One of the more unexpected outcomes of starting this blog has been my writing on the intersection of geology, culture and religion. I was asked by the online magazine Pragati to summarize the geological evidence for the claim that the Ghaggar River which flows through Haryana and Rajasthan is really the river Sarasvati described in the Rig-Veda.
Why is this so important? The claim is that the identity of River Ghaggar is crucial evidence speaking to the controversial issue of whether the Vedic civilization was built by "alien" Arya-speakers who migrated into India from Central Asia beginning around 1500 B.C. after the Harappan civilization collapsed or whether it represents a wholly "indigenous" construction, continuous with the Harappan complex.
Obviously the thought that Hindu civilization was the creation of outsiders makes this a very touchy topic. The terms "alien" and "indigenous" refers to historically documented human migrations. No one doubts Pleistocene and early Holocene human migrations into India.
I find that this controvery about people coming from outside is puzzling to many. Assuming the migration scenario is true, Hindu or more precisely Vedic civilization did not spring into existence the day Indo-Aryan speakers entered India. Civilization, culture and Hindu philosophical thought evolved through hundreds of years of settlement within what is now India. That makes it indigenous regardless of whether the ancestors of some of these people came from outside India.
But right wing Hindu religious groups have their own take on what makes a Hindu. A Hindu is someone whose "pitrubhoomi" or fatherland or land of ancestors has always been India, and also one whose "punyabhoomi" or holy land or land of religion has always been India. That through eternity.
Migrant ancestors need not apply..
Oh well.... here are some interesting applications of geology....
For many years supporters of this view were using a combination of the Rig Veda and archaeology as evidence that the Ghaggar is the Vedic Sarasvati. Lately though a different kind of evidence has been brought to bear on this problem— the geological history of the Ghaggar. If geological evidence shows that the Ghaggar was in the past a mighty river and one that had a glacial source, it would fit descriptions in the Rig Veda of a large Sarasvati flowing from the mountains to the sea. More importantly it would allow Hindu religious groups to claim that the Vedic people were present in Northwest India much before the Ghaggar dried up about 1800 B.C. That would strengthen their claim that the Harappan civilisation represents the beginning of Vedic civilisation in India. To that end a lot of effort has been undertaken to generate and collect geological data that supports this view. This data comes in three flavours: geomorphologic, petrologic and geochemical.
Supporters claim that taken together these three types of data show beyond doubt that the Ghaggar is the Vedic Sarasvati. A more critical viewing of the data does not inspire such confidence..........continued..
Download Pragati and read the rest of the article here....
Pragati has got together a bunch of articles stressing that historical analysis and debates should be carried out using good science and not ideology. There are several other articles and book reviews worth reading on various aspects of the history of India.