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Indian History Carnival: 54 – Saraswati, Ghaggar-Hakra, Kamma, Scotland, Chennai Port

  1. The decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilization (terminology used by ASI) is the major news this month and what triggered it is a paper by  Liviu Giosan, a geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. NYTimes blog writes
  2. Wild, untamed rivers once slashed through the heart of the Indus plains. They were so unpredictable and dangerous that no city could take root on their banks. As the centuries passed, however, the monsoons became less frequent and the floods less intense, creating stable conditions for agriculture and settlement.

    Sprawling across what is now Pakistan, northwestern India and eastern Afghanistan, the Indus civilization encompassed more than 625,000 square miles, rivaling ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in its accomplishments. In its bustling hubs, there was indoor plumbing, gridded streets and a rich intellectual life.

    Unlike the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, who used irrigation systems to support crops, the Harappans relied on a gentle, dependable cycle of monsoons that fed local rivers and keyed seasonal floods.

    As time passed, the monsoons continued to weaken until the rivers no longer flooded, and the crops failed. The surplus agriculture was longer there to support traders, artists, craftsmen and scholars . The Harappans’ distinct writing system, which still has not been deciphered, fell into disuse.

  3. On the same topic, Suvrat Kher has a post in which he writes
  4. Paleobotanical and sedimentological criteria had always indicated that increasing aridification and reduction in monsoon strength better explained the drying of the Ghaggar around 3900 B.P. Despite all this, the Sutlej or the Yamuna changing course at around 3900 B.P became the favored explanation for the drying of the Ghaggar. This scenario of a once large Ghaggar neatly fitted the description in the Rig Veda of a mighty Saraswati, a holy river that just like the Ganges was thought to have its source in the high glacial Himalayas. I suspect that the glacial river theory had more emotional appeal and gained acceptance among some geologists.

    The strong assertions by geologists that the diversion of glacial rivers from the Ghaggar coincided with the decline of the Harappan civilization was used by archaeologists like Prof. B.B. Lal to place the composers of the Rig Veda on the plains of the Punjab before the Ghaggar dried up, apparently bolstering the theory that the Harappan people and the Vedic people were one and the same. A geological narrative constructed without rigorous evidence has been promoted to support a theory of cultural evolution in northwest India.

    Unfortunately, this glacial past of the Saraswati timed to the demise of the Harappan civilization is now enshrined in textbooks written by senior geologists like K.S. Valdiya. They should now be revised or at the very least these geologists need to admit that their theory has been seriously challenged. If geologists working on this problem still want to stick to the theory of a glacial Saraswati, they will need to come up with a more convincing data driven rebuttal to the work of Clift et.al. and Giosan et. al.

  5. How did the Buddhist idea of Kamma change over time? Jayarava illustrates it with several examples
  6. There is no single unified Theory of Karma in Buddhism, either synchronically (in our time) or diachronically (across time). Instead there are multiple theories, and very many exegetes explaining the “Truth” of karma. Some of these ‘truths’ are mutually exclusive. Sectarians tend not to be conversant with the details of the different theories, since sectarian teachers present their version of karma as the Truth. Those who are conversant with a range of karma theories find them difficult to reconcile. ‘Actions have consequences’ is what it boils down to, but its hard to see this as a great revelation from the Buddha since everyone knows this platitude already. The how and when of actions having consequences are Buddhism’s specific contribution to moral theory, but unfortunately Buddhists themselves disagree on precisely these points.

  7. In 1705 Scotland joined the British union to create Great Britain and there was someone from Malabar who was in the thick of the events that led to it. Maddy has that fascinating tale
  8. The witnesses Francisco and Ferdinando when produced before the court were termed Negros or blacks, not considered real Christians and their names as stated were not considered real. They were for these reasons not considered equivalent to ten pound Scots. Nevertheless, their depositions were the basis for later judgment, Ferdinando’s being the clinching eyewitness testimony augmented by supporting evidence by the others. It appears that he provided his testimony either in Malayalam. Imagine the irony, the destiny of Scotland was decided by a few words in Malayalam!! The translations in court were provided by George Yeaman.

  9. Sriram has details on how Chennai got its port
  10. The Port scheme gained a major source of support with the establishment of the Madras Chamber of Commerce in 1836. The merchants of the city were convinced that if it was to transform from being Kipiling’s “tired withered beldame”, Madras needed a proper harbour and therefore began championing the cause. The Chamber, which had most of its members on First Line Beach, roped in the Madras Trades Association, which comprised the retail giants of Mount Road. In 1857, a Committee in which the Chamber was represented submitted to the East India Company a report that stated “that an iron screw pile pier was not only feasible but simple of construction and was the most suitable structure for spanning the Madras surf”. The Government that replaced the Company post Mutiny accepted this proposal which was estimated to cost Rs 95,000. A year later this was revised to Rs 103,000 and on 17th September 1859, the first pile was screwed down by Sir Charles Trevelyan, the then Governor, assisted by the Commander-in-Chief and Henry Nelson, Chairman of the Chamber.

That’s it for June. The next carnival will be up on July 15th. Please send nominations to @varnam_blog or varnam dot blog at gmail.

2 Responses to Indian History Carnival: 54 – Saraswati, Ghaggar-Hakra, Kamma, Scotland, Chennai Port

  1. Virendra June 28, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    This is a great way to hook a lot of good reading material together and give a condense glimpse. The reader could easily sift through and pick where he wants to drill down for more.


  2. Ben July 27, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    I was trying to contact MR. Sriram, but the blog is not working, If he could help me i would be much grateful.
    I work for the port for the last 33 years, the current chairman wanted to make a museum in the ports cruise terminal. Hence i was deputed to do the survey, and most of the things are either missing or lost or taken away or May be i dont know. I wanted to know that one of the old employee said that the Andaman Prisioners uses to be kept in the small jail inside the port and then taken in ships to andamans can you please brief on this. My phone is 8754534088

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