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Sarasvati Archives - Page 2 of 4 - varnamvarnam | Page 2
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Tag Archives | Sarasvati

The Peaceful Harappans (2)

There is a theory that the people of Indus-Saraswati civilization were quite peaceful and this makes them quite different from other Bronze age civilizations like Egypt, Mesopotamia or the Minoan.

But, the Indus cities had fortified walls. Archaeologists have found arrowheads, and spearheads, besides a small number of daggers and axes. Sir Mortimer Wheeler believed that the tools could have been used for hunting and not warfare. The walls, it is believed, were built to protect the city against flood or to impress. There is no evidence of swords or body armor or military equipment like swords or catapults. Even the Indus art does not depict warfare or killing. Probably the residents were concerned with defense and had no experience in warfare. All this caused Mark Kenoyer to say it is possible that the Indus civilization, which evolved over a period of 4000 years from the local cultures of Mehrgarh, managed to resolve conflict without warfare. If so, this would be a unique example of living among the bronze age civilizations – an early example of ahimsa.[The Peaceful Indus People]

Now a new paper suggests that the Indus-Saraswati people were not so peaceful after all.

Well, it turns out that there may have been some amount of brutality in the Indus cities too. Skulls were caved in, noses were broken. One can’t be entirely surprised – a purely non-violent society on such a large scale sounds like a pipe-dream. According to [1], out of eighteen skulls studied from the later Harappan period (1900-1700 BC), nearly half had suffered heavy trauma. More interestingly, they report that the prevalence and patterning of cranial injuries, combined with striking differences in mortuary treatment and demography among the three burial areas indicate interpersonal violence in Harappan society was structured along lines of gender and community membership. To wit, the farther you lived from the city centre (or, possibly if your remains were found outside the city sewers), the likelier you were to have had a more violent death. Furthermore, the Harappan culture appears to have become more violent over time, with women being more affected in the later periods.[Some Indus Gossip]

Prof. Jim Shaffer asks people to look at the period during which this violence happened

Jim Shaffer, professor at Case Western University, tempers this finding as a characterization for Indus civilization as a whole by pointing out that the sample comes from a late period in the history of Harappa, between 1900 and 1700 BCE, when Indus civilization was in decline.[Indus civilization continues to intrigue]

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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.
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Guest Post: Michel Danino on the antiquity of Indus-Saraswati Civilization

[This post is in response to this news item – “Archaeologists confirm Indian civilization is 2000 years older than previously believed”. It is adapted from Michel’s response on IndiaArchaeology eGroup – JK]

Early farming village in Mehrgarh, c. 7000 BC, with houses built with mud bricks.

Early farming village in Mehrgarh, c. 7000 BC

Seing that several blogs and mass mailers are repeating this piece of “news”, I would like to emphasize that the article sensationalizes things without understanding the issue. The Indus-Sarasvati civilization (accepting that the word “civilization” connotes urbanism) emerges around 2600 BC, and those dates have not been challenged.

It has long been established — for at least 20 years — that its antecedents at Mehrgarh (Baluchistan) go back to the 8th millennium BCE, in the context of a Neolithic rural society, that is with just stone tools, yet a fairly advanced agricultural economy. The new development (“new” meaning some seven years) is the comparable antiquity of the earliest stages at Bhirrana (Haryana) excavated by the late L.S. Rao. This is also a rural stage, which probably straddles the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic; the pottery type is the Hakra ware, which has emerged at a few other sites of the Sarasvati basin in Haryana (such as Farmana) and Cholistan (in Pakistan).

How such antecedents, whether in Baluchistan or in the Sarasvati region and probably with contributions from other regions, converged towards the Early Harappan stage (usually dated from 3800 BCE) is the very interesting question which should have been addressed instead. As too often, the media hype conceals the real issues.

In any case the dates for the Indus cities — Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Kalibangan or Dholavira — in their Mature urban stage will not change. They are firmly in the 3rd millennium BCE, as hundreds of carbon 14 and thermoluminescence have established.

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Indus script designed with care

In his book, The Lost River, Michel Danino wrote the following about the Harappan civilization.

Altogether, the area covered by this civilization was about 800,000 km: roughly one-fourth of today’s India, or if we can make comparisons with contemporary civilizations, ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia put together. This vast expanse must have offered unique opportunities as well as posed peculiar challenges — opportunities in terms of a wider choice of sources for raw materials and a richer store of human skill and experience; challenges arising from a greater diversity of regional cultures which had to be integrated , or at least coordinated, and the sheer extent of communication networks required to keep it all together.

It turns out that the Harappans indeed took the challenge seriously and made sure that the script was uniform across this vast region.

“Writing is an important window to the intellectual creativity of a civilisation. Our analysis reveals that people who designed the Indus script were intellectually creative and considerable time and effort went into designing it. The manner in which the signs were modified shows that it was acceptable across all the sites of the civilisation and was not intended for a small group of people,” said Nisha Yadav from TIFR, the principal author of the study.

The Indus script is found on objects such as seals, copper tablets, ivory sticks, bronze implements and pottery from almost all sites of the civilisation. “The Indus civilisation was spread over an area of about a million square kilometres and yet, the sign list over the entire civilisation seems to be the same indicating that the signs, their meaning and their usage were agreed upon by people with large physical separation. A lot of thought, planning and utility issues must have been taken into consideration while designing these signs,” says the TIFR paper, published in the Korean journal, Scripta.

The paper also indicates that the script may have a connection with scripts from India or even China. The authors say that the signs of the Indus script seem to incorporate techniques in their design that were used in several ancient writing systems to make optimum use of a limited number of signs.[Indus script designed with care, say TIFR researchers (via IndiaArchaeology)]

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Indian History Carnival – 50: Ghaggar-Hakra, Arthashastra, Shivaji, Karma

  1. There is a new paper by Peter Clift et. al which concludes that Yamuna stopped flowing to Ghaggar 50,000 years back and Beas and the Sutlej stopped their flow ten thousand years back. This has an impact on the dates for the presence of Vedic people in the region. Suvrat Kher writes
  2. I have stressed that this attempt to link a hypothesis of a mighty Sarasvati to the presence of Aryans is misguided and one that has caused harm to the public understanding of the topic and to what constitutes good science. Many geologists and archaeologists accepted the validity of a glacial Sarasvati without critically weighing the evidence. Taking their cue, in web forums and books, supporters of a glacial Sarasvati have popularized the hypothesis of a late river avulsion and often presented it as irrefutable evidence favoring the indigenous Aryan theory.

    I have commented on this earlier in Pragati and on my blog (here and here ) and suggested that evidence at that time did not support a late avulsion and further that this issue of the timing of Aryan presence in this region doesn’t really depend on glacial rivers flowing into the Ghaggar. Rivers can be mythologized and worshiped whether they are big or small. The Aryans could just as well have considered holy a Siwalik fed river and exaggerated its size in their hymns.

  3. Dorian Fuller has a post as well on this topic
  4. Throughout the Holocene, including the Harappan period this river was fed only by seasonal monsoon rain in the east. This rain-fed Ghaggar-Hakra was active until after 4.5 ka and was then covered by dunes before 1.4 ka. What this means is that the Ghaggar-Hakra, unlike any of the major Indus tributaries, was not fed by snow melt, which begins in Spring and may be unpredictable, but was entirely reliant on swelling its banks from the summer monsoon. This means it would have been an ideal river for winter crop agriculture, along the lines of the Nile flood regime which is keyed to the Blue Nile’s monsoon source, with sowing of wheat and barley in Oct.-Nov. as the monsoon flood began to recede to leave behind a rich floodplain. These could then be left to mature until harvests in March or April, without fear of early snowmelt floods ruining crops. It really should come as no surprise then that so many Harappan Bronze Age sites concentrated in this valley. Nevertheless as monsoons gradually weakened (already underway during the Harappan period) with the flood water source retreating eastwards, and the Thar desert expanding, the valley became gradually drier and eventually choked with desert sands. This, however happened in Iron Age or post-Iorn Age times, so thus there is no basis for correlating any catastrophic shift in the Ghaggar-Hakra with the end of the Harappan civilization– a notion which has often appealed to archaeologists.

  5. Jayarava presents a new theory about the origin of the Buddhist idea of karma.
  6. So my suggestion is that we see Buddhist (and Jain) karma as part of the culmination of a process of assimilation of Iranian and/or Zoroastrian ideas by the Kosala-Videha tribes in the Central Ganges Plain region, introduced by the Śākyas. The process probably started soon after 850 BCE when climate change affected the environment and set in process a series of migrations across Eurasia and the sub-continent. The emergence of Buddhism and Jainism marks a mature phase of this culture that was soon to be taken over and co-opted by the militaristic Magadhans and their eventual successors the Mauryans. In particular karma may well emerge from the application of the Zoroastrian ideas about morality and the afterlife, to a widespread belief in cyclic rebirth.

  7. Oliver Stuenkel, Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil has a review of The First Great Realist: Kautilya and his Arthashastra by Roger Boesche
  8. In sum, what is perhaps most fascinating is how many ideas Kautilya articulated that would appear in the West centuries later – while Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra briefly after Thucydides, he long preceded Machiavelli and Hobbes, which thought along similar lines. Rather than looking for “non-Western” international relations theories, then, it may be more adequate to question the supposedly “Western” origin of today’s existing theories and acknowledge the profound contributions thinkers such as Kautilya have made.

    Boesche’s book is ideal reading for a seminar on Indian Foreign Policy, providing a very accessible overview of the somewhat lengthy, yet highly rewarding Arthashastra.

  9. Karmasura has a translation of a letter written by Shivaji to Aurangzeb
  10. In strict justice the jaziya is not at all lawful. From the political point of view it can be allowable only if a beautiful woman wearing gold ornaments can pass from one province to another without fear or molestation. But in these days even the cities are being plundered, what shall I say of the open country? Apart from its injustice, this imposition of the jaziya is an innovation in India and inexpedient.

    If you imagine piety to consist in oppressing the people and terrorizing the Hindus, you ought first to levy the jaziya from Rana Raj Singh, who is the head of the Hindus. Then it will not be so very difficult to collect it from me, as I am at your service. But to oppress ants and flies is far from displaying valour and spirit.

For this episode, there were a large number of contributions and I had a tough time limiting it to five entries. The next carnival will be up on March 15th. Send your nominations by e-mail to varnam.blog @gmail.

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