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Tag Archives | Gangetic Plain

Magadha and Mahabharata : Archaeological indications from Rajgir Area

Recently ASI archaeologist B.R. Mani made a presentation titled Magadha and Mahabharata : Archaeological indications from Rajgir Area (via Carlos Aramayo)  at the International Seminar on Mahabharata held in New Delhi in April 2012. The presentation slides are colored in such a way that humans cannot read it. Fortunately, there is a transcript which tells us that there is a connection between tradition and archaeology.

This was a place known both in Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are some structures named after Jarasandha, who ruled the place during the time of Mahabharata. Archaeological excavations done by ASI has shown that the place was developed around the second millennium BCE since Painted Grey Ware was found there. PGW is a very fine, smooth and even colored pottery with a think fabric. The people who made these artifacts knew sophisticated firing techniques and how to maintain uniform high temperatures in a kiln.

The slides also talk about archaeology in Ghorakatora and lists the articles found there. It then makes the claim that if Mahabharata happened around 1400 BCE, then there is evidence of cultural development dating to that period. When Mahabharata happened is a different discussion and so the take away is that the history of the Gangetic plains is getting updated with new data.

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UCLA 9A: The Gangetic Plain

If you listen to Introduction to Asian Civilizations: History of India, a course taught at UCLA and which has Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India as mandatory reading, you will get a good introduction to the Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory. Unlike Matthew Herbst or Tara Carter of the MMW courses at UCSD, the UCLA instructor teaches in a very confusing manner and hence it is hard to figure out if he is touting the Aryan Invasion Theory or the Aryan Migration Theory or if he knows the difference between the two. In one part he mentions Aryans arriving on their horses in 2000 B.C.E and subduing the snub-nosed Dasas and later mentions the migration of Aryans.

This is at a time when even Marxist historians have written off the AIT. According to Romila Thapar:

There is virtually no evidence of the invasion and the conquest of northwestern India by a dominant culture coming from across the border. Most sites register a gradual change of archaeological cultures. Where there is evidence of destruction and burning it could as easily have been a local activity and is not indicative of a large-scale invasion. The borderlands of the northwest were in communication with Iran and Central Asia even before the Harappa culture with evidence of the passage of goods and ideas across the region. This situation continued into later times and if seen in this light when the intermittent arrival of groups of Indo-European speakers in the northwest, perhaps as pastoralists or farmers or itinerant traders, would pose little problem. It is equally possible that in some cases local languages became Indo-Europeanized through contact.[From Aryan Invasions to Aryan Migrations]

But this post is not about AIT or AMT or OIT. It is about the developments in the Gangetic plain.  According to the instructor, incoming Aryans hit the Harappans like a cue ball on a pool table dispersing Harappans to places like South India and the Gangetic plain. According to him, it is around this time we see civilized living in the Gangetic plain.

Our understanding of that region has changed a lot in the last decade. Archaeology at Jhusi, near the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna, has revealed evidence of a Neolithic settlement dating to the 7th-6th millennium B.C.E[2]. This is the time frame associated with the Mehrgarh culture in Baluchistan, considered to be the predecessor of the Harappan civilization.

The people of Jhusi, who lived in grassy land with occasional trees, bamboo groves and lakes,  had pottery, arrowheads, and semi-precious stone beads.  They built houses with bamboo walls smeared with mud plaster[1].  The people of Jhusi had domesticated plants and animals and they spent their time farming, herding and foraging[2].

We now know what the people of Jhusi cultivated: they had rice, barley, bread-wheat, dwarf-wheat, lentil, green-gram, grass-pea, field-pea, horse-gram, sesame, linseed, anwala among other crops.  Among these rice and sesame were summer crops; the rest, winter. The important point is that rice was cultivated in India as far back as the 7-6th millenia B.C.E[2].

Another surprising find is grape cultivation. Susruta and Charaka knew about grapes, but they never mentioned the cultivation; the mention of grape cultivation comes after the Muslim invasion. Even though the Sanchi stupas depict the grape-vine, it was attributed to Hellenistic influence. But now we know that grape was cultivated in Jhusi since the Neolithic times[2].

What is more fascinating is that there was cultural contact between the people of North-West region of the Indian subcontinent and Jhusi: There is evidence of rice in Kunal, Haryana dating to 3000 – 2500 B.C.E and Swat in 2970 – 2920 B.C.E. and various winter crops from moving from Baluchistan  into Jhusi. All this is before the migration of Harappans to the Gangetic plain. Also with this find, we see a cultural continuity in Jhusi which starts in the Mesolithic period, continues through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic age to modern times[2].

When will this information make it to UCLA’s History of India course?

References & Notes:

  1. Lallanji Gopal et al., History of agriculture in India, up to c. 1200 A.D. (Concept Publishing Company, 2008). 
  2. J. Anil K. Pokharia, JN Pal and Alka Srivastava, Plant macro-remains from Neolithic Jhusi in Ganga Plain: evidence for grain-based agricultureCURRENT SCIENCE 97, no. 4 (2009): 564-572.
  3. Image via Wikipedia
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