Indian History And Its Historians

Part I : Dating of Indian Events Before 2000 BCE

First, it needs to be recalled that anthropological research has established Paleolithic continuity, starting 60,000 BC, with the help of DNA dating. Genome studies during the Holocene, from 12,000 years ago to the present, have revealed that the genetic profile of humans settled in north, south, east and west of India is the same and has remained the same for the last more than 11,000 years. Therefore, contrary to the belief popularised by Western scholars, Dravidians and North-Indians have common ancestors and both are indigenous to the Indian sub-continent. This interesting revelation was made by Dr VR Rao, Professor of Anthropology, Delhi University, while presenting his paper at the national seminar on “Scientific Dating Of Ancient Events Before 2000 BC”.

The seminar was held in New Delhi on 30th and 31st July, 2011. It was attended by about 400 people including Sanskrit scholars and astronomers, archaeologists and geologists, ecologists and anthropologists, oceanographers and space scientists, bureaucrats and academicians, as well as other persons from the public and the media who took deep interest in the deliberations of this otherwise highly technical event organised by the Delhi chapter of I-SERVE [ Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas].

The two main objectives of the seminar were :

One, to highlight the fact that new applications of scientific inventions and tools can determine the authenticity and historicity of ancient events, without recourse to religious beliefs or linguistic guesswork. Such scientific dating is not only credible and convincing but is also likely to push back the antiquity of Vedic civilisation by 4-5 millenia, giving all Indians a shared pride in our rich cultural heritage and its unbroken continuity.

Two, to integrate the authenticated information contained in latest research reports of our eminent scientists, available with the Ministries of Science and Technology and of Earth Sciences, with the contents of our school and college books to enable the young minds to appreciate our history, reconstructed purely on scientific basis.

Presenting the theme of the national seminar the Director of Delhi Chapter of I-Serve, Ms Saroj Bala stated, “Till now we have been told that prior to 1500 BC, India was uncivilised and that the Aryans who came from Central Asia pushed the uncivilized inhabitants towards the south and were later known as Dravidians. These invaders were the ones who set up the first civilised society in North India. Multidisciplinary and purely scientific research has shown that this premise, which was based on linguistic guesswork, is not correct.”

According to Ms Saroj Bala the key findings of the seminar have the potential of uniting all Indians and raising their self esteem by giving them shared pride in their ancient-most and rich cultural heritage. There is now scientific evidence to establish that indigenous civilisation has been developing and flourishing in India for last 10,000 years and that some of our ancestors moved out of the sub-continent and shared their way of life with people elsewhere.

* * *

Misinterpreted Greek Synchronism

In Ancient Indian History

by Kosla Vepa

It was F E Pargiter, who introduced the notion of a Synchronism in Indian Historiography, in one of the first such works to appear in a European language, which lent credulity to the Puranic texts, he was the first to analyse them in detail and publish his findings in a book. 

Even so, Pargiter had fallen prey to the propensities of the colonial mindset, the right to tamper with data instead of reporting on it in a dispassionate manner. In doing so he follows the pattern of British Indian civil servants who, with literally dozens of domestic servants to relieve them of daily chores and a security enabled through sumptuous salaries at the cost of the impoverished Indian, were able to indulge in the favorite pastime of re-writing and re-interpreting Indian History in a form more palatable to the European audience.

Pargiter exhibits a degree of adherence to the evidence not evident in most other writers from the Occident. However, despite his scholarship, the constant contact with Indians who were mostly in a subordinate role and generally obsequious in their behavior to most Occidentals, had taken its toll on his objectivity and there is palpable condescension in the narrative that he spins and, like other English historians, he does not seem to have sought the opinion and review of Indic pundits.

The concern about synchronism was a natural one and stemmed from the need for understanding the relationship between various overlapping dynasties that spanned a millennial time frame. Hailing as they did from a small island, they were not used to seeing the sheer plethora of dynastic families that ruled over the different parts of the subcontinent during the millennia. More importantly, the tendency to disbelieve any dates or absolute chronology was so strong that they were looking for external synchronisms, especially with respect to an Occidental one that their world could relate to. 

The difficulty was that there was not much of a civilisation in the Occident in the millennia prior to 1000 BCE, with the exception of countries surrounding the eastern Mediterranean. As a result, there is no record that is accessible to us, even of travelers from Greece or Babylon, during the time frame in question. This is not to say that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It is just that more work needs to be done to see if there were other travelers to India during the time period under consideration.

… to be continued

India - Twitter Background

Alternate History : The Great Indic Migration

Adapted from Subhash Kak’s essay :  The Mahabharata and the Sindhu-Sarasvati Tradition 

Source :

The task of synthesising convergence of several propositions to visualise the sum event spread out on space and time is more challenging than what most modern historians have so far been capable of. I have been adapting the studies and conclusions of exceptional minds on this blog, for the love of truth.

The series continues …

Manuscript illustration of the Mahabharata War...

The Mahabharata is an encyclopaedia of early Indian culture and history, including the Sindhu-Sarasvati (SS) tradition. For example, the Mahabharata and the Puranas call Visnu and Siva by the name Ekasrnga, the “onehorned one,” or the unicorn, which is one of the most striking images from the mature phase of the SS Tradition. The Santi-Parva (chapter 343) of the Mahabharata speaks of the one-tusked boar (Varaha) who saves the earth as Visnu’s incarnation. Here Varaha is described as being triple-humped, a figure that we see in the Harappan iconography.

There is other continuity of motif and style between the SS Tradition and the classical Indian culture. Geologists tell us that the river Sutudri braided into several channels after its course changed from being a tributary of the Sarasvati to that of the Sindhu. The Epic remembers this in the legend that sage Vasistha wanted to kill himself by jumping into the Haimavati, but the river saved him by breaking up into a hundred shallow channels, hence its ancient name Satadru (Caitraratha Parva, chapter 179). This is example of an event in the Epic that occurred in the 4th or the 3rd millennium BC.

The change in the focus of the civilization from the Sarasvati river to the Ganga is not only implicit in the Puranic story of the descent of Ganga but also in the statement in the Mahabharata (Vana Parva, chapter 85) that in the Treta Puskara was the holiest tirtha, in Dvapara it was Kurukshetra, and in the Kaliyuga it is Prayaga.

The Mahabharata telescopes early genealogical history. The Puranic king-lists provide useful clues to the sequence of events. Some of the main events are: Generation 45, Bhagiratha, Ganga changes course; Generation 65, Rama Dasarathi, Dvapara begins; Generation 94, Mahabharata War. Given that the Mahabharata War took place several centuries before the Buddha, it is clear that even if we allocate only 20 years to each generation, the Puranic king-lists reach back into the early phases of the SS Tradition. The astronomical references in the Vedic texts reach back to the 4th and 5th millennia BC.

The Mahabharata, in turn, describes events that belong to the earliest layers of the Vedic lore. For example, there is much material in the Adi Parva on Yayati, one of the first kings in the Puranic lists. There is also description of the westward emigration of Aryan tribes through the device of Yayati expelling his sons. Such emigration stories are part of the Rgvedic narrative.

The Greek historians inform us that the Indians during the time of the Mauryas remembered more than 150 generations of kings spanning over 6,000 years. (We assume that these lists remember the prominent kings only.) The earliest calendar in India was centennial, with a cycle of 2,700 years. Called the Saptarsi calendar, it is still in use in several parts of India. Its current beginning is taken to be 3076 BC. Notices by the Greek historians Pliny and Arrian suggest that, during the Mauryan times, the calendar used in India began in 6676 BC. It is very likely that this was the Saptarsi calendar with a beginning of 6676 BC.

The SS Tradition has been traced to about 7000 or 8000 BC in Mehrgarh in northwest India. It is seen to have evolved in four distinct stages as follows :

1. Early Agriculture Economy Era 8000 BC – 5500 BC ; Mehrgarh, Period I ; Aceramic, Neolithic

2. Regional Growth Era 5500 BC – 2600 BC
Mehrgarh, Period II, 5500 – 4800 BC
Mehrgarh, Period III, 4800 – 3500 BC
Harappa, Period I, 3500 –2800 BC
Harappa, Period II, 2800 – 2600 BC

3. Integration Era 2600 BC – 1900 BC
Harappan Phase
Harappan Period, 3C, Final, 2200 – 1900 BC

4. Localization Era 1900 BC – 1300 BC
Late Harappan Phase, 1900 – 1300 BC
Harappa, Periods 4 and 5, 1900 – 1700 BC
Beginnings of the Ganga Phase, upto 1300 BC

The Early Agriculture Economy Era (ca. 8000-5500 BC) witnessed the beginnings and maturation of the early agriculture economy. In the Regional Growth Era, (5500-2600 BC) we see regional styles and different phases of evolution. Although uniformity begins to emerge in 2800 BC (or a couple of centuries earlier), the Harappan state with numerous cities and towns emerges in the Integration Era (2600-1900 BC). The uniformity is seen in the writing, system of weights and styles of pottery. The uniformity across a very wide area emphasizes social classes and considerable trade.

In the Localization Era (1900-1300 BC) we witness unbroken continuity in several cultural expressions but we don’t see writing and the use of standardized weights. Evidently, this was a consequence of a breakdown of long distance trade. By the end of this Era, a new integration is seen in a geographical area across the entire north Indian plains.

If one juxtaposes these phases with the events of the Mahabharata Epic, it appears that at the end of the War the region changed from a period of several isolated, independent kingdoms to that of a larger state. The unification created at the end might have provided the climate in which epic poetry was patronized by the king. This idea supports the view that the growth of the Epic from its original form took place during the transition to the Integration Era or perhaps at the end of the Localization Era.

The Date of the Mahabharata
Let’s consider the epoch for the Mahabharata War. By popular tradition, the Kali Age started with the death of Krishna, 35 years after the War. The Kali calendar has a beginning of 3102 BC, therefore it is thought that the Mahabharata War took place in 3137 BC. The Kali age is supposed to have begun with a grand planetary conjunction. The first mention of the Kali calendar is by the astronomer Aryabhata in his treatise on astronomy with an internal date of 500 AD. The earliest epigraphical reference is in the 5th Century inscription of King Devasena where it is alluded to indirectly, and in the Aihole inscription of 3735 Kali (634 AD). Because of these late references, some scholars have suggested that the Kali calendar was started at a late period with an assumed conjunction at the beginning of the era for convenience of calculations, and, therefore, the Aihole inscription cannot be taken as proof of the date of the War.

Wood carving of a scene from the Mahabharata

Wood carving of a scene from the Mahabharata (Photo credit: thaths)

Modern studies using powerful software that can reconstruct the ancient skies indicates that there was actually an approximate conjunction of the planets on Feb 17, 3102 BC as taken by Aryabhata. This may only be a coincidence. Even if the Kali calendar is as old as its starting date, its connections with the Mahabharata War do not appear to be equally ancient. There are also other traditions related to the War. Some of them are old, some new. The most prominent competing theories may be gathered into the following four classes :

1. The date of around 1000 BC. This is the date popularized by Western Indologists as being most “reasonable” based on archaeological data. Repeated in numerous school texts, it has achieved a certain kind of canonicity. This date was first proposed within the framework of the Aryan invasion theory. Although that theory has been discredited, this date has taken independent life of its own.

2. The date of 1924 BC. Based on Puranic genealogies that see a gap of 1000 years or so between the War and the rule of the Nandas (424 BC) we get the date of 1424 BC. But Pargiter, while editing these accounts from the various Puranas, suggested that the original number was 1,500 which was wrongly copied in various texts as 1000, 1015, or 1050. Accepting the arguments, therefore, we consider the Puranic tradition to support the date of 1924 BC. Furthermore, the date of 1424 BC sits in the middle of an obscure period, and it is hard to see how the events of that age would not have left markers in the archaeological record.

3. The date of 2449 BC. This is based on a statement by Varahamihira in 505 AD in chapter 13 of the Brihat Samhita, where it is claimed that the commencement of the Saka era took place 2,526 years after the rule of the king Yudhisthira. If the Saka era meant here is the Salivahana era (78 AD), then the date follows. Some scholars have suggested that this Saka era refers to the one started by an earlier Saka king in Central Asia and that this date is not at variance with the Kali date of Aryabhata.

4. The date of 3137 BC. The traditional value, mentioned by Aryabhata and in the Aihole inscription of 634 AD.

Let us examine these three different dates while considering the evidence from the Mahabharata, the Puranas, archaeology and astronomy.

The Mahabharata Epic and Archaeology
Is the Mahabharata epic — the text of 100,000 verses — which is a source for the events of the War to be taken as history? The epic itself claims to have been originally just 8,800 verses composed by Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and called the Jaya. Later, it became 24,000 verses, called the Bharata, when it was recited by Vaisampayana. Finally, it was recited as the 100,000 versed epic (the Mahabharata) by Ugrasravas, the son of Lomaharsana.

Thus the tradition acknowledges that the Mahabharata grew in stages. The core of the story is very ancient and there is astronomical evidence in it related to the Asvamedha rite that indicates a period before the 3rd millennium BC. The details of the final version may very well include episodes that are poetic exaggerations or imagined material. We see such poetic imagination at work by comparing the Ramayanas of Valmiki and Tulasidas. We may also compare the story of Radha, who does not appear in the Mahabharata or the Bhagavata Purana, who has become a part of the Krsna legend due to later texts.

Many of the characters of the Mahabharata are mentioned in the Vedic texts that, on account of being considered sacred, have not suffered interpolations and should thus represent historical persons. Krsna, for example, is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanisad. Other names occurring elsewhere include Vicitravirya, Santanu, Dhrtarastra, Janamejaya, and Pariksit.

Due to its expansion over several centuries, the Epic includes late material. This means that dating the events of the Epic based on archaeological finds could be misleading. Some scholars have correlated the painted grey ware (PGW) pottery of the period of 1100-900 BC found in Hastinapur (modern Hathipur) to the Kauravas. But there is no basis for such correlation. The Kurukshetra site itself has structures that go back to about 3000 BC.

Panini’s grammar (c. 400 BC) knows the Mahabharata. In the sutra 6.2.38, it mentions both the Bharata and the Mahabharata. Also, the Epic, in its long descriptions of the religions of the day, describes the Vedic, Sankhya, Yoga, Pasupata, and the Bhagavata traditions. There is no mention of Buddhism, so we can be certain that it was substantially complete prior to 400 or 500 BC. The language of the Epic does not always follow Paninian constructions which also indicates that it is prior to 500 BC.

Even the political life described in the Mahabharata does not correspond to the imperial ages of 400 BC – 400 AD that has sometimes been assigned to it in the West. Cattle raids occur prominently in it, not imperial conquest. There is no reference to the Sisunaga kings, the Nandas, the Mauryas, or the Sungas. On the other hand, the Buddhist Jatakas, that were written during the times of these dynasties, are aware of the characters of the Epic. One Jataka, for example, speaks disparagingly of Draupadi for having four husbands.

Dion Chrysostom, Greek Sophist (40-105 AD) mentions that the Indians possess an Iliad of 100,000 verses. Together with its appendix, the Harivamsa, the Epic does add up to this total.

Recent archaeological discoveries indicate that the Sarasvati river dried up around 1900 BC, leading to the collapse of the Harappan civilization that was principally located in the Sarasvati region (accounting for about 70 percent of all the Harappan sites). The Rigveda celebrates the Sarasvati as the greatest river of its day, going from the mountains to the sea (giribhya asamudrat in RV 7.95.2).

There are two schools of thought related to the drying up of the Sarasvati river. According to the first one, the Sarasvati ceased to be a seagoing river about 3000 BC, explaining why the 3rd millennium settlements on the banks of the Sarasvati river end in the Bahawalpur region of the Punjab and do not reach the sea; there was a further shrinking of the river in about 1900 BC due to an earthquake that made its two principal tributaries to be captured by the Sindhu and the Ganga river systems. According to the second view, the Sarasvati flowed to the sea until 1900 BC when it dried up. The first view explains the geographical situation related to the Harappan sites more convincingly.

Given the understanding of the drying up of Sarasvati, with its preeminent status during the Rigvedic times, it follows that the Rigvedic hymns are generally anterior to 1900 BC. If one accepts the theory that the Sarasvati stopped reaching the sea in 3000 BC, then the Rigvedic hymns are prior to 3000 BC. If the tradition that Vyasa was the arranger of the Vedas is correct, the latter explanation would mean that the Mahabharata War could indeed have occurred in 3137 BC.

This detailed map shows the locations of Kingd...

The Puranic Tradition
The Puranic lists come down to the 4th or the 5th century AD and they are quite accurate in their details for the post-Mauryan period for which independent inscriptional evidence is available. One would expect that they would be accurate for the period prior to the Mauryas also. The regnal years are given in the Puranas only for the post-War kings.

The king-list for Magadha has the following dynasties in the post-Bharata War period :
1. Brhadrathas (32 kings) 967 yeats
2. Pradyotas of Avanti (5 kings) 173 years
3. Sisunagas (10 kings) 360 years
4. Nandas (Mahapadma + sons) 100 years
5. Mauryas (9 kings) 137 years
6. Sungas (10 kings) 112 years
7. Kanvas (4 kings) 45 years
8. Andhras (30 kings) 460 years

One may question the reliability of the earlier parts of this list since the average span of reign for the pre-Nanda kings is more than twice as much for the post-Nanda ones. The explanation appears to be that it was during the imperial Maurya age that comprehensive king-lists were made and, consequently, only the better-known names of the earlier period were included. The centennial counting system, named after the naksatras, made certain that the count of the dynastic totals was accurate. The length of the Brhadratha dynasty may also be questioned. But, it may represent the cumulative sum of several early dynasties.

During the pre-Nanda period, the lists also provide for 24 Aiksavakus, 27 Pancalas, 24 kings of Kasi, 28 Haihayas, 32 Kalingas, 25 Asmakas, 36 Kurus, 28 Maithilas, and 23 Surasenas.

We know that Candragupta Maurya started his reign in 324 BC. Therefore, if we were to accept these periods, the dynastic eras for the post-Bharata age will be :
1. Brhadrathas 1924-957 BC
2. Pradyotas 957-784 BC
3. Shishunagas 784-424 BC
4. Nandas 424-324 BC
5. Mauryas 324-187 BC  and so on.

It is most significant that the Puranic king-lists imply 1924 BC as the epoch of the Mahabharata War. Since this epoch is virtually identical to the rough date of 1900 BC for the catastrophic drying up of the Sarasvati river, it suggests that the two might be linked if they are not the same. The disruption due to the earthquake may have been a contributing factor to the Mahabharata War, or the War could have served as a metaphor for the geological catastrophe.

Around 500 CE, a major review of the Indian calendar was attempted. The astronomers Aryabhata, Varahamihira and others used the naksatra references that the Saptarsi were in Magha at the time of the Mahabharata war to determine its epoch. Aryabhata declared the war to have occurred in 3137 BC, and Varahamihira assigned it 2449 BC. This discrepancy arose perhaps from the different assumpptions regarding the naksatras (27 or 28) in the calculations of the two astronomers.

It is likely that the fame of the Kaliyuga era with its beginning assigned to 3102 BCE prompted a change in the beginning of the Saptarshi era to about the same time, that is to 3076 BC.

The Puranic memory of the Mahabharata war having occurred in 1924 BC may represent the transference of a much earlier event to the cataclysmic event at the end of the Harappan period. The memory of the War in popular imagination may represent the conflation of two different actual events.

The date of 1000 BC or so is just not possible because it is at variance with the astronomical facts related to the period. Furthermore, it is at variance with the Puranic genealogies which, we know, are quite accurate in the post-Mauryan period and are likely to have been accurate earlier as well. Then there are various remembered lines of teachers that show up in various texts. Specifically, the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad remembers a line of 60 teachers. We don’t know how many years should be assigned to each teacher but this line could span substantially more than a thousand years. Given that this Upanishad is about 800-600 BC in the most conservative reckoning, this long list makes it impossible for the Rigvedic period to end in 1000 BC, as required by the War in that epoch.

This leaves us with the dates of 1924 BC and 3137 BC. I don’t think we have evidence at this time to pick one of these two as the more likely one. If one gives credence to the Puranic genealogies, then 1924 BC would be the time for the War; if, on the other hand, we go by the astronomical evidence related to the Vedas and the subsequent literature, then 3137 BC remains a plausible date. If the pre-Nanda Puranic lists are not accurate for the regnal periods, then the War will have occurred a few centuries later than 1924 BC.

The Indic Kings of the West

Mahabharata mentions that of the five descendents of Yayati, two became Yavanas and the Mlecchas. This seems to remember a westward emigration. This particular migration may have occurred in a very early period in the Vedic world that spanned Jambudvipa and the trans-Himalayan region of Uttara Kuru. We have a later evidence for another westward movement to the lands ranging from Babylonia to Turkey.

The Mitanni, who worshiped Vedic gods, were an Indic kingdom that had bonds of marriage across several generations with the Egyptian 18th dynasty to which Akhenaten belonged. The Mitanni were known to the Egyptians as the Naharin, connected to the river (nahar), very probably referring to the Euphrates. At its peak, the Mitanni empire stretched from Kirkuk (ancient Arrapkha) and the Zagros mountains in western Iran in the east, through Assyria to the Mediterranean sea in the west. Its center was in the region of the Khabur River, where its capital, Wassukkani (Vasukhani, “a mine of wealth”) was probably located.

The first Mitanni king was Sutarna I (good sun). He was followed by Baratarna I (Paratarna, great sun), Parasuksatra (ruler with axe), Saustatar (Sauksatra, son of Suksatra, the good ruler), Paratarna II, Artadama (Rtadhaman, abiding in cosmic law), Sutarna II, Tushratta (Dasaratha), and finally Matiwazza (Mativaja, whose wealth is thought) during whose lifetime the Mitanni state appears to have become a vassal to Assyria.

The early years of the Mitanni empire were occupied in the struggle with Egypt for control of Syria. The greatest Mitanni king was Sauksatra who reigned during the time of Tuthmose III. He was said to have looted the Assyrian palace at Ashur. Under the reign of Tuthmose IV, more friendly relations were established between the Egyptians and the Mitanni.

The daughter of King Artadama was married to Tuthmose IV, Akhenaten’s grandfather, and the daughter of Sutarna II (Gilukhipa) was married to his father, Amenhotep III, the great builder of temples who ruled during 1390-1352 BC (“khipa” of these names is the Sanskrit ksipa, night). In his old age, Amenhotep wrote to Tushratta many times wishing to marry his daughter, Tadukhipa. It appears that by the time she arrived Amenhotep III was dead. Tadukhipa was now married to the new king Akhenaten, becoming famous as the queen Kiya (short for Khipa).

The Egyptian kings had other wives as well. Akhenaten’s mother, Tiye, was the daughter of Yuya, who was a Mitanni married to a Nubian. It appears that Nefertiti was the daughter of Tiye’s brother Ay, who was to become king himself. The 18th dynasty had a liberal dose of Indic blood.

But how could an Indic kingdom be so far from India, near Egypt ? A plausible scenario is that after catastrophic earthquakes dried up the Sarasvati river around 1900 BC, many groups of Indic people started moving West. We see Kassites, a somewhat shadowy aristocracy with Indic names and worshiping Surya and the Maruts, in Western Iran about 1800 BC. They captured power in Babylon in 1600 BC, which they were to rule for over 500 years. The Mitanni ruled northern Mesopotamia (including Syria) for about 300 years, starting 1600 BC, out of their capital of Vasukhani. Their warriors were called marya, which is the proper Sanskrit term for it.

In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, Indic deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatya (Asvins) are invoked. A text by a Mitannian named Kikkuli uses words such as 8aika (eka, one), tera ( tri, three), panza (panca, five), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana}, round). Another text has babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red). Their chief festival was the celebration of visuva} (solstice) very much like in India.

It is not only the kings who had Sanskrit names; a large number of other Sanskrit names have been unearthed in the records from the area. Documents and contract agreements in Syria mention a warrior caste that constituted the elite in the cities. The ownership of land appears to have been inalienable. Consequently, no documents on the selling of landed property are to be found in the great archives of Akkadian documents and letters discovered in Nuzi. The prohibition against selling landed property was dodged with the stratagem of “adopting” a willing buyer against an appropriate sum of money.

Information of the mythology of the Hurrians of the Mitanni is known from related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub who had violently deposed Kumarbi paralleling the killing of Vrtra by Indra. Major sanctuaries of Teshub were located at Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) and at Halab (modern Aleppo) in Syria. Like Indra, Teshub also had a solar aspect. In the east his consort was the goddess of love and war Shaushka (Venus), and in the west the goddess Hebat (Hepat). In addition, a considerable importance was attributed to impersonal gods such as heaven and earth as well as to deities of mountains and rivers. Temple monuments of modest dimensions have been unearthed.

The general Indic influence in the area may also be seen in the comprehensiveness of the god lists. The most “official” god list, in two Ugaritic copies and one Akkadian translation, consists of 33 items, exactly as is true of the count of Vedic gods. These gods are categorized into three classes, somewhat like the three classes of the Vedic gods, although there are difference in details.

The main Semitic gods are Yahvah and El or (Il or al-Il, as Allah) The Rgveda mentions Yahvah in 21 different hymns. Ila is the deity for the Rgvedic Apri hymns and it represents Agni in Yajurveda (VS) 2.3, whereas Ilaa represents Earth, speech, and flow.

The Vedic Yahvah is, as an epithet, associated with movement, activity, heaven and earth; it means the sacrificer and Agni, the chief terrestrial god. It is associated with energy like the Yahvah of the Semites. It may be compared to Shivah, an epithet for auspiciousness in the Rigveda, that later is applied regularly to Rudra. It is plausible that the Vedic Ila and Yahvah were adopted by the Semites through the mediating agency of the Mitanni.

Greek accounts tell us that the Ugaritic believed in a cosmic egg out of which the earth emerged which is reminiscent of brahmanda of the Vedic view.How do we know that the Mitanni were Indic and not Iranian? There are several reasons, but to be brief, we shall only give three :

1. the deities Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and Nasatya are Indian deities and not Iranian ones, because in Iran Varuna is unknown and Indra and Nasatya appear as demons;

2. the name Vasukhani makes sense in Sanskrit as a “mine of wealth” whereas in Iranian it means “good mine” which is much less likely;

3. satta, or sapta, for seven, rather than the Iranian word hapta, where the initial `s’ has been changed to `h’.

Why could not the Mitanni be the descendents of a pre-Vedic people as in the Gimbutas model of the spread of the Indo-Iranian people from the Kurgan culture of the steppes of Central Asia ? They would then have had no particular affinity for Indic deities. If the pre-Vedic people in Central Asia already had Indin deities, how would these small bands of people impose their culture and language over what was perhaps the most densely
populated region of the ancient world.

Furthermore, that view does not square with our knowledge of the astronomical tradition within India. The Vedic Samhitas have very early astronomical and its geography is squarely within India. The Vedanga Jyotisa, a late Vedic text, already belongs to the middle of the second millennium BC. The earlier texts remember events within the Indic geographical area going back to the third and the fourth millennia BC. The theory of a proto-Indo-Aryan people in Iran from whom the Aryans of India descended in the second millennium BC does not work for the same reasons.

The idea of invasion or large-scale immigration of outsiders into India displacing the original population in the middle of the second millennium BC has been rejected since it is not in accord with archaeological facts, skeletal records, and the continuity of the cultural tradition.

The Indian textual tradition also does not permit us to accept the Gimbutas model because of the length of time required for the rise of the voluminous Indian literature. Over fifty years ago, Roger T. O’Callaghan and W.F. Albright published in Analecta Orientalia of Rome a list of 81 names (13 from the Mitanni, 23 from the Nuzi, and 45 from the Syrian documents) with Indic etymologies. Out of this list, Dumont has provided the etymology of 45 names.

Analyzing the names, Dumont concludes that the names are clearly Indic and not Iranian. The initial s is maintained and the group s’v is represented by the similar sounding sw and not the Avestan aspo. Also, most of the names are bahuvrihi or tatpurusa compounds.

Considering the language, it is clearly an Indic dialect because the initial v is replaced by b, while medial v becomes the semivowel w. Like Middle Indic (Prakrit) dialects, the medial pt transforms into tt, as in sapta becoming satta. Dumont stresses its relationship to Sanskrit in the characteristic patronymic names with the vrddhi-strengthening of the first syllable, like in Saumati (the son of Sumati) or Sausapti (the son of Susapti). The worship of the Vedic gods like Indra, Vayu, Svar, Soma, Rta, Vasus has already been noted.

The fact the the Mitanni names suggest a Middle Indic dialect is supportive of the thesis that the emigration of the various groups from India took place after the early Vedic period had come to an end. Our argument actually goes beyond the presence of people in West Asia whose languages were Indic, as was the case with the Mitanni. There is evidence that Indic religion and culture had adherents even outside of groups with Indic speech.

English: Darius I the Great's inscription. Pos...

The Avesta speaks of the struggle between the worshipers of Ahura Mazda and the daevas. Zarathustra nowhere names the daevas and it is only in the later texts that Indra and the Nasatyas are so labeled. Many of the Vedic devas (such as Mitra, Bhaga, Agni, Vayu, and Indra as Vrtraghna) continue to be counted amongst the good ahuras. It appears that the triple division of deva/asura/raksasa corresponding to sattva/rajas/tamas was divided into the dichotomy deva versus asura/raksasa in India and that of deva/asura versus daeva (raksasa) in Iran. The term daeva as synonym with raksasa and distinct from deva survives in Kashmir.

The ahura-daeva opposition in the Zoroastrian texts is expressed as one between the Mazdayasnas and the Daevayasnas. It is a conflict in which Zoroaster wished to defeat and convert the worshipers of the daeva religion. The Yasts speak of legendary heroes and kings who participated in this struggle. The wars against the Daevayasnas by Vistaspa (Yt. 5.109, 113; 9.30-31), Jamaspa (Yt. 5.68-70), and Vistaru of the Naotara family (Yt. 5.76-77) represent this ongoing conflict in the historical period.

In Vendidad, the Zoroastrians are encouraged to take possession of the lands, waters, and harvests of the daeva worshipers (Vd. 19.26). Elsewhere (Vd. 7.36-40), it is recommended that the art of medicine should be first tried on the daeva-worshipers and if they survive then it should be attempted on the Mazdayasnians.

Although the Zoroastrian heresy triumphed in Iran and the great Persian kings of the middle of first millennium BC followed the religion of Ahura Mazda, the daeva worshipers survived, especially in the West, in the Mesopotamian religion.

The devas as well as daevas survived for a pretty long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of the survival of the devas comes from the daiva- inscription of Xerxes (ruled 486-465 BC). The revolt by the daeva worshipers in West Iran is directly referred to :

Proclaims Xerxes the King : When I became king, there is among these countries one which was in rebellion. Afterwards Ahuramazda bore me aid. By the favor of Ahuramazda I smote that country and put it down in its place.

And among these countries there was a place where previously daiva were worshiped. Afterwards, by the favor of Ahuramazda I destroyed that sanctuary of daiva, and I made proclamation: ‘The daiva shall not be worshiped!’ Where previously the daiva were worshiped, there I worshiped Ahuramazda at the proper time and in the proper manner. And there was other business that had been done ill. That I made good. That which I did, all did by the favor of Ahuramazda. Ahuramazda bore me aid until I completed the work. 

The analysis of early Persian history has shown that the Mazandaran, the region south of the Caspian sea and the Alburz mountain range, remained for long a centre of daeva worship. There were also the successors to the deva worshipers of the Mitanni kingdom.

It has been suggested that the Xerxes inscription refers to the suppression of these people. Burrow takes the daeva worshiping people to be proto-Indoaryans and sees them as the remnants of a population that stretched from West Asia to India. The Iranians coming down from the northeast drove a wedge between this belt, leading to the eventual assimilation of the western daeva worshipers in the course of centuries.

Irrespective of what the original movement of the Indo-Aryans was before the fourth or fifth millennium BC, it is clear that since their Indian branch recognizes the geography of only their region, it is either necessary to push back the proto-Indoaryan phase to the fourth or the fifth millennium BC or to postulate their movement out of India as is suggested in the Puranas.

Concluding Remarks
The material from the Mahabharata and the Puranas provides us many tangled hints. Given the extensive nature of the king-lists and the teacher-lists it is impossible that the origin of the Mahabharata-Purana tradition could be brought down to the beginning of the second millennium BC as espoused by the proponents of the theories of Aryan invasion and migration. The Mahabharata War occurs at the 94th generation in these lists, and even if one were to assign just 20 years for each generation and assume that the lists were exhaustive, one would have to account for nearly 2,000 years before the War which, even in the most conservative dating for the War, takes us square into the beginnings of the Integration Era of the SS Tradition.

The Epic and Puranic evidence on the geographical situation supports the notion of the shifting of the centre of the Vedic world from the Sarasvati to the Ganga region in early second millennium BC. O.P. Bharadwaj’s excellent study of the Vedic Sarasvati using textual evidence12 supports the theory that the Rgveda is to be dated about 3000 BC and the Mahabharata War must have occurred about that time.

The Mahabharata clearly belongs to a heroic age, prior to the rise of the complexity of urban life. The weapons used are mythical or clubs. The narrative of chariots could be a later gloss added in the first millennium BC. The pre-urban core events of the Epic would fit the 3137 BC date much better than the 1924 BC. But this would suggest that the Puranic tradition at a later time conflated earlier events with the destructive earthquakes of 1924 BC and remembered the later event accurately using the centennial Saptarsi calendar.

The Indic kings of West Asia are descendents of Vedic people who moved West after the catastrophe of 1924 BC.

Visnu with his consorts Laksmi and Sarasvati (...

Journal : Alternate History


by Michel Danino

(Published in the Journal of Indian History and Culture of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research, Chennai, September 2006, No.13, pp. 33-59.)


The presence or absence of the horse in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization has been a bone of contention for decades, especially in the context of the Aryan invasion Theory. The argument is familiar : the Rig-Veda uses the word ashva over 200 times, ergo the Vedic society must have been full of horses, ergo the Harappan civilization, from which the noble animal is conspicuously absent, must be pre – Vedic and non-Aryan. The horse must therefore have been brought into India around 1500 BCE by the invading Aryans, who used its speed to crushing advantage in order to subdue the native, ox-driven populations.

This line of reasoning is regarded as so evident and foolproof that it is taken to be the final word on the issue; as a result, we find it confidently repeated in reference books and history texts dealing with India’s pre-history.

However, on closer view, there are serious flaws at every step of the argument — and indeed several underlying it. I will first examine the physical evidence of the horse from various Harappan sites, both in terms of skeletal remains and depictions, before turning to problems of methodology that have compounded the confusion. in particular, the double-edged use of negative evidence and the persisting colonial misreading of the Rig-Veda.

Physical remains of the horse in Indus-Sarasvati sites

Our first surprise is that contrary to conventional assertions, quite a few archaeologists have reported horse remains from India’s prehistoric sites. A. Ghosh’s respected and authoritative Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology mentions without fuss : 

In India the … true horse is reported from the Neolithic levels at Kodekal [dist. Gulbarga of Karnataka] and Hallur [dist. Raichur of Karnataka], the late-Harappa levels at Mohenjo-daro (Sewell and Guha, 1931), Ropar, Harappa, Lothal and numerous other sites. … Recently bones of Equus caballus have also been reported from the proto-Harappa site of Malvan in Gujarat.

Mortimer Wheeler, a flamboyant proponent of the Aryan invasion theory if ever there was one, admitted long ago that “it is likely enough that camel, horse and ass were in fact a familiar feature of the Indus caravan.” The well- known archaeologist B. B. Lal refers to a number of horse teeth and bones reported from Kalibangan, Ropar, Malvan and Lothal. Another senior archaeologist, S. P. Gupta, adds further details on those finds, including early ones. In the case of Lothal, the archaeozoologist Bhola Nath certified the identification of a tooth; he also made similar observations regarding bones from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

Fig. 1: Horse bones from Surkotada (in Katchchh)

A. K. Sharma’s well-known identification of horse remains (Fig. 1) at Surkotada (in Kutch) was endorsed by the late Hungarian archaeozoologist Sándor Bökönyi, an internationally respected authority in the field; in 1991, taking care to distinguish them from those of the local wild ass (khur), he confirmed several of them to be “remnants of true horses,” and what is more, domesticated horses. In his 1993 report to the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, Bökönyi made no bones about the whole issue : 

Through a thorough study of the equid remains of the prehistoric settlement of Surkotada, Kutch, excavated under the direction of Dr. J. P. Joshi, I can state the following : The occurrence of true horse (Equus caballus L.) was evidenced by the enamel pattern of the upper and lower cheek and teeth and by the size and form of incisors and phalanges (toe bones). Since no wild horses lived in India in post-Pleistocene times, the domestic nature of the Surkotada horses is undoubtful. This is also supported by an inter- maxilla fragment whose incisor tooth shows clear signs of crib biting, a bad habit only existing among domestic horses which are not extensively used for war.

Quite in tune with the findings at Surkotada and Lothal, P. K. Thomas, P. P. Joglekar et al., experts from the Deccan College on faunal remains, reported horse bones from the nearby Harappan site of Shikarpur “in the Mature Harappan period,” and from Kuntasi (at the boundary between Kutch and Saurashtra).

To the Neolithic sites mentioned by A. Ghosh, we must add Koldihwa (in the Belan valley of Allahabad district), where G. R. Sharma et al. identified horse fossils.1 Contemporary with the Harappan period, the culture of the Chambal valley (in Madhya Pradesh) was explored by the respected archaeologist M. K. Dhavalikar, with layers dated between 2450 and 2000 BCE. 

His observations are remarkable :

The most interesting is the discovery of bones of horse from the Kayatha levels and a terracotta figurine of a mare. It is the domesticate species (Equus caballus), which takes back the antiquity of the steed in India to the latter half of the third millennium BC. The presence of horse at Kayatha in all the chalcolithic levels assumes great significance in the light of the controversy about the horse. 

Let us stress that just as at Surkotada, the horse at Kayatha was domesticated. 

In the face of so many reports from so many sites by so many experts, a blanket denial of the animal’s physical presence in pre-1500 BCE India passes one’s comprehension. Are we to believe that all identifications of horse remains by experts are wrong and misleading ? Have scholars rejecting such evidence personally crosschecked even 10% of it ? Have they, too, expressed similar doubts about the identification of other animal remains found in the same sites and conditions ? 

Richard Meadow and Ajita Patel did challenge Sándor Bökönyi’s report to the Archaeological Survey.13 Bökönyi however stuck to his views (although he passed away before he could give his final response), and Meadow and Patel concluded their long plea with the rather weak statement that “… in the end that [Bökönyi’s identification of horse remains at Surkotada] may be a matter of emphasis and opinion.” What makes their eagerness to convince Bökönyi to change his mind suspect is that they never challenged Indian experts such as A. K. Sharma, P. K. Thomas or P. P. Joglekar; it was only when Bökönyi endorsed findings on the “Harappan horse” that they got alarmed. Since then, amusingly, their inconclusive paper has been quoted by several Marxist historians as the last word on the nonexistence of the horse in the Indus – Sarasvati civilization. Even more ironically, when invasionists attempt to trace the introduction of the horse into Europe, they turn to the same Bökönyi ! His expertise was never in question in Europe, but is unacceptable in India.

The old argument that so-called horse remains invariably belong to species of wild ass such as the onager (Equus hemionus onager), the khur (Equus hemionus khur), or the plain ass (Equus asinus) is unacceptable, firstly because it is sweeping in nature and produces little or no evidence; secondly because, in several cases, experts have simultaneously reported remains of the wild ass from the very same sites, which implies some ability to distinguish between those species.

Another frequent and sweeping objection is that the dates of the disputed horse remains are not firmly established and might be much more recent. But Jagat Pati Joshi’s excavation report, for instance, makes it clear that,

At Surkotada from all the three periods quite a good number of bones of horse (Equus Caballus Linn) … have been recovered. The parts recovered are very distinctive bones: first, second and third phalanges and few vertebrae fragments.

The first of Surkotada’s “three periods” coincides with the mature stage of the Harappan civilization, which rules out the possibility of the horse having been introduced by Aryans around 1500 BCE. Moreover, we have the case of Mahagara (near Allahabad), where horse bones were not only identified by G. R. Sharma et al., but “six sample absolute carbon 14 tests have given dates ranging from 2265 B.C.E. to 1480 B.C.E.” The case of Hallur, mentioned by A. Ghosh above, is even more striking : the excavation (in the late 1960s) brought out horse remains that were dated between 1500 and 1300 BCE, in other words, about the time Aryans are pictured to have galloped down the Khyber pass, some 2,000 km north of Hallur. Even at a fierce Aryan pace, the animal could hardly have reached Karnataka by that time. When K. R. Alur, an archaeo-zoologist as well as a veterinarian, published his report on the animal remains from the site, he received anxious queries, even protests : there had to be some error regarding those horse bones. A fresh excavation was eventually undertaken some twenty years later — which brought to light more horse bones, and more consternation. Alur saw no reason to alter his original report, and wrote that his critics’ opinion “cannot either deny or alter the find of a scientific fact that the horse was present at Hallur before the (presumed) period of Aryan invasion.” The claim that horse finds are undated is therefore disingenuous.

Finally, S. P. Gupta offers a sensible reply to the further objection that horse remains, if at all they are accepted, rarely account for more than 2% of the total animal remains at any site. Pointing out that the same holds true of the camel and elephant (animals undeniably present in Harappan sites), he explains that this low proportion is “simply because these animals are not likely to have been as regularly eaten as cattle, sheep and goats as well as fish whose bones are abundantly found at all Indus-Saraswati settlements.”

All in all, the case for the horse’s physical presence in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization is quite overwhelming, and is bound to be further strengthened by evidence yet to come out of thousands of unexplored sites. Archaeologist A. K. Sharma’s conclusion, in a paper that surveyed the “horse evidence” and his own experiences in this regard, is worth quoting :

It is really strange that no notice was taken by archaeologists of these vital findings, and the oft-repeated theory that the true domesticated horse was not known to the Harappans continues to be harped upon, coolly ignoring these findings to help our so-called veteran historians and archaeologists of Wheeler’s generation to formulate and propagate their theory of ‘Aryan invasion of India on horse-back’….

Depictions of the horse and the spoked wheel

The Harappans certainly built much of their religious symbols around animals, depicting many of them on their seals and tablets, in terracotta figurines, or as pottery motifs. While it is true that the horse does not appear on the Harappan seals (except if we were to accept the conjecture by S. R. Rao and a few other scholars that the composite animal represented on thousands of seals as a unicorn actually has a horse’s head), it has been hastily claimed that the animal is never depicted at all.

A horse figurine did emerge at Mohenjo-daro (Fig. 2), which drew the following comment from E. J. H. Mackay, one of the early excavators at the site:

Perhaps the most interesting of the model animals is one that I personally take to represent a horse. I do not think we need be particularly surprised if it should be proved that the horse existed thus early at Mohenjo-daro.27 


Fig. 2: Horse figurine from Mohenjo-daro.

Wheeler himself accepted it as such. Another figurine was reported by Stuart Piggot from Periano Ghundai, and several at Lothal, some of them with a fairly clear evocation of the horse. The horse also appears on some pottery, for instance at pre-Harappan levels of Kunal (Haryana), among other animals, according to the excavator R. S. Bisht et al. Another figurine was found at Balu, with what looks like a saddle. Dhavalikar, quoted above, mentioned “a terracotta figurine of a mare” in the Chambal valley. Finally, the horse is depicted in rock art (for instance at Bhimbetka or Morhana Pahar in the Narmada valley), but unfortunately, we have very few absolute dates for rock art in India. 

It is not just the horse that invasionist scholars sought to erase from pre- 1500 BC India: they also asserted that the spoked wheel came to India only with the Aryans.32 “The first appearance of [the invading Aryans’] thundering chariots must have stricken the local population with a terror …” writes Michael Witzel in a grandiloquent echo of nineteenth-century racial theories.33 The spoked wheel was thus seen as a crucial element in the speed game, compared to the slow bullock-driven solid-wheeled Harappan cart — until it turned out that Harappans did have spoked wheels, after all. Fig. 5 shows a few terracotta wheels from Banawali and Rakhigarhi where the spokes are clearly visible in relief or painted.34 More such wheels have been found at Kuntasi,35 Lothal, and Bhirrana36 (in Haryana). 


Fig. 5: Terracotta wheels from Banawali and Rakhigarhi

All this material illustrates the danger of “negative evidence”: it takes very little to make it irrelevant.

Methodological issues

Raw evidence apart, the appearance of the horse in the Indian subcontinent is, in reality, a complex issue, and by treating it crudely, the conventional theory suffers from serious methodological flaws. Let us briefly highlight a few of them.

1. Physical remains and depictions of the horse in India after 1500 BC

The invasionist school posits that the horse was introduced into India by the “Aryans” around 1500 BC. One would therefore expect a marked increase in remains and depictions of the animal after that fateful event (or non-event). Yet — and this is one of the best kept secrets of Indian prehistory — nothing of the sort happens.

Looking only at the early historical layers, Taxila, Hastinapur or Atranjikhera (Uttar Pradesh) have indeed yielded bones of both the true horse and the domestic ass (strangely, the distinction between the two is no longer disputed here!), but at other sites, such as Nashik, Nagda (Madhya Pradesh), Sarnath, Arikamedu (Tamil Nadu), Brahmagiri (Karnataka), Nagarjunakonda (Andhra Pradesh), no remains of either animal have turned up. There are also sites like Jaugada (Orissa) or Maski (Karnataka) where the ass has been found, but not the horse. Finally, data available from sites that do come up with horse remains show no significant increase in the overall percentage of horse bones or teeth compared to Harappan sites such as Surkotada.

If, therefore, the low amount of evidence for the horse in the Indus- Sarasvati civilization is taken as proof that that civilization is pre-Vedic, we must extend the same logic to the whole of pre-Mauryan India ! It is clear that the horse was as rare or as common an animal before and after 1500 BC — “rare” is probably the correct statement for both.

As regards “post-invasion” depictions of the horse, they are also no more frequent than in Harappan sites : barring a few figurines at Pirak, Hastinapura and Atranjikhera, we find no striking representations of the animal, while we would have expected the aggressive “Aryans” to pay rich tributes to their instrument of conquest, which, invasionists tell us, the Rig-Veda glorifies so much. And yet, “the first deliberate and conscious attempt of shaping a horse in durable material like stone was witnessed in the art of the Mauryas in India,” writes historian T. K. Biswas. Another historian, Jayanti Rath, commenting on the animals depicted on early Indian coins, remarks: “The animal world of the punch-marked coins consists of elephant, bull, lion. dog, cat, deer, camel, rhinoceros, rabbit, frog, fish, turtle, ghariyal (fish eater crocodile), scorpion and snake. Among the birds, peacock is very popular. The lion and horse symbols appear to have acquired greater popularity in 3rd century B.C.”

All in all, an eerie equine silence pervades pre-Mauryan India.

2. Physical remains and depictions of the horse outside India

It helps to take a look at a few regions outside India. In contemporary Bactria, for instance, the horse is well documented through depictions in grave goods, yet no horse bones have been found. “This again underscores the point that lack of horse bones does not equal the absence of horse,” writes U.S. Indologist Edwin Bryant.

In the case of the horse in America, where its spread is fairly well known, Elizabeth Wing points out… Once safely landed in the New World, they are reported to have prospered along with cattle in the grazing lands, free of competitors and predators. Horse remains, however, are seldom encountered in the archaeological sites. This may be a function of patterns of disposal, in which remains of beasts of burden which were not usually consumed would not be incorporated in food or butchering refuse remains.

This fits with the picture we have formed of the horse in the Indus- Sarasvati civilization, and with S. P. Gupta’s similar observation on the non- consumption of horse meat. Clearly, invasionists have sought to put too much weight on the rarity of horse remains in the third millennium.

3. Introduction of the horse = Aryan invasion ?

Another non sequitur is that since the true horse was undoubtedly introduced into India at some time, and probably from Central Asia, it can only have been introduced by invading Aryans.

As we have seen, the horse’s introduction must have taken place right from Mature Harappan times, if not earlier; but let us assume for the sake of argument that it only happened, as invasionist scholars assert without the least evidence, in Late Harappan times. Even if it were so, how would it establish that the horse came as a result of an invasion or a migration, when other possibilities are equally valid, or more so if we look at the evolution of the region ?

Bryant, again, puts it crisply :

In the absence of irrefutable linguistic evidence, there is no reason to feel compelled to believe that the introduction of the horse into the subcontinent is indicative of the introduction of new peoples any more than the introduction of any other innovatory items of material culture (such as camels, sorghum, rice, lapis lazuli, or anything else) is representative of new human migratory influxes.

In other words, at whatever epoch, the horse could have been introduced as an item of trade — and we do know that Harappans had extensive trade contacts with a wide region, from Mesopotamia all the way to northern Afghanistan and possibly parts of Turkmenistan. This is indeed the stand of archaeologists like Jean-François Jarrige or Jonathan M. Kenoyer. The latter, for instance, notes that the adoption of the horse or the camel reflects “changes [that] were made by the indigenous [Late Harappan] inhabitants, and were not the result of a new people streaming into the region. The horse and camel would indicate connections with Central Asia.”

Whatever the date of the horse’s introduction into the subcontinent might be, there is no ground to assume a “violent” introduction through a war-like conquest.

4. The problem of depiction

Regardless of the issue of physical remains, invasionists have persisted, understandably so, in stressing the nagging non-depiction of the horse on Indus seals (conveniently glossing over the figurines mentioned earlier). However, S. P. Gupta points out that the camel, “wolf, cat, deer, Nilgai, fowl, jackal are rarely or never found in [Harappan] art but their presence has been attested by bones.” We can add the camel and the lion, which were certainly present in some regions of the Harappan civilization yet were never depicted. The scholar K. D. Sethna pertinently asks, “As there are no depictions of the cow, in contrast to the pictures of the bull, which are abundant, should we conclude that Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had only bulls ?” Sethna goes further; he makes the opposite point that the mythical unicorn is found on numerous seals, and asks, “Was the unicorn a common animal of the proto-historic Indus Valley ?” Clearly, animal representations, or their absence, have cultural reasons: the Indus seals were not intended to be zoological handbooks. Until we have a deeper understanding of Harappan culture, we can only conjecture about its iconography.

5. Is the Vedic horse the true horse ?

Invasionists are usually unaware that they begin by making an important assumption: they take it for granted that the Vedic horse is the true horse, Equus caballus L. Although this might appear self-evident, it is not. In fact, as some scholars have pointed out, the Rig-Veda describes the horse as having 34 ribs; so does a passage in the Shatapatha Brahmana.48 However, the true horse generally has two pairs of 18 ribs, i.e. 36 and not 34.

This suggests that the horse referred to in the Rig-Veda may have been a different species, such as the smaller and stockier Siwalik or Przewalski horses, which often (not always) had 34 ribs. The scholar Paul Manansala, who stressed this point, concluded: “So the horse of India, including that of the asvamedha sacrifice in what is regarded as the oldest part of the Rgveda, is a distinct variety native to southeastern Asia.”

The question is far from solved, as experts in the field do not always see eye to eye, but it also cannot be wished away.

6. Meaning of ashva in the Rig-Veda

We now come to a more fundamental point. After the nineteenth-century European Sanskritists, most scholars have taken it for granted that Vedic society should be full of horses because of the frequent occurrence of ashva in the Rig- Veda. This conclusion is flawed on two grounds.

First, because the language of the Rig-Veda is a symbolic one that constantly operates at different levels. Else, how could we explain powerful images with no possible ritualistic or “animist” explanation, such as a lower and an upper ocean, a “wave of honey” rising from the ocean, rivers of ghee rising in the “ocean of the heart,” a “well of honey” hidden under the rock, a divine fire born of waters, present in the stone, or compared to a child that gave birth to its own mothers, an “eighth sun, hidden in darkness,” and dozens more ? A purely materialistic or ritualistic reading of the Rig-Veda is bound to fail us at every step, and is unjustified when other mythologies, from the Babylonian to the Egyptian and the Greek, have long been explored at deeper figurative and symbolic levels. It is strange how most scholars, hypnotized by colonial misinterpretations, have failed to follow the Rig-Veda’s own clue: “Secret words that reveal their meaning [only] to the seer.”

So let us turn to one such “seer.” As early as 1912, a decade before the discovery of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, and thus long before our “Harappan horse” controversy, Sri Aurobindo in his study of the Rig-Veda and the Upanishads found that The word ashva must originally have implied strength or speed or both before it came to be applied to a horse.

More specifically… The cow and horse, go and ashva, are constantly associated. Usha, the Dawn, is described as gomati ashvavati; Dawn gives to the sacrificer horses and cows. As applied to the physical dawn gomati means accompanied by or bringing the rays of light and is an image of the dawn of illumination in the human mind. Therefore ashvavati also cannot refer merely to the physical steed; it must have a psychological significance as well. A study of the Vedic horse led me to the conclusion that go and ashva represent the two companion ideas of Light and Energy, Consciousness and Force….

For the ritualist the word go means simply a physical cow and nothing else, just as its companion word, ashva, means simply a physical horse…. When the Rishi prays to the Dawn, gomad viravad dhehi ratnam uso ashvavat, the ritualistic commentator sees in the invocation only an entreaty for “pleasant wealth to which are attached cows, men (or sons) and horses”. If on the other hand these words are symbolic, the sense will run, “Confirm in us a state of bliss full of light, of conquering energy and of force of vitality.”

In other words, Sri Aurobindo rejects a mechanical equation ashva = horse.

The constant association of the Vedic horse with waters and the ocean, from the Rig-Veda to the Puranic myth of the churning of the ocean, confirms that we are not dealing here with an ordinary animal, as does the depiction of the Ashvins as birds. Within this framework, the ashvamedha sacrifice also deserves a new treatment, which the Indologist Subhash Kak has recently outlined very cogently.

Sri Aurobindo’s stand received indirect support from a wholly different angle, that of the late anthropologist Edmund Leach, who warned against the picture of a horse-rich Rig-Vedic society :

The prominent place given to horses and chariots in the Rig Veda can tell us virtually nothing that might distinguish any real society for which the Rig Veda might provide a partial cosmology. If anything, it suggests that in real society (as opposed to its mythological counterpart), horses and chariots were a rarity, ownership of which was a mark of aristocratic or kingly distinction.

Thus the place of the horse in the Rig-Veda needs to be reassessed from a decolonized standpoint, with a fresh look at the Vedic message and experience. If Sri Aurobindo and Leach are both right, then the word ashva refers only occasionally to the actual animal, and its rarity is well reflected in the modest amount of physical remains and depictions. Indeed, even in today’s India, despite having been imported into India for many centuries, the horse remains a relatively rare animal, invisible in most villages.

At this point, a valid objection could be raised: if the horse did exist in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, and if one wishes to equate this civilization with Vedic culture, the latter at least makes a symbolic use of the animal; why is the horse therefore not depicted more often as a symbol in Harappan art, for instance on the Indus seals ? The answer I propose is simple : even if the Rig- Veda is contemporary with, or older than, the mature Indus-Sarasvati civilization, we need not expect Harappan art to be a pure reflection of Vedic concepts. The Veda represents the very specific quest of a few rishis, who are unlikely to have lived in the middle of the Harappan towns. Although Vedic concepts and symbols are visible in Harappan culture, the latter is a popular culture; in the same way, the culture of today’s Indian village need not exactly reflect Chennai’s music and dance sabhas. Between Kalibangan’s peasant sacrificing a goat for good rains and the rishi in quest of Tat ekam, That One, there is a substantial difference, even if they ultimately share the same worldview.

Only a more subtle approach to Harappan and Vedic cultures can throw light on their apparent differences.

7. Is ashva only Aryan ?

One more unstated assumption of invasionists, who trust that their readers will not go and check the original text, is that ashva, in the Rig-Veda, is a purely Aryan animal. But is that what the text actually says ? No doubt, most of the references place ashva, whatever the word means in the Rishis’ mind, squarely on the side of the Aryan gods and their human helpers. But it turns out that there are a few revealing exceptions, when Dasyus and Panis also possess ashvas.

For instance, Indra-Soma, by means of the truth (eva satyam), shatters the stable where Dasyus were holding “horses and cows” (ashvyam goh). In another hymn, Indra’s human helpers find the Pani’s “horses and cattle”: “The Angiras gained the whole enjoyment of the Pani, its herds of the cows and the horses.”

The most striking passage is from the famous dialogue between the divine hound Sarama, Indra’s intransigent emissary, and the Panis, after she has discovered their faraway den, where they jealously hoard their “treasures.” Sarama boldly declares Indra’s intention to seize these treasures, but the Panis are unimpressed and threaten to fight back; they taunt her: “O Sarama, see the treasure deep in the mountain, it is full of cows and horses and treasures (gobhir ashvebhir vasubhir nyrsah). The Panis guard it watchfully. You have come in vain to a rich dwelling.” Every verse makes it clear that all these treasures, horses included, belong to the Panis; at no point does Sarama complain that these are stolen goods: “I come in search of your great treasures,” she declares at first, and the Panis would not be insolent enough to taunt her with goods seized from the Aryans; yet Sarama considers that Indra is fully entitled to them.

Now, if we followed the same colonial reading that invasionists impose on the Vedas, we would be forced to acknowledge that the Dasyus and Panis also had horses of their own — which of course negates the whole idea of the animal having been introduced by the Aryans. It does look as if this Vedic landscape is getting a little too crowded with horses, rather like a cheap Hollywood western.

To understand the Dasyus’ and Panis’ “horses,” we need to return to the Vedic symbolism proposed by Sri Aurobindo : the demons do possess lights (cows) and energies or powers (horses), but, as misers, keep them for themselves, neither for the gods nor for man. In the Vedic view, this is a transgression of the cosmic law. The duty of the rishi, helped by the gods, is to reconquer those “treasures” and put them to their true purpose; only then will the cosmic order be reestablished. This is certainly more interesting than the tribal clashes of a barbaric and primitive age. In fact, the Rig-Veda itself makes its symbolism clear again and again, if only we can learn to read it with an open mind. In the last verse of the dialogue between Sarama and the Panis, for instance, the narrator concludes, “Go away, you Panis ! Let out the cows which, hidden, infringe the Order !” This “order” is ritam, the true cosmic law. It is infringed not because the Panis hide a few cows and horses inside a cave, but because they misuse their lights and powers and do not offer them up as a sacrifice. That is why Indra is entitled to their treasures — not because he is a greedy tribal leader out to expand his territory and wealth; and that is why he can shatter the demons’ dens only “by means of the truth.”

Had it not been for the Aryan invasion Theory, the Rig-Veda would have long ago been the object of interpretations on a level with that accorded to Greek or Egyptian mythology, instead of being constricted to a literalist reading.


That the invasionist scholars should have skirted such important issues, as regards both findings and methodology, does little to inspire confidence. Clearly, the whole question of the Vedic and Harappan horse has been treated simplistically. To sum up :

1. Several species of Equus, including the true horse, existed in the Indus- Sarasvati civilization, probably in small numbers. Some of them may have entered India over a much longer time span than is usually granted, in the course of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization’s interactions with neighbouring areas, but certainly not through any Aryan invasion or migration, which in any case has already been rejected by archaeological, anthropological, genetic, literary and cultural evidence.

2. This process continued with a gradual but slight increase after the end of the mature phase of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization right up to early historical times. There was no epoch exhibiting a sudden, first-time introduction of the animal.

3. The Rig-Veda has been misread; it tells us strictly nothing about a sizeable horse population, and rather suggests its rarity. The animal was important in symbolic, not quantitative terms.

4. The Rig-Veda also tells us nothing about conquering Aryans hurtling down from Afghanistan in their horse-drawn “thundering” chariots and crushing indigenous tribal populations; it is high time we abandoned once and for all those perverse fancies of nineteenth-century scholars, even if some of their peers hang on to such myths even today.

The hypothesis I have put forward is testable : if correct, we should expect further excavations of Harappan sites to come up with more horse remains and depictions, although nothing on the scale that the Aryan invasion Theory wrongly expects of a Vedic society — and has failed to document in post-Harappan India. 


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