Vedic and Harappan are respectively literary and material facets of same civilization: B. B. Lal

Vedic and Harappan are respectively literary and material facets of same civilization: B. B. Lal

By Nithin Sridhar

The Aryan Question: Part 2

The Aryan question has been hanging for many decades without any conclusion, but with lot of controversies and politics being played around it.

The questions that have been repeatedly asked include: Who are the Aryans? Did Aryans invade or migrate into India or were they indigenous? Where is Aryan Homeland? Are Vedic Aryans different from Harappan Civilization? How old is Harappan civilization? Etc.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that it is multi-dimensional issue and requires investigation from diverse fields ranging from Archaeology and Linguistics to Genetics and Hydrology. Thus, the Aryan issue is mired in confusion and controversy.

In order to highlight few salient features of the Aryan issue and assess the current position regarding various questions regarding Aryan issue, NewsGram decided to interview various Indologists, academicians, and Independent scholars who have worked for decades on various aspects of this issue.

B. B. Lal Photo Credit:

For the first interview in this 'Aryan Question' series, NewsGram interviewed renowned archaeologist and former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Brij Basi Lal, popularly known as B. B. Lal, to unfold the mystery of Aryan issue.

In the first installment of the interview, B. B. Lal explained the origin of the theory of Aryan invasion and migration, and how they are nothing more than a myth, which is neither supported by Archaeological evidence nor supported by other evidence like flora and fauna.

Here is the second installment of the interview, where he answers further questions about the Aryan issue.

Interview with B. B. Lal-2

Nithin Sridhar: If the Aryans were neither 'Invaders' nor 'Immigrants', were they 'Indigenous'?

B.B. Lal: To answer this question, we must first settle the date of the Rigveda since the entire mess has been created by wrongly dating the Vedas to 1200 BCE.

In this context, the history of the River Sarasvati plays a very vital role. In the Rigveda, it has been referred to as a mighty river, originating in the Himalayas and flowing all the way down to the ocean (RV 7.95.2). But by the time of the Panchavimsha Brahmana (XXV.10.16) it had dried up.

Against this literary background, let us see what archaeology and other sciences have to say in the matter.

Along the bank of the Sarasvati (now called the Ghaggar) is located Kalibangan, a site of the Harappan Civilization. It had to be abandoned while it was still in a mature stage, owing to the drying up of the adjacent river. According to the radiocarbon dates, this abandonment took place around 2000.

Since, as already stated, during the Rigvedic times the Sarasvati was a mighty flowing river and it dried up around 2,000 BCE, the Rigveda has got to be earlier than 2000 BCE. How much earlier is anybody's guess; but at least a 3rd millennium BCE horizon is indicated.

Further, Rigveda X.75.5-6 very clearly defines the area occupied by Rigvedic people, in the 3rd millennium BCE, as follows:

imam me Gaṅge Yamune Sarasvati Śutudri stotam sachatā Parus̩n̩yā / Asiknyā Marudvr̩idhe Vitastayā Ārjīkīye śr̩in̩uhya- Sus̩omayā // 5 //

Tr̩is̩tāmayā prathamam yātave sajūh̩.Susartvā Rasayā Śvetyā tyā / Tvam Sindho Kubhayā Gomatīm Krumum Mehatnvā saratham yābhir̄iyase // 6 //

Which means the area occupied by Rigvedic people was from the upper reaches of the Ganga-Yamuna on the east to the Indus and its western tributaries on the west.

Map showing a correlation between Rigvedic area and Harappan Civilization during 3rd millennium BC. Red lines- Rigvedic area. Black Dotted lines- Harappan Civilization. Photo Source: The Rigvedic People by B. B. Lal

Now, if a simple question is asked, viz. archaeologically, which culture occupied this very area during the Rigvedic times, i.e. in the 3rd millennium BCE, the inescapable answer shall have to be: 'The Harappan Civilization'.

Thus, it is amply clear that the Harappan Civilization and the Vedas are but two faces of the same coin. Further, as already stated earlier, the Harappans were the sons of Indian soil. Hence, the Vedic people who themselves were the Harappans were indigenous.

NS: But, materially, many objections has been raised against the Vedic = Harappan equation. How do you reconcile them?

Lal: Yes, I am aware that against such a chronological-cum-spatial Vedic = Harappan equation, many objections have been raised. Notably, three important objections have been raised, namely:

(1) Whereas the Vedic people were nomads, the Harappans were urbanites; (2) The Vedic people knew the horse while the Harappans did not; and (3) The Vedic people used spoked wheels, but the Harappans had no knowledge of such wheels.

Let us take up the first question. The Vedic people were not nomads wandering from place to place, but had regular settlements, some of which were even fortified. In RV 10.101.8 the prayer is: "stitch ye [oh gods] the coats of armour, wide and many; make metal forts secure from all assailants." RV 7.15.14 runs as follows: "And, irresistible, be thou a mighty metal fort to us, with hundred walls for man's defense."

Even on the economic front, the Vedic people were highly advanced. Trade was carried on even on the seas. Says RV 9.33.6: "O Soma, pour thou forth four seas filled with a thousand-fold riches." The ships had sometimes as many as 'a hundred oars (sataritra)'.

Politically, the Vedic people had sabhas and samitis and even a hierarchy of rulers: Samrat, Rajan and Rajakas (RV 6.27.8 & 8.21.8). That these gradations were real and not imaginary is confirmed by the Satapatha Brahmana (V.1.1.12-13): "By offering Rajasuya he becomes Raja and by Vajapeya, Samrat; the office of Raja is lower and of Samrat, higher."

In the face of the foregoing evidence, can we still call the Rigvedic people 'Nomads'?

Now coming to the horse, in his Mohenjo-daro Report, Mackay states: "Perhaps the most interesting of the model animals is the one that I personally take to represent a horse." Wheeler confirmed the above view of Mackay, adding that "a jawbone of a horse is also recorded from the same site."

Now a lot of new material has come to light: from Lothal, Surkotada, Kalibangan, etc. Lothal has yielded a terracotta figure as well as the faunal remains of the horse.

Reporting on the faunal remains from Surkotada, the renowned international authority on horse-bones, Sandor Bokonyi of Hungary, emphasized: "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 the incisors and phalanges (toe bones)."

Terracotta wheel, Mature Harappan. Photo Credit:

Now lastly, the spoked wheel. Though the hot and humid climate of India does not let wooden specimens survive, there are enough terracotta models of spoked wheels, e.g. from Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Banawali, etc.

Thus, all the objections against the Vedic=Harappan equation are baseless. The two are respectively the literary and material facets of the same civilization.

NS: Some proponents of the 'Aryan Invasion' or 'Aryan Migration' theory hold that the Harappans was a Dravidian-speaking people. What do you think of that?

Lal: According to the 'Aryan Invasion' thesis, the Invading Aryans drove away the supposed Dravidian-speaking Harappans to South India.

If there was any truth in it, one would find settlements of Harappan refugees in South India, but there is not even a single Harappan or even Harappa-related settlement in any of the Dravidian-speaking States, be it Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka or Kerala!

Further, it is seen that even when new people occupy a land, the names of at least some places and rivers given by earlier people do continue. For example, in USA names of rivers like Missouri and Mississippi or of places like Chicago and Massachusetts, given by earlier inhabitants, do continue even after the European occupation. But there is no Dravidian river/place-name in the entire area once occupied by the Harappans, viz. from the Indus to upper reaches of the Yamuna.

All told, therefore, there is no evidence whatsoever for holding that the Harappans was a Dravidian-speaking people.

NS: Some scholars have stated that Vedic Aryans migrated from India towards the West. Did some Vedic people really emigrate to the West?

Lal: The answer is in the affirmative and the evidence is as follows:

Inscribed clay tablets discovered at Bogazkoy in Turkey record a treaty between a Mitanni king named Matiwaza and a Hittite king, Suppilulima. It is dated to 1380 BCE. In it the two kings invoke, as witnesses, the Vedic gods Indra, Mitra, Nasatya and Varuna.

Commenting on this treaty, the renowned Indologist T. Burrow observes: "Aryans appear in Mitanni as the ruling dynasty, which means that they must have entered the country as conquerors." 'Conquerors from where?' may not one ask? At that point of time (1380 BCE) there was no other country in the world except India where these gods were worshipped. Thus, the Aryans must have gone from India.

This emigration from India is duly confirmed by what is recorded in the Baudhayana Srautasutra.

"Pranayuh pravavraja.Tasyaite Kuru-Panchalah Kasi-Videha ityetad Ayavam pravrajam Pratyan Amavasus * Tasyaite Gandharayas Parsvo Aratta ityetad Amavasavam."

The verb used in the first part is pravavraja. Thus, as per rules of grammar, the unstated verb in the second part * should also be 'pravavraja'. The correct translation of the second part would, therefore, be: "Amavasu migrated westwards. His (people) are the Gandhari, Parsu and Aratta."

Thus, the Baudhayana Srautasutra does in fact narrate the story of a section of the Vedic Aryans, namely the descendants of Amavasu, having migrated westwards, via Kandahar (Gandhara of the text) in Afghanistan to Persia (Parsu) and Ararat (Aratta) in Armenia. From there they went to Turkey, where the Bogazkoy tablets of the 14th century BCE, as already stated, refer to the Vedic gods Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Nasatyas.

Migration of Vedic People Westwards as mentioned in te Baudhayana Srautasutra. Photo Credits: The Rigvedic People by B. B. Lal

Indeed, there is enough archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence from Iran, Iraq and Turkey, which duly establishes this westward migration of the Vedic people in the 2nd -3rd millennium BCE.

NS: There is a clear linguistic relationship between various languages in the Indo-European family. How is this explained if there was no invasion/migration of the Aryans into India?

Lal: No doubt similarity of language between any two areas does envisage a movement of some people from one to the other. But why must it be presumed that in the case under consideration, it must necessarily be from west to east? A movement of people from east to west would also lead to the same result? Isn't it?

There is plenty of archaeological evidence that the Harappans, who were none other than the Vedic people (as I mentioned before), spread outside India into Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran, and Iraq. In Afghanistan, there was a full-fledged settlement of the Harappans, at Shortughai. In Central Asia, sites like Namazga Tepe have yielded a great deal of Harappan material. At the southern end of the Persian Gulf, there was a colony of the Harappans in Oman. In Bahrain a seal bearing Harappan script and the Indian national bird, the peacock, stand as indisputable testimony to the presence of the Harappans in that island. In fact, king Sargon of Akkad hailed Harappan boats berthed in the quay of his capital. All these movements of the Harappans are assignable the 3rd millennium BCE.

In answer to the previous question, I had mentioned that there was an unquestionable presence of the Vedic people in the region now known as Turkey, in the second millennium BCE. From Turkey to Greece it is a stone-throw distance and from there Italy is just next door.

The entire foregoing evidence would squarely explain the similarity between Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. For this, one need not conjure up an 'Aryan Invasion' of India!

NS: It has been held by some scholars that the Harappan Civilization became extinct, leaving no vestiges behind. How far is this true?

Lal: Because of various reasons, such as break up in external trade, drastic climatic changes, the drying up of the Sarasvati and so on, the Harappan urbanization had a major setback: cities gradually vanished, but villages continued. There was no extinction of the people who carried on their day-to-day life, though in a humble way than before. Thus, we find many of the Harappan traits in vogue even today.

For example, the application by married Hindu women of vermilion (sindūra) in the partition line of the hair on the head, the wearing of multiple bangles on the arms and of pāyala around the ankles; practice of yogic exercises; worshipping Lord Shiva, even in the form of liṅga-cum-yoni; performing rituals using fire-altars, using sacred symbols like the svastika; and so on. Indeed, be not surprised if I told you that the way you greet each other with namaste goes back to the Harappan times. Above all, even some of the folk tales, like those of 'A Thirsty Crow' or 'The Cunning Fox', which grandmothers narrate to the children while putting them to sleep originated in the Harappan times. Tradition dies hard!


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