Friday, February 13, 2009

Indus Valley: Cradle of Indian Civilization

Awake my mind, awake my mind, 
Gently awake in this holy land of pilgrimage
On the shore of this vast sea of humanity that is India.
Here I stand with arms outstretched
To hail man divine in his own image
And sing to his glory in notes glad and free.

No one knows whence and at whose call
Come pouring endless inundation of men
Rushing madly along to lose themselves 
In this vast sea of humanity that is India.

Aryans and Non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese
Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mogols - 
All are mixed, merged and lost in one body.


That’s what Tagore had told about India – the holy land of pilgrimage on the shores of the vast sea of humanity. The story of India is an incredible saga of amalgamation of people and cultures from across the world. Since time immemorial India has absorbed, but still managed to preserve, each and every entity that came by her. There are so many facades of Indian people and cultures. Each facade is unique in its own hues and shades but still exudes a unified soothing luminance. Each entity of different colours is weaved into a single garland. You take out a single pearl from the garland and you snap the garland. You have to appreciate each and every pearl, each and every hue, and each and every fragrance that emanates from the garland. It doesn’t matter where from each of these pearls was gathered. What matters is the whole garland – the exquisite and exuberant garland that’s adding more hues and shades with each passing day.


That’s India  - an ever changing dynamic country, that has been changing every moment, but has still managed to retain a common essence that’s so much Indian. Indian culture is like a symphony of million notes. We appreciate each of these notes that has enriched India and her culture across ages.


Perhaps the earliest note of prominence in the Indian Symphony is the Indus Valley Civilization, which is undoubtedly the cradle of Indian civilization. The story of India predates the Indus Valley by many many years. We can consider all those as her days in womb. Perhaps she opened her eyes and saw the world as a child sometime around 3300BC, which was the starting of the Indus Valley Civilization. This early phase is also referred to as the Ravi Phase, which finally culminated into the matured Harappan Civilization.


The Indus Valley civilization holds a special position for Indians especially because of the time it was excavated and discovered. India was still under the perilous British Rule. By 1900s India had already slipped into a phase of perpetual decay. Perhaps that was one of the darkest phases in India’s history. Not only was the economy totally shattered by 150 years of British rule, but also her self esteem had reached an all time low. She had lost all convictions. She had started to believe that she never had any past and that she only had a dark future at the merciless hands of her rulers. She had totally become oblivious of the fact that only two centuries back she was one of the most prosperous places on earth. It was at this moment in the beginning of the 20th century that Indus Valley Civilization was discovered. It showed to the world that the most sophisticated urban civilization of its time flourished in India some 5000 years back in the north western part of Indian subcontinent in various places of present day Punjab, Gujarat, Sind and Afghanistan, spreading even to areas in Iran and Turkmenistan.  


Indus Valley Civilization was a civilization of urban city states flourishing along Indus and its tributaries. Many of the cities were found along the dried up river beds of Ghaggar-Hakra river, which is often identified as the lost Saraswati river mentioned in the Rig Vedas. That’s why the Indus Valley Civilization is also called the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization by many people. Till date more than 1000 cities have been found along Indus and its tributaries. Some of the most important cities are Mohenjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan and Lothal in Gujarat, India. The first dock in the world, dating back to 2400BC, was built in Lothal. The structure of the dock shows that the people of Indus Valley had very good knowledge of maritime engineering. It’s also highly probable that they knew very well about the tides in the Arabian Sea.  By 2900BC long distance voyages were already in place between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. They also seemed to know about dams.


Indus Valley civilization was contemporaneous to ancient urban civilizations in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), along the rivers Tigris, and Euphrates and Egypt along Nile. Around 2600BC, the beginning of the mature Harappan Phase of Indus Valley, it was the period of the Early Dynasties in the Sumerian City States in Mesopotamia and the Old Kingdom (3rd to 6th dynasty) in Egypt. One of the most important city states in Mesopotamia was Babylon, which rose to prominence around 2300BC. Another important city state was Ashur, which eventually became Assyria (present day Syria) in upper Tigris. The period of the Old Kingdom was the golden age of Egypt. Many pyramids date back to this period. There are enough evidences of trade, commerce and exchange of art and culture between Indus Valley and Mesopotamia and Egypt. 


Though there are many similarities between the three contemporary civilizations of Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Egypt, still there is a striking difference. In both Egypt and Mesopotamia there are evidences of citadels and huge structures and palaces for Kings and Emperors. The pyramids are testimony to this. There are also evidences that while the rulers and the Kings stayed in these citadels, the common people had to stay in mud huts. But on the contrary the finest structures erected in Indus Valley were for the convenience of the common people. The town planning, water supply, sewerage and drainage system were of very high quality. None of the contemporary civilizations had such great town planning. There is also evidence of common bath and granaries. 


Pyramids are no doubt excellent pieces of architecture and good evidence of the advancement the Egyptians had made in the field of art and engineering, but the useful and modest structures in Indus Valley with excellent facilities for the citizens do speak volumes about its social outlook, which indeed is a very note worthy thing. The prosperity of any nation always lies in the all inclusive development of the citizens. The rulers of Indus Valley understood this so well. Even in her cradle India seemed to be quite mature. The socialistic outlook that prevailed in Indus Valley has been preserved for ever in India through the ages. It’s no wonder that India has continuously been the most prosperous nation (alongside China) till 1800s uninterruptedly for almost 5000 years.


The socialistic Indus Valley was also advanced in art, as is evident from the innumerable figurines and statues recovered. 


There has been too much of controversy with regards to the origin of the people of Indus Valley.  A common view is that they were the Dravidian people, the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.  By 1700s, when the Indus Valley civilization was on decline, might be due to drying up of rivers, floods or some other calamity, the Aryans had already started migrating into India through the same regions where the Indus Valley had flourished. Though there is no evidence of any invasion by the Aryans but it’s not unlikely that the incoming Aryans had some confrontations with the native people. The Aryans had a different culture and gradually they would have overshadowed the natives to a great extent. The natives would have gradually migrated away from the areas occupied by the Aryans and moved towards the South. The natives who stayed back were surely not thrown out or enslaved by the Aryans. They were eventually accommodated in the lowest stratum of the society as Shudras, doing agricultural and other household tasks for the upper three classes or Varnas – namely Brahmanas (the teachers and priests), Kshatriayas (the rulers or warriors) and Vaishyas (the traders). The present day Brahui language spoken in some parts of Pakistan has striking similarities with Tamil, the mother of all Dravidian languages.  This is also perhaps evidence that some of the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization did stay back. The natives who moved to the south had prosperous civilizations and for quite some time didn’t have much of interactions with the Aryans of the north. 


This whole theory has been much criticized for being racist and also propagating the idea that the sophisticated art, culture, religion, philosophy and literature of the Aryans is of a foreign origin rather than being indigenous.


I don’t think this theory is racist. In any other place any new and more powerful immigrant has always treated the natives very badly. In most cases they were enslaved or even executed, the most recent example being the handling of the Native Americans by the European settlers. But on the contrary the Aryans neither executed nor enslaved the natives. Off course they were not given the highest social status, but they were indeed accommodated in the Aryan society. The issues of untouchability, which is a much later phenomenon in Indian society, have not much to do with the Aryan class system, which was based on the division of labour. Though there was a gradation in the class system, but still all the four classes had their own importance in the society. So it’s not very correct to connote the Aryans as racist. 


The second point of criticism is that the theory of Aryan migration (or invasion, whatever you say) tends to preach the foreign origin of the Indian or Hindu Culture.  The very greatness of Indian Civilization or culture lies in the fact that it has enriched itself with the cultures from across the world. What’s the harm in accepting that the Aryans brought a very advanced form of culture and art and religion with them and enriched the Indian civilization? There’s no doubt that the Aryans were not an indigenous lot because even after 3500 years of mixing the people of Punjab, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – the places where the earliest Aryans had settled – still look different from the rest of the Indians, specially the Dravidians. Their skin colour and physique are quite different from most of the Indians. 


The basic point here is that even if we accept that the Aryans did come from outside and confront with the native Dravidians of the Indus Valley does that belittle our culture or civilization? I don’t think so. On the contrary accepting this makes our culture more tolerant and adaptive – which is perhaps the strongest feature of Indian Culture and civilization.




Discovery of India

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