Fixing a date for Hindu civilisation
By Sudhakar Raje
THEe search for the cradle of human civilisation reached its final destination on the banks of River Saraswati in India. The civilisation that originated here was the ancientmost in the history of mankind. This has been established by a historical and linguistic study of the Rig Veda, the world'soldest available text. This body of hymnal literature provides the key to unfolding India'santiquity, and contains the answer to the question on how old is our civilisation.
Putting a date on antiquity is a hazardous undertaking, but it is also a fascinating exercise. For, if the Rig Veda documents the Aryan civilisation, the age of this document needs to be ascertained for assessing the age of the civilisation mirrored in it. This would be a journey into the past that could lead us, step by step, backwards, from the preceding period of the composition of Rig Veda hymns to the ultimate period of our proto-proto-history when the original Aryan emerged.
This Kashyapa is supposed to have composed a hundred richas of the Rig Veda, of which only one (1/99) has survived. He seems to be one of the oldest hymn-makers of the Rig Veda, while Devapi, one of the latest composers, was his 39th descendant. Taking 20 years for a generation, this would mean there was a time gap of 780 years between Kashyapa and Devapi. This in turn means that some very early Rig Vedic hymns are as old as 4000 b.c.
The richas of the Rig Veda were composed literally for hundreds of years, and the times of their composers provide indicators to the age of their compositions. Starting the process of dating them from the latest to the earliest (as we are travelling back in time), we find that Devapi, brother of King Shantanu, composed some of the latest hymns of the Rig Veda. Shantanu was the great grandfather of the Kauravas and Pandavas, who fought the Bharata war, and the traditionally accepted date of this war, 3101 b.c., has been corroborated by independent evidence. As Shantanu came four generations prior to the Pandavas and Kauravas, which was also Shri Krishna'slife-time, it follows that the latest portions of the Rig Veda were composed not more than a century, at the most, before this war, that is, around 3101 b.c. This means the Rig Veda was composed till about 5,200 years ago.
According to the Brihaddevata and the Nirukta, Devapi composed the ?rain hymn? (10/98) of the Rig Veda when a terrible drought occurred in Shantanu'skingdom. This is direct evidence of the Rig Veda relating to a contemporary situation.
From Krishna to Rama
The next step backwards is from Krishna to Rama. The list of ancient kings given in richa 10/93/14 mentions Rama. The date of Rama can be ascertained from certain references in the Ramayana. It is stated therein that Rama was born 12 months after the commencement of his father, King Dashrath'sashwamedha sacrifice. This sacrifice began in the spring, as the Shrouta Sutra enjoins that the ashwamedha should be started on Chaitra full moon day, then regarded as marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. On the other hand, Bhishma, the grand old man of Mahabharata, breathed his last when the northern course (uttarayana) of the Sun started on Magha Shukla Ashtami. This means, during the Mahabharata period, the winter ended on Chaitra Shukla Saptami, but when Rama was born it ended on Chaitra full-moon day, that is, eight days later. This difference was the result of the phenomenon known as precession of the equinoxes, because of which the slow retrograde motion of equinoctial points along the ecliptic (the Sun'sapparent annual course through the heavens) results in the earlier occurrence of equinoxes in each successive sidereal year (which is longer than the solar year by 20 minutes 23 seconds due to precession). So, roughly taking 72 years for a precession of one day, we arrive at 72 x 8 = 756 years before the death of Bhishma as the date of Rama.
The Bhagvada statement that Rama lived 31 generations before the Mahabharata war (a chronology also accepted by Vishnu Purana and Vayu Purana) gives us the date 3101 + 600 = 3701 b.c. This should be regarded as a remarkable tally in a field where chronological estimates can vary by thousands of years.
The Rig Veda contains some hymns composed by Jamadagni and also one composed by his son Parashuram, who was a contemporary of Rama. So it follows that these richas were composed around 3700 b.c., that is, about 5,700 years ago.
The list of ancient kings given in richa 10/93/14 mentions Rama. The date of Rama can be ascertained from certain references in the Ramayana. It is stated therein that Rama was born 12 months after the commencement of his father King Dashrath'sashwamedha sacrifice.
Devapi's39th Ancestor, Kashyapa
Yet another step back in time is possible with the help of the Mahabharata. The Adi Parva of the Mahabharata gives the genealogy of the Pandavas beginning with Brahma. The son of Brahma was Maricha, and the son of Maricha was Kashyapa. This Kashyapa is supposed to have composed 100 richas of the Rig Veda, of which only one (1/99) has survived. He seems to be one of the oldest hymn-makers of the Rig Veda, while Devapi, one of the latest composers, was his 39th descendant. Taking 20 years for a generation, this would mean there was a time-gap of 780 years between Kashyapa and Devapi. This in turn means that some very early Rig Vedic hymns are as old as 4000 b.c.
Astronomical constructions on some of these hymns support this estimate. Thus we now have parts of the Rig Veda that are 6,000-years old.
At the same time there are other astronomical references that point to a still earlier period. For instance, richas 7/69/3 and 1/112/13 indicate that the Ashwins (that is, the Ashwini constellation) were visible at the solstitial points. This solstice could only be the winter solstice, and the winter solstice recurred in the Ashwins in 7000 b.c. Richas 1/161/13 and 4/33/7 relating to rohus (seasons) support this interpretation. Thus we now have Rig Vedic richas that are 9,000-years old.
Here our time travel reaches a crucial stage as we reach River Saraswati, now lost, whose banks became the Vedic heartland. The Saraswati was the principal river in the Rig Veda, and the Nadi Sukta clearly says it flowed between the Yamuna and the Satluj. Richa
6/61/2 says its mighty flow was forceful enough to sweep away mountain-tops. It was called Saraswati because it had huge pools (saras) at several places in its course. Such a river does not exist today. The present-day River Ghaggar is only a remnant of the real Saraswati after it went underground. However, several underground beds or courses of this river have recently been found and dated by geologists. Together they made the mighty Saraswati that flowed south to the ocean. Some of the Saraswati hymns were obviously composed when these beds were in full flow, and richa 7/9/1 clearly says that Saraswati meets the ocean. According to carbon-14 dating, the ocean-going beds of the Saraswati are as old as 8000 b.c. This means this portion of the Rig Veda goes back to 8000 b.c., making it 10,000-years old.
If there was a sophisticated Vedic civilisation in Turkey 10,000 years ago, would it be logical to argue that precisely at the same time the human civilisation in India stood on the borderline between the Aryan and pre-Aryan ages? Centuries, perhaps millennia, may have elapsed before the Vedics of India reached Anatolia, retaining their cultural sophistication.
Is it possible to go beyond this already hoary past? It is, if the Rig Veda description of Dadhikravan, a ?horse-bird? found in nearly 20 richas in four mandals (3, 4, 7 and 10) is rescued from various controversial meanings given to it by learned interpreters and given the most straightforward, and hence most plausible, meaning?an ostrich. An ostrich in Vedic India is not such an incredible idea in view of the finding that the ostrich did exist in India before 12,000 b.p. (before present) and had become extinct with the commencement of the Holocene period?geologically considered the most recent epoch of the Quaternary period, marked by the development of human culture.
Pieces of thick Qstrich eggshells have been discovered at more than 40 places in north-west India, roughly in the region between Jaipur and Pune. Some of them are archaeological artifacts, such as painted bowls, discs and engraved pieces, which, on carbon-14 dating, have been found to date from 12000 b.p. to 29000 b.p. The Rig Vedic description of Dadhikravan tallies with the description of a full-grown ostrich as it is found at present in the Kalahari desert of South Africa.
During the last Quaternary period of the earth'sgeological history, that is, till about 10,000 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was in the grip of the last of the great Ice Age, when half of north Europe, Russia, Siberia and parts of north India were covered with ice. At the same time, the climate and terrain in north-west India were arid enough to suit the existence of a desert bird like the ostrich, probably because the Hamalayan ranges saved the region to their south from the deadly onslaught of the cold climate in the north. So the Rig Vedic hymns invoking the desert-bird ostrich as a deity may have been composed in the memory of this past, which perhaps marked a part of the hymn-makers? civilisation as far back as they could recall.
A Look Beyond 10,000 Years
But even in such a scenario, can we hazard the guess that the period preceding 10 millennia before the present was the borderline between the ?Aryan? (i.e. ?agricultural?) civilisation and the semi-civilisation before that? The answer can at best be speculative. For, even if the Ice Age of 10,000 years ago, mentioned earlier, had enveloped large parts of the planet, forcing a nomadic lifestyle on contemporary human beings and preventing the start of civilisation in terms of agriculture, there is a perfectly feasible possibility that either arid and agricultural conditions may have co-existed in the Vedic land at some ancient point of time, or, if the ostrich hymns are indicators of anything, they may be pointing to a not-very-distant past.
A far more startling fact of the situation is the Vedic civilisation enclave that existed at Neville Cori in Anatolia (Turkey) right around this period. This site has been dated ?beyond? 7000 or 7500 b.c.??beyond? because in the eighth millennium b.c. or still earlier, a Vedic culture with Rig Vedic Sanskrit as its language was already apparent in Anatolia.
Here the question is: Could this Vedic cultural enclave originate and exist in isolation 10,000 years ago in Anatolia, so far away from India? The obvious and logical answer is that it could not. Rather, it would be patently illogical to presume that Neville Cori was an isolated and unrelated phenomenon. On the contrary, it strongly suggests a progression of Vedic culture from its homeland in India through the intervening Middle Eastern stretch, right upto Turkey. But if there was a sophisticated Vedic civilisation in Turkey 10,000 years ago, would it be logical to argue that precisely at the same time the human civilisation in India stood on the borderline between the Aryan and pre-Aryan ages? Centuries, perhaps millennia, may have elapsed before the Vedics of India reached Anatolia, retaining their cultural sophistication.
The Ostirich Epoch
The ostrich hymns of the Rig Veda show their composers? memory of a past that was distant yet distinct. Then how long a period may have elapsed before the ostrich changed from just a bird to a deity? Surely a long period. So arguably, the age of Vedic/Aryan civilisation should be many millennia more than 10,000 years. But how many? The carbon-14 dated ostrich eggshells seem to say?maybe just 2 millennia, maybe as many as 19 millennia. The Rig Veda points a tantalising finger to this misty past, but stops short of providing a workable clue. As a result, the age of our antiquity remains a riddle wrapped in mystery.