In The Wonder That Was India, A L Basham presented a dramatic picture of the decline of the Harappan civilization. According to him, from 3000 BCE, invaders were present in the region. After conquering the outlying villages, they moved on Mohenjo-daro. The people of Mohenjo-Daro fled but were cut down by the invaders; the discovered skeletons proved this invasion. Basham concluded that the Indus cities fell to barbarians “who triumphed not only through greater military prowess, but also because they were equipped with better weapons, and had learned to make full use of the swift and terror-striking beats of the steppes.” Sir R [[Mortimer Wheeler]] claimed these horse-riding invaders were none other than Aryans. Their war-god Indra destroyed the forts and citadels at Harappa.
According to the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), Basham’s invaders were Indo-European speakers on a global invasion tour from Central Asia. Before the invaders split up into Vedic Aryans and Iranians, they had developed a joint culture in Central Asia, hence the similarity in Rig Veda and Avesta. Once they left Central Asia, the Indians and Iranians parted ways. The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal.
In a previous article, based on Shrikant G. Talageri’s excellent book, The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence, we saw that the common culture was not developed in Central Asia. We also saw that during the Middle and Late periods of Rigveda, the proto-Iranians were settled in western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They continuously interacted with the Vedic Aryans, and the joint Indo-Iranian culture developed.
This begs the question. Where did the Vedic Aryans live before they met the Iranians or people of the Anu/Anava tribe? Did they come from Central Asia, or did they come from the Eastern parts of India? Again for this article, I will be once again using Shrikant G. Talageri ‘s The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence.
Two important concepts will help understand the details. The first is related to the chronological ordering of the mandalas of Rig Veda. The second is the geography around the rivers of Punjab.
The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. This does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10 the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:
– Early Books: 6, 3, 7
– Middle Books: 4,2
– Late Books: 5,1, 8-10
Coming to the region’s geography, this is the map to remember. This shows some important rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, and Indus.
These are rivers mentioned in Rig Veda. Displaying great familiarity with the Indian North-West, the nadistuti sukta lists nineteen rivers from the Ganga to the Kurram sequentially from East to West. According to the Vedic tradition, Sarasvati flowed between the Yamuna and Sutlej, a location mentioned in other texts.
Shri. Talageri divides this area into three regions.
- Region East of Saraswati (Haryana and West UP)
- Region West of Indus (Afghanistan, South Central Asia, North West Pakistan)
- Region between Indus and Saraswati (North Pakistan, Punjab)
Strong evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory comes from the above two basic concepts augmented with the names of rivers, lakes, places, mountains, and animals. There is also a big clue in nadistuti sukta. See the direction in which the rivers are named. That has great significance for what we are about to discover.
Evidence from Rivers
According to AIT, the joint Indo-Iranian culture is pre-Rigvedic. This culture was developed in Central Asia before the Indians and Iranians took different exits on the Aryan Invasion freeway. But in another article, we saw that the joint culture was not pre-Rigvedic, but Late Rigvedic. Now, if the Vedic culture did not develop in Central Asia, where did it originate?
From both Rigveda and Avesta, we know the regions they are familiar with. The Avesta knows the land from Afghanistan and south Central Asia to Punjab. The Rig Veda knows the area from Western Uttar Pradesh to eastern and southern Afghanistan. So, if you draw a Venn diagram, the place familiar to both the Vedic people and Iranians is the land from Punjab to Afghanistan.
Now it gets interesting. Geographical data in the Early and Middle books of Rigveda show that the Vedic Aryans lived in the interior of India, to the East of Sarasvati. The Early Books (Books 6, 3, 7) of Rig Veda don’t show familiarity with the Western region. The earliest book, Book 6, does not reference the Central or Western rivers but mentions Ganga. The next book, Book 3, refers to the two easternmost rivers of the five rivers of Punjab.
The last book in the Early Books, Book 7, refers to the third from the east of the five rivers of Punjab. This is in reference to the pivotal Battle of Ten Kings. The non-Vedic enemies are people living to the West of the fourth river (Asikni).
Two exciting pieces come out of this analysis. First, these Early Books do not use the words sapta sindhu. Second, the enemies of the Vedic people are mentioned as those who live West of the fourth river in Punjab. The Vedic attitude towards northwest and western areas is suspicion and hostility. These lands are treated as mleccha or barbarian lands; their social and religious practices are strongly disapproved. These are not considered areas that fit a visit by orthodox Brahmins. This is also reflected in later texts: In Ramayana, the good queen Kausalya is from the east and the bad queen Kaikeyi is from the northwest; in Mahabharata, Kunti is from the east, while Gandhari is from the northwest.
We see familiarity with the Western landscape as we move from the Early Books to the newer ones. The Middle Books (4, 2) show familiarity with the Western region. This is the first time three Western rivers appear (Book 4). Also, the word sapta-sindhu shows up for the first time. Finally, when it comes to the Late Books, they too refer to sapta-sindhu.
The Eastern region, the land East of Sarasvati, was known to the Vedic Aryans of the Early, Middle, and Late Books. At the same time, the Western region is unknown to the Early books, but newly familiar to the Middle Books. Three Western rivers appear in the first book among the Middle Books (Book 4), and the same rivers are known in the first book of the Late Books.
Other evidence from nature
Besides the evidence from the rivers, there is evidence from nature that rules out Afghanistan or Central Asia as the Vedic homeland. The Vedic rishis lived in a land of monsoon storms and mountains. They worshiped Indra as the most important god. The monsoon land stops after Punjab; hence, it could not have been composed in Afghanistan. The animals mentioned in Rig Veda are spotted deer, buffalo, bison, peacock, and elephant. It’s not like elephants were stampeding in Kabul during that time like in the opening scene of Lion King.
Trees provide some fascinating evidence. There is mention of khadira, and simsapa, which are used in the manufacture of the body of a chariot, kimsuka and salmali used in the manufacture of wheels, and aratu used in the manufacture of the axle. If you compare this with the Egyptians, the raw material for the chariots came from the Caucuses. We don’t say that the Egyptians came from the Caucuses because they used imported wood. If Vedic Aryans came from the Caucuses, they too would have used the same wood that should be known to them. Instead, they used Indian trees. If they rode their chariots into India as per Basham, would they have used Indian trees?
Rice and wheat are popular cereals in India, depending on which part of India you are from. Rig Vedic Aryans do not show any familiarity with wheat. At the same time, they are familiar with three preparations of rice. If the invasion route was through a wheat-producing area, why doesn’t the Rigveda mention that? This shows that the Vedic tradition took root before wheat consumption started in North India. In a later period, in contrast to the use of rice, wheat is treated with disdain. Among Brahmins, during death, when they are required to abstain from food, rice is forbidden, but not wheat.
A change in our mental model
Before reading this book, my mental model was different. In Michel Danino’s The Lost River, it was clear that Sarasvati was the most important river for the Vedic Aryans. In forty-five hymns, the rishis praised Sarasvati; for them, she was ‘great among the great, the most impetuous of rivers,’ ‘limitless, unbroken, swift-moving, and ‘surpasses in majesty and might all other waters.’ Once Saraswati dried up after 1900 BCE, people migrated to different regions, including the Ganges Valley.
Now with this internal evidence from Rig Veda, it is clear that the story is different. Vedic Aryans during the period of Early and Middle Books did not live in Central Asia or Afghanistan but in the interior of India. Specifically to the East of Saraswati. Also, they were familiar with Ganga. From there, they progressively moved Westward. This is why the nadistuti sukta lists rivers from East to West.
Also, the Early and Middle Books of Rigveda represent a period older than the period of joint development of the Indo-Iranian culture. Moreover, this joint development happened in a region between Punjab and Afghanistan and not Central Asia.