Contemporary Indian scholars, admittedly motivated not only by academic interests, vehemently reject what they call the ‘colonial-missionary Aryan invasion theory’. They accuse its originators of superimposing-for a reason-the purpose and process of the colonial conquest of India by the Western powers in modern times onto the beginnings of Indian civilisation: as the Europeans came to India as bearers of a supposedly superior civilisation and a higher religion, so the original Aryans were assumed to have invaded a country on which they imposed their culture and their religion.
- The Aryan invasion model is largely based on linguistic conjectures which are unjustified (and wrong). Languages develop much more slowly than assumed by nineteenth century scholars. According to Renfrew speakers of Indo-European languages may have lived in Anatolia as early as 7000 BCE
- The supposed large-scale migrations of Aryan people in the second millennium BCE first into Western Asia and then into northern India (by 1500 BCE) cannot be maintained in view of the fact that the Hittites were in Anatolia already by 2200 BCE and the Kassites and Mitanni had kings and dynasties by 1600 BCE
- There is no memory of an invasion or of large-scale migration in the records of Ancient India-neither in the Vedas, Buddhist or Jain writings, nor in Tamil literature. The fauna and flora, the geography and the climate described in the Rigveda are that of Northern India.
- There is a striking cultural continuity between the archaeological artefacts of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation and subsequent Indian society and culture: a continuity of religious ideas, arts, crafts, architecture, system of weights and measures.
- The archaeological finds of Mehrgarh (copper, cattle, barley) reveal a culture similar to that of the Vedic Indians. Contrary to former interpretations, the Rigveda shows not a nomadic but an urban culture (purusa as derived from pur vasa = town-dweller).
- The Aryan invasion theory was based on the assumption that a nomadic people in possession of horses and chariots defeated an urban civilisation that did not know horses, and that horses are depicted only from the middle of the second millennium onwards. Meanwhile archaeological evidence for horses has been found in Harappan and pre-Harappan sites; drawings of horses have been found in paleolithic caves in India; drawings of riders on horses dated c. 4300 BCE have been found in Ukraina. Horsedrawn war chariots are not typical for nomadic breeders but for urban civilisations.
- The racial diversity found in skeletons in the cities of the Indus civilisation is the same as in India today; there is no evidence of the coming of a new race.
- The Rigveda describes a river system in North India that is pre-1900 BCE in the case of the Saraswati river, and pre-2600 BCE in the case of the Drishadvati river. Vedic literature shows a population shift from the Saraswati (Rigveda) to the Ganges (Brahmanas and Puranas), also evidenced by archaeological finds.
- The astronomical references in the Rigveda are based on a Pleiades-Krittika (Taurean) calendar of c. 2500 BCE when Vedic astronomy and mathematics were well-developed sciences (again, not a feature of a nomadic people).
- The Indus cities were not destroyed by invaders but deserted by their inhabitants because of desertification of the area. Strabo (Geography XV.1.19) reports that Aristobulos had seen thousands of villages and towns deserted because the Indus had changed its course.
- The battles described in the Rigveda were not fought between invaders and natives but between people belonging to the same culture.
- Excavations in Dwaraka have lead to the discovery of a site larger than Mohenjodaro, dated c. 1500 BCE with architectural structures, use of iron, a script halfway between Harappan and Brahmi. Dwarka has been associated with Krishna and the end of the Vedic period.
- A continuity in the morphology of scripts: Harappan, Brahmi, Devanagari.
- Vedic ayas, formerly translated as ‘iron,’ probably meant copper or bronze. Iron was found in India before 1500 BCE in Kashmir and Dwaraka.
- The Puranic dynastic lists with over 120 kings in one Vedic dynasty alone, fit well into the ‘new chronology’. They date back to the third millennium BCE Greek accounts tell of Indian royal lists going back to the seventh millennium BCE.
- The Rigveda itself shows an advanced and sophisticated culture, the product of a long development, ‘a civilisation that could not have been delivered to India on horseback’ (p.160).
- Painted Gray Ware culture in the western Gangetic plains, dated ca 1100 BCE has been found connected to (earlier) Black and Red Ware etc.
A key element in the revision of Ancient Indian History was the recent discovery of Mehrgarh, a settlement in the Hindukush area, that was continuously inhabited for several thousand years from c. 7000 BCE onwards. This discovery has extended Indian history for several thousands of years before the fairly well dateable Indus civilisation.8
Old verses new? Or scientists verses philologists?
We are left, at present, with two widely differing versions of Ancient Indian History, with two radically divergent sets of chronology and with a great deal of polemic from both sides. Those who defend the Aryan invasion theory and the chronology associated with it accuse the proponents of the ‘New Chronology’ of indulging in Hindu chauvinism. The latter suspect the former of entertaining ‘colonial-missionary’ prejudices and denying originality to the indigenous Indians. The new element that has entered the debate is scientific investigations. While the older theory rested on exclusively philological arguments, the new theory includes astronomical, geological, mathematical and archaeological evidence. On the whole, the latter seems to rest on better foundations. Not only were the philological arguments from the very beginning based more on strong assertions and bold guesses, civilisations both ancient and contemporary comprise more than literature alone. In addition, purely philologically trained scholars-namely grammarians-are not able to make sense of technical language and of scientific information contained even in the texts they study.
The computer scientist and Indologist Subhash Kak believes he has rediscovered the ‘Vedic Code’ which allows him to extract from the structure, as well as the words and sentences of the Rigveda, and the considerable astronomical information which its authors supposedly embedded in it.10 The assumption of such encoded scientific knowledge would make it understandable why there was such insistence on the preservation of every letter of the text in precisely the sequence the original author had set down. One can take certain liberties with a story, or even a poem, changing words, transposing lines, adding explanatory matter, shortening it, if necessary, and still communicate the intentions and ideas of the author. However, one has to remember and reproduce a scientific formula in precisely the same way it has been set down by the scientist or it would not make sense at all. While the scientific community can arbitrarily adopt certain letter equivalents for physical units or processes, once it has agreed on their use, one must obey the conventions for the sake of meaningful communication.
Based on the early dating of the Rigveda (c. 4000 BCE) and on the strength of the argument that Vedic astronomy and geometry predates that of the other known Ancient civilisations, some scholars, like N.S. Rajaram, George Feuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley, have made the daring suggestion that India was the ‘cradle of civilisation’. They link the recently discovered early European civilisation (which predates Ancient Sumeria and Ancient Egypt by over a millennium) to waves of populations moving out or driven out from north-west India. Later migrations, caused either by climatic changes or by military events, would have brought the Hittites to Western Asia, the Iranians to Afghanistan and Iran and many others to other parts of Eurasia. Such a scenario would require a complete rewriting of Ancient World History-especially if we add the claims, apparently substantiated by some material evidence, that Vedic Indians had established trade links with Central America and Eastern Africa before 2500 BCE. It is no wonder that the ‘New Chronology’ arouses not only scholarly controversy but emotional excitement as well. Much more hard evidence will be required to fully establish it, and many claims may have to be withdrawn. But there is no doubt that the ‘old chronology’ has been discredited and that much surprise is in store for the students not only of Ancient India, but also of the Ancient World as a whole.
The ‘Revision of Ancient Indian History’ responds to several separate, but interlocking questions that are often confused.
- The (emotionally) most important question is that of the original home of Vedic civilisation, identified with the question: where was the (Rig-)Veda composed? India’s indigenous answer to that question had always been ‘India’, more precisely ‘the Punjab’. The European, ‘colonial missionary’ assumption, was ‘outside India’.
- The next question, not often explicitly asked, is: where did the pre-Vedic people, the ‘Aryans’ come from? This is a problem for archeo-anthropologists rather than for historians. The racial history of India shows influences from many quarters.
- A related, but separate question concerns the ‘cradle of civilisation’, to which several ancient cultures have laid claim: Sumeria, Egypt, India (possibly also China could be mentioned, which considered itself for a long time the only truly civilised country). Depending on what answer we receive, the major expansion of population/civilisation would be from west to east, or from east to west. The famous lux ex oriente has often been applied to the spread of culture in the ancient world. India was as far as the ‘Orient’ would go.
- It is rather strange that the defenders of the ‘Aryan invasion theory’, who have neither archaeological nor literary documents to prove their assumption, demand detailed proof for the non-invasion and refuse to admit the evidence available. Similarly, they feel entitled to declare ‘mythical’ whatever the sources (Rigveda, Puranas) say that does not agree with their preconceived notions of Vedic India.
If I were to judge the strength of the arguments for revising Ancient Indian History in the direction of ‘India as Cradle of Civilisation’ I would rate Seidenberg’s findings concerning the Shulvasutra geometry (applied in the Indus civilisation; Babylonian and Egyptian geometry derivative to it) highest. Next would be the archeo-astronomical determination of astronomical data in Vedic and post-Vedic texts. Third is the satellite photography based dating of the drying out of the Saraswati and the archeo-geographical finding of a centuries long drought in the belt reaching from Anatolia through Mesopotamia and Northern India. Geological research has uncovered major tectonic changes in the Punjab and the foothills of the Himalayas. At one point a section rose about sixty metres within the past 2 000 years.