B. B. Lal is a renowned archeologist and former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who has written many books and papers on the Aryan issue including his 2015 book- ‘The Rigvedic People: Invaders?/ Immigrants? Or Indigenous?"
Here is an interview with him by Mr Nithin Sridhar for Newsgram.com.
Nithin Sridhar: How deep are the roots of the most ancient civilization of the Indian subcontinent, known as the Harappan Civilization, and through what stages did it develop?
B. B. Lal: The Harappan Civilization (also called the Indus Civilization or Indus-Sarasvati Civilization), which reached its peak in the 3rd millennium BCE, grew up on the Indian soil itself. While there are likely to have been earlier stages, the earliest one so far identified is at Bhirrana, a site in the upper reaches of the Sarasvati valley, in Haryana. This is the stage when the people dwelt in pits and used incised and appliqué pottery called the Hakra Ware. According to Carbon-14 dates, it is ascribable to the 6th -5th millennium BCE. I call it Stage I.
In Stage II, identified at a nearby site called Kunal, the people gave up pit-dwellings and built houses on the land-surface, used copper and silver artifacts and a special kind of pottery which was red in color and painted with designs in black outline, the inner space being filled with white color. This Stage may be assigned to the 4th millennium BCE.
In Stage III, beginning around 3,000 BCE, a new feature came up, namely the construction of a peripheral (fortification?) wall around the settlement, which has been noted at Kalibangan, located on the left bank of the Sarasvati in Hanumangarh District of Rajasthan. Another important feature that can be noted here is an agricultural field, marked by a criss-cross pattern of furrows. It may incidentally be mentioned that this the earliest agricultural field ever discovered anywhere in the world in an excavation. An earthquake, occurring around 2,700 BCE, brought about the end of Stage III at Kalibangan. This is the earliest evidence of earthquake ever recorded in an archeological excavation.
However, after about a century or so the people returned to Kalibangan, but with a bang. This is Stage IV. They now had two parts of the settlement, a ‘Citadel’ on the west and a ‘Lower Town’ on the east. Both were fortified. In the Lower Town there lived agriculturalists and merchants, while the Citadel was the seat of priests and elites. In the southern part of the Citadel, there were many high, mud-brick platforms on which there stood specialized structures, including fire-altars and sacrificial pits. There is ample evidence of writing, seals, weights, measures, objects of art in this Stage, assignable to circa 2600 to 2000 BCE. The peak had been reached.
Citadel, Middle Town, and Lower Town were also features of other sites of Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
For various reasons, including sharp climatic changes, the drying up of the Sarasvati, and steep fall in trade, the big cities disappeared and there was a reversal to the rural scenario. Some people migrated from the Sarasvati valley into the upper Ganga-Yamuna terrain, as indicated by sites like Hulas and Alamgirpur. The curtain was drawn on a mighty Indian civilization.
NS: Many people hold that there was an ‘Aryan Invasion’ which destroyed the Harappan Civilization. How far is this true?
Lal: Let us first go to the background against which the ‘Aryan Invasion’ theory emerged. In the 19th century, Max Muller, a German Indologist, dated the Vedas to 1200 BCE. Accepting that the Sutras existed around 600 BCE and assigning 200 years to each of the preceding stages, namely those of the Aranyakas, Brahmanas, and Vedas, he arrived at the magic figure of 1,200 BCE.
There were serious objections to such ad-hocism by contemporary scholars, like Goldstucker, Whitney, and Wilson. Thus cornered, Max Muller finally surrendered by stating: “Whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 BC, no power on earth will ever determine.” But the great pity is that some scholars even today cling to 1200 BCE and dare not cross this Lakshamana Rekha!
In the 1920s, the Harappan Civilization was discovered and dated to 3rd millennium BCE on the basis of its contacts with West Asian civilizations. Since the Vedas had already been dated, be it wrongly, to 1200 BCE, the Harappan Civilization was declared to be Non-Vedic. And since the only other major language group in India was the Dravidian, it was readily assumed that the Harappans was a Dravidian-speaking people.
In 1946, Wheeler discovered a fort at Harappa; and since the Aryan god Indra has been mentioned in the Rigveda as puramdara, i.e. ‘destroyer of forts’, he lost no time in declaring that Aryan Invaders destroyed the Harappan Civilization.
In the excavations at Mohenjo-Daro, some human skeletons had been found. In support of his ‘Invasion’ theory, Wheeler stated that these were the people who had been massacred by the invaders. However, since the skeletons had been found at different stratigraphic levels and could not, therefore, be related to a single event, much less to an invasion, Wheeler’s theory was prima facie wrong. Dales, an American archeologist, has rightly dubbed it as a ‘mythical massacre’.
Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever of an invasion at any of the hundreds of Harappan sites. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of continuity of habitation, though marked by gradual cultural devolution.
A detailed study of human skeletal remains from various sites by Hemphill and his colleagues has established that no new people at all entered India between 4500 and 800 BCE.
Thus, if there is no evidence of warfare or of entry of an alien people where is the case for any ‘invasion’, much less by Aryans?
NS: In the last few decades, many scholars have taken recourse to the theory of ‘Aryan Migration’ from Central Asia. How far does this new theory stand scrutiny?
B.B. Lal: The ghost of ‘Invasion’ has re-appeared in a new avatāra (incarnation), namely that of ‘Immigration’. Romila Thapar says: “If the invasion is discarded, then the mechanism of migration and occasional contacts come into sharper focus. These migrations appear to have been of pastoral cattle breeders who are prominent in the Avesta and Rigveda.” Faithfully following her, R. S. Sharma adds: “The pastoralists who moved to the Indian borderland came from Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or BMAC which saw the genesis of the culture of the Rigveda.”
Contrary to what has been stated by Thapar and Sharma, the BMAC is not a pastoral culture, but a highly developed urban one. The settlements are marked not only by well-planned houses but also by distinctive public buildings like temples, e.g. those at Dashly-3 and Toglok-21 sites. Then there were Citadel complexes like that at Gonur. The antiquities found at BMAC sites also speak volumes about the high caliber of this civilization. In the face of such a rich heritage of the BMAC, would you like to deduce that the BMAC people were nomads – whom Thapar and Sharma would like to push into India as progenitors of the Rigvedic people? I am sure, you wouldn’t.
But much more important is the fact that no BMAC element, whether seals or bronze axes or sculptures or pot-forms or even the style of architecture ever reached east of the Indus, which was the area occupied by the Vedic Aryans as evidenced by the famous Nadi-stutihymn (RV 10.75.5-6). Hence, there is no question of the BMAC people having at all entered the Vedic region.
Thus, the theory of ‘Aryan Migration’ too is a myth.
NS: Some people hold that the Rigvedic flora and fauna pertain to a cold climate and hence the Rigvedic people must have come from a cold region. What do you think of this view?
B.B. Lal: If the attempt at bringing the Vedic Aryans into India from the BMAC has failed, why not try other means? In this category falls the attempt by certain scholars who hold that that Vedic flora pertains to a cold climate and, therefore, the Ṛigvedic people must have come from a cold region and cannot be indigenous. In this context, they refer to species such as birch, Scotch pine, linden, alder, and oak. But, let us examine Rigveda.
In the Rigveda the following trees are mentioned: Aśvattha (Ficus religiosa L.); Kiṁśuka(Butea monosperma [Lamk.]; Khadira (Acacia catechu Wild.); Nyagrodha (Ficus benghalensis L); Vibhīdaka/Vibhītaka (Terminalia Billerica Roxb.); Śālmali (Bombax Ceiba L. Syn. Salmalia malabarica [DC.] Schott); Śiṁsipā (Dalbergia sisso Roxb,).
The main regions of the occurrence the foregoing trees are – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
In fact, what is true in the case of the flora is equally true in the case of the fauna as well. Some of the animals mentioned in the Ṛigveda include Vṛiṣabha (Bos Indicus); Siṁha (Lion,Panthera leo L.); Hastin/Vaaaraṇa (Elephas maximus L. and Loxodonta africana), which all typically occur in a tropical climate.
Moreover, even the birds testify to the fact that Ṛigveda have been composed in a tropical climate. In this context, two typical birds may be cited: Mayūra (Pavo cristatus L.) and Chakravāka (Anus Casarca).
From what has been stated in the preceding paragraphs, it must have become abundantly clear that the flora, as well as fauna mentioned in the Ṛigveda, are typically tropical. Further, no cold-climate flora and fauna find a place in this text. Thus, there is no case to hold that the authors of the Ṛigveda belonged to a cold climate.
NS: 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?
B.B.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 fortssecure 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. Lothalhas 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: http://www.ifih.org
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?
B.B. 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?
B.B.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?
B.B.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?
B.B.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 pāyalaaround the ankles; practice of yogic exercises; worshipping Lord Shiva, even in the form ofliṅga-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 withnamaste 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!