It is a common refrain that India lacks any history. Although the antiquity of the civilization is well-known, there are no pyramids nor ancient stone temples to speak of nor any stone walls with inscribed hieroglyphics. Who then were these people? Were they a nameless, faceless mass of population or were they living, breathing, caring individuals with distinct personalities and aspirations? Did they have names and did they name the cities they lived in? Is there any way to know if they left us nothing?
The attempts to decipher the true history of India have been too few and too often undertaken under unfavorable conditions. The ancient Indians themselves often freely conflated their ideas about India’s past events with their beliefs. The end result was an often confusing mix of fantastical mythology with plenty of internal contradictions, unbelievable timeframes and an endless supply of names of kings, priests, seers, noblemen and commoners. Taken as a whole, the testimony would seem tainted and probably worthless. During the medieval era, the Islamic kings’ conquests and struggles was recorded by their court scribes and those records give us a simpler view into India’s past, but they do not shed much light on the ancient or hoary past. By the time India was under the sway of colonial European powers, there was an environment in place with the set objective to undermine India’s past in order to suppress the culture to allow for less resistance to colonization. An honest inquiry into India’s origin was yet to take place.
Today we have a world-view of India as a land of mystery that was populated by an ancient civilization of gentle, black-complexioned illiterates. These Harappans were supposedly the ancestors of the current Dravidians and were a peace-loving, spiritual people who obtained a high standard of living in north and northwestern India five thousand years ago, but who left us no literature, ostensibly because they could not read or write. At some point in the past (1500 BCE is the most favored date), aggressive, white-complexioned Aryans on horseback charged down from the mountains and conquered the hapless Harappans and imposed their religion upon them, Hinduism, the central belief of which was the strict separation of peoples based upon race. This became the infamous caste system. This theory is referred to as the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and is treated as almost an historical event of its own.
This bizarre view of history is still represented in textbooks about India throughout the world as if it were a known fact. The truth however is that these colonial theories about the history of India were an honest guess based upon inadequate data. There was no anthropological or archaeological data to corroborate the AIT and there was never a case in human history of an advanced civilization that was illiterate. And once conflicting data became evident (the startling discoveries at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa), the dogmas built up in academia and the political benefits of the historical distortions were too much to overcome. The old view of India’s ancient past did not waiver and the result is quite sad to see. The general public is forced to believe a highly illogical and quite racist view of India’s ancient past. This view then taints their general opinion of this civilization and what it can contribute to the world and what it is worth in and of itself.
The reaction in some circles to this view of Indian history is equally absurd. Many in the public cling to views of ancient history that are based on religious beliefs or based upon misunderstandings without a proper analysis of the facts. The mythological version of Indian history that is often propped up as a counter-balance to the AIT-version of Indian history is that India’s past is millions of years old with each yuga(eon, age) representing hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore events described in Indian literature were composed so long ago that they cannot be dated. Events involving monsters and monkey-people are simply ancient people’s portrayal of hominids that had not yet evolved into homo-sapiens. The only event in India’s ancient past that can be reasonably dated according to this view is the Mahabharata War occurring in 3100 BCE. The other epic, the Ramayana is supposed to have taken place in Treta Yuga and, depending on who you talk to, that can be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago. The problem with this position is that it totally destroys the credibility of Indians themselves as a source of testimony or opinion about India’s own ancient past. Although these people may mean well, they will be ignored by any audience with a sincere interest in India’s ancient past and as a result, they will achieve the opposite of their goal – to undo the incorrect view of India’s history and to replace it with a more acceptable one.
Growing up here in the U.S. in the 1970s, I approached this issue from a slightly different angle. I was taught the standard AIT-version of Indian history and I certainly believed it because I was never shown any data disproving it. As I grew older, my thoughts nagged me though because I knew this version had too many holes and common sense would force me to accept that India is not so unique that its people are a different species than other humans. In other words, given that they are as human as any other civilization, the patterns of development too must be similar. Therefore, the ancient history should follow recognizable patterns of hunter-gathering transitioning into settled agriculture and from there into the development of villages and cities and city-states and kingdoms and empires. All along this continuum of development should be material evidence of the people’s labors, their art, architecture, commerce, literature, religion, wars, etc. The timeframes too must follow a reasonable pattern with civilizational elements beginning sometime with the past ten thousand years and plenty of time within each phase of transition from hunter-gatherer all the way to empire.
It was about five years ago that all these thoughts met a challenge. My own son was studying ancient Indian history at school and sure enough, the textbooks had not changed at all in the past thirty years. I was shocked and dismayed that with all the technological progress this world has made, we still are nearly completely ignorant about one of the four cradles of civilization and one-fifth of humanity. I spoke with his teacher and agreed to do some research and come back in a month with my findings. During that month I scoured the Internet for hard data and stumbled upon quite a few good Indian historians whose books are unfortunately well kept secrets. I ordered some of these books from India and talked to my son’s teacher that I would need more time, but that afterwards I would be able to make a nice presentation to the class. When I received the books and started to read them, my eyes opened. For the first time in my life I realized that I had been cheated. My heritage was stolen from me and I didn’t even understand the depth of the crime until I had a chance to delve deeper into the details of India’s ancient history as analyzed by some superb historians and a few archaeologists. The unbelievable secret I discovered was that my nagging thoughts were correct. The rules of India’s history are not substantially different than that of other equally ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia or Egypt. All the phases of human development from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to urban to imperial all flowed in a measurable pattern and there was sufficient evidence today to see the approximate timeframes of all these developmental transitions. In addition, the racial and linguistic misunderstandings of the past were all easily explained by studying the immense literary history of India. There was no record of any ancient ‘invasion’ or migration of Aryans, there was very little sense of ‘race’ as we know it today in India’s past, there was a continuity of development of language over thousands of years, there was a well-recorded list of kings in dynasties and priests in Guru-Paramparas (teacher-disciplic successions). The analysis of India’s ancient literature cleared away all the misconceptions. The mythology-laden literature, such as the Puranas are an excellent source of detailed information when compared and correlated against more reliable sources (due to their memorization and preservation) such as the Vedas. This combined with anthropological evidence (showing no major migration into India from 4500 to 800 BCE and probably not from 6000 BCE) and the ever-growing archaeological evidence paints a picture that is getting clearer each day. Although only 2-3% of the nearly 2,600 Harappan sites have been excavated, we still have enough to see what the culture was and it was not too different from what it is today. There is an incredible continuity from India’s past to today. Whether it be the way women decorate themselves (sindhur, churi/bangles, bindi, hair styles, clothing, jewelry, etc.) or the art forms (with elements that are still used today) or religion (artifacts that speak of an early form of Hinduism) to the games people played (chess, pittu, etc.). The continuity is unmistakable and almost blatantly obvious.
The question that remained unanswered in my mind however was more specific. If the AIT-version of India’s past is essentially disproved and we have a plethora of literary, archaeological, anthropological and other evidence, then what was the *real* history of India? What really happened and *when* did it happen? It did not satisfy me to hear about details of Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization on the one hand with details of Indian epics and legends on the other. Did the people living in all those Harappan cities not have names? Were there no rulers or kings or priests? On the other hand, didn’t the people in the Indian epics live somewhere? Did any of those cities overlap the Harappan sites? These are the questions I asked because the dichotomy between what we accept about India’s ancient past and the remembered history of its people is too large. The peoples of Egypt may have traditions that date back to the Pharoah’s time and we have a well-organized list of these kings and when they ruled. It provides a linkage of the literature, beliefs with other evidence such as archaeology. It greatly disturbed me that this linkage seems to never be made in India. There doesn’t appear to be a serious effort on the behalf of the Indian government or even its people to demand to know more about their past. Political issues aside, I felt a desire to do what I could to remedy this situation.
I vowed to combine all that I had learned into one document that could be viewed by the general public. This document would combine all the excellent literary and scriptural analysis I read from numerous Indian historians (such as G.P. Singh, Shrikant Talageri, P.L. Bhargava, Thaneswar Sarmah, Dharampal, David Frawley, etc.) with the data I’ve compiled from archaeologists (B.B. Lal, S.P.Gupta, S.R. Rao, M.R. Mughal, etc.) and add the anthropological and numismatic evidence to that. In addition, I added in the strong geologic evidence for the events in India’s past. The desiccation of the Sarasvati River in 1900 BCE and the Drsadvati River in 2600 BCE provide “sheet anchors” to delineate certain events in India’s past. For example, if a war took place along the flowing Drshadvati River, it must have occurred before 2600 BCE, and if we have the lists of kings in the dynasties involved in that war before and afterwards, we can date those kings too. We can then line up their timeframes with kings from other dynasties and locate the cities and kingdoms each was from. Expanding this process over dozens of dynasties and hundreds of kings reveals something amazing. India not only has a history, but that history is better documented than that of any other comparable ancient civilization. For any given timeframe in India’s past (all the way back to the beginnings of its recorded history around approximately 4000 BCE) there is some literary evidence shedding light on dozens of names of kings and priests for that given slice of time. Adding up all these slices produces a history that spans approximately six thousand years with nearly ten thousand names (and growing). My combined document is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet called the ‘Royal Chronology of India’ with over 325 generations (rows) and dozens of columns producing nearly 10,000 cells of data. Many of these cells have comments in them that are over one page in length and nearly all the sources I used to construct the timeline have been listed. I presented an early version of this timeline to my son’s school classroom and they were shocked to hear that India actually had ancient dynasties and kings and lineages of priests from the hoary past that continue even today. I am constantly updating this timeline and a current version is always freely available for download at:http://www.newdharma.org/royal_chron.htm. This spreadsheet is so full of data that it may be overwhelming, but the idea is not to read the document as if it were a novel, but rather to treat it as a reference. Just as you would search for a particular word in a dictionary, you can search for any name in India’s past and chances are it is in the Royal Chronology timeline where it should be surrounded by people associated with that person and potentially with a comment describing some aspect of their life or work.
To bring the raw data of this timeline to life, I am currently writing the first book of a series that I am calling ‘The Epic Trilogy of India’. This will be a series of historical fiction novels that will describe the events of India’s three epics (not two) in an exciting way that will tie together a story taking place in the present with a view into the story taking place in the distant past. The ancient story will involve fiction, but will be based on the historical research I have done. The reason why I am writing a trilogy (i.e., why there are three epics) is because the earliest major event in Indian history happened so long ago that it has been nearly forgotten. That event is the astounding victory of King Sudas (of the Puru-Bharata Dynasty) against a confederation of over ten of his enemies. The major war is referred to in numerous places in the Rg Veda as the Dasharajnya War or War of 10 Kings (“Dasha”-Rajna). The approximate timeframe of this war is roughly 2900 BCE according to my Royal Chronology timeline. The timeframes of the other, better known epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata are approximately 2100 and 1400 BCE respectively. The fascinating observation you can make by looking at the timeline is how neatly these three epics divide Ancient Indian history into phases. There was over 1000 years of development leading to the time of King Sudas, 800 years of the Ikshvaku Dynasty from there down to Price Rama, 700 years down from there to the Yadava Prince Krsna and then another 800 years down to the time of Mahavira and Buddha. With this new view of India’s ancient past, hopefully much of the mystery is removed. These people were probably not much different from you and me. They lived, breathed, ate food, worked, recreated, dreamed, hoped, fought, etc. in much the way people still do today. We would be doing a great disservice to them if we relegated them to some unknown magical past where nothing followed any rules of logic and all the events they’ve described to us (in detail in many cases) must be ignored in favor of worshipping them as opposed to the literary and cultural legacy they’ve left us. We should be honored to inherit such an unbelievably long and noble (‘Arya’) tradition. I hope to convey some of that respect and honor in this upcoming book series. I hope to have the first installment out early next year.
It is a pleasant surprise and yet a predictable result that all my years of research has only shown what most people would know instinctively. That is, that the flow of India’s history followed normal patterns and that all phases of India’s past have been recorded. We must therefore apologize to our ancestors for blaming them for having ‘no historical sense’ or ‘no chronological sense’ when in fact they did. It was only our lack of initiative to decipher their culture and the way they expressed themselves and their history which led to all the unnecessary misunderstandings. My sincere desire is to continue to update and add to my Royal Chronology timeline, continue to present it at academic and non-academic gatherings, to complete my Epic Trilogy series in the coming five to six years and to have all this knowledge become accepted into the academic community to finally update the textbooks regarding Indian history to reflect a more accurate view of its past. I certainly do not want to have the experience with my son repeated with my grandchild!