Intro: We as people either suffer from collective amnesia or from sad ignorance of the remarkable role the Naga community played in the cultural history of India not only on the national level but also on the global scale, from Japan in the far east to Mexico in the far west.
Nearly 200 years ago, in the year 1835, Macaulay made a speech in the British Parliament in which he praised Indians as a highly civilised, cultured and moral people, and then added: “I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore I propose that we replace her…. ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, culture, and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
Macaulay’s recipe worked beyond his imagination. For even after more than half a century of political independence, English continues to dominate the Indian mindset. A glaring example of this mental slavery was a newspaper article an “intellectual” wrote a few short years ago in praise of Macaulay, in which he went to the extent of arguing that those who do not know English are “lesser” Indians. Another bizarre but “official” example is the half-English name of one of the north-eastern states of “Bharat that is India”— ‘Naga Land’.
Original Home Kashmir
This history begins with Nilamata Purana, the earliest-known Sanskrit work of Kashmir, composed a millennium and a half ago, around 6th century AD. In scholarly opinion a study of the history of Kashmir would not be complete without the study of two texts—Nilamata Purana and Kalhan’s Rajatarangini (12th century AD).
According to a startling thesis presented by eminent cultural historian Dr Balaram Chakravarti, the Nagas of the North-East originally hailed from Kashmir, and Nilamata Purana was composed about them by their saintly chief Muni Nila. In hoary times, as has been accepted by geologists, Kashmir was full of lakes, and Nagas lived on their shores. As a result, they developed an aquatic culture. They built their houses on stilts, possibly because of the proximity with water. Now, although present-day Nagas live in the hills they still build their houses on stilts, perhaps following their ancestral lifestyle. Furthermore, the ancestors living by the lakes in Kashmir used light canoes for fishing, but they could also lift them out of the water, put them on the ground upside down, and beat them like drums, either to make music for song and dance, or to send messages to other groups living at a distance. Now Naga drums are still shaped like canoes.
Present-day Nagas also make ornaments from shells although they now live in the hills. The Nagas also introduced cultivation in the Ziro Valley of Arunachal Pradesh, where it was previously unknown.
According to Chakravarti Nilamata Purana describes the reasons for the migration of the Nagas at different times in various directions. There is no timeline available, but the migration to North-East India must have taken place much before the period of the Mahabharat. For not only had the Nagas reached the North-East in proto-historical times, they had settled down enough to establish their own kingdoms, like neighbouring Asura, Danava and Kirata clans. Many of these kings had fought in the Mahabharat war. Even before the Mahabharat war Arjun had invaded Bhagadatta’s kingdom and defeated him, after which he advanced to the Naga kingdom, where he married the Naga princess Ulupi.
Kingdom in Cambodia
From the North-East of India the thread of Naga migration extended eastward up to Cambodia, which has a Hindu history of 2000 years. It began with an adventurous Brahmin youth from South India by name Kaundinya reaching its coast in the first century AD. The place he arrived at was one of the many small kingdoms of the time, called Funan by the Chinese. It was ruled by a young princess by name Soma. On seeing the ship of the stranger from India, accompanied by an army, the princess gave battle, but was defeated. Later Kaundinya married her, and thus they became king and queen of Funan. This Funanese princess was the daughter of a Naga king, and this Naga kingdom had been established around the first century BC. Thus it was a Naga princess who contributed to the writing of a glorious chapter of Hindu history of South-East Asia, the world’s most Hinduised region outside India.
Did the Nagas’ eastward migration out of India stop at Cambodia? Apparently not, speculates Chakravarti. Rather, he asserts it would not be illogical to assume that the Nagas who were so advanced in Cambodia more than 2000 years ago may quite possibly had reached Japan long before that. Coming down from proto-historic to ancient historical times, presumably over a long period the migrants from the west came to be known as the indigenous people of Japan called Ainu.
This has now been accepted as a historical fact. According to Chakravarti the Nagas who reached Japan settled in the coastal regions, and he mentions old accounts that “link the Ainu to the Naga, a people of aquatic culture.” There is also another link, at a deeper level, between the Naga-Ainu people of ancient people and India, to which Chakravarti alludes. He says the Ainu practised a “shamanistic religion” akin to the “Bon religion which sprang on the shore of Lake Mapham (Manas Sarovar)” in Tibet. This is a clear Hindu link.
Nagas in Far West
If the Nagas reached the Far East, they also reached the Far West. For in his series of the cultural history of various countries Dr Balaram Chakravarti extensively dwells on how the Nagas reached right up to South America, where they played a significant role among the ancient Indian progenitors of human civilisation in the western hemisphere. He points out that various ancient Sanskrit texts narrate how the ancient ‘Amerindians’ came to be composed of Naga, Asura, Danava peoples. Giving a geographic context to these age-old migrations of the Indics, Chakravarti speculates that the Nagas migrated from Kashmir by sailing across the Atlantic, the Danavas may have reached by the Pacific, while thc Asuras may have crossed over on foot by walking across the frozen Bering Strait between the tips of Siberia and Alaska around the end of the last lce Age. He also mentions a migrant group he calls “Indra-worshippers” which may have come to be called AriiArya.
This historical fact of a Hindu America has also been acknowledged by a number of modern western scholars including American, Mexican, Spanish and British historians and archaeologists. Among them is American researcher Gene Matlock. In his monograph Journey to Baboquivary he writes about civilised Nagas’ contribution to American civilisation: “The Nagas were a highly civilised ruling, maritime and mercantile clan, who once inhabited north-west India and contiguous regions”.
Civilisers of Arizona
In their American colonies the highly-developed Nagas taught the O’odham aborigines of Arizona (now in the US) how to build dwellings. They also taught them about the Creator God, Dyaus or Jyaus. Even today the O’odhams call him Jeoss or Joss. The Nagas also dug deep wells in the desert for water, which they siphoned out with thick tubes (with the outer end painted like a human mouth) which looked like writhing serpents when water flowed up through them. Indian Nagas wear a buffalo head-dress on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of power. In the same manner various native American tribes, such as Mandanau, Hopi and Sioux Red Indians also wear it in their ritual dance to this day.
In Mexico there are Naga temples with serpent columns and balustrades, and, says Chakravarti, ancient Mexicans celebrated a festival very similar to Naga Nagapanchami of the Hindus. He also points out that the textile designs of Peru resemble “in every detail” the colourful designs preserved by Naga weavers even today. According to Chakravarti, the ‘Serpent’ (Naga) people of the Amazon Valley in Brazil had migrated to Peru, and in course of time they went further down to Chile, where they were joined by the “people of Tani”, the Tanava/Danava people who had come from across the Pacific, to build a composite culture of the Naga-Danavas, which, he asserts, is the “bedrock of the Chilean culture”. The descendants of these Nagas are the indigenous Chileans, called Mapuche and Aymara, as also Araucanians. Chakravarti holds that the Aymaras can be identified as the Nagas and the Mapuches as the Danavas.
Finally, World Book of Encyclopaedia says the first inhabitants of what is now Panama were Indians but the time of their arrival is not known. On the other hand Chakravarti holds that migrant Nagas from India, after reaching Panama by sea, might have settled in a forested area they called Vanam (forest) which, in course of time became ‘Panama’. This may be a stretch, but it is interesting nevertheless.
Sudhakar Raje (The writer is a senior journalist)