Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/fs/package.module.fs.php on line 258

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 31 in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/router/package.module.router.php on line 465

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 30 in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/router/package.module.router.php on line 465
Published Archives - Page 3 of 7 - varnamvarnam | Page 3
Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Archive | Published RSS feed for this section

In Pragati: An earlier date for Indo-Europeans in Northwest India

Between 4500 BCE and 2500 BCE, in the steppes north of Black and Caspian seas, in what is Southern Ukraine and Russia, there lived a group of people who spoke a language, called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). This language was the ancestor of later languages such as English, Sanskrit, Latin, Old Saxon, and Lithuanian among others. Once they domesticated the horse and acquired the wheel, PIE speakers traveled long distances with their tents and supplies, spreading the Indo-European language around the world. One of PIE’s descendants, Proto-Indo-Iranian developed between 2500 BCE and 2000 BCE implying that Vedic, which descended from Indo-Iranian, could only have a date later than 2000 BCE. Following this period, Indo-European speakers either conquered or migrated into the Harappan region and imposed Vedic culture, Sanskrit language and caste system transforming Northwest India.

So far archaeologists have not found any intrusive material culture dating to this period. If Indo-European speakers arrived in large numbers and culturally and linguistically transformed the region, such evidence is absent on the ground. A late migration also fails to explain how Vedic people knew about the mighty Saraswati whose flow had reduced by then. Still many historians are wedded to an invasion/migration model derived from linguistics, an area of research done predominantly outside India.

Earlier migration of farmers

Now a 2012 paper by Peter Bellwood, Professor of Archaeology at the School of Archaeology andAnthropology of the Australian National University suggests that Indo-European speakers may have been present in Northwest India much earlier, maybe even two millennia earlier. This theory is based on new archaeological discoveries in the Gangetic basin working alongside another Indo-European dispersal theory. According to the West Anatolian model, that has been in existence for a while, Indo-European originated in Anatolia and not near the steppes near the Black Sea. The spread of the language happened due to population growth and  the gradual spread of farming techniques and not due to carts, horses and wheels. Based on paleoethnobotanical dates, a date of 7000 BCE has been proposed for the spread of farming into Europe from Anatolia.

Around 6300 BCE, the catastrophic drowning of agricultural lowlands near the Black Sea may have triggered the migration of the farmers to other regions around the world. From Anatolia, the language spread through Armenia, Northern Iran, and Southern Turkmenistan and entered Pakistan by 4000 BCE. This implies that regions like Mehrgarh, the Neolithic antecedent which lead to the Harappan culture, could have been Indo-European speaking. According to Bellwood, the urban Harappan civilisation had a large number of Indo-European speakers alongside the speakers of other languages which may have included Dravidian. Thus the composers of Rig Veda were not the first Indo-European speakers in the region; their ancestors were present in the region at least two millennia before the current consensus.

Another piece of data, on which this earlier date is based, comes from extensive archaeology conducted in Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Just between Saraswati and Yamuna, around 350 sites were discovered and pottery in some of those sites date as far back 3700 BCE. Usually the Gangetic plains enters Indian history following the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation, but new evidence indicates movement of farming techniques from Middle East to the Gangetic basin and from Gangetic basin to the Indus region. A version of rice, legumes, millets and humped cattle were domesticated in India, but there was an external flow of wheat, barley, sheep and goats from the Middle East. Also between 3500 and 2000 BCE there is an increase in settlements from the middle gangetic plains towards lower gangetic plains indicating population movement.

The suggestion that Indo-European speakers lived in the Harappan cities is not one of those theories, which does not have much academic support. In a 2010 paper, Professor Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, who has been excavating at Harappa for three decades wrote that even though the Indus script has not been deciphered, he thinks more than one language was spoken in the settlements. The language families that co-existed include Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan and Indo-Aryan. Paul Heggarty, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in a 2013 paper writes that Indo-European speakers may have reached Mehrgarh much earlier than 4000 BCE. The model that these studies present is not of a civilisation dominated by one language as imagined by Dravidian politicians and textbook historians, but an Indus-Saraswati region which was cosmopolitan.

New possibilities

All these have serious implications to Indian history.

First, the theory suggests the possibility of the development of Vedic in the Indus region. There are many versions of the theory that describes the origins and spread of the Indo-European language family. Most historians have been using the short chronology tied to the decline of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation and subsequent arrival of large Indo-European speaking population. Bellwood and Heggarty revive the longer chronology in which Indo-European speakers arrived early, much early than the Early Phase of the Harappan civilisation. As some farming techniques spread from the Indus region to the Gangetic plains, proto-Vedic too must have spread. This version allows for the possibility that Indo-Iranian branch and its children crystallized locally on the banks of Indus and not in the steppes of Central Asia. It also explains why the authors of the most ancient Indian text, the Rig Veda, had great awareness of the geography of Northwest India.

Second, many historians have argued that after the collapse of the Indus cities, a new civilisation emerged in the Ganges Valley and there was no continuity of material culture; according to them most of the second millennium BCE was a long dark age. In his book, The Lost River, Michel Danino contradicts this by listing many such continuities from the Harappan period to the present. These include symbols like the swastika, the patterns used in kolams, motifs like the pipal tree and seals like the pashupati seal which display a figure seated in yogic posture. Other elements like fire altars used by Vedic brahmins even now made John Marshall to comment in 1931 that the Indus religion was so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism.  The new evidence of agricultural relationship between people who lived around the sapta-sindhu region and the Gangetic region confirms that the Ganges Valley urbanism was related to its Harappan antecedents.

Third, this theory discards the ‘elite dominance’ version of the migration theory. As per the short chronology, the Indo-European speaking people with their horses and chariots arrived in the Harappan region and influenced the residents to change their language or imposed their language. Even though the Indo-Europeans were few in number, people switched the language due to some utility of attaching themselves with the elites. The long chronology supports demic diffusion, a gradual spread which comes without the invasion and massive migration components. It is now clear that the decline of the Harappan civilisation was not caused by the invading or migrating Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes, but rather due to vagaries of nature: tectonic movements blocked the course of lower Indus river which must have caused floods that submerged Mohenjo-daro while either tectonic movements or weakened monsoons affected Saraswati and forced the residents to migrate east and south. (See: What caused the decline of Harappa?)

Finally, after two centuries of Indo-European studies there is no consensus on the homeland, on the path of dispersal or the time frame of Proto-Indo-European.  A debate which is going on this year is if Basque, the ancestral language spoken by people living in the region spanning northeasternSpain and southwestern France, is an Indo-European language or not. According to Paul Heggarty, linguistic data does not convincingly support the claim that Proto-Indo-European speakers domesticated the horse. Even if they were domesticated, there is less evidence of the saddle or the stirrup that are required for riding, and hence a Mongolian style invasion from the steppes could be an anachronism.  Further, the words that were reconstructed for wheeled vehicles refer to just movement and time and it is one interpretation that refers them as carts. Also, even now there is no agreed sequence of Indo-European branching, which could mean that there was no such straightforward branching, but rather a diffusion of people in waves. Hence the chronology of Indian history based purely on linguistics should be taken with a pinch of salt.

(This article was published in Pragati. Many thanks to Carlos Aramayo for providing the research papers)

References:

  1. Peter Bellwood. “How and Why Did Agriculture Spread.” In Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  2. Heggarty, Paul. “Europe and Western Asia: Indo-European Linguistic History.” In The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2013. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm819/abstract.
  3. Bryant, Edwin. The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.
  4. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. “Indus Civilization.” In Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Academic Press, 2007.
  5. Danino, Michel. Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati. Penguin Books India, 2010.
  6. Danino, Michel. Indian Culture and India’s Future. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2011.
  7. Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Reprint. Princeton University Press, 2010.
Comments { 6 }

In Pragati How old is Proto-Dravidian?

Dates for the branching of different language groups. PD: Proto-Dravidian (via Pagel)

Dates for the branching of different language groups. PD: Proto-Dravidian (via Pagel)

(This article appeared was published in Pragati in Julu 2013. This is an expanded version of an earlier post)

According to linguists, there is a relation between the Sanskrit word satam, Latin centum, Old Saxonhunderod and Lithuanian simtas; these words derived from a common word in an ancestral language named Proto-Indo-European (PIE). The word in this theoretical ancestral language was deduced by listing the daughter terms and applying some linguistic sound change rules to figure out if the daughter terms were cognates of the mother term. Using this technique, a substantial vocabulary has been constructed for PIE, which is assumed to have been spoken between 4000 – 3500 BCE to 2500 BCE.

In India, about 75 percent of the population speaks a language that belongs to the Indo-European family (Hindi, Bengali, Marathi among others and 22 percent speak languages belonging to the Dravidian language family (Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam). While Indo-European languages are spoken mostly in North India, Dravidian languages are spoken in South India. This fact, along with some interpretations that the Indus-Saraswati script is Dravidian, has led to a theory that the Indo-European speakers came from outside India and pushed the Dravidian autochthons to the South of the peninsula. This is a contentious issue even now, popping up in elections speeches by Dravidian politicians who like to split people as ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

In the midst of this Aryan controversy, as it is popularly known, comes a new paper which claims that there existed a super linguistic ancestor, older than Proto-Indo-European, around 15,000 years back. The authors identified a class of words whose sound meaning lasted long enough to retain traces of their ancestry between language families separated by millennia. While half of the words in various languages are replaced by a new word roughly every two to four millennia, the authors argue that there are some ultra-conserved words that live as old as ten to twenty millennia. These words, which include adjectives, pronouns and special adverbs (Thou, Not, To Give, Mother Fire), are spread over such diverse language families as Indo-European and Dravidian.

Another interesting piece of information from the paper is regarding the date when Pro-Dravidian split from the ancestral language and when Proto-Dravidian speakers moved to the subcontinent. One of the first language families to split from this Eurasiatic ancestor was Proto-Dravidian, which was around 14,000 years back, much earlier than Proto-Indo-European. These Proto-Dravidian speakers expanded from Central Asia to South Asia and reached a region at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan from where they were displaced by Indo-European speakers much later. Though the model does not specify when the Dravidian languages evolved from Proto-Dravidian, it is clear that the evolution happened in the subcontinent. There are some who believe that Dravidian speakers lived in the Indus-Saraswati area until the invading Indo-European speakers displaced them and this model augments that theory.

So far there has been no consensus on the origins of Dravidian and only speculation on the time and place of the distinctive origins of its speakers. Some scholars have put their origins around 4000 BCE in Northeastern Iran from where they moved to India. However there have not been any traces of Dravidian languages outside India, which makes the external origins of Dravidian, a challenge to explain. Regarding Proto-Dravidian itself, a date of 3000 BCE was previously suggested which others claimed was in the realm of ‘guesswork’. But the new paper not only suggests a much older time frame for Proto-Dravidian, but also a Central Asian origin which disagrees many previous theories. For example, one theory argues that there was no Dravidian influence in the early Rig Veda; Dravidian lone words appear only in subsequent stages suggesting that Dravidian speakers arrived around the same time as the Indo-European speakers in North-West India.

With the new discovery, does this paper change the chronology of events and change the narrative of Indian history? It is too early to get into the impact of an earlier date for Proto-Dravidian as other linguists have panned the paper; it seems the paper has a “garbage in, garbage out” problem. The semantic looseness with which the reconstructions have been made of Indo-European words has been extreme and does not agree with the consensus. For example, taking one of the reconstructed words, one linguist was able to show that the word had the meaning “with the teeth, biting together” in Greek and “reach, strike” in Sanskrit. The problem was not just with the semantic interpretation; the Sanskrit word that was reconstructed did not match with the word in the Indo-European database. Since there are doubts on some reconstructions, the relationships among such words in different family trees are questionable.

But the bigger problem is this. After five to nine millennia, most words change so much in their meaning that it is hard to figure out other words, which originated from the same ancestor. Sometimes you don’t have to go that far either as words change quite a lot within a couple of millennia. Thus a sentence in one language family would be incomprehensible to a member of another language family even if they derived from the same ancestor as seen from the difference in meaning in Sanskrit and ancient Greek of the same word. Due to all this, critics have mentioned that the paper is of poor academic quality, displayed poor knowledge of linguistic geography and linguistic history. Thus even though this paper claimed a sensational finding, the origins of Proto-Dravidian and Dravidian continues to remain in the realm of guesswork.

References:

  1. Pagel, Mark, Quentin D. Atkinson, Andreea S. Calude, and Andrew Meade. “Ultraconserved Words Point to Deep Language Ancestry Across Eurasia.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 6, 2013). doi:10.1073/pnas.1218726110.
  2. Singh, Upinder. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. 1st ed. Prentice Hall, 2009.
  3. Bryant, Edwin. The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.
  4. Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Reprint. Princeton University Press, 2010.
  5. Ultraconserved words? Really?? by Sally Thomason at Language Log
  6. Do ‘Ultraconserved Words’ Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families?” GeoCurrents.
Comments { 5 }

In Pragati: What caused the decline of Harappa?

(via Wikipedia)

(This was originally published in Pragati)

In The Wonder That Was India, A L Basham presented a dramatic picture of the decline of the Harappan civilisation. According to him, from 3000 BCE, invaders were present in the region. After conquering the outlying villages, they made their move on Mohenjo-daro. The people of Mohenjo-daro fled, but were cut down by the invaders; the skeletons that were discovered proved this invasion. Basham concluded that the Indus cities fell to barbarians “who triumphed not only through greater military prowess, but also because they were equipped with better weapons, and had learnt to make full use of the swift and terror-striking beats of the steppes.” Sir R Mortimer Wheeler claimed these horse riding invaders were none other than Aryans and their war-god Indra destroyed the forts and citadels at Harappa. But Basham was not that certain of the identity of the charioteers; he stated that they could be non-Aryans as well.

Basham wrote his book in early 1950s and a lot has changed after that. The decline of the Harappan civilisation is no longer attributed to “invading Aryans”, though that theory is still kept alive by political parties in South India. Even the non-Aryan invasion theory has been refuted as there is no trace in the archaeological record for such a disruptive event or the arrival of a new culture from Central Asia. The skeletons, which were touted as evidence for the invasion, were found to belong to different cultural phases thus nullifying the theory of a major battle. Due to all this, historians like Upinder Singh categorically state that the Harappan civilisation was not destroyed by an Indo-Aryan invasion. Instead of blaming the decline of the civilisation to invading or migrating population, the end is now attributed to environmental changes and whims and fancies of rivers.

From the late 1950s, historians believed that Mohenjo-daro was destroyed due to tectonic shifts in the region. According to one version, tectonic movements blocked the course of lower Indus river which must have caused floods that submerged the city. An opposing and the currently favoured theory suggests that instead of submerging in water, the city was starved of water. This happened because Indus shifted away from Mohenjo-daro, thus disrupting the crop cycle as well as the river-based communication network.

While Sindh, where Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are located, has just 9 percent of the 1140 Mature Harappan sites, the Ghaggar-Hakra basin has 32 percent of them; Archaeologists like S P Gupta and J M Kenoyer identify Ghaggar-Hakra with Sarasvati river. Around 1900 BCE, Kalibangan, located on the left bank of Ghaggar, was abandoned. Between the Mature and Late Harappan period, the number of sites along the river reduced considerably implying that the some hydrological change stopped the river from flowing.

One theory suggests that declining monsoons impacted water availability in Ghaggar-Hakra and that in turn caused the societal changes. Around 4000 years back, a dramatic climate change happened across North Africa, the Middle East, the Tibetan Plateau, southern Europe and North America. In India, during that period, there was an abrupt shift in monsoons, which lasted two centuries. In general, if you observe the patterns of recent years, monsoons have strong years and weak years, but they rarely deviate far away from the mean due to the dynamic feedback systems. It is a self-regulating system, but there have been occasions when the anomaly has lasted for few decades.

But what happened 4,000 years back was truly unusual; it was an anomaly larger than anything the subcontinent had faced since in the last 10,000 years. A paper published recently by Berkelhammer was able to narrow down the exact time frame during which this shift happened and it coincides with the decline of the Harappan civilization. This new study does not depend on indirect proxies (like pollen data), but uses a direct terrestrial climate proxy from the Mawmluh Cave in Cherrapunji and hence was able to show an unprecedented age constraint.

According to the paper, the most dramatic change occurred between 4071 (+/- 18) years and 3888 (+/- 22 years) Before Present (BP) for a period of 183 years. First there was a small rise between 4315 and 4303 years and a more precipitous one between 4071 and 4049 years BP. Once this change — which was earlier onset of monsoons or earlier withdrawal — happened, the monsoons stayed in this state for around 180 years before returning to normal values. Earlier monsoon withdrawal suggests that monsoon, which is tied to ocean-atmosphere dynamics and influences from the land surface, was weakened. For the Ghaggar-Hakra, which was fed by the monsoons, the impact was quite serious as it affected the habitability along its course. The study is quite interesting because it provides precise numbers for the duration and onset time for this climactic event. The previous studies did not have proper age constraints and some of them depended on factors (pollen, sedimentation rates) which could be influenced by external natural and man-made causes

Thus when one study claims that Ghaggar was a monsoon fed river and hence was easily susceptible to the vagaries of declining rainfall, there is another which shows that Sarasvati was a glacier-fed river and climate is not the only cause for changes. A paper in Current Science by K S Valdiya published in January of this year, titled The river Sarasvati was a Himalayan-born river, provides numerous counter arguments. First, the Sarasvati flowed through Western Rajasthan, which is one of the dustiest places on earth. 3500 years of dust storms have altered the landscape so much that the landforms created by the river would not be visible today. Second, the river ran through a region which saw tectonic upheavals and that would have altered the course of the river, like what happened to Indus. Third, the dimensions of paleochannels in the upper reaches of the river show that it was created by a large long-lived system. The paper strongly states that it was not a weakened monsoon, but the deflection of rivers by powerful tectonic activities which caused the decline of the Harappan civilisation along the Ghaggar river. Around 3,750 years Before Present, the Tamasa river joined Yamuna and a millennia later the Sutlej joined Beas. Due to this, the discharge of water in the Ghaggar was reduced and forced the Harappans to migrate elsewhere.

This is a contentious issue among academics; arguments and counter-arguments arrive sooner than you can digest them. While one controversy is over if tectonics or monsoon was responsible for the drying up of the river, there is another one over the climatic conditions during the Mature Harappan period. Some papers claim that Mature Harappan period occurred in a wetter phase and there are several others which show that Harappan urbanism rose in an arid phase. Paleoclimatology is a complicated field and more studies will give clarity to this controversy. But there is one certainty: the decline of the Harappan civilisation was not caused by invading Aryans or non-Aryans.

References:

  1. Singh, Upinder. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. 1st ed. Prentice Hall, 2009.
  2. Basham, AL The Wonder That Was India;: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-continent Before the Coming of the Muslims. 21st ed. Evergreen, 1977.
  3. Danino, Michel. Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati. Penguin Books India, 2010.
  4. Berkelhammer, M, A Sinha, L Stott, H Cheng, F S R Pausata, and K Yoshimura (2012), An abrupt shift in the Indian monsoon 4000 years ago, in Climates, Landscapes, and Civilizations, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 198, edited by L. Giosan et al., 75–87, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001207.
  5. Valdiya, KS “The River Saraswati Was a Himalayan-born River.” CURRENT SCIENCE 104, no. 1 (2013): 42–54.
  6. Giosan, Liviu, Peter D Clift, Mark G Macklin, Dorian Q Fuller, Stefan Constantinescu, Julie A Durcan, Thomas Stevens, et al. “Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 29, 2012). doi:10.1073/pnas.1112743109.
Comments { 10 }

In Pragati: The missing prophets of 1857

The ruins of Sikandar Bagh palace showing the skeletal remains of rebels in the foreground, Lucknow, India, 1858

The ruins of Sikandar Bagh palace showing the skeletal remains of rebels in the foreground, Lucknow, India, 1858

From the late eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century, as the world changed through conquest, colonialism and capitalism, a set of people rose around the world, reacting against such changes. Ironically, global historians – historians who look beyond regional and local causes – call these men prophets in an ode to Abrahamic religions. During this period of encounters and social changes, these charismatic leaders revitalised traditional ways and reorganised societies to challenge foreign institutions and ideas. Garnering support of broad swaths of society, they promised to restore lost harmony, bring in a new moral order, and a bright future. While global historians were able to find leaders for such movements in China, Middle East, United States, Mexico and Europe, they missed the leaders of the First War of Independence in India and fell back on the same old narratives.

As we look at examples from around the world, we get to see some of the qualities and methods of these leaders who influenced fields as diverse as economics, politics and religion. Due to encounters with the Western world, new ideas circulated in the Islamic world and alarmed by the lax religious practices and attempts by rulers in Saudi Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa to model their administration along European lines, leaders arose to return Islam back to its pure form. In Saudi Arabia, this led to the rise of Wahhabism under the leadership of Ibn abd al-Wahhab (1703 – 1792) whose work still influences the modern world. In West Africa, Usman dan Fodio (1754 – 1817) too attacked unbelievers and false religions and his movement led to Islam becoming a majority religion in the Nigerian region.

 Tecumseh portrait

Tecumseh

During this period, leaders also provided political leadership and created larger states from tribal clans. As Africa became overpopulated and there was competition for cattle-grazing and farming lands, small family clans found themselves overwhelmed. This traditional structure which had existed for centuries could no longer cope with the changes brought by long distance trade. It was the right moment for a cruel and powerful leader like Shaka (1787 – 1828) to rise up, wipe out other clans and unite the winners into a large monarchy, which in turn led to the creation of the Zulu kingdom. In the United States of America, Native Americans had to compete for land with the European colonisers who forcefully took over their land. As a reaction, groups under leaders like Tenskwatwa (1775 – 1836) and Tecumseh (1768 – 1813) exhorted their followers to renounce European goods and shun the missionaries. They tried to forge unity among native Americans, but were eventually betrayed by the British and left to perish.

In China, after a humiliating defeat in the Opium War that forced the country to open other ports to foreign merchants, there rose a fear of western power. During that period, as the rulers became inefficient, masses of people joined what is known as the Taiping Rebellion, motivated by a Christian leader named Hong Xiuquan (1813 – 1864). Like the Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, his goal was to return China to an era before it was corrupted by human conventions. Their war was not against the Europeans, but against the Chinese leaders who they thought were the main obstacle in obtaining God’s kingdom on earth. Hong came up with a radical new system which basically countered all the established Chinese traditions, but in the end it was defeated.

Analysis of these prophetic movements across the world show that whenever there is a structural change – in religion or rebellions – it is triggered by a leader. These revolutions were not accidents, but the result of planned action by certain individuals who inspired the masses through messages, symbols and charisma. In the pantheon of prophets we see leaders like Jacinto Pat and Cecilio Chi who led the Mayans in 1847 by blending Christian rituals with Mayan beliefs, Charles Fourier who had a utopian socialist vision and Karl Marx who inspired many nations and their leaders with this theory of proletarian revolt. While many such movements were defeated, the ideas they created lived longer.

 Tantya Tope,  after his capture in 1859

Wikipedia says this picture is Tantya Tope, after his capture in 1859, but this is a fake(See note 2)

When global historians evaluate the “Rebellion of 1857” in this context, it is mentioned as an uprising which was sparked by the greased cartridge controversy. Compared to the other global revolutions, this one was not triggered by any prophet, but was a spontaneous uprising or mutiny and it was after the uprising happened that leaders came up. But if one asks questions like how thousands of Indian soldiers marched successfully to Delhi without a supply line, it is evident that something is missing from the known narrative.

New, as well as ignored evidence now tell us that the Anglo-Indian war of 1857 was a carefully planned operation. Leaders like Baija Bai Shinde, Nana Saheb and his Diwan Tatya Tope, Begum Hazrat Mahal, and the Nawab of Banda were involved in the planning using red lotus flowers and chappatis to count the number of soldiers and ensure the commitment of the villages along the army path. Letters translated for the first time in Parag Tope’s “Operation Red Lotus” reveal that Tatya Tope was aware of military movements, logistics and provisions.

Global historians alone cannot be blamed for this lapse because Indian historians themselves have not accepted this view. Then, misrepresentation of the war of 1857 is not new. Depending on the bias of historians, it had many interpretations. According to the official version by Surendra Nath Sen, it was a spontaneous uprising. Marxist historians marginalised the leadership and saw it as a peasant revolt. Another Indian historian wondered how it could be a war at a time when India was not a nation. Now we know that the leaders of the war of 1857 used symbols (red lotus) and messages (Azamgarh proclamation) similar to the prophets of China and USA, and promised a new moral order where people would have political, religious and economic freedom.

Thus, the Anglo-Indian war of 1857 doesn’t have to be relegated to a secondary status in the global prophetic narrative as it satisfies the criteria met by the others.

Notes

  1. This was adapted from an assignment I did for “A History of the World since 1300”  by Princeton University. It was first published at Pragati
  2. Personal communication with Parag Tope

References

  1. Tignor, Robert, Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, Stephen Kotkin, Suzanne Marchand, Gyan Prakash, and Michael Tsin. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition).W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
  2. Tope, Parag. Tatya Tope’s Operation Red Lotus. Rupa & Co., 2010.
Comments { 0 }

In Pragati: Holy War by Nigel Cliff

"Vasco da Gama Leaving Portugal," by John Henry Amshewitz (via Wikipedia)

"Vasco da Gama Leaving Portugal," by John Henry Amshewitz (via Wikipedia)

(This book review was published in the September 2012 issue of Pragati)

Urumi, a Malayalam historical film released last year was set in 1502 CE, the year Vasco da Gama made his second voyage to India. The turning point in that movie is when Gama captures Miri- a ship filled with pilgrims returning from Mecca- off the coast of Kerala and barbarically murders 300 Muslims including women and children over five days. The rest of the movie is about how one of the boys, whose father was killed in that attack, gets his revenge during Gama’s third and final voyage. Though the movie was a work of fiction, filled with historical inaccuracies, it brought to attention an important point: Gama had an agenda much bigger than finding a new trading route.

Nigel Cliff’s book expands on that less mentioned detail. He argues that Gama was serving the apocalyptic agenda of King Manuel who wanted to find the Eastern Christians, destroy the power of Islam, and lead Portugal in conquering Jerusalem. This was essential for the Second Coming and the Last Judgement that was to follow. The voyage to Kerala was just one step in this plan.

15th century values


To understand the primary motivation behind Gama’s dangerous voyage circumnavigating Africa and across the Indian Ocean, we have to understand the state of the world in the 15th century. Portugal was ruled by a religious fanatic whose wedding gift to his wife was the expulsion of the Jews settled in Portugal. Since the year 1500 was approaching, he thought the apocalypse was around the corner and he had to conquer Jerusalem. Since Portugal neither had the wealth nor the power for such a task, the plan was to acquire wealth by entering the lucrative spice trade and gain power by forming an alliance with the Eastern Christians. Once the Islamic power was weakened- by eliminating them from the spice trade- the troops could march to Jerusalem and capture the Holy Land.

The Portuguese knew that India was a rich place from where all the spices came. They also knew that it was the home of Prester John, a supposedly Christian king who had unlimited precious metals and a vast army at his disposal. Once the alliance was formed with the Eastern Christians and their rich and powerful king, the march to Jerusalem would be the next logical step.

To put context into this obsession with capturing Jerusalem, Cliff starts off by examining the relation between Islam and Christianity. As a reaction to the violent expansion of Islam from the 8th century till the 10th, the Pope authorised the Crusades to recapture Jerusalem, which went on for centuries. The Crusades had to be halted following the Mongol invasion and the Black Death that followed, but the feelings behind them never really died out. Those feeling were revived following the fall of Constantinople, Christendom’s glorious city, and something had to be done urgently. For that Vasco da Gama set off to find a new route to India bearing the Crusader’s Cross- the one used by the Knights Templar- as his flag.

Disrupting the spice trade was not the first trick the Portuguese tried. After building a naval fleet, they conducted raiding missions down the coast of Africa, planting crosses wherever they landed. When that failed to yield sufficient revenues, they ventured into slave trade. Since this was a war against the Infidels and the unbelievers, it got the stamp of approval from the Pope who issues various Papal bulls and went so far as to divide the world between Portugal and Spain so that peace is maintained between the colonisers.

Apocalypse Now

King Manuel (via Wikipedia)

King Manuel (via Wikipedia)

After a terrifying voyage, Vasco da Gama’s fleet reached Calicut where he found a large number of Muslim traders. He also observed that the ruler belonged to some other religion. By his worldview- in which he had never encountered Hindus- Gama assumed that naturally the Zamorin had to be Christian. But the Zamorin was unimpressed by Gama and the gifts he bought. Gama kept away from the Muslims to be safe, but eventually was disappointed on two counts. First he assumed that the Eastern Christians would be delighted to see their Western counterparts and the united front would expel the Muslims. Second, he thought that Indians would hand over the spices in exchange for the trinkets they had bought but compared to the richness of Calicut, Gama looked like a beggar. Gama in turn blamed his failure on the Muslims, displayed some basic brutality, and returned back to Portugal where he was received as a hero.

Though Gama did not bring back spices or find Prester John, his voyage sent shock waves across Europe. Manuel wanted to ride on this wave of success and sent another mission under Pedro Cabral with a strong warning for the Muslim traders. Cabral wanted the Zamorin to expel all the Muslims traders or face the wrath of the empire. When their demands were not met, the Portuguese went on a rampage. The destroyed the Arab ships in the port and fired shots at the Zamorin’s palace causing him to flee. A later mission under Joao da Nova escalated the religious war and went back without much progress. Manuel needed a strong willed captain who would force the Indians into submission and for that Vasco da Gama was pressed into service once again and it resulted in the Miri incident.

This time the action was not to be restricted to the Malabar coast. Once force was used to subdue the Indians, the fleet would split into two. One part of the fleet would enforce a blockade of the Arab shipping to the Red Sea area and cripple Egypt’s economy. After Egypt was weakened, the Portuguese would sail up the Red Sea and meet land troops who would have marched across Egypt; together they would conquer Jerusalem. But this plan did not work quite as expected.

Gama once again asked his old nemesis, the Zamorin, to expel the Muslims and yet again the Zamorin refused to comply to the Portuguese pirates. An irate Gama went around hanging Muslims and firing cannons towards the coast. The dead people were mutilated and sent on boats off to the shore as a part of the shock and awe strategy. The Portuguese strength came from their naval superiority and since they did not have sufficient strength to fight the Zamorin’s troops, they left. This voyage was considered a great success compared to the others.

The next captain Francisco Alameda, dispensed with the niceties completely and precipitated such a crisis which resulted in major naval battle in the Arabian Sea. After attacking various African countries and butchering people there, Alameda reached Calicut. Remembering the Passion of Christ and motivated by a rousing speech by a priest, the Portuguese attacked Calicut leaving around 3600 dead. Meanwhile another Portuguese fleet cut off the Egyptian supply chain. Based in Muscat, they terrorised all around and took control over the Western destination ports of the Arab ships. The Egyptians, whose business was seriously affected, sent a fleet to the Indian Ocean which defeated the Portuguese, the first naval defeat for them in the Ocean.

The Colonisers

But the Egyptians were no match for the Portuguese; they scored and easy victory over them as well over the Zamorin and finally a fortress was built in Calicut. It looked as if Jerusalem was within grasp.In fact Manuel sent a fleet towards the Suez, but they came back without attacking Jerusalem. Once Goa became a lucrative market for the Portuguese, they were more interested in settling down and plundering the region by enforcing a pass system. Matters like forced conversions and setting up the Inquisition became more important than capturing Jerusalem.

Though the Malabar coast has been part of a global maritime network since the Roman empire, there was an explosion of trade since 1000 CE due to improved navigational aids, better ship building, better map making and new legal arrangements. Places like Quilon (Kollam), Melaka, Quanzhou, Futsat and Aden became the nerve centers of this network where people and goods moved with ease. According to Manmadhan Ullattil who wrote about the Hubs of the medieval trade (Pragati, June 2009), the arrival of the Portuguese changed the rules of the game as they used force to control trade and establish monopolies.

John Keay in “India: A History” has few lines about the Portuguese and Vasco da Gama; he mentions that when Portugal declared a Viceroy for India, it betrayed the true nature of their ambition. “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present” (Third Edition) (Vol. 2) by Robert Tignor et. al which is used to teach world history at Princeton University, describes the Portuguese brutality in the Malabar coast. But both these books fail to make a connection between the Portuguese voyages to India and the Crusades. Cliff makes a valuable contribution by putting the piety and plunder of the spice trader into a global context.

Comments { 0 }