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Lets First do Archaeology

Mr. Ramaswami, a proponent of Aryan Invasion Theory and subsequent corollaries like Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata happened in Russia, recently left a comment on my blog post with some questions. This was related to his article on Mint claiming that there was an Aryan Invasion and my subsequent response citing two papers which show that there was none.

He wrote

In attempting to refute my theory, Nair has waxed eloquent about DNA, linguistic history etc but does not have the courage, for obvious reasons, to state with conviction the central question raised in my article – what is the

The only reason I don’t mention the date is because: I don’t know. This is mostly because I have not seen a consensus date among historians and archaeologists so far, not because I have any agenda.

Instead, everyone has their favourite date based on their favourite techniques and Dr.Subhash Kak has a good summary. The dates vary from 5th millennia (based on astronomical references) to 1000 B.C.E. One argument was that we don’t find any dates between 2500 – 1500 B.C.E, but Dr. Kak’s paper mentions 1924 B.C.E as a possible date.

The date of 1924 BC. Based on Puranic genealogies that see a gap of 1000 years or so between the War and the rule of the Nandas (424 BC) we get the date of 1424 BC. But Pargiter, while editing these accounts from the various Puranas,4 suggested that the original number was 1,500 which was wrongly copied in various texts as 1000, 1015, or 1050. I accept the arguments of Pargiter and, therefore, consider the Puranic tradition to support the date of 1924 BC. [The Mahabharata and the Sindhu-Sarasvati Tradition]

Mr. Ramaswami is quite right when he says that it is strange that there is a spread of millennia for an epic which tells the story of a few generations and we cannot accurately nail it to a specific date. It would be helpful if we could find some horse bones or evidence of Ashwamedha or of the palace at Indraprastha. It would indeed give closure if we could say for sure if Mahabharata was real history, or a minor history event embellished by Vyasa or just poetic imagination. Does this look absurd compared to the certainity of events in Egypt and Mesopotamia? It certainy does.

Ramaswami says

f you were the Indian government would you not dig up these places like the Mumbai Municipal Corporation right down to the centre of the earth if necessary? What we done and what have we found? Let me tell you the answers. If at all they have dug they have found nothing or found something to the contrary. After all if there was any evidence it would have made headlines all over the world. The correct answer is that no excavation has been done because everyone knows that nothing will be found because it did not happen.

How do we know this is the correct answer? No idea. But here is another answer.

“Those who are on the side of the Hindu fundamentalists have been misusing archaeology to push back the antiquity of Indian civilization”, was one of the complaints when Jagmohan of that “communal” NDA Govt started the Saraswati Heritage Project to conduct archaeology along the banks of the Ghaggar river. The project which involved IITs and Birbal Sahni Institution was canned by the present UPA Govt, not because of the fear that nothing will be found, but because of the fear that something will be found.

There is one more reason – people might decolonize their minds. This is what happened to the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, B.B. Lal. A disciple of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, he started out by believing in the Aryan Theory and then went on to dig some Mahabharata sites.

In my report on the excavations at Hastinapura and in a few subsequent papers I expressed the view that the Painted Grey Ware Culture represented the early Aryans in India. But the honeymoon was soon to be over. Excavations in the middle Ganga valley threw up in the pre-NBP strata a ceramic industry with the same shapes (viz. bowls and dishes) and painted designs as in the case of the PGW, the only difference being that in the former case the ware had a black or black-and-red surface-colour, which, however, was just the result of a particular method of firing. And even the associated cultural equipment was alike in the two cases. All this similarity opened my eyes and I could no longer sustain the theory of the PGW having been a representative of the early Aryans in India.[Let not the 19th century paradigms continue to haunt us! ]

If you go to any library or watch History channel, you will be bombarded with information on Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilization. Thus there is no surprise if there is certainty in their events, because much archaeology and research has been done, while nothing of that sort has been done in India, due lack of political will. Why go as far as Mahābhārata war? The dates for Adi Shankara has a spread of millennia.

A good example of a myth turning into reality was the Trojan war. Interested in the location of Homer’s Troy, Heinrich Schliemann started digging for it in Turkey. Though British archaeologist Frank Calvert had identified Hissarlik as the site of Troy, his work was over shadowed by Schliemann who published Ithaka, der Peloponnesus und Troja in which he claimed Hissarlik as the site of Troy. This is now accepted by historians.

Even though the site was discovered there were sceptics who claimed that Troy was an insignificant town and such a large war as described by Homer could not have happened there. For the past 16 years more than 350 people have been collaborating on the excavations in the site and their discoveries have resulted in some new facts. Troy, it seems was a large and important city controlling access from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. German archaeologist Manfred Korfmann who has been excavating in Troy wrote

According to the archaeological and historical findings of the past decade especially, it is now more likely than not that there were several armed conflicts in and around Troy at the end of the Late Bronze Age. At present we do not know whether all or some of these conflicts were distilled in later memory into the “Trojan War” or whether among them there was an especially memorable, single “Trojan War.” However, everything currently suggests that Homer should be taken seriously, that his story of a military conflict between Greeks and the inhabitants of Troy is based on a memory of historical events–whatever these may have been [Was There a Trojan War?]

Let there be more archaeology and Mumbai Municipal Corporation like digging around the country. Let there be an Archaeological Survey of India freed from political masters. Let us allow researchers into the field. Let us first have some data before jumping to conclusions.

Ramaswami says, “the gap in the MB dates coincided with the Aryan invasion and they are both the same events.” I don’t believe in an Aryan Invasion, due to lack of genetic evidence, and so the date of Mahābhārata is not tied to it and that’s our disagreement in this debate.

6 Responses to Lets First do Archaeology

  1. T.R. Ramaswami June 8, 2008 at 10:48 pm #

    I am primarily interested in getting a properly documented date for the Mahabharatha war. The Aryan Invasion theory has been quoted as it is the only event that fits in with the approximate dates as also the intensity/duration of the war detailed in the epics.

    The dates of the war have to be tied up with the advent of horses and chariots. Please also research history and find out when a battle proper (seiges are not battles) lasted more than one day.

    History does not allow lies beyond a point. Stray too much and you get caught in ambiguities and contradictions.

    I welcome Nair’s statement that archaeology needs to be used to verify facts without getting it mixed in politics. The question is why is politics interested in archaeology/history? Because it may disprove some theories held dear by politicians. One such being the Aryan invasion theory.

    Lastly let me clarify that I am neither a politician nor a fundamentalist. My article started with reading an item that the earliest recorded battle was that of Megiddo in 1469 BC. If the Mahabharatha war was so beautifully chronicled then did it happen later or should it not be the earliest recorded battle? There is of course the larger question whether it happened at all or even as stated in the epics.

    One must also note the tendency of Indians not to accurately record anything to enable a version that is conveneient at any point in time. In the 21st. century many of us do not even know the names, birth dates or even occupation of our great-grand-father but we are prepared to believe something “dictated” 4000/5000 years back even without a shred of proof.

  2. kaangeya June 9, 2008 at 5:30 am #


    It is hard to take you seriously, try as we might. The date of an event has to be deduced based on multiple lines of evidence. So when JK waxes eloquently on DNA and languages, that is the way it ought to be.

    There are several messy fallacious assumptions and axioms in your line of argument. It is extremely difficult to unscramble them. I am going to crticise a few of your points in the hope that I get to the central points of your argument.

    Firstly you to take the account of the Mahabharata – which one you don’t tell us – as a text cast in stone. There is no such text. Despite the efforts of a number of Western Sanskrit scholars for the last 100 years no Ur-Mahabharata has been outlined.

    Secondly you are given to making events out of much longer processes. So your “Aryan Invasion” becomes a single battle, your Indus Civilisation becomes “excavated”. Unless there is watertight evidence no such event can be inferred. Since there is none and you are looking for it, you seem to assume as given what you set out to prove.

    Thirdly you insist that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Since there is no “evidence” (you aren’t clear what you mean by it) from some sundry battle or text in Kurukshetra or Dvaraka, and because even 100 million year old fossils of dinosaurs can be found, you claim that certain events as recorded in your canonical text did not happen. This is a classic argument from the creationist copybook. One of the standard arguments of the creationists against evolutionary biology is the supposed lack of “transitional fossils” or “missing links”. This ignores the fact that sof tissue rarely ever fossilises, bone tissue pulverises, often small organisms are eaten up whole, and the bulk of fossils may well never be found. The assumption here is that all species and every organism that ever ‘lived’ is fossilsed, which in turn has no warrant. So these days scientists have heir own joke, whenever they find a new fossil (which is several times a day), that they create two new gaps in the “record”. And that brings me to the final point. This barrage of assumptions cloaked as arguments has a name for it popular science circle – the Gish Gallop named after the practice of the famous creationist Duane Gish. Now we have the TRR Gallop in Indian History.

    Thanks JK for the bandwidth

  3. Anonymous June 10, 2008 at 1:05 am #

    That’s the way it is conveneient – to quote data that suits you – DNA and linguistics. In any case such data can be collected and interpreted as you desire. My contention is the date – which cannot be concocted and the 2000 years range provided by experts proves that there is something to hide. How does “which” account of the Mahabharatha affect the date? Take any acount that suits you and tell me the date. My Aryan invasion does not become a single battle. I havesaid that 18 days is metaphorical.
    Absence of evidence may not mean evidence of absence but absence of effort to look for evidence indicates that there is a tacit admisssion of no evidence. In fact although JK has advocated digging, let anyone try and there will a huge hue and cry that the “sanctity” of the palce is being desecrated. Actually they are worried that the “sanctity” of the lies founded on fiction or on a base that does not suit them may be discovered.

    In any case I have only one interest – the date – which no one seems to have. And the ambiguity of the date is convenient to those who don’t want their theory to be tested. Much of our history is the same including the so-called great independence fight by the Congress. Read this also:


    There are several related events and questions relating to the 1857 mutiny that have not been highlighted in any of our history books or even the media. Why did it fail and why no Second War of Independence? Given the communications technology, it was difficult for the mutineers to gather a critical mass and the British were able to shut it down fast. The fact that six big maharajas – Scindia of Gwalior, the Maharaja of Patiala, the Begum of Bhopal, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Sikh Chiefs of Punjab and Gulab Singh of Kashmir – did not join the mutiny and some even helped the British made things easier. In fact Patiala even supplied a force to the British. Scindia refused refuge to the Rani of Jhansi. In 1861 the Indian Councils Act enlarged the Central Legislative Council and the first three Indians rewarded for the “help” in 1857 were included – the Maharaja of Patiala, Raja Dinkar Rao, the PM of Gwalior and Raja Deo Narain Singh. The British also ceded Jhansi to the Scindias. It is a historical truism that many princes were against independence, including India’s first Test player – the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar – Ranjitsinjhi.

    Why no second war of independence? That’s because the British moved fast and smartly. They adopted a strategy that had a global impact and still has a national impact. First they hastened the construction of the Suez Canal, which changed the geo-political character of Euro-Asia. This cut the travel time from England to India from 4-6 months to 4-6 weeks. They then constructed railways all over India that facilitated quick movement of troops. India was linked to England via Europe telegraphically in 1866. Thus the strategic “external lines” as propounded by General Helmut von Moltke, the then German Army Chief and master military strategist-cum-tactician, were firmly secured. Our leadership had no inkling whatsoever of all this. In fact they were totally lost as far as strategy was concerned right upto 1962. The British also realized that the main reason why the mutiny failed was because it had no central intellectual leadership or strategy. To ensure that the educated intellectuals did not get any further ideas, the British opened the Indian Civil Service to Indians thus making them a part of the administration.

    But the biggest master stroke was the formation of the Indian National Congress. Recollect that it was a British civil servant, Allen Octavian Hume, who founded it. Soon the educated and intellectuals joined the INC and for years it was nothing but a large annual “talk-shop”, with each speaker trying to out-vocabularise the other. The British achieved what they wanted. The Indians were kept busy talking and the creation of various political and non-political constituencies and interests on the basis of religion, caste and language ensured that Indians spent more time in fighting amongst themselves than the British. We still do this. The British used the Congress to widen the Hindu-Muslim rift. Whitehall must have had a good laugh. Only leaders like Tilak, Rashbihari Bose, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpatrai saw through this ingenious plan. But they were a minority and it is because their methods were a danger, they were hounded by the British. Tilak died too soon, Bose was hounded out of the country and Lala Lajpat Rai was arrested and virtually beaten to death in police custody.

    What do we make of all this? That the British used the INC as an instrument not only to prevent any further uprisings but also to delay independence. They left when it suited them and even 90 years after 1857, the INC was grossly unprepared as reflected by the fact that till 1958, at least one Britisher was the Chief of one branch of our armed forces. Can the INC honestly say that they “fought” for independence when the opposition lends you its men to lead your armed forces AFTER ‘independence’?! Naturally this view did not and still does not suit the political dispensation of ‘the family’. Can the Congress give just one date and place where Nehru did anything that can be rationally called as fighting? Even history books are unable to give any details of Nehru having done anything that can be termed as fighting. Waving your finger vigorously and saying that you have sent another reminder to the Viceroy is not “fighting”.

    And if Nehru was such a great fighter why was he not sent to the Andamans where the real freedom fighters were imprisoned? The British knew who the real freedom fighters were and they were either hounded out of the country (Bose) virtually murdered (Lala Lajpat Rai) or deported to the Andamans. Nehru, and other false ‘fighters’ of independence were sent to prisons like Naini Tal, Pune and Aurangabad where he could write letters to his daughter, which later became a book! The fact is that those who really fought for our freedom never became our leaders after independence and those who became leaders after independence never really fought for independence. Their so called “independence fight” was written by their chamchas/ sycophants for history books. And what about the fact that the Mahatma wanted the Congress to be dissolved after independence? Its existence today is testimony to the fact that the Mahatma was forgotten soon after independence, his assassination was probably a relief to some and the Congress has become a political vehicle for just one family, without whom the rest of the party virtually admits that they are headless chickens. Today even Godse will admit that he shot the wrong man.

    Many don’t know that the clans, communities, and families and descendants of those leaders who participated in that event are nowhere in current society. The British decimated them and encouraged a new class that licked the white man’s boots. One of them bought an entire present Indian state for Rs.75 lakhs, hardly 180 years ago. It is the descendants of these boot-lickers who are ruling the roost now. That’s why the 150th. anniversary fizzled out without a whimper. Those who participated did not leave VVIP descendants and the ancestors of present day VVIPs were on the side of the British. Here is a final irony – guess who was on the Committee for the celebrations – Jyothiraditya Scindia – whose great-great-grandfather was on the side of the goras during the mutiny.

    Time for a Second War of Independence?

    However let us not be too harsh on the six princes. Look at the events another way. Let us assume that the six princes joined the mutiny and the British were forced to leave India. Would India have become independent? No. About 500 motley princely states, each with an ego of an elephant would have declared themselves to be independent and we would back to the situation that prevailed in 1000 AD. That situation helped Muhammad Ghazni and perhaps another Ghazni would have found it convenient to exploit the situation in the 19th. century. So maybe we must thank the six for having ensured that the mutiny did not succeed. In the next 90 years it was the British who really united India and the political concept of a nation underwent a tremendous change. So kudos to them for having retained the British a little longer? What if World War II had not happened and what if Churchill had not lost the elections soon after the war? What if the British had continued even longer say till 1960s?

  4. T.R.Ramaswami June 12, 2008 at 10:50 pm #

    I do not know how my previous comment was given as anonymous – T.R.Ramaswami. Here is something on linguistics that may be interesting.

    Language families reveal people’s ancestries and movements
    Humans not only transmit genes from one generation to the next, they also transmit cultural traits. Some of these are extremely conservative, being transmitted quite faithfully from parents to offspring. Foremost amongst these is language; children almost invariably acquire their mother tongue from their parents and other relatives. Language and other conservative traits such as practices relating to disposal of the dead are therefore excellent devices to trace historical changes. If this be so linguistic and genetic divergence ought to go hand in hand. The excellent correlation confirms languages as good markers for unraveling the ancestries and movements of people.

    The languages of the world have been classified in a number of major families. There are of course a few which are stand-alone, which cannot be assigned to any family. All languages of India can be assigned to one of four major language families – Austric, Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan.
    The global distribution of the major language families in the world is as under:

    Austric – Southeast Asia, Eastern and Central India
    Dravidian – South and Central India, Pakistan, Iran
    Indo-European – Europe, West Asia, North, West and East India
    Sino-Tibetan – China, Southeast Asia, India bordering Himalayas

    It may be noted that all the four major groups are found in India, something that no other continent, let alone country, has. It is reasonable to assume that speakers of these four language families represent at least four major lineages. The first question to ask is whether these language families developed within the country, or came in with migrations of people from outside the subcontinent. The geographical range of distribution of Austric, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan speakers is extensive; India harbours only a minority of the languages within these families. The geographical range of distribution of Dravidian languages is however restricted largely to India; there are only two outlying populations – Brahui in Baluchistan and Elamic in Iran, indicating that while Dravidian languages have developed within India, others are less likely to have done so, for we have no evidence of any major technological innovations that could have served to carry speakers of those languages outside India.

    Language and economy
    We may look for evidence on how long the lineages speaking different language families have been in India in two different ways. Firstly we may examine the current levels of economic activities of the communities speaking those languages, and to compare them with levels of economic activities of speakers of other language families. The tribal communities of India continue to extensively hunt and gather as well as practice low input shifting cultivation. These communities are likely to have migrated to India relatively early, perhaps prior to the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry.

    It is amongst Austric speakers that all communities are exclusively tribals. Outside India also most Austric speaking communities practice very primitive technologies. This suggests that Austric speaking people may be the oldest inhabitants of India. They may be amongst the first group of Homo sapiens to have reached India, perhaps some 50-65 kybp. Since over 98% of Austric speakers today lie in southeast Asia, they may have entered India from the northeast.
    Sino-Tibetan speakers of India also include many tribal groups, though they also include communities like Maites of Manipur valley practicing advanced agriculture. Their concentration is along the Himalayas; only one community of West Bengal has reached mainland India. Many of them report having moved into India from Myanmar or China within last few generations. They are therefore peripheral to the broader peopling of India.

    The bulk of Indian mainland populations are Dravidian and Indo-European speakers. Both include communities at all economic levels from tribals to the most advanced cultivator, pastoral, trader or priestly groups. It is however notable that while there are several Dravidian speaking forest dwelling tribal communities such as Gonds or Oraons in a matrix of more advanced Indo-European speaking communities, there are no enclaves of forest dwelling tribal Indo-European speakers surrounded by more advanced Dravidian speaking communities. This is strongly suggestive of Dravidians being older inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent, having been pushed southwards, surrounded by or converted to Indo-European languages by later arriving Indo-European speakers.

    One may then suggest the following sequence of migrations of these major language speaking groups into India: Austric-Dravidian-Indo-European. If this be correct, another interesting prediction follows. Austric languages having arrived in India earliest may show the most diversified vocabulary, Indo-European languages the least. To test this we have compiled words for universally used nouns such as mother, water, tree in severalAustric, Dravidian, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan languages. While a more objective analysis of the extent of such variation is under way, it appears true that Austric languages show the greatest and Indo-European the least divergence.

    Let’s now look at the Mahabharatha and JK’s linguistic theories in the light of the above. The Mahabharatha took place at Kurukhshetra? The name of the place is significant. Now Kurukh is a language spoken by the Oraons and belongs to the Dravidian family. One of the oldest names that refer to the mass of land that constituted all the continents is Gondwanaland. We have the Gonds in India and their language, Gondi, also belongs to the Dravidian family. The cleavage between the two geographical units of the Dravidian family – one upto the Vindhyas and the other right on the other side of the Indus Valley is significant. The Indo-European languages, which now occupy this gap, cleaved the Dravidian family into two. Languages don’t travel on their own – they come with people – and it is the Aryans who brought the Indo-European family to India as also other parts of Europe, who did this. T.R.Ramaswami

  5. Salauddeen June 13, 2008 at 5:17 am #

    Is this Ramasami living in the 19th century that he spouts all this fantastical/fictional theories on language propagation which are based on the assumption of the AIT?

    Perhaps he should consider reading

    1)Renfrew, C. 1987. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-
    European Origins. London: Jonathan Cape.

    2)Olender, M. 1992. The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion,
    and Philology in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Harvard
    University Press.

    3) Mallory, J.P. 1989. In Search of the Indo-Europeans. London:
    Thames and Hudson.

    All the archaelogy of the early 20th century presumes AIT is valid — hence all of it needs to be re-evaluated in the light of current knowledge with better scientific dating.

  6. George June 13, 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    Interesting post


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