Story Of Vedic Civilisation

Historical Dates From Puranic Sources

Prof. Narayan Rao

Indus Valley Civilization

From the similarity of many words of Sanskrit and other Indian languages with Latin and the relatively fair complexion of some of the upper caste Indians the early indologists liked to believe (or rather propagate the believe) that they are of the same racial stock as the Anglo Saxons and just as the Anglo-Saxons had migrated to Britain from the European mainland the ancestors of the fair complexioned upper caste Indians had migrated from Europe. This racial stock was named as Indo-Aryan and it was theorized that they had displaced or subjugated the original inhabitants of the land. The degenerate caste system of India was a handy tool to fit this hypothesis.

By the time the archeological remains of Mohenjodaro and Harappa were discovered in the late nineteenth century the biblical chronology as well as the theory of Aryan migration had been accepted as a proven fact. The discovery of these archeological remains indicated an extinct civilization which neatly fitted the theory of an earlier civilization vanquished by the invading Indo-Aryans. Thus no systematic or serious effort was made to explore the possibility that the Harappan remains could be post Mahabharata or post Vedic.

A critical examination of the Puranic chronology along with the Harappan remains clearly indicates that it belongs to the civilization that prospered during the long period of peace after the battle of Kurukshetra under the reign of the descendants of King Parikshit.


An objective and critical study of the original sources of Indian history shows that the correct chronology of ancient Indian history, confirmed by archeology, astronomical evidences and Greek history is as follows.

1. Kurukhetra battle of Mahabharata took place in the fourth millennium B.C.

2. The Harappan civilization was post-Mahabharata.

3. Lord Buddha lived in the Nineteenth century B.C.

4. Chandragupta Mourya succeeded Mahapadmananda in sixteenth century B.C.

5. Adi Shankara was born towards the end of the sixth century B.C.

6. The last Satavahana Emperor of Magadha was the contemporary of Alexander.

7. The last Satavahana Emperor Chandrabij was known to the Greeks as Xandramese

8. Chandragupta I of Gupta dynasty was known to the Greeks as Sandrocottus.

9. Samudragupta of Gupta dynasty was known to the Greeks as Sandrocyptus.

10. Sandrocyptus who married the daughter of Selucus was Samudragupta.

It is high time that the modern scholars discard the biblical chronology of Indian history and re-examine all sources in the light of modern science.

Appendix – I

Chronological Table Of Sir William Jones … from “The complete Works of Sir William Jones (in 13 volumes) Volume IV, 1807 edition, Page 47 … quoted by Pandit Kota Venkatachelam on page 19 of his book “The Plot in Indian Chronology” published in 1953.

Events                     Years before 1788 of our era …

Adam                       Menu I age I 5794               4006 BC

Noah                        Menu II 4747                      2959 BC

Deluge                                 4138                      2350 BC

Nimord                     Hiranyakasipu Age II 4006   2218 BC

Bel                           Bali 3892                           2104 BC

Rama                       Rama Age III 3817              2029 BC

Noah’s death                      3787                        1999 BC

Pradyota                            2817                        1029 BC

Buddha                     Age IV 2815                      1027 BC

Nanda                               2487                          699 BC

Balin                                 1937                          149 BC

Vikramaditya                     1844                            66 BC

Devapala                           1811                            23 BC

Christ                                1787                             1 AD

Narayanapala                    1721                            67 AD

Saka                                1709                            79 AD

Walid                               1080                           708 AD

Muhmud                             786                         1002 AD

Chengiz                              548                         1240 AD

Timur                                  391                         1397 AD

Babur                                 276                         1512 AD

Nadirshah                            49                          1739 AD

Appendix – II

Sandrocottus And Chandragupta

If Sandrocottus of Greek history is identified as Chandragupta Mourya we run into a number of difficulties which the modern historians have not yet been able to explain.

1. The name of the predecessor of Mourya Chandragupta, i.e. Nanda does not at all resemble the name Xandramese of Greek history. Similarly the name of his successor Bindusara does not resemble Sandrocyptus of Greek history.

2. The Greek accounts describe a vast empire and army under the command of Xandramese and Sandrocottus; though the Puranas state that the empire of Nanda was very extensive it is categorically stated that the kingdom of the Mouryas was rather small not including even Kalinga, the state just to the south of Magadha.

3. Greek accounts describe Palibothra as the capital of Sandrocottus. But the Puranas are specific about the fact that the capital of the Mouryas was at Giribraja. The capital was shifted to Pataliputra (Palibothra) only during the rule of the Satavahan dynasty.

4. No Indian account of Mahapadmananda or Chandragupta Mourya is complete without the description of Koutilya and Arthashastra. There is no direct or indirect reference in any Greek account to Koutilya or his Arthashastra.

5. The description of the society given in the Greek accounts does not even remotely resemble the description of the society given in Arthashastra. For example, Koutilya has given elaborate rules about slavery and punishments prescribed for those connected with it. But from the Greek accounts it appears slavery was unknown in India.

6. The Greek accounts describe Sandrocottus as a usurper who had treacherously killed King Xandramese after having won the confidence of the Queen. In contrast Chandragupta Mourya, guided by Chanakya, had overthrown the Nandas after a civil war.

7. According to the Puranas at the time of the establishment of Mourya dynasty Buddhism was spreading fast but the Greeks make no mention of Lord Buddha or Ashoka (either Ashokavardhana, or Dharmasoka).

Thus it is clear that the Sandrocottus was not Chandragupta of Mourya dynasty. If Sandrocottus is identified as Chandragupta I of Gupta dynasty the following correspondences are obtained between the Greek and Indian names.

Greek Name                                   Indian Name

Xandramese                                   Chandrabij (last Satavahan king)

Sandrocottus                                 Chandragupta (first Gupta king)

Sandrocyptus                                Samudragupta

Appendix – III

Dates Of Some Of The Important Historic Events As Mentioned In The Puranas …

Event                                                                  Year in B.C.

Kurukshetra battle of Mahabharata

and coronation of King Parikshit                            3138

End of Brihadratha dynasty (of Jarasandha)

and start of Pradyota dynasty                               2132

in Magadha (capital Giribraja)

End of Pradyota dynasty

and start of Shishunag dynasty of Magadha           1995

Birth of Lord Buddha                                            1887

Nirvana of Lord Buddha                                        1807

End of Shishunag dynasty

and cornation of Mahapadmanand                        1634

(capital Giribraja)

End of Nanda dynasty

and coronation of Chandragupta Mourya               1534

Coronation of Ashoka (Ashokavardhana)               1472

End of Mourya dynasty

and coronation of Pushyamitra Sunga                  1218

(Capital Giribraja)

End of Sunga dynasty

and start of Kanwa dynasty                                  918

(Coronation of Vasudeva)

End of Kanwa dynasty

and start of Andhra dynasty                                 833

Coronation of Shrimukha (capital Giribraja)

Birth of Adi Shankaracharya (in South India)         509

Establishment of Dwaraka Shankarcharya Pitha   491

Establishment of Kanchi Kamokoti Pitha              482

End of Andhra dynasty

with assassination of King Chandarbij

(Xandramese of Greek history)                            327

and coronation of Chandragupta

(Sandrocottus or Androcottus of Greek history)

Capital Pataliputra (Palibothra)

Coronation of Samudragupta

(Sandrocyptus of Greek history)                         320

End of Gupta dynasty

and decline of Magadha empire                           82

Establishment of the suzerainty

of Emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain                       58

(Born in 101 B.C. and coronated in 86 B.C. at Ujjain)

over the whole of India and start of Vikram Sambat

Story Of Vedic Civilisation

English: Replica of 'Dancing Girl' of Mohenjo-...
English: Replica of ‘Dancing Girl’ of Mohenjo-daro at in Mumbai, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


How Ancient Is The Vedic Tradition

Dr Kenneth Chandler

Origins Of Vedic Civilisation

The Devanagri Script

Now we consider the Devanagri script in which Vedic Sanskrit is written. For years after Mohenjo-Daro and other settlements of the Indus valley were excavated, the only evidence of a writing script were a few artifacts that were inscribed with characters that appeared to be pre-Devanagri. Devanagri is the language in which both Vedic and Classical Sanskrit are written, so if the script of the Indus valley was indeed an earlier and more primitive script, as it appears to be, this led many archeologists to speculate that the Vedic tradition belongs to a post-Indus valley civilization and that the period came after the end of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. Thus some scholars felt that the Vedic tradition must belong to a period more recent than 1900 BC, when the peoples of Indus and Saraswati settlements apparently abandoned their homelands and migrated east to the Ganges river valley.

This speculation, it turns out, is completely unfounded. Recent digs in western India have unearthed stone inscriptions in Devanagri, that date from 3,000 BC. This is an extremely important finding. For one thing, we know that the Vedic tradition began as an oral tradition. Recitation of the Vedic hymns employed, as we mentioned, elaborate methods to perpetuate the oral tradition. The Vedic tradition existed before the advent of a written script, and was passed on in an oral tradition long before the advent of a written script.

The Rig Veda was memorised by heart and recited in teams of two pundits, who sang in unison to preserve its purity, precisely because there was no script in which to write it down and preserve it over time. Preservation depended on memorisation and passing it on in a formal method of oral recitation.

Since the oral tradition of recitation was a phenomenon that belonged to the period before the advent of a written script, and, since the Devanagri script existed in the Indus-Saraswati valley by 3,000 BC, this would place the origins of the Vedic tradition long before 3,000 BC. The Vedic literature in its entirety is a body of oral literature, passed on first in recited songs, and only later written down, after the advent of a script. If we take Winternitz’s estimated time for the incubation of the Vedic period, which is 1,900 years, this would put the beginnings of the Vedic oral tradition sometime before 4,900 BC.

New Light on the “Cradle of Civilisation”

Textbooks on the origins of civilisation commonly state, even today, that the “cradle of civilisation” was in Mesopotamia, in the flood plane between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Mesopotamian artifacts have been dated as far back possibly as 4,500 BC, and Egyptian, Assyrian, and other ancient civilizations extend back possibly as far as the early fourth millennium BC.

The discovery of cities such as Mehrgarh in the Indus valley, which dates from 6,500 to 7,000 BC, puts the Indus valley settlements much further back in time. Exactly how long ago the Rig Vedic tradition began remains unfathomable, but there are far more ancient cities in the Indus-Saraswati valley than have been found in the middle-eastern civilisations of Mesopotamia.

How long ago did urban civilisation begin in India ? The most reliable answer is that we don’t know. More importantly, the Vedic tradition may have begun before the advent of the written languages and the building of brick towns and cities. The appearance of a written script and building of cities may have come after the decline of the oral Vedic tradition. Moreover, there is evidence of a long period of human activity in India long before the earliest appearance of towns in the Indus-Saraswati valley around 7,000 BC.

Archeological evidence shows that at 40,000 BC, during the last ice age, groups of hunter-gatherers lived in central India in painted shelters of stacked rocks. There are also sites with rock windbreaks in northern Punjab in India dating from this time.

As early as 100,000 BC, there were humans with 20th-century man’s brain size (1,450 cc), and as early as 300,000 BC, Homo Sapiens roamed from Africa to Asia. Evidence of human use of fire dates to 360,000 BC. There is also evidence that hominids occupied the Punjab region of northern India as early as 470,000 BC. Stone hand axes and other primitive chopping tools found in northern India have been dated to 500,000 BC. Other stone artifacts found in India have been found dating from two million years ago. Remains of the genius “Homo” were found in Africa that are dated between two and a half to three million years ago.

How far back in time, then, does the Vedic tradition go ? The most sure answer is still at this point in time that we simply do not know. At present there is not enough evidence to determine, except we can venture that it is far more ancient than has been commonly supposed. The Rig Vedic civilization almost certainly dates from long before 3,000 BC, and possibly before 6,000 BC.

However, in dating the Rig Veda, the range of possibilities must not be considered too narrowly. We must not arbitrarily assume that Vedic tradition originated at any given date. Its origins may go back in time tens of thousands of years, or even longer. Since it is an oral tradition, it left no footprints in stone. What is certain is that the Aryan invasion myths and the dates given by Muller and other nineteenth century scholars came from wild speculations that served nationalist, religious, and racist agendas, not from scientific considerations.

The First Pioneers Of Indology

It may be surprising to learn that the first pioneer in indology was the 12th Century Pope, Honorius IV. The Holy Father encouraged the learning of oriental languages in order to preach Christianity amongst the pagans. Soon after this, in 1312, the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican decided that …

“The Holy Church should have an abundant number of Catholics well versed in the languages, especially in those of the infidels, so as to be able to instruct them in the sacred doctrine.”

Consequently, chairs of Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean were created at the Universities of Bologna, Oxford, Paris and Salamanca. A century later in 1434, the General Council of Basel returned to this theme and decreed that …

“All Bishops must sometimes each year send men well-grounded in the divine word to those parts where Jews and other infidels live, to preach and explain the truth of the Catholic faith in such a way that the infidels who hear them may come to recognise their errors. Let them compel them to hear their preaching.”

Centuries later in 1870, during the First Vatican Council, Hinduism was condemned in the “five anathemas against pantheism,” according to the Jesuit priest John Hardon in the Church-authorized book, The Catholic Catechism. However, interests in indology only took shape when the British came to India.


Story Of Vedic Civilisation

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.


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.