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Vedic literature and the Gulf of Cambay discovery

It is sad to note how intellectuals in India are quick to denigrate the extent and antiquity of their history, even when geological evidence like the Sarasvati River or archaeological evidence like the Harappan and Cambay sites are so clear.

THE RECENT find of a submerged city in the Gulf of Cambay, perhaps as old as 7500 BC, serves to highlight the existence of southern sources for the civilisation of ancient India. The Gulf of Cambay find is only the latest in a series that includes Lothal (S.R. Rao), Dholavira (R.S. Bisht) and others in Gujarat. These discoveries have been pushing the seats of ancient Indian civilisation deeper into the southern peninsula. We should not be surprised if more such sites are discovered in South India, especially the coastal regions, for the south has always played a significant if neglected role in ancient India going back to Vedic times.

I have argued for such a coastal origin for Vedic civilisation in my recent book Rig Veda and the History of India. This is largely because of the oceanic character of Vedic symbolism in which all the main Rig Vedic Gods as well as many of the Vedic rishis have close connections with samudra or the sea. In fact, the image of the ocean pervades the whole of the Rig Veda. Unfortunately many scholars who put forth opinions on ancient India seldom bother to study the Vedas in the original Sanskrit and few know the language well enough to do so. The result is that their interpretation of Vedic literature is often erroneous, trusting out of date and inaccurate interpretations from the Nineteenth century like the idea that the Vedic people never new the sea!

Literary evidence

The Rig Veda states that "All the hymns praise Indra who is as expansive as the sea" (RV I.11.1) Agni wears the ocean as his vesture (RV VIII 102.4-6). The Sun is called the ocean (RV V.47.3). Soma is called the first ocean (RV IX.86.29). Varuna specifically is a God of the sea (RV I.161.14). These are just a few examples of out of well over a hundred references to samudra in the Rig Veda alone, including references to oceans as two, four or many (RV VI.50.13). This is obviously the poetry of a people intimately associated with the sea and not of any nomads from land-locked Central Asia or Eurasia.

Vedic seer families like the Bhrigus are descendants of Varuna, the God of the sea as the first Bhrigu is called Bhrigu Varuni — Bhrigu, the son of Varuna. The teachings of Varuna to Bhrigu are found in the Taittiriya Upanishad and Taittiriya tradition of the Yajur Veda, which has long been most popular in South India. The recent find at sea in the Gulf of Cambay is near Baroach or Bhrigu-kachchha, the famous ancient city of the very same Bhrigus.

These oceanic connections extend to other important Vedic rishis as well. In the Rig Veda, Agastya, who became the main rishi of South India, has twenty-five hymns in the first book of the Rig Veda and is mentioned in the other books as well. He is the elder brother of Vasishta who himself has the largest number of hymns in the text (about a hundred), those of the seventh book. Both rishis are said to have been born in a pot or kumbha, which may be a vessel or ship (RV VII.33.10-13). Vasishta is specifically connected to Varuna who was said to travel on a ship in the sea (RV VII.88.4-5). Both Vasishta and Agastya are descendants of Mitra and Varuna, the God of the sea.

Vishvamitra in the Rig Veda (IIII.53.16) mentions the sage Pulasti, who was regarded as the progenitor of Ravana and Kubera and whose city, Pulasti-Pura was located in ancient Sri Lanka. He is mentioned along with Jamadagni, another common Rig Vedic sage and the father of Parshurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, before Rama and Krishna, whose main sphere of activity was in the south of India.

Manu himself, the Vedic primal sage and king, is a flood figure and the Angirasas, the other main seer family apart from the Bhrigus, join him in his ship according to Puranic mythology. Southern peoples like the Yadus and Turvashas were said to have been glorified by Indra (RV X.49.8) and are mentioned a number of times in the Rig Veda as great Vedic peoples. So we have ample ancient literary evidence for the Vedic seer and royal families as connected with the ocean and southern regions.

The Cambay site is in the ancient delta of the now dry Sarasvati River, one branch of which flowed into the Gulf of Cambay, showing that this site was part of the greater Sarasvati region and culture, which was the main location for Harappan cities in the 3300-1900 BCE period. Such an ocean front was important for maritime trade for the inland regions to the north. In this regard, important Vedic kings like Sudas were said to receive tribute from the sea (RV I.47.6).

When the Greeks under Alexander came to India in the Fourth century BCE, the Greek writer Megasthenes in his Indika, fragments of which are recorded in several Greek writings, mentioned that the Indians (Hindus) had a record of 153 kings going back over 6400 years (showing that the Hindus were conscious of the great antiquity of their culture even then). This would yield a date that now amounts to 6700 BCE, a date that might be reflected in the Gulf of Cambay site which has been tentatively dated to 7500 BCE. So the old Vedic-Puranic king lists may not be that far off after all!

Material evidence

A few scholars, like Witzel in the United States — in spite of such massive evidence as the Sarasvati River and its intimate connection to Vedic literature — still try to separate Vedic culture from India and attribute it to a largely illiterate and nomadic culture that migrated into India from the northwest of the country in the post-Harappan period (after 1500 BCE). Ignoring all other evidence that connects the Vedic and Harappan, they point out the importance of the horse in the Rig Veda and argue that not enough evidence of horses has been found in Harappan sites to prove a Vedic connection. They fall back upon this one shot argument to ignore any other evidence to the contrary.

However, one should note that these invasionists or migrationists are even more deficient in horse evidence to prove their own theory. There is no trail of horse bones or horse encampments into ancient India from Afghanistan during the 1500-1000 BCE period that is required for their theory of Aryan intrusion. In fact, there is no solid evidence for such a movement of peoples at all in the form of camps, skeletal remains or anything else.

Those who claim that Vedic culture must have originated outside India because of its lauding of the horse are even more lacking in horse evidence. The real problem is not `no horse at Harappa' but `no horse evidence, in fact no real evidence of any kind, to prove any Aryan migration/invasion'. It has been convincingly shown that what the Rig Veda with its seventeen-ribbed horse (RV I.162.18) describes is a native Indian breed and not any Central Asian or Eurasian horse that has eighteen ribs.

The Rig Veda mentions many Indian animals like the water buffalo (Mahisha), which is said to be the main animal sacred to Soma (RV IX.96.6), which does occur commonly on Harappan seals. The humped Brahma bull (Vrisha, Vrishabha), another common Harappan depiction, is the main animal of Indra, the foremost of the Vedic Gods. Elephants are also mentioned.

Most of the animals depicted on Harappan seals are mythical, not zoological specimens anyway. Most common is a one-horned animal that is reflected in the one-horned boar or Varaha of the Mahabharata and the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Many other Harappan depictions are of animals with multiple heads or half-animal/half-human figures. This is similar to the depictions in Vedic imagery which largely consist of mythical animals of this type. For example, Harappan seals portray a three-headed bull-like animal. Such an animal is described in the Rig Veda (III.56.6).

A smokescreen

The horse issue is meant as a smokescreen to avoid facing the facts of the Sarasvati River and the many new archaeological sites in India. These show no such break in the continuity of civilisation in the region as an Aryan invasion/migration requires, including the existence of fire altars and fire worship from the early Harappan period. Vedic and Puranic literature itself records the shift of the centre of culture from the Sarasvati to the Ganga at the end of the Vedic period, referring to the drying up of the river. Scholars like Witzel would have the Vedic people coming into India after the Sarasvati was already gone and yet making the river their ancestral homeland and most sacred region!

Vedic literature is the largest preserved from the ancient world, dwarfing in size anything left by other cultures like Egypt, Greece or Babylonia. The Harappan-Sarasvati urban civilisation of India was by far the largest of its time (3100-1900 BCE) in the ancient world spreading from Punjab to Kachchh. We can no longer separate this great literature and this great civilisation, particularly given that both were based on the Sarasvati River, whose authenticity as a historical river before 1900 BCE has been confirmed by numerous geological studies. This great Vedic literature requires a great urban culture to explain it, just as the great Harappan urban culture requires a literature to explain it. Both come from the same region and cannot be separated.

Finally it is sad to note how intellectuals in India are quick to denigrate the extent and antiquity of their history, even when geological evidence like the Sarasvati River or archaeological evidence like the Harappan and Cambay sites are so clear. However one may interpret these, the truth that civilisation in India was quite ancient and profound cannot be ignored. I don't think there is any other nation on earth that would be so negative if such ancient glories were found in their lands.


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