India, my Love|Feb 10, 2008 4:48 AM| by:

The Beginnings of Indian Civilisation – I

The origin of ancient civilizations like India is shrouded in a cloud of mist. What we have at present on this subject is a mass of opinions, conjectures, speculations and theories based on scanty facts dug out from archaeology, literature, mythology. This mist and uncertainty regarding ancient civilizations will perhaps remain, despite whatever new evidences we get, as long as we use the speculative mind as our source of knowledge. We can only build theories or reasoned guesses based on available facts, which are more or less close to the truth. New evidence and a more unbiased research and thinking may clear a little more of the mist, but may not entirely dissolve it. Interestingly Max Mueller, the well-known German Indologist after suggesting many possible dates for Rig-Veda, finally said “Whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 3000 BC, no power of earth will ever determine”. We do not know what are the factors or motives which impelled the German scholar to make such a statement— humility or exasperation or pressure of mounting criticism. We find a more sober and balanced sense of humility in George Feuevestein and his co-author when they write about the difficulties involved in the studies of ancient history.

“…. the historian must be willing to live with ambiguity and mystery, for the past can never be completely known. Therefore we must approach it not only with a high measure of openness (to take in as much as we can) but also an equal measure of modesty and self-honesty (to accept our understanding is bound to remain incomplete and subject to correction in future)”(1)

But having humility, which is very necessary in any quest for truth, does not mean rejecting or ignoring faculties other than reason. In a domain of knowledge like history where facts and evidence are never sufficient and our reason quite often stands baffled against unintelligible and archaic symbols of the ancients, the cautious groping of the intellect has to be supplemented by daring leaps of intuition and imagination. So the historian along with using reason, has to invoke imagination and intuition, not only in his quest for knowledge but also in communicating his knowledge to an audience. This factor of intuition becomes especially important for the future for prophetic voices all over the world are proclaiming the end of the Age of Reason and the dawn of the Age of Intuition. Thus in a futuristic vision of history, and in dealing with domains of knowledge where facts, evidence and reason are inadequate, we have to invoke or appeal to that inner direct sense or feeling for truth, which is there in every human being, but may not be active or conscious in front. This intuition need not be solely the intuition of the historian; it can include the intuition of the collective wisdom of humanity. In future, when this inner faculty is awakened more and more in the general mass of humanity, people will judge an idea or writing not solely by fact, evidence and logic but by this inner sense of truth.

So the future writer or communicator has to depend less on external factors like evidence or logic but more on the power of truth inherent in the idea to communicate itself to the inner sense of truth in the reader. Our appeal to you, dear reader, is to judge our ideas not solely by facts, evidence and logic, which we will not ignore, but to sense it deeply and wholly with that inner sense of truth and try to feel whether it contains a spark of truth. And also, in our approach to history, in understanding the unknown or spiritual dimensions of history we will be depending on the intuitions of seers, sages and religions or spiritual tradition. But the judgment regarding the authenticity or validity of these intuitions is a subjective judgment, which the reader has to make with an inner sense of truth.

In other words, instead of relying solely on reason working on available facts and evidence, if we can take into account the intuitive wisdom of the sages and seers of the past and present, we may perhaps arrive at a better and more accurate image of truth…. only an image and that too an approximate image. For our human mental consciousness as it is constituted at present can only reflect an image of truth and can never touch the body or essence of truth. To penetrate into the essence of truth we need a higher spiritual faculty beyond reason and mental intuition. It is with this attitude we approach the study of ancient India.

In this article we take a quick glance at some of the facts, opinions and debates and possibilities related to the origin of Indian civilisation.

The Sources of History

There are four sources, which can provide factual information for the study or a better understanding of history. They are:

Archaeological sources like the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
Literary sources like scriptures, epics, legends such as the Vedas or the Mahabharata.
Historical accounts of travellers like Megasthanes.
New scientific and technological innovations like genetics, satellite photography or new dating techniques.
Archaeological Discoveries

The first major archaeological discoveries which opened new horizons in Indological studies were the excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa. These excavations, which was a well-known event reported in all text-books of history and encyclopedias, pushed back in time the origin of Indian civilisation to make it one of the most ancient civilizations of the world, probably contemporary with Egypt, Sumeria , ancient Greece, Assyria and the Celtic.

Sometime in the year 1922 archaeological excavations conducted in the province of Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan unearthed two ancient cities. They are Mohenjodaro on the banks of the Indus and Harappa on the banks of the Ravi and Lothal. Further excavations carried over many years dug out a large number of villages, towns, cities and went on to uncover the buried remnants of a vast and ancient urban civilisation which was given the name Indus-valley civilisation

After Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the next major archaeological discovery is at Mehgarh in Pakistan. Excavations at Mehgarh pushed back further the date of the Harappan civilization to about 8000 BC. Excavations near by Nausharo, also in Baluchisthan, indicates the growth of urban centers, which later developed into large cities with a population of over 80,000 people. These excavations confirm the antiquity of the Indian civilization, as having existed before that of Mesopotamia and some 2500 years before Egypt. According to some archaeologists, at its prime, Mohenjodaro was the largest city in the world.

The most striking feature of the Indus-valley settlement is that it was built with remarkable architectural and engineering skill. There were well-built houses, big and small, constructed with smooth, perfectly aligned and standardised bricks. Towns were carefully planned with a well-laid network of roads and efficient drainage and water-supply systems. Many of the towns were like some of our modern metros. An English visitor who was looking at the Indus-valley sites was reported to have remarked that he felt himself to be surrounded by ruins of some present day working town in Lancashire.(2) Among the ancient civilizations, only the Romans, after many centuries, had displayed an equal engineering and building skill as the Harappans. The other important feature of the Harappan civilization was trade. Trade and commerce seemed to be the main source of Harappan economy. The Harappan merchants used a standardised system of measures based on the decimal systems and had extensive trade contacts with other contemporary civilizations.

The first impression we get from looking at the Indus-valley excavations is that these early Indians were not navel gazing spiritual dreamers with no grip or mastery over material life. This is the usual popular prototype of ancient Indians, especially in the west. The Harappan Indian seemed to possess a well-developed pragmatic mind with a lively interest and skill in earthly occupations like building towns, trade and commerce, and even in making toys.

Some scholars and archaeologists looking superficially at the highly standardized and utilitarian structures of the Harappans, without any religious edifices like the pyramid or the Temple, concluded that their civilization was materialistic, lacking in religious or spiritual advancement. But that would be a hasty judgment. Harappan Indians probably preferred to express their spiritual knowledge through the subtler medium of speech or the word rather than through the concrete medium of architecture. And this word of knowledge was transmitted orally from the Master to the disciple as in all ancient spiritual traditions or else preserved through a vigorous education and discipline of memory and recitation as in the Vedic culture. The other possibility is that Harappan culture was a phase in the evolution of Indian civilization, a phase in which it could have probably slipped into materialism and conventionalism. Such lapses do happen in the evolution of civilizations, even to a spiritually advanced civilization. In fact, such a lapse happens quite often after a period of intense spiritual endeavour. This is because we humans, limited as we are, cannot sustain spiritual effort for a long time. The need to rest and relax and the clamour of the needs and desires of the body, heart and mind act as a gravitational pull. However, evolutionary Nature uses such lapses to develop the qualities and faculties of other parts of our being like the body, vital or mind which remained under-developed or undeveloped in the previous cycle.

But there is strong evidence within the Harappan artefacts to show that these ancient Indians were not materialistic as their outer material life suggests. One of the fascinating Harappan seals is of a horned figure sitting in a classical meditative posture of yoga. There were many such figures in yoga posture among Harappan artefacts. This shows that Harappans were well aware of the spiritual art of meditation and yoga which is one of the unique contributions of Indian genius to human progress. As the eminent Indian archaeologist and an authority on Indus archaeology, S.K. Rao points out:

“One of the major contributions made by Harappans is Yoga which the Vedic Aryans practiced. Several terracotta figures of Harappa are depicted in Yogic asanas and what is quite impressive is that the human figures with horn, which suggest divinity, are seated in Yoga posture”(3)

Whether the science of yoga (not the outer posture) was the invention of Harappans, as Rao seems to suggest, or it belongs to a much earlier epoch is a debatable point. But the element of Yoga in Harappan artefacts provides the spiritual link between the archaeological and literary evidence and suggests a continuity or even a possible identity between the Harappan and Vedic civilization, for, yoga is the central core of Vedic religion and spirituality.

          The Beginnings of Indian Civilisation 

                       Part I   |   Part II   |   Part III   |   Part IV   |   Part V      :   

References :

[1] Gerorge Feuvestein, Subash Kak, David Frawley, “In Search of the Cradle of Civilization”, pp.7
[2] K.C.Majumdar, ed. “History and Culture of Indian People” Vol.1, pp.172
[3] Navarathnam R. Rajaram, “Aryan Invasion of India”, pp.

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