted to the pre-urban pastoral civilisation. The Indus script, seals, artisan work with Carnelian, Agate, Steatite and Lapis Lazuli disappeared. The civic society with ordered roads, drainage, water supply and baked bricks came to an end. The settlements were small and clustered around the southern part of the empire in Saurashtra and in the northeast in present day Haryana, Punjab and Ganges doab, where the precipitation was more predictable. Iron made its appearance as the new or second urbanism set in around late second millennium BCE – around 1300 BCE. The population gradually migrated towards the east into the Gangetic plain over a millennium.
Book One: The Lure of Soma:
It is in this context that the lives and trials and tribulations of people living in the Indus valley during the middle of third millennium BCE are tackled in this book. I have used existing archaeological evidence along with known historical evidence in writing this book. Rigveda talks about several conflicts among the descendants of the emperor Bharata and the Avestan scriptures talk about the conflicts between the Aryans and the Dasyus. There have always been fierce debates about who exactly these Aryans were and the Daevas mentioned in the Avestan scriptures. I have used some poetic license to accommodate the dates and times of various individuals and events to suit the story telling. The book tries to portray the life of ordinary people during the period of Harappans, while trying to tell the tale of the priestly kings, Magi, Rishis and Sages of the great Indus Valley Civilisation during the middle of third millennium BCE. This is the story of our hero, Upaas, a trainee physician from Harappa. It is a story of a young man growing up, falling in love, getting involved in adventures and finally fighting for the city he loves most – Harappa. The story shows the human elements of people around him. He faces friendship, love, hate, jealousy, treachery and deceit in day to day life. There is generous sprinkling of magic and sorcery. As the country of Ariana, west of Hindu Kush dries up, the Avestans facing with near extinction take up arms against their neighbours to obtain the precious Soma. The tactics used include deceit, sorcery and finally a war between the Meluhhans and Avestans
The Soma plant has been the centrepiece of several hymns in the Vedic scriptures. It is a plant still not accurately recognized. The Vedic people revered it as a God, drank the extract from the stalk of the plant, used the plant for medicinal purposes and it is supposed to have magical properties. There are hymns composed to the Soma within the Vedas. The Avestan had a similar plant and called it Haoma and their scriptures also revered the plant for its spiritual properties. Vedas describe it as growing in a sacred mountain around a sacred lake (Mount Mujavant and lake Sharynavat). Avestan scriptures describe a similar sacred mountain and a sacred lake in Sistan where the Haoma plant grew. Similar to the Soma of Indus valley, we still do not know exactly what this plant was as it disappeared at the same time as the Harappans. It was considered the mushroom, Amanita Muscaria for a long time because of the ”hallucinogenic” effects the Soma was said to produce when consumed. This may be a misconception by the writers who tried to explain the events described in Vedic scriptures and the powers of ancient sages.
Book Two: The Fall of Shuruppak:
Harappans appear to have ventured far and wide with their trade, both on land and sea. Harappan settlements spread as far west as Shortugai in Afghanistan at the head of river Oxus, which was the centre of raw materials such as Lapis Lazuli, Gold and Silver for the Harappan artisans. Harappan seals, jewellery and pottery have been found in Elam (present day Iran), Egypt, and Sumer. Jewellery found in Queen Puabi’s tomb had all the hallmarks of Harappan artisans. The cylindrical Carnelian beads with central core drilled after hours of careful work is typical of the Harappans.
Cylindrical seal of Shu-ilishu, the translator has the typical humped bull on one side and cuneiform text on the other side. Archaeologists agree that he must have been a translator of Sumerian and Akkadian into Meluhhan language. He is placed to have lived in Lagash around the middle of third millennium BCE. There is archaeological evidence of Meluhhan enclaves around Lagash.
Sargon the great who ruled most of Mesopotamia from around 2300 BCE, boasts of ships from Meluhha, Dilmun and Magan docking in the port of his capital city, Akkad. The Meluhhans obviously had marine trading links with Akkad for a long time with some of them settling down in Sumer. Despite elaborate description of the city of Akkad in several tablets in cuneiform texts, the city eludes detection.
Epic of Gilgamesh is a well known story with an almost entire story written and transcribed from cuneiform texts. Emperor Gilgamesh befriends an uncouth Enkidu from the deep forests and a deep friendship ensues. The epic is that of undying love, sacrifice and heroism. Enkidu is mortally injured fighting a mythical demon and only a meluhhan sage can save him.
Book Three: The Battle of Ten Kings (Dasharajna)
Book six of Rigveda describes a battle between King Sudas and “ten kings.” It is a confederacy of ten to twelve kings compiled by disgruntled descendants of King Yayathi’s sons who felt hard done by when the ageing king gives the central part of the great Bharatha kingdom to the youngest son, Puru over the elder four brothers – Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. King Sudas is brought up and trained by sage Vishwamitra and Vasishta. Vishwaimtra falls out with the king and the senior sage Vasishta and joins the confederacy of ten kings. A bitter battle ensues on the banks of River Parushni (present day Ravi) between the forces of King Sudas, highly outnumbered by the huge army of “sixty six thousand” of the confederacy. God Indra intervenes and takes the side of “righteous Sudas,” and a flash flood destroys most of the army of the confederacy.
While there is no archaeological evidence of the battle or the actors within it, there is enough evidence within the Rigveda itself to place the event around the third millennium BCE. River Parushni is easily identifiable as the present day Ravi and the kingdom to be the present day Punjab, Haryana and parts of northeast Pakistan with seven rivers. This epic is considered by many to be the third epic of India, after the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Descendants of king Puru for the famous Kuru dynasty who are the actors within the great battle of Mahabharata. This battle has often been used by the proponents of the Aryan Invasion theory as proof of mighty Aryans invading India and destroying the Harappan civilisation. It is claimed that they brought the horses and Iron weapons to destroy the great Harappan empire.
The Harappan Trilogy is due for worldwide release in June 2017.