A geologist's interpretation of ancient Indian history
Geography, Peoples and Geodynamics of India in Puranas and Epics: A Geologist’s Interpretations, KS Valdiya, Aryan Books Internationals, Pp 240, Rs 495.00
For us Indians, there is no other known ancient literature anywhere in the world that is as rich in knowledge and wisdom and as expansive in its geographical and chronological horizon as the Puranas and the epics. The Puranas chronicle the history of very ancient time, embodying accounts of people living in what is today’s India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, western Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The accounts cover the lifestyles, cultural perceptions and religion practices, the struggles for survival and expansion, conflicts over resources and political supremacy of the ruling classes, the urban rich and the immigrants coming mostly from the northwest, who settled down in large numbers in the flood-plains of River Sindhu and River Saraswati.
Unfortunately today’s generation is totally disconnected and unaware of the intellectual currents of our tradition and are thus unable to relate to our history and epics because their intellectual hunger has so far been satiated on information provided by Western scholars and West-educated Indian historians. Luckily for us, there are some authors who, not so enamoured of Western thought and views on the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which were conceived some 4,000 years ago, are prepared to delve deep into the past to explore and investigate the geography of the Indian subcontinent on the basis of what is mentioned in the Puranas and the epics.
One among these traditionalist pioneers is geo-scientist Valdiya, who writes that our Puranas and epics have recorded the changes in geography of this land at the time when these stories were written. A case in point is the drying up of the mighty Saraswati river and which led to massive displacement and resettlement of the populace. Valdiya quotes a few Sanskrit verses to corroborate this. With his vast knowledge of geology and changes in landforms due to tectonic movements, he asserts that Puranic geography is not static, but that the physiography of the larger Indian continent is not the same as when the Puranas were written. He also cites the case of the sudden uplift of Vindhya Giri when Sage Agastya was travelling to South India and of the abrupt sinking of Dwarka into the sea following Lord Krishna’s death, as examples to substantiate his observations.
Dr Valdiya shows through comprehensive accounts of geography of the vast lands, covering not only the Indian subcontinent but Central Asia too, that people in the time of the Puranas were great explorers and intrepid travellers over land and sea and identified Mount Meru as the centre of the continent called Jambudweep, which we know today as the Pamir Massif.
Even most of the rivers mentioned in the Puranas and the epics have been largely identified in Indian maps. People of that period knew the location and dimension of mountains, sources of rivers emanating from them, the flora and fauna of the terrain, the crustal movements that led to the shifting of the courses of rivers and their blockages to form lakes. What is more, it is their vast knowledge that prompted our spiritual leaders to locate holy shrines in geo-morphologically picturesque and geologically ideal spots, right from Mount Kailash to Rameshwaram in the south and Dwarka and from Saurashtra in the west to Puri in the east. Rishis and sages, keen to spread education and knowledge of the philosophy of life, established ashrams in different parts of the country, especially at the teerth stations. Thus 12 dhams with the jyotirlingas were characterised by spectacular landforms and geographical features due to earth movements. The scholarly sages had deep roots in the society and played a crucial role as mentors of rulers in matters of governance as well as socio-cultural niceties. Not only this, they emphasised the importance of teerthatan, pilgrimage, for one’s salvation or deliverance from sins and for this, their knowledge of geography of the land was immense. The author says, “In short, the pilgrimage to various teerths was undertaken to inculcate a sense of national unity,” among different classes of people with different languages, lifestyles and eating habits.
The author also talks of the occurrence, mining and metallurgy of minerals, the tapping of natural gas, the reclamation of land from the sea and building of bridges across rivers as well as the sea.
In all, the use of maps, drawings, satellite pictures of geographical features supported by adequate text and shlokas with explanations make it a book worth reading not only for experts, but also for a general reader.
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