Thursday, June 7, 2018

Chariot burial in Sinauli (2000 -1800 BCE) – any connection with Harappan or Mahabharata?


For the first time in India buried chariots along with wooden coffins dated at 2000-1800 BCE have been excavated. The eight burial sites found in Sinauli village in Bhagpat which is 60 KM from Delhi have raised speculation on whether these findings are related to Mahabharata and would re-define the date of Mahabharata. The link with Indus-Saraswathi civilization is also being discussed by some.
Looking into these question, certain observations pertaining to the period and nature of civilization of that period is being discussed here to decide whether these findings belong to these periods. Further discussion is on what is being known from the burials.

First of all we must accept the traditional date of Mahabharata in as much we accept the fact of archaeological discovery of Indus- Saraswathi civilization. The overlap in terms of time period and also the geographic expanse of both – Mahabharata and Indus-Saraswathi civilization is something that cannot be brushed aside.

While scientific dating methods define the date of Indus- Saraswathi civilization, the robustness of the date of Mahabharata is also scientifically strong. Let us see how.

Uncompromising nature of Kali Yuga date.

According to tradition and literary sources, Kali Yuga started 36 years after the end of Mahabharata war when Krishna left his mortal coils. The date of Kali Yuga is crucial as that forms the basis for all the ‘saGkalpa’( religious vows) of every kind done by millions of Hindus everyday till today. Unless the date is well laid out right from the beginning, it could not have happened.

Another feature pertains to the very fact of the existence of our calendar (time computation) of day –star –tithi – yoga – karana, popularly known as Panchanga. This (Panchanga) is part of  the ‘Ashtanga’ system that has 3 other higher units of time, namely month (solar), year (Saka year) and Yuga (Kali). All these are intertwined with each other such that if one is wrong others cannot fall in line (can’t be the same). For example, the lowest unit Karana is related to tithi. Tithi and yoga are two different yardsticks of the space-time gap between the two time keepers, namely Sun and the Moon. The alignment of these three (Karana, tithi and yoga) with a star cannot happen on any day, for the day has a certain progression linked with the solar year. For example, if a solar year (marked by the entry of sun into Mesha rasi) starts on a Saturday (as in 2018), it will start on the next day, i.e., Friday in the next year (in 2019) and it continues so forever.

Thus the week day that is in vogue today is very well fixated in the solar month. In which year, a month is fixated comes under the remaining 3 features of the Ashtanga system. The month along with the five (Panchanga) features is fixated in Saka year. The Saka year is related to the first year of Kali Yuga. There are formulae in Tamil to arrive at the month and day of any random date just by knowing the Saka year. There is also a formula to arrive at the number of days elapsed right from the beginning of Kali Yuga till the required date. The date of Parthivadekarapura inscription by Kokkaru Nanthadakkan given in number of days elapsed from the first day of Kali Yuga is on the basis of this formula only. Most inscriptions of Tamil Nadu contain a reference to Saka year of Kaliyuga. 

Therefore the date of first year of Kali Yuga is not a concocted one. Our present day-month system would collapse if the Kali Yuga date is changed. In other words, you change the Kali yuga start date, then your current day in the current month will be different. The current day and month cannot be different as the month is computed from the sun’s location in the zodiac (rasi) – which is unalterable.
Therefore it is sheer ignorance if one says that the start of Kali Yuga can be on any date other than the ‘traditional’ date (3102 BCE). From this date the Mahabharata war year is deduced, as it happened 36 years prior to that.

Chariot burials

With the idea of the firmness of the Kali Yuga date, we are looking at the date given for the Sinauli-discovery. It is dated at 2000-1800 BCE which is almost a millennium posterior to Mahabharata date. So it could not have been part of the Mahabharata war.

It could not have been part of Indus-Saraswathi civilization (which is in fact post Mahabharata civilization, due to concurrence with date and the presence of numerous seals bearing the image of Varaha, which was the state emblem of Jayadratha, the ruler of Indus region), going by the fact that the until now excavated burial pits of the Indus-Saraswathi civilization have no parallel to the Sinauli burial.

The negligible number of burials excavated so far in the Indus or any region is India can be attributed to the simple fact that burial is not common in Vedic society. None of the Mahabharata warriors were buried, but were only cremated. The number of burials in the Indus- Saraswathi sites is also very negligible compared to the size of the sites.

There are references to burials in Tamil Sangam texts but they are death-specific. For example, the excavated burial pots were popularly known as ‘Mudhu makkal Thaazhi’ – referring to the burial of very old people. Those with birth defects and who died soon after birth were buried – an information from Sangam texts. Burial and cremation had existed side by side, but certain clauses determined the decision to bury or dead - which is not very clear from the Sangam texts.

But the underlying feature for cremation can be known from the way Narada described in Mahabharata the death of Dritharashtra, Gandhari and Kunti in a forest fire. Those who lived by the sacrificial fire would die by sacrificial fire. In the Vedic society, everyone was engaged in growing the sacrificial fire, whatever their Varna may be. This concept follows in death also. It is only from the sacrificial fire (in death ceremony) the dead person is cremated.

This logic conveys that if a burial is found, then a major cause can be that the dead person was not connected with Vedic sacrificial fire (we should not forget the exceptional cases as known from Sangam texts).

We can test this hypothesis on the numerous burials in Farmana of the Indus –Saraswathi period. The dental examination of the Farmana corpses showed that they were all outsiders having come from faraway places, presumably for work in the Indus sites. While the Indus people had cremated their dead, they could not afford to do the same for the ‘foreigners’ who had come to their cities and died. In the absence of the nearest kith and kin of the dead, the local people had to dispose the dead. The best way is to bury them as no one had the ‘right’ to do Vedic rites for the dead, unless initiated by someone close to the dead.

Based on the rationale so far discussed, the dead in the Sinauli burials could have been non-Vedic or outsiders.

The way they have been buried in perfectly made coffins shows that though they were outsiders to Vedic life, they were not outsiders. They must have had some roots in the place. The elaborate coffin design presupposes the presence of someone related to dead, to be connected with the place.  

The burial of chariots is another odd feature as there is no reference in any literature, in Ithihasa or Sangam texts, of burying the vehicles used by the dead. This also secludes them from Vedic life.
Probing the nature of these people, there is a parallel to this kind of burial in Hubei in China discovered in 2015. Elaborate tombs were found out surrounded by separate burial pits for chariots and horses were found. In all 28 chariots and 98 horses were found and dated at sometime in 770-476 BCE. The nature of dead horses showed that they were killed and buried. It appears that they dead were massacred in an enmity.

One of the buried chariots in China

In Sinauli burials, no animals were seen. Only chariots were buried. The absence of animals showed that the animals that pulled the chariots were not killed – as was the case in the burial in China. This contrasting feature shows that those buried in China were enemies of the people who made the burial, whereas those buried in Sinauli were buried by their own people. The dead were buried along with their carriers. This is probable in a situation where death happened in action in a battle.

Buried chariot in Sinauli 


So this boils down to a situation where a community, which was necessarily not Vedic had lived in the location 1000 years after Mahabharata war. In a local enmity or military raids, the dead had laid down their lives. The community had given them a burial fitting to their status.

Many tribes or communities of non-vedic nature had lived in Mahaharata times. One such community had lived in Sinauli is what is deduced from these burials. Newer information from this site could exactly determine who they were.




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