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Book Review: In Search of the Cradle of Civilization

In Search of the Cradle of Civilization by Georg Fuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley, Quest Books (September 2001), 341 pages.

In Search of the Cradle of CivilizationIn 1786, Sir William Jones, a British judge in Calcutta noticed that there were striking similarities in the vocabulary  and grammar of Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, Celtic and Gothic. This discovery resulted in the creation of a new field called comparative linguistics which led scholars to believe that all these languages were derived from a pre-Indo-European language which had its origins somewhere in Northern Europe, Central Asia, Southern Russia, India or Anatolia.

Soon we got the Aryan Invasion Theory, which claimed that Aryans, barbaric semi nomadic tribes who spoke the Indo-European language invaded India and then composed the Vedas. A date of between 1500 – 1200 B.C.E was also proposed for the invasion.  The word Aryan comes from Sanskrit language and means “noble” or “cultured” and does not refer to a particular race or language The whole Aryan Invasion Theory is scholarly fiction according to authors Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley and they present both literary and archaeological evidence for it.

The literary history is provided by the Vedic literature from the Rig-Veda to the Upanishads. The Vedic Aryans were not just cattle and sheep breeding semi nomadic pastoralists, but city dwellers, seafarers and merchants whose business took them along the length of Saraswati, Indus and also into the ocean.  In the ancient scriptures there is no reference to a five river system, but to a seven river system which was called sapta-saindhava (land belonging to seven rivers) and the center of the vedic times was not Punjab, but some place further east on the Saraswati.

Satellite images have shown evidence of paleo channels  in Haryana believed to be this mythical Saraswati. According to geologists, before 1900 B.C.E, Saraswati had shifted course at least four times. Then major tectonic shifts occurred which altered the flow of the river resulting in  the eventual drying. Following this people migrated to the Ganges valley which is described in the Shatapata Brahmana.

Following the archaeological discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, hundreds of other sites were discovered in the region like Ganweriwala, Rakhigarhi, Dholavira, Kalibangan and Lothal. The Harappan culture area far exceeded the combined area occupied by the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations and has provided various seals of significance. This civilization declined around 1900 B.C.E and the cause is attributed to climate change or the disappearance of substantial portions of the Ghaggar Hakra river system.

The authors argue that the people of Harappa were Vedic Aryans who had reached India a long time back. Indo-European speakers are now thought to have been present in Anatolia at the beginning of the Neolothic age. Migrations would have happened during the Harappan times as well, but the new immigrants would have found a prominent Sanskrit speaking Vedic people in Harappa. It is possible that the Vedic people walked on the streets of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa and even possibly Mehrgarh and they did not come as conquerors or destroyers from outside India, but lived and even built the cities in the Land of Seven Rivers.

There are reasons to believe that the Rig-Veda was composed much before Muller’s imaginary date. The authors  claim that some of the oldest hymns of Rig-Veda were composed before the decline of Saraswati.  According to them, Rig-Veda fills the gap between the Neolithic town of Mehrgarh and the Indus-Saraswati civilization. One of the stellar patterns suggested by the hymns of the Rig Veda could only have occurred in the period from 4500 – 2500 B.C.E. Still Max Muller quite arbitarily came up with a date of 1500 – 1200 B.C.E for the Vedas and it has been repeated constantly by various historians. The Rig Veda speaks about the seven rivers and if they were composed by people who came from outside in 1500 B.C.E, then they would not have known about the two vanished rivers.

Among the artifacts obtained from the Indus-Saraswati region is the pashupathi seal named so after the Hindu God Shiva. The seal shows a seated figure, in a yogic posture, with headgear surrounded by animals. Rudra/Shiva is the most prominent deity of the Yajur Veda and this links the Harappan religion with Vedic texts. Polished stones which look like the linga and recently the swastika was also found in Indus Valley.  Numerous clay figurines have been found in Harappa which show a Mother Godess cult and Godesses are common in Hinduism even now.

There is also evidence of tree worship in Harappan times as mentioned in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. The core of the Vedic religion was sacrifice and fire altars have been found in several Indus sites. In Kalibangan seven rectangular fire altars have been found aligned north-south beside a well which parallels the six Vedic dishnya hearths. With all the evidence the authors conclude that the Vedic and Indus-Saraswati civilization is one and the same and Rig-Veda and other sacred hymns were the product of the people who created the urban civilization of the Land of the Seven Rivers.

According to the Aryan Invasion/Migration theory Aryans came and conquered the dark skinned Dasyus. In Sanskrit dasa means servant and could have been the opposite of the Aryans. The battle between the Aryans and Dasyus could be a metaphor for the fight between light and darkness like the struggle between the Egyptian God Ra and the demons of darkness or the Zoroastrian conflict between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. This reference which appears once in the entire Vedic literature became the cornerstone for the Aryan invasion theory. The Dasyus were not Dravidians or non-Aryans, but fallen Aryans or members of the warrior class who had become unspiritual. Arya and dasyu are terms not describing race, but behavior.

Some of their arguments are not that convincing. For example, they cite that priesthood played an important part of Harappans and similarly emphasis on priesthood is found in Vedic literature and hence Harappa was v
edic. Priesthood was an important part of Egyptians, and Zoroastrians as well. The authors believe that Indo-European peoples were at least present in Mehrgarh or that they could be the creators. This belief comes not from any archaeological evidence, but from the assumption that some hymns of Rig Veda could go back to the fourth millennium B.C.E. They even state that literary evidence is more important than archaeological evidence.  In one case they go even as far as suggesting that ancient Egyptians got their wisdom from the sages of India since there was a colony of Indic people in Memphis around 500 B.C.E.

Recently there was a program on The History Channel titled, The Exodus Decoded, which tried to provide a scientific explanation to the Exodus and the ten plagues that struck Egypt. The Smithsonian of May 2006 has an article titled Mideast Archaeology: The Bible as a road map which talks about how an archaeologist identified a structure in West Bank which is believed to have been built by Joshua on instructions from Moses. In both these cases the Bible has been taken as a valid historical document and then archaeology was conducted to validate it. Today Biblical Archaeology is a scientific discipline in its own right.

When it comes to ancient Indian scriptures like the Vedas, scholars are not that lenient. They have always chosen to see in them literary creations of little more than mythological and theological significance. While they contain theology and mythology, it also reveals the names of rivers, astronomical information and gives geographical descriptions which could be valuable clues for historians. It gives us a glimpse of the world in which the authors of the Vedas lived. This book brings into attention many interesting pieces of information from various fields to make a strong case for the antiquity of Indic civilization and is highly recommended.

Note: This book is available from the varnam Book Store

4 Responses to Book Review: In Search of the Cradle of Civilization

  1. sandeep September 13, 2006 at 4:14 am #

    >>Still Max Muller quite arbitarily came up with a date of 1500 – 1200 B.C.E
    We know where he was coming from: he was convinced of the Biblical (?) view that the world was only 4000 years old. And how dare the natives have a civilization that preceded it? Hence that date. I’m sure you know that already.

  2. JK September 13, 2006 at 3:51 pm #

    Sandeep, Actually it was not quite arbitarily as you said. SABHA has documentary evidence from his writings

    http://www.sabha.info/research/aif.html

  3. sandeep September 14, 2006 at 7:31 am #

    LOL :) I didn’t use the “arbitrary” word; I merely quoted you from your own entry:
    >>…still Max Muller quite arbitarily came up with a date of 1500 – 1200 B.C.E for the Vedas and it has been repeated constantly by various historians. The Rig Veda speaks about the seven rivers and if they were composed by people who came from outside in 1500 B.C.E, then they would not have…>>

    Sorry if I nitpicked, and yes, I read that Sabha article.

  4. Shahryar September 17, 2006 at 4:02 am #

    Schliemann famously used the Greek epic Iliad for his successful search for the historical remains of Ilium a.k.a. Troy.

    I am sure Ramayana and Mahabharata have sufficient depth of information which could be used for scientific archaelogy!

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