The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 16, 2000

Telling the true story of history
By Sandhya Jain

THE ‘history’ being taught in Indian schools is factually wrong and ignores convincing scientific evidence from the fields of archaeology, geology, genetics, and archaeo-astronomy. It is also contrary to ancient Indian literary evidence, claims the world famous Vedic acharya, David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri), Director, American Institute of Vedic Studies. During the course of a rather lengthy visit to India earlier in the year, Frawley stressed the need to thoroughly revamp Indian history by incorporating recent discoveries within a multi-disciplinary framework that incorporates all relevant data in a consistent fashion.

Revamping the way history is taught in schools would be a step towards rediscovering itIn a paper co-authored with N. Rajaram, Frawley points to recent articles in the British Journal Current Biology, that have major implications for India. Based on genetic tests, the articles note that a key mitochondria DNA of the Western Eurasian strain accounts for no more than 5.2 per cent in Indian populations, as against over 70 per cent in European countries like Germany. Simply put, this means that the supposed Aryan invasion is contradicted by genetics. This means that there was no ‘Aryan invasion,’ not even any significant ‘Aryan migration.’

  What is more, the study shows that this West Eurasian strain is present in roughly the same proportion in North and South India. This means that there is no genetic divide between the so-called Dravidians and the Aryans in India. Hence, according to the latest scientific evidence, both the Aryan invasion and the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy have no basis.

Other evidence, says Frawley, also points to the same conclusion. Archaeological discoveries over the past fifty years have repeatedly shown the Aryan invasion theory found in Indian history books to be false. For instance, the course of the ancient Saraswati river, discovered by the late V.S. Wakankar and his associates, matches the geography of North India as depicted in the Rig Veda’s descriptions of the ocean-going Saraswati before the river dried up around circa 2000 BC. The Geological Society of India has proved this point from various perspectives. That is why most Harappan sites are located not on the Indus but on the banks of the Saraswati, as it was their central region.

The literary evidence also challenges the Aryan invasion myth. Vedic literature describes a maritime society with a vast cosmology of many oceans and full of oceanic symbolism. The common prayer is for safety in crossing the sea by ships. Frawley points out that such a prayer is used by navigators, not by nomadic invaders, and as such the Rig Veda could not have been composed in land-locked Afghanistan. Indeed, Indian cotton has been found at sites in Mexico and Peru dating to 2500 BC and even earlier, indicating maritime activity in ancient times. Similarly, Vedic astronomy and calendar systems show a sophisticated knowledge of observational astronomy, including calendars of the Krittika equinox (Taurus equinox) of about 2500 BCE. This fits in well with the maritime nature of Vedic society, as navigation is impossible without knowledge of astronomy.

A study of Harappan archaeology and Vedic literature shows that Vedic mathematical texts (Sulva Sutras) were used in the design and construction of carefully planned cities of the Harappan civilisation. The American mathematician, A. Seidenberg, has established that both Old Babylonia (1900-1750 BC) and the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (2050-1800 BC) borrowed heavily from Vedic mathematics, which was already well known in Harappan times. Natwar Jha’s decipherment of the Indus script shows that the Harappan civilisation belongs to the later Vedic period. The recent deciphering of the "World’s Oldest Writing" shows that the core of the Rig Veda must already have existed by 3500 BC.

At the same time, there is no evidence – physical or literary – of invading hordes, horse-riding warriors from Afghanistan with iron weapons, Eurasian skeletal types, destroyed cities, or any of the standard images portrayed by the Aryan invasion theory. The theory, Frawley states, was an offshoot of a nineteenth century colonial mindset that projected the experience of colonising Asia and Africa onto Vedic times and called it ‘history.’ It came into being when there was no data from archaeology, but has persisted due to political and other considerations.

Frawley points out that the ‘history’ Indian children are being taught is totally false and contrary to all scientific and literary evidence. The Aryan invasion model is being upheld by vested interests that have benefited from it politically, who offer no evidence to support their views, and instead accuse those who refute the theory of "tampering with history." Frawley laments at this anti-intellectual bias among Indian academics, and points out that most reputed Western archaeologists are rejecting the Aryan invasion/migration scenario. He believes that the present unsatisfactory state of affairs in Indian humanities, particularly history, came about because the generation of Indian scholars after independence continued to look to the West for inspiration, and persisted with the Euro-centric models of the colonial period.

Indians, Frawley urges, should take the initiative to rewrite their history books, taking the latest findings and scientific methods into account. It is imperative that children be told the truth about their country’s past. The first point to note in re-writing history, he says, is that the ancient Indians have left ample materials with which to reconstruct the history of the Vedic period. There are the Vedas, the Puranas, the epics and other literature, which contain much in the way of history, though this is often couched in symbolic language, as ancient texts are throughout the world. However, this can be supplemented by archaeology and what we have learnt about ancient ecology, such as the drying up of the Saraswati.

The recently deciphered Harappan seals provide inscriptional data to supplement literary records. The seals deciphered so far show that ancient figures like Rama, Sudasa, Krishna, Puru, etc. were historical persons who lived long before 2000 BC. The deciphered seals, therefore, provide a historical context for both the Harappans and the Vedic people by linking archaeology and Vedic-Puranic literature. Naturally, everything should be based on science and primary sources — not beliefs and prejudices.

India had an indigenous and organic development of civilisation from 7000 BCE, starting in sites like Mehrgarh. Frawley states that both the pre-Harappan and Harappan cultures centred on the Saraswati river. The main migration of peoples was from the Saraswati to the Ganges when the Saraswati dried up after 2000 BCE, though there were also some movements in other directions, such as Europe and Central Asia. The Saraswati culture continued, though in modified form, with no intrusion of major populations from Central Asia. While the Saraswati is mirrored in Vedic literature, the Puranas reflect mainly the Ganges. Texts like the Mahabharata, that speak of the Saraswati drying up in the desert (Vinashana Saraswati) show the transitional period.

We thus have a vast body of primary data authenticated by scientific methods. The time is therefore ripe for Indians to take the lead and rewrite their history. As Swami Vivekananda said more than a century ago, "It is for Indians to write Indian history."

Finally, Frawley asserts, the world as a whole will have to give due recognition to Indian culture, with its spiritual and dharmic background, as central to world civilisation. Its importance both for India and the world should not be underestimated. As India is the only civilisation of antiquity to have survived, it is the responsibility of Indians to discover not only their own history, but also that of the world. Revamping the way history is taught in Indian schools would be a major step in that direction. This is a scientific and spiritual imperative, not only for India, but for the whole world.