How Ancient Is The Vedic Tradition
Dr Kenneth Chandler
Origins Of Vedic Civilisation
Astronomical References in the Rig Veda and Other Evidence
Evidence from other sources known since the late nineteenth century also tends to confirm the great antiquity of the Vedic tradition. Certain Vedic texts, for example, refer to astronomical events that took place in ancient astronomical time. By calculating the astronomical dates of these events, we thus gain another source of evidence that can be used to place the Rig Veda in a calculable time-frame.
A German scholar and an Indian scholar simultaneously discovered in 1889 that the Vedic Brahmana texts describe the Pleiades coinciding with the spring equinox. Older texts describe the spring equinox as falling in the constellation Orion. From a calculation of the precision of the equinoxes, it has been shown that the spring equinox lay in Orion around 4,500 BC.
The German scholar, H. Jacobi, came to the conclusion that the Brahmanas are from a period around or older than 4,500 BC. Jacobi concludes that “the Rig Vedic period of culture lies anterior to the third pre-Christian millennium.”
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, using similar astronomical calculations, estimates the time of the Rig Veda at 6,000 BC.
More recently, Frawley has cited references in the Rig Veda to the winter solstice beginning in Aries. On this basis, he estimates that the antiquity of these verses of the Veda must go back at least to 6,500 BC. The dates Frawley gives for Vedic civilisation are :
Period 1. 6500-3100 BC, Pre-Harappan, early Rig Vedic
Period 2. 3100-1900 BC, Mature Harappan 3100-1900, period of the Four Vedas
Period 3. 1900-1000 BC, Late Harappan, late Vedic and Brahmana period.
Professor Dinesh Agrawal of Penn State University reviewed the evidence from a variety of sources and estimated the dates as follows:
• Rig Vedic Age – 7000-4000 BC
• End of Rig Vedic Age – 3 750 BC
• End of Ramayana-Mahabharat Period – 3000 BC
• Development of Saraswati-Indus Civilization – 3000-2200 BC
• Decline of Indus and Saraswati Civilization – 2200-1900 BC
• Period of chaos and migration – 2000-1500 BC
• Period of evolution of syncretic Hindu culture – 1400-250 BC.
The Taittiriya Samhita (6.5.3) places the constellation Pleiades at the winter solstice, which correlates with astronomical events that took place in 8,500 BC at the earliest.
The Taittiriya Brahmana (3.1.2) refers to the Purvabhadrapada nakshatra as rising due east—an event that occurred no later than 10,000 BC, according to Dr. B.G. Siddharth of India’s Birla Science Institute. Since the Rig Veda is more ancient than the Brahmanas, this would put the Rig Veda before 10,000 BC.
Attempts to date the Rig Veda based on astronomical evidence have some merit, but the conclusions are hotly debated, and probably not entirely free of conjecture. Some contemporary scholars take them quite seriously as a method of dating the Rig Veda, but the evidence is inconclusive at present.
Evidence from Sthapatya Veda Architecture
Perhaps the most interesting evidence for the antiquity of the Vedic tradition comes from architectural remains of towns and cities of the ancient Indus-Saraswati civilisation. The Indus Valley Civilisation flourished, according to the most reliable current scientific estimates, between 2,600 and 1,900 BC—but there are cities, such as Mehrgarh, that date back to 6,500-7,000 BC. These dates are based on archeological field-work using standard methods that are commonly recognised in the scientific community today. Over 1600 settlements have been found in the vast Indus/Saraswati region that extended over 25,000 square miles.
The most well known cities of the Indus valley civilisation, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, were built of kiln-fired brick and laid out on an exact north-south axis. This means that the main streets of the city ran north-south, and the entrance of the homes and public buildings faced east. The cities were also built to the west of the rivers, so that they were on land that sloped east to the river.
These facts, which may seem trivial on first glance, turn out to be highly significant. The ancient architectural system of Sthapatya Veda prescribes detailed principles of construction of homes and cities. One of the main principles of Sthapatya Veda is that cities be laid out on an exact north-south grid, with all houses facing due east. Another is that the buildings be oriented to the east with a slope to the east and any body of water on the east. Most of the cities of the Saraswati and Indus valley followed these principles exactly.
These early cities were planned and constructed according to exact principles that align the microcosm of human dwelling to the larger cosmos. They applied laws of nature that are set out in Sthapatya Vedic architecture. When the principles were codified into a system is open to question, but since the building and city planning were done according to Sthapatya Vedic principles, it is reasonable to conclude that Sthapatya Veda was known and practiced during the ancient period of Indus-Saraswati valley civilisations. The system called Sthapatya Veda architecture may have preceded this period, or may have been codified later, but the cities were built according to Sthapatya Vedic architecture.
Since these cities were constructed as early as 6,500 to 7,000 BC, this would suggest that Sthapatya Veda may have been known as early as that. This gives another reason to put the origins of Rig Vedic tradition even before that time. This is another bit of evidence, which is not noted in previous literature, that may establish the great antiquity of the Rig Vedic tradition.
Archeological research has shown Indus Valley civilization was an outgrowth of an earlier agrarian civilisation. Richard H. Meadow of Harvard University has shown for instance a gradual shift from the hunting of game to the raising of sheep, goats, and cattle called the humped zebu, which were apparently domesticated in the Indus valley.
* * * The city of Mehrgarh, lying to the West of the Indus river near the Bolan Pass, between ancient India and Afghanistan, was first inhabited from 6,500 BC to 7,000 BC by a largely agrarian people who cultivated barley and cattle.
* * * The Rig Veda frequently mentions barley and milk cattle, and may have come from this agrarian period that was precursor to the Indus-Saraswati valley civilisation.
Yoga in the Ancient Indus Valley
There are still other reasons to think that the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro was home to a civilisation that knew the Vedic tradition. One artifact from Mohenjo-daro is a seal with a figure of a seated deity, in lotus posture. Mark Kenoyer describes this figure as “seated in a yogic posture.” Kenoyer characterises it as a deity with three faces, his feet in a yogic posture extending beyond the throne, with seven bangles on each arm, and a pipili plant adorning his head.
Here is further evidence that the Indus valley civilisation was not pre-Vedic. Rather than being overrun by “Indo-Europeans” who composed the Rig Veda, the Indus valley was apparently intimately linked to the Vedic tradition, and its kings practiced yoga. If the practice of yoga was known at the time of Indus valley civilisation, yoga must have been practiced in India before 1,900 when the Indus Valley settlements were withered by drought.
If the Indus valley civilisations practiced Sthapatya Veda architecture and Yoga, then the Vedic tradition was well established in India during the Indus valley civilisation which flourished, archeologists think, around 2,600 BC. The Indus Valley civilisation is thus either contemporaneous with the Vedic tradition, or the Vedic tradition was its predecessor; but in no case was the vast Indus Valley civilisation, extending over 2,500 square miles and 1,600 settlements, destroyed by outside invaders. The Indus-Saraswati civilisation may have been a successor to, or late remnant of, an earlier Vedic civilisation, which built their towns and cities on Sthapatya Vedic principles in the Indus valley and introduced yoga. It was the drying up of the Saraswati in around 1900 BC that ended Indus-Saraswati civilisation, not Aryan invaders.