Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
Ancient Indian Civilization: Historical Chronology
Continued from Previous Page
In the previous episodes, a brief history including the political and socio-economic attributes, religious belief systems, important deities and few representative fables and legendary tales of about a dozen civilizations from the Old World and New World have been discussed. These Old and New World civilizations were ones which are known for their advanced society with glorious traditions, prosperity and influence at some point of time but were either completely destroyed or significantly changed due to the hostile developments such as war, exodus to other areas, mass conversion etc. or even unfavourable climatic changes to which they were vulnerable and could not cop up with their available means and resources. In this endeavour, the author has excluded the countries like Japan in Asia having distinct identity with their cultural and traditions but the same remained more or less unchanged and/or the regions like the Northern Europe and America where the human history itself is not very old and civilization evolved only during the last 1000 -1200 years after the advent and expansion of the Christianity and Islam.
The history of old civilizations like Egypt, Greek, Sumer, and so on, suggest the occurrences of the sporadic human settlements in various areas as back as 10,000 to 13,000 years back. In some of the cases, the Western historians agree the existence of the well organized agriculture based human societies around 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. For instance, the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia was marked with the permanent settlements by 5500 - 4000 BCE by people who were either of the West Asian or North African origin. In the absence of recorded historical texts and decipherable scripts, the past history of civilizations before the Christian era is often considered as unreliable or even fictional owing to aggressive propaganda and designs of the Western historians from 18th century onwards. In the aforesaid context, the Western historians have often been criticized for gross bias and unfair approach towards the ancient Indian civilization (Sanatana Dharma) to the extent of ignoring its rich literature ‘Itihasa’ as available in the form of Epics, Puranas, plethora of allied text, inscriptions etc. encoding as the history of the sub-continent.
In the civilizational context, the Hindu culture and traditions are unique in that they have survived almost a millennium of Islamic onslaught and misrule as well as colonial occupation and exploitation in preserving its many original ancient traditions and cultural attributes, while most other ancient civilizations of Asia, Europe and Americas were destroyed or replaced by the Christianity and Islam during the last two millennia succumbing to the onslaught of these dogmatic religions. The Hindu civilization has not only survived their excesses with still maintaining the third biggest cultural identity in the world after the Christianity and Islam but also the Hindus are excelling in various parts with their ancient legacies such as Yoga and meditation as well as modern economics, science and technology. Therefore, it is proposed to briefly discuss the Hindu civilizational attributes including their historical chronology, genealogy with reference to more important empires, kings, sages, etc., cultural and religious traditions and a few representative legendary tales in a few episodes in the concluding part of this series.
Indus Valley Civilization as Representative of Civilizational History: Western Perspective
The Western historians and Indologists have tried to sum up the past civilizational history of India in about 1,500 – 1,750 years in the pre-Christian era largely based on some studies of the colonial period, almost completely ignoring the available chronological and genealogical records in the Puranas and Epics as also reasonably good epigraphic evidences suggesting a civilizational history of more than 10,000 years before the advent of Jesus Christ. The Western sources have largely relied on the Iron Age concept and archaeological remnants of Harappa and Indus Valley Civilization, and the left leaning Indian historians have completely endorsed their Western counterparts in this endeavour. While traditional Indian historians and scholars firmly believe in Vedic age mainly based on the agrarian economy to have occurred at least 9 to 10 thousand years prior to the Christian era, even some Western historians agree that some other contemporary civilizations like Egypt and Greece had reasonably well developed agricultural settlements with more or less same periodicity. Briefly, the Indian ancient civilizational history, as perceived through the Western lenses, can be summed up as follows.
According to the Western sources, the earliest known human remains in the South Asia are estimated about 30 thousand years old and the transition from the nomadic hunting-gatherers life to a settled farming and pastoral life started sometime around 7,000 BCE in the Indian sub-continent. According to these sources, evidence exist at the Mehrgarh to the west of Indus (Sindhu) River in the Balochistan province of the present day Pakistan (erstwhile integrated Bharat or India) about the cultivation of the wheat and barley along with the rearing of domesticated goats, sheep and cattle. Then around 4,500 BCE the settled life spread to more areas gradually evolving into the Indus Valley civilization along with other contemporary civilizations like the ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Arguably, the civilization thus flourished between 2,500 to 1,900 BCE in the today’s Pakistan and North-Western India with its remarkable urban planning comprising with the baked brick houses, planned water supply and drainage systems.
The same historians and scholars suggest that during the early second millennium BCE the area probably experienced sustained droughts forcing the population to shift from relatively large urban agglomerations to the scattered smaller villages over a large region. Then they propound that around the same period the Indo-Aryan tribes too moved in several waves of migration in these areas (predominantly undivided Punjab region) from the Central Asia. The Western historians describe the approximate period from 1,500-500 BCE as the Vedic period of the ancient Indian history, during which the Vedas were composed with a large number of hymns by these tribes. Simultaneously, the Varna System was created which ultimately disintegrated into the Caste System in India. Arguably, the Varna System was initially comprised of a hierarchy of priests, warriors, peasants and traders, and workers which in due course became hereditary. The pastoral and nomadic Indo-Aryans gradually started expanding from the Punjab region to the Gangetic plain and large swath of land was deforested by them for the agricultural purposes.
According to these Western historians, the composition of Vedas and associated texts were completed by 600 BCE and around this time a new interregional culture evolved which was comprised of janapadas (equivalent of district), each headed by a chieften. The frequent in-fighting among the janpadas driven by individual ambitions led to the formation of mahajanpadas (state) with the consolidation of the larger areas. This led to a second wave of urbanization and rise of ascetic movements with the arrival of Buddhism and Jainism, which essentially opposed the growing influence of Brahmanism and associated rituals presided by the Brahmin priests as part of the Vedic traditions and rituals. The formation of the Greater Magadha was a significant development of these changes and the collective influence of all these factors led to transformation of the Vedic Brahmanic religious culture into a broad-based Hinduism in the Indian sub-continent, most part of which was conquered and integrated by the kings of Maurya Empire during the fourth and third centuries BCE.
Thus the Mauryan kings formally represented as the first rulers of an organized empire in the Indian sub-continent. The same historians suggest that around the same time i.e. the 3rd century BCE the Prakrit and Pali literature in the North and the Tamil Sangam literature in the Southern India started flourishing. According to them, the Wootz steel or Seric steel was also produced in India around the middle of the first millennium BCE and exported worldwide. From this period onwards, various parts of the Indian sub-continent were ruled by multiple dynasties and empires for about next 1,500 years, of which the Gupta Kings are recognized as the most illustrious empire, which was also characterized by the Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence with the period also remembered as the golden age of India. During this span, the Indian civilization with its administration, culture and religious attributes influenced much part of the Asia, including maritime business and trade of the Southern Kingdoms with the people in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The Western historians have had their own classification of the civilizational span of the Indian sub-continent, a synergized and hybridized Western version of the chronological Hindu history could be briefly summarized as under:
Pre-history and Indus Valley Civilization (until 1750 BCE);
Vedic period (1750-500 BCE);
Second Urbanization (600-200 BCE);
Classical Period (200 BCE - 1,200 CE);
Medieval Period (1,200 CE – 1,500 CE);
Early Modern Period (1,500 CE – 1,850 CE);
Modern period (British Raj and post- independence) (from 1850 CE onwards).
Thus from the Western point of view, the ancient Indian civilization is synonymous with the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC), which was a Bronze age civilization of the northwestern region of the Indian sub-continent, now more popularly known as the South Asia. Arguably, the civilization lasted from 3,300 to 1,300 BCE, in more mature form from 2,600 to 1,900 BCE; the ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and IVC constituted contemporary early civilizations in the parts of the west and south Asia. While the Western historians claim to have deciphered the maximum information about the first two, they have not been successful so far to decipher the Indus-script from the archaeological sites in the latter case. It is generally believed that the IVC flourished on the basins of Indus River which flows through the length of Pakistan along with many other perennial and largely monsoon-fed rivers. The large identified cities were Mohenjo-daro and Harappa with urban planning comprised of baked brick houses, water supply, drainage, large non-residential buildings, special handicrafts comprised of carnelian products and seal carvings, reasonably developed metallurgy of copper, bronze, tin and lead, etc.
According to Western anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization provides a logical, although somewhat arbitrary, starting point of Hindu culture and traditions. Even Western scholars agree that owing to the dominant influence of the middle and modern age European historians of the colonial era, today the world at large see the ancient chronological history from the Western lens ignoring indigenous facts and historical records including that of the Indian civilization. Ironically, the Western historians of the 18th and 19th centuries appear to have worked on the premise that the history after the Christ is more or less factual while the history before him is largely mythical. In this context, many traditional historians believe that Isaac Newton was the first secular Christian historian who distorted the traditional chronology of many ancient nations in his book “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms”. In the context of the ancient Indian history, these historians have selectively accepted and rejected the traditional texts to suit their version and deny traditional chronology, respectively.
Ancient Indian Traditional Chronological History
The traditional Indian historians were constantly discouraged and sidelined by the British colonizers and the legacy continued for the decades by the ruling Congress party too under the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his successors, who endorsed and encouraged the leftist historians who followed the Western view of the Indian chronological history. As already mentioned, the Western view was primarily based on some archaeological work carried out in the North-Western region of India, and theories and postulations largely synchronizing it with the other civilizations of the Old World such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. On the other hand, the traditional Indian historians relied on the history as recorded in the Vedic corpus, Epics and Puranas (also known as Itihasa texts), Buddhist and Jain literature and inscriptions, Sanskrit and Prakrit poetic literature, regional accounts, inscriptions, monastic chronicles, Vamsavalis, and so on, to explain the chronology, genealogy and other historical details. Strangely, the aforesaid Western historians completely ignored Sanskrit and its vast corpus of literature while it was the chief language of the large Northern India since the Vedic age and had constantly undergone changes (simplified) to bring it close to the common people over the years.
With its mammoth corpus of Sanskrit comprising of 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 6 Shastras, 18 Mahapuranas, 2 great Epics, and a plethora of other literature, no other civilization, country or language in the world boasts of such glory. The available Indian texts mostly in Sanskrit literature and allied evidences present the continuous and fairly systematic chronological and genealogical history of the ancient India from the Mahabharata era onwards; however, such details prior to the epoch of the Mahabharata war are not as systematic and without gaps. The available versions of the conventional Indian Itihasa texts viz. Puranas and Epics describe many legendary accounts from the Vedic and post-Vedic period including genealogical information of the dynasties and lineages commencing from the age of Vaivasvata Manu. Traditionally, the Puranas had followed the timeline of Chaturyuga cycle for narrating the chronological history but the revision of this cycle at different points of time during the post-Vedic and post-Ramayana eras probably to achieve accurate astronomical calculations probably led to such gaps and inconsistencies. Besides, some interpolations and exaggerations in text probably in later period to incorporate Adbhut Rasa (supernatural content) gives the historical legends a colour of the historico-mythological legends in several cases.
Just because the traditional historical accounts present some gaps and inadequacies, they cannot be all and sundry rejected as has been done by the colonial era historians. Unfortunately, many Indian historians in the post-independence India have been either hardcore Marxists or left-leaning under the patronage of their political bosses, who have constantly endeavoured to sabotage the work and efforts of the traditional historians by branding them as Hindu historians committed to promote the Hindu version of the history. Notwithstanding the strong lobby and resistance from the historians with colonial era mindset, several traditional yet professional Indian historians have systematically endeavoured to rebut the questionable assumptions and methodology of the colonial and Marxist Indian historiography and chronology. Although it cannot be claimed as entirely flawless and foolproof but the traditional historians have worked out the historical chronology starting from the Vedic period to the Gupta period based on the detailed study of all available sources. The same is briefly summarized below along with few estimated significant events.
The Proto-Vedic Period (16,000 to 14,500 BCE);
The Vedic Period (14,500 – 10,500 BCE)
• Adiyuga: The era of early Manu dynasty (14,500 – 14,000 BCE),
• Devayuga: The Vedic Period (14,000 – 11,000 BCE),
• The Great Flood in Vaivasvata Manu’s Kingdom (11,200 BCE),
• Later Rigvedic Period (11, 500 – 10,500 BCE);
The Post-Vedic Period (10,500 – 6,777 BCE);
The epoch of the end of the 28th Treta Yuga (6,777 – 5,577 BCE)
• The 28th Treta Yuga (6,777 - 5,577 BCE)
* Ramayana era (5,677 – 5,577 BCE),
• The birth date of Sri Rama (3rd February 5674 BCE);
The 28th Dvapara Yuga (5577 – 3176 BCE)
• The epoch of King Yudhisthira Rajasuya and coronation in Indraprastha (3,188 BCE),
• The epoch of the Mahabharata war and Yudhisthira era (3,162 BCE);
The 28th Kali Yuga (3,176 BCE commenced and continued).
Shree Krishna’s departure marked the end of Dvapara Yuga and commencement of Kali Yuga. The detailed chronological history and genealogy of kings post- Mahabharata war is fairly accurately available till Gupta period. The detailed chronology of the same neither appears warranted here nor possible for the sake of brevity. Some such details would, however, be given in the next episode of the genealogical history. Also the post Mauryan Empire history broadly conforms with one drawn by the Western historians sans the later’s preferential treatment of some historical events and personalities.
Although the historical events from the Mauryan Empire onwards are largely documented and clear but the difference of opinion exists mostly in the presentation of facts. In the modern age, India clearly had two schools of historians: The one which was dominant, accepted and encouraged by the colonial powers was represented by the Western historians and Indologists, who have been fully endorsed by the Indian historians with leftist ideology or leanings in the current age; the other was comprised of the traditional Indian historians who believed in ancient Indian languages and relied on the history constructed based on the ancient Indian historical texts such as Puranas and Epics, epigraphic evidences, Buddhist and Jain accounts, and so on. After independence in 1947, the Indian National Congress inherited the political power from the British and conveniently continued with the colonial legacy. Consequently, many Indian traditional historians were sidelined, and some, such as RC Mazumdar, were even humiliated, while the historians with leftist mindset were constantly patronized and promoted. During this period, the history of the Islamic conquest and reign, particularly the Mughal Empire, was especially glorified at the cost of other contemporary Hindu dynasties. This position has started showing some signs of change for the better only around the middle of the last decade.
Relative Merits and Demerits of Two Historical Chronologies
Even a cursary examination of the Western thesis of the Indian historical chronology based on the Indus Valley archaeological remnants reveals many faultlines, of which some indicative but not all inclusive ones are briefly listed as follows:
The Western historians of the 18th and 19th centuries CE such as James Mill and a host of others had been mostly faithful Christians who almost blindly followed the notion that the history after the Jesus Christ was factual and reliable and the events before his arrival were more or less of mythical nature. Isaac Newton was perhaps the first English physicist, astronomer and theologian, who shall be held responsible for the distortion of the traditional chronology of many ancient civilizations in his book “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms” published in 1728 CE. The majority of the Western historians have followed the same distorted and flawed chronology based on truncated vision, handful evidences and postulations. Similarly, from the colonial era and the current generation, the majority Indian Marxist or left leaning historians too have mostly accepted and followed the Christian chronology of the world; hence they willfully fail to appreciate the dating and timelines of the ancient Indian history and tend to ignore various traditional accounts as mythical and unreliable.
The fallacy of many modern Western and Indian leftist historians could easily be understood, even proved, from the fact that they have glorified Mughal emperors as the greatest rulers of India while some of same emperors’ contemporary Islamic historians and scholars had taken pride in recording the slaughter of Hindus, forced conversions in millions, abduction, rape and enslaving of Hindu women and children and destruction of temples with great glee in their accounts till about 1700 CE. While writing his memoirs, Mughal Emperor Babur himself wrote in Baburnama, “…I attacked Chanderi and by the grace of Allah captured it in a few hours. We got the infidels slaughtered and the place which had been Daru’l-Harb (nation of non-muslims) for years was made into a Daru’l-Islam (a muslim nation).” Similarly, the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Monserrate after visiting Akbar’s court wrote in his travelogue: “…religious zeal of the Musalmans has destroyed all the idol temples…in place of the Hindu temples, countless tombs and little shrines of Musalmans been erected.” Recently in 1996, Francois Gautier wrote in his book “Rewriting Indian History”: “The massacres perpetuated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the Holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis…” These illustrations are only like a few drops in the vast turbulent ocean.
However, it is true that the Indian traditional history beyond the Mahabharata era has many chronological issues more so because of the revision of traditional Yuga cycles at different points of time, mistaken and misplaced identification of some prominent historical persons, and liberal use of Adbhuta Rasa in the historical literature, thereby leading to exaggeration of narratives. Such changes and consequent distortions in the historical legends give a feeling of the same being historic-mythological legends. Apart from the usual bias with the feelings of superiority after colonizing a large part of the sub-continent, the aforesaid issues in the Indian historiography have most probably led to the colonial historians to nurture a belief that the ancient Indians had no sense of history lacking the historical consciousness. Accordingly, the later Western historians and Marxist Indian historiographers have obstinately nurtured the same notion pursuing and promoting their own line of historiography ridiculing and dismissing the traditional Indian itihasa (history) as the work of fiction. This bias was practically observed in the recent past also when four noted Marxist/leftist historians headed by RS Sharma refused to give credence to the Skanda Purana and even archaeological findings in their report presented by the Muslim litigants as evidence in the Supreme Court to refute existence of King Ramchandra and a temple in his name in Ayodhya in the context of famous Ram Janmbhumi – Babari Masjid dispute.
The aforesaid bias of the Western historians could also be illustrated taking examples from the other civilizations. For instance, Plato was an accomplished Athenian (Greek) philosopher during the Classical period in the ancient Greece, a pupil of Socrates and the pivotal figure in the history of ancient Greek and Western philosophy. Among many of his notable works, he wrote the legend of Atlantis city which was later submerged in sea around 10,200 BCE after Athens repelled the attack of invaders from this mighty island kingdom. Plato’s account illustrated the Athenians as a well developed and orderly society. Similarly, the traditional sources of Egypt record the chronology of the first king Menes around 5,867 BCE as reckoned by Jeans Francois Champollion. The Sumerian kings list suggest that at least eight kings in Antediluvian Era and more than 135 kings of the postdiluvian era reigned before the first dynasty of Babylon (2,720-2,421 BCE). The epic of Gilgamesh accounts for the legendary tale of Gilgamesh nearly 9,000 years ago before the Christian era. Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock have estimated the vintage of Great Sphinx of Gaza, Egypt around 10,500 BCE on the basis of Orion correlation theory. These and many other traditional historical accounts of the old civilizations have been conveniently ignored by the Western historians simply as mythical tales.
In their narrative of the Indus Valley Civilization and its consequent spread in other parts of the Northern India, the Western historians have completely ignored and failed to document as to how almost similar Indian culture and traditions, including religious attributes, evolved in the Southern, Eastern and Northeastern parts of the Indian sub-continent despite the constraints of geography, distances, languages, scripts, and so on. In the Indian traditional historical accounts, the ancient Tamil Sangam literature refers to the date of Rishi Agastya and the first Sangam around 11,226 BCE, which reportedly also reconciles with the archaeo-astronomical dating of Vedic and Post-Vedic literature. The archaeological findings of early agriculture on the banks of Lahuradewa Lake in Eastern Uttar Pradesh in India are said to have been carbon dated from 13,000 to 7,300 BCE. The evidence of the submergence of Dwaraka city of the Mahabharata vintage following a violent tsunami in 3126 BCE exists. Similarly, the archaeological site at Bhirrana, Hisar in Haryana has been dated around 7,500 BCE.
The aforesaid and many other evidences in India, South Asia as also across the world in Central Asia, West Asia, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, etc. indicate that many fairly well developed cities and kingdoms existed since Holocene epoch (about 11,700 years ago). Thus ample illustrations and averments provide reasonable credence that the history recorded by the Western historians and Indian leftist historians shall not be taken as sacrosanct and truthful depiction of the ancient Indian civilization. In fact, the so-called secular chronology of the Western historians based on the Christian era appears more akin to a communal chronology because it ignores traditional evidences and accounts while supporting and promoting the Christian epoch of 1 CE, which itself has been challenged by scholars who believe that it may simply be fictitious being an astronomical epoch and not historical. In fact, a synergized approach of considering both the traditional and West-determined history on merit of the available facts and collateral evidences could provide better insight of the ancient chronological history and till such time, this author would prefer to vote in favour of the traditional Indian history.
Continued to Next Page
Images (c) istock.com
More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh