Published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies and Social Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal, vol. VIII, No. XI, pp. 95-104.
Published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies and Social Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal, vol. VIII, No. XI, pp. 95-104.
The Mahabharata of Vyasa: The Complete Shantiparva Part 2: Mokshadharma
translated from Sanskrit by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya,
Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2016, pp. 1107, Rs. 2000/-
Padma Shri Professor Purushottam Lal, D. Litt., Jawaharlal Nehru fellow, began transcreating the Mahabharata in 1968 in free flowing English verse. It was indeed a mammoth effort and unique because no one else had attempted a translation of the epic in verse before him. Unfortunately, he could transcreate and publish sixteen and a half of the epic’s eighteen books before he breathed his last in 2010. Mokshadharma Parva of Shanti Parva and the Anushasana Parva remained to be completed. Perhaps, like a true guru, he wished to test the abilities of his shishyas to take up the challenge of completing his unfinished project. And Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya, a worthy shishya of a great guru, took up the challenge of translating, and not transcreating as he says, the remaining part of the Shanti Parva, the Mokshadharma Parvadhyaya. It is indeed very brave of Bhattacharya as this part, in my opinion, is the most difficult section of the epic revealing the essence of Vyasan philosophy. In many ways, Bhattacharya is the right person to undertake this work, given his deep and extensive scholarship about the epic. Besides, he has his own reasons. He writes in the Preface:
‘Professor Lal was my much-admired guru and beloved acharya in every sense. He gifted me a copy of his extensively revised edition of the complete Adi Parva (2005) with the inscription, “for Pradip, chelaextraordinaire, shubham te astu,” leaving me overwhelmed. It was therefore, a wonderful opportunity to offer dakshina when his son, Professor Ananda Lal, handed me the Professor’s copy of the Gita Press Shanti Parva volume and asked me to complete the project – a signal honour and a great challenge.”
The book under review has a short preface, the main text and a few interesting annexures. These include maps of Aryavarta and of India at the time of the Mahabharata sketched by Prof. Lal, a list of stories narrated in the Moksha Dharma Parva (courtesy Madhusraba Dasgupta’s Samsad Companion to theMahabharata) and reviews penned by Bhattacharya of Karna Parva, StreeParva and Shanti Parva, Part 1, (Raja Dharma) transcreated and published by Prof. Lal earlier. These elegant reviews were published in The Statesman’s 8th Day literary supplement and provide interesting reading. The Preface explains the methodology followed: keeping to the original syntax as far as possible, in free verse and prose faithful to Prof. Lal’s objective of providing the full ragbag version. “The text is a conflation of the editions published by the Gita Press…Aryashastra and that edited by Haridas Siddhantabagish Bhattacharya with the Bharatakaumudi and Nilakantha’s Bharatabhavadipa annotations, cross-checked with Kaliprasanna Sinha’s Bengali translation, the first English translation by K.M.Ganguly and the shorter Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute edition.”
After the Kurukshetra holocaust, Yudhishthira, stricken with sorrow and guilt, receives instruction from Bhishma on three aspects: Rajadharma, principles of governance, Apaddharma, principles to be followed in extremity and Mokshadharma, principles for attaining liberation. The book under review deals with Mokshadharma. It starts from Section 174 of the Shanti Parva (Section 168 of the Pune Critical Edition).
Having been instructed on the principles of governance, Yudhishthira shifts gear and ascends to the higher level of philosophy with the question,
“O Pitamaha-grandfather, you have
spoken on auspicious
Rajadharma, the dharma of governance.
O Earth-lord, speak.
now of the best dharma of ashramites!”
He follows it up with a series of questions which reveal a supremely disturbed mind trying to find solace, seeking a way, a method by which he can get over the guilt, the sorrow and the confusion arising out of losing all his relations and friends in the pyrrhic battle for which he holds his own greed responsible. Bhishma tells him that everyone must try to obtain moksha, liberation, by way of detachment which can only come if one remains unaffected by worldly emotions and possessions. One must rise above sorrow and happiness as these are ephemeral. True nature of the Self, atma–gyana, must arise before liberation can be achieved. That emancipates him from the liability of rebirth and that is the highest goal of human existence. That is the only cure for the affliction Yudhishthira suffers from.
Easier said than done! So, for the next two hundred and one chapters, Bhishma holds forth on how to succeed in obtaining liberation, answering myriad questions from the troubled Yudhisthira, opening up the vast expanse of epic philosophy, proceeding from one concept to the other. He talks about removal of sorrow and attainment of supreme joy, removal of attachment and giving up of desire, renunciation, truth, samadarshana-equity, importance of japa, reciting the name of god, dhyana, dana (gift) and tapasya-ascesis. He talks about the four ashramas and due observation of the duties prescribed for each, underlining the importance of sadachara, virtuous conduct. Non-violence must be practised and therefore slaying of animals in sacrifices cannot be approved (even though we observe the continued performance of Ashvamedha!). To explain each concept Bhishma narrates stories and dialogues. There are fifty-five such engaging stories (with, of course, many sub-stories, stories within stories), in the MokshadharmaParva establishing a tradition followed later perhaps by works like Panchatantra, Hitopadesa, etc.
Samkhya philosophy has been dealt with at some length because ignorance is the root cause of misfortune. An ignorant man can never achieve moksha. Therefore, knowledge is of primary importance. In this Parva we find the Samkhya theories of Devala and Panchasikha, a detailed delineation of the cosmic principles by Yagyavalkya to Janaka and also discussions on concepts like avyakta, gyana, buddhi, manas, mahat, ahamkara, prakriti, pancha-bhuta, vikaras – the twenty-four principles later modified to twenty-five and then to twenty-six, in short. Panchasikha of course had thirty-one principles in his conceptualisation. It assumes the three gunas and that everyone comes under the influence of these. Therefore, Samkhya basically emphasises that renunciation and knowledge of all these principles are necessary preconditions for obtaining moksha. Dharmadhvaja-Janaka says to Sulabha, disciple of the Samkhya philosopher, Panchasikha,
“…renunciation is the supreme
means for this moksha and
indeed from knowledge is born renunciation
…That supreme intelligence obtained, I
free of opposites,
here indeed, delusion gone, move free of attachment.”
Though this is the basic tenet of samkhya, interestingly Sulabha takes this far deeper in response to his question, who she was and from where she had come, saying,
“Who I am, whose I am, from where I have
come, you asked me.
…If you are free from dualities of
“This is mine,” perhaps
“This is not mine,” O ruler of Mithila,
then what need of
words like, “Who are you? Whose? From where?”
She goes on to deliver a very lengthy lecture on Panchasikha’s Samkhya, saying,
“Not attached am I to my own body.
…Not, surely, did you hear the entire moksha
with its means,its Upanishad, its adjuncts
and its conclusions.”
For Sulabha, nothing is one’s own. One’s self is part of the same self in any other body which is composed of the elements that revert to the unmanifest source. For Asita Devala the ultimate goal is Ananda in the state of Brahman.
Yoga is a necessary addendum of Samkhya. Mahabharata describes two kinds of yoga: the Raudra and the Vedic ashtanga, laying down the rules of diet etc., and the methods of attaining ultimate bliss. Samkhya gives knowledge and Yoga, health. Through Samkhya one attains knowledge and through Yoga one attains direct perception. According to the epic, both are complementary and both are equally efficacious.
In course of the Brahmanisation of the epic, many stories were added almost deifying the Brahmins. But the epic still reflected thoughts displaying a great extent of catholicity. One becomes a Brahmin not by birth but by his gunas, qualities and consequent karma, not by birth. In the Vana Parva Nahusha tells Yudhishthira,
“Truth, self-control and charity,
and the practice of dharma –
not caste and not family –
are the means to perfection.” (Vana Parva, 181-42/43).
The Gita displays similar catholicity and the same generosity is displayed in the Mokshadharma Parva too. Having described the characteristics of variousgunas, Bhrigu tells Bharadvaja,
“If these characteristics exist in
a shudra and
they are not in a twice-born Brahmin,
that Shudra is
indeed no Shudra and that Brahmin is
not a Brahmin.” (Shanti Parva, 189.8)
That is the reason why even in a strong Brahmin-dominated society this Parvacelebrates non-Brahmins like Sulabha the Kshatriya, Pingala the prostitute, Tuladhara the merchant, etc. and bestows great wisdom on them.
In fact, a major part of the Gita is included in the Mokshadharma Parvadhyaya. The concepts of Karmayoga, Gyanayoga, Rajayoga, etc are more or less covered in this Parva and though Bhakti is not specifically mentioned, it flows as an undercurrent through the Parva. Many of the protagonists mention bhakti in passing as an essential element for achieving success. The resplendent Bhagwan appeared before Narada and told him that the maha-rishis Ekata, Dvita and Trita craved for his darshan, but
“They were unable to see me. None can
see me save those
excellent ones exclusively devoted
to me, and indeed you
believe in the ultimate.”
Bhishma’s total surrender to Krishna is sufficient to indicate that Bhakti was never far from his thought process.
While going through Bhattacharya’s translation, two things appear to be worthy of specific note, viz., the emergence of Shiva and the Nara-Narayana duo as important deities in this Parva in the Krishna-dominated epic. Though we have seen Shiva earlier in the Samudra-manthana (Adi Parva), Kirata and Arjuna episodes (Vana Parva) and the Ashvatthama-Shiva encounter (Sauptika Parva), it is in this Parva that Shiva gets his due place as a principal deity. In the story of Vritra, it is Shiva who infects Vritra with fever and empowers Indra with his energy which enables Indra to slay Vritra. This is immediately followed by the Daksha-sacrifice episode in which Shiva creates Virabhadra and Parvati, Bhadrakali, born of her anger. The two together destroy the sacrifice. Most importantly, at the conclusion of the sacrifice Shiva, who till now was not entitled to a divine share in sacrifices, a mark of godhood, becomes entitled and consequently gets recognition as a deity. Daksha sang a paean to Shiva describing his greatness and reciting his one hundred and eight names. In the Shukracharya episode Kubera approaches Shiva requesting him to recover his wealth from the usurper, Shukracharya. Shiva subdues Shukracharya in the most interesting manner, confirming his divine powers. In the story of Shuka, Vyasa himself prays to Shiva for a son, as pure as the five elements. By Shiva’s boon Vyasa gets Shuka as his son.
The Supreme Soul Narayana incarnated in four parts as Dharma’s sons, Nara, Narayana, Hari and Krishna. Of these, Nara and Narayana performed severe ascesis in Badrikashrama where Narada met them. To behold Narayana’s original form Narada, with the permission of Nara and Narayana, went to Shvetadvipa where he met the divine inhabitants, supermen who were totally dedicated to Narayana. Narayana was pleased to appear before him in his cosmic form. Some scholars locate Shvetadvipa somewhere near Egypt or Asia Minor and claim that the legend is influenced by Christian thought. Winternitz however says, “In my opinion, the description of Shvetadvipa…does not remind us of the Christian Eucharist, but of heavenly regions such as Vaikuntha, Goloka, Kailasa and the Sukhavati paradise of Buddha Amitava (History of Indian Literature, Vol. 1, p 440).”
However, Narayana goes on to describe his characteristics, incarnations and activities which involve removal of evil and establishment of good, etc. During that dialogue he mentions that when he, with Arjuna, destroys the Kshatriyas in Kurukshetra, it will be said that Nara and Narayana destroyed the Kshatriyas. So, Nara and Narayana are incarnations of the Supreme Soul and, therefore, gods. To establish that concept on firm footing, the duo are depicted as defeating Shiva-Rudra in a battle. Narada returned to Badrikashrama, spent a thousand years there and worshipped Nara-Narayana. Since then Nara and Narayana are worshipped as gods.
At the end of it all, Yudhishthira asks his last question of MokshadharmaParvadhyaya:
“Grandfather, the dharma relating to
moksha-dharma you have stated. The best
dharma for those
in the ashramas, pray tell me, Sir!”
In fact, that was his first question too! Bhishma then proceeds to tell him the story of the Brahmin Dharmaranya and the Naga chief Padmanabha. The Brahmin faced a dilemma: there are so many dharmas; for moksha, which one should he follow? Padmanabha told him the story of the Brahmin who obtained moksha by unchhavritti, gleaning, once again by the grace of Shiva. The Brahmin’s doubts were removed and he took up unchhavritti. Unchhavritti seems to be the favourite option for Vyasa as through it all the behavioural parameters for mokshacan be achieved. He not only ends the Shanti Parva with such a story but also the Ashvamedhika Parva. There, too, another Brahmin attains moksha by practicingunchhavritti.
But all of Bhishma’s wise discourses fall on deaf ears. Yudhishthira is not fully convinced and tells Bhishma, “You have described to me many fine tenets by which to obtain peace. But even after listening to all of it attentively, I am not getting peace.” So, Bhishma continues with the Anushasana Parva. But that is another story.
The most important quality of any translation is its readability and authenticity. Most translations suffer from the use of extraneous verbiage and loss of material. Bhattacharya has very carefully avoided these traps. He has stuck to the text diligently. Moreover, he has managed to communicate the content and meaning of the concepts, which are, to say the least, very difficult to comprehend. One can move easily with the easy flow of language of the text. Bhattacharya has worked hard indeed to bring Mokshadharma to the readers’ easy comprehension.
The second quality that strikes one is the excellent poetry of Bhattacharya. It is rich yet simple. The reader never stumbles as he goes along. The use of rhetoric is fetching. It has the easy flow of a river and the cadence of raindrops and that is what makes the translation so attractive. Consider just one stanza,
“Wrapped in many-fold threads of delusion
as a silk-worm envelopes itself, you
do not understand.” (329.28)
Also, it must be remembered that Bhattacharya is the first scholar who has translated the Mokshadharma Parva in verse.
Lastly, the depth of research that has gone into this translation is amazing. He has gone through so many other editions, viz., the Mahabharat of Haridas Siddhantabagish, the Critical edition of BORI, K.M.Ganguly’s English translation, Kaliprasanna Singha’s Bengali translation, the Southern recension, etc. The additional stories and verses that he found have been included in the translation, justifying Prof. Lal’s objective of providing the reader with a “full ragbag version”. The additional stories that he has included are two from the Southern recension (Narada and Rishi story), four from Haridas Siddhantabagish (Nibandhana-Bhogavati, Narada, Garuda and Kapila-Asuri) and many verses not found in the Gorakhpur edition. This has given the book the kind of comprehensiveness which even Prof. Lal did not achieve.
Now a few words about the annexures. The map of India at the time of Mahabharata gives us the location of all the principal monarchies in the country. Similarly, the map of Aryavarta gives us a detailed description of the places and kingdoms in the northern part of India where the main events of the epic took place. These are very informative and help us to visualise the events as they occur while reading the text.
The production of the book is excellent. The readers will be pleased to see that Writers Workshop continues Prof. Lal’s innovation of handloom sari-bound production with gold-lettering in his unique calligraphy. In his own words, “Gold-embossed, hand-stitched, hand-pasted and hand-bound by Tulamiah Mohiuddin with handloom sari cloth woven and designed in India, to provide visual beauty and the intimate texture of book-feel…Each WW publication is a hand-crafted artifact.” Happily, it still is.
What makes the reviews penned by Bhattacharya most interesting is his frequent references to characters and events from folk literature, literature of other Indian languages and world literature, which he uses to draw comparisons. Comparing Karna with Achilles (Iliad) and Edmund (King Lear), reference to Karna in Gujarati songs, comparing and contrasting Hecuba and Gandhari, reference to the works of Hiltebeitel and Fitzgerald, Haribhadra’s Jain text, the text engraved on the Garuda pillar of Heliodorus, David’s lament, Deor’s Lament, reference to Arthashastra and various Dharmashastras etc are fascinating. Besides enriching the knowledge of the reader, these make the reviews multi-hued, enhancing the readability level manifold.
The Mahabharata, like the ocean, hides many gems in its huge bulk, generally not available in the popular editions offered in the market. It requires deep insight and study to find them. Bhattacharya has these in good measure. He has brought out information not easily perceived by the reader. Karna, considered “the never-retreating hero” by Dhritarashtra, who haunted Yudhishthira wherever he went and of whom Krishna himself was apprehensive, actually fled the field thrice during Drona’s command, was knocked unconscious by Yudhishthira and Bhima and mangled and dazed by Abhimanyu’s arrows during the war. Even before that he was bested by the Gandharvas in the Vana Parva and by Arjuna in the VirataParva. In Vana Parva he becomes infused with the Asura Naraka and in the Tullala songs of Kerala he is the demon Sahasrakavacha reincarnated! Chitrangada is actually a Pandya (not Manipur) princess in the Southern recension. Interestingly, in the epic the slayer of Mahishasura is Skanda, not Durga. We also are informed about a mini-myth of Shiva engaging Parashurama to annihilate the Daityas. We come to know that Karna was 168-finger length taller than Arjun. Bhattacharya has also identified the possible interpolations at various places of the Parvas reviewed. No one really knows who slew Abhimanyu. Bhattacharya informs that Sudarshana, son of Duhshasana, slew him. He points out how Vidura’s concept of the dama-tyaga-apramada triad forms the basis of Buddhist teaching. Even though Yudhisthira fears Karna and is angry with him for his misconduct, his anger strangely dissipates when he looks at Karna’s feet because they resemble Kunti’s! Sibling instinct? Or an interpolated afterthought?
Some of us may feel somewhat uneasy to know that cow-slaughter in honour of a special guest is a Vedic practice and King Rantideva killed 20000 cows to feed guests. We also are informed by Bhattacharya that the insect that bores through Karna’s thigh resulting in Parashuram’s curse, is in fact the demon Damsha cursed by Bhrigu for raping his wife. Administrative policies appear to be both catholic and practical. Shudras could hold the exalted position of a minister and daughters could become the ruler if and when necessary. Lying, prohibited in the Gita, is permitted to save a life, for sake of one’s guru, to win over a woman and to arrange a marriage. Krishna’s lament giving vent to his frustrations over the despicable behaviour of his kith and kin is another unknown but moving vignette Bhattacharya draws our attention to. The most telling observation however comes in the last review (on Rajadharma) in which Bhishma equates the ruler with Fire, Sun, Death, Yama and Vaishravana. The ruler must have the qualities of these gods. As Bhattacharya says, “There is more than enough guidance available here (Bhishma’s advice in Shanti Parva) for our own times – provided we are interested.” He has also underlined Prof. Lal’s philosophy reflected in the Introduction to the Shanti Parva, his last transcreation, where he explains the implication of Chaturvarga: Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha. Each of these have two distinct alternatives, individual and universal. Which one should be chosen? “…it is our disciplined choice that changes one into the other.” Says Prof. Lal. How true!
The reviews of Bhattacharya have these and many more insights. These make the reading informative as well as interesting. After reading these the reader will no doubt wish to read the text and find out for himself.
The only problem I perceived was the inclusion of what Bhattacharya calls “memorable shlokas”. These cause the reader to stumble; he must pause and try to read and comprehend, which causes a break in the continuous reading. These perhaps were not really needed. Also, while discussing the appearance of Karna on the Bengali stage (review of Karna Parva), he could have mentioned Buddhadev Basu’s remarkable play, “Pratham Partha”. However, these are minor issues. In short, Dr. Bhattacharya, a difficult and colossal job, well done!
The Spitzer manuscript, a highly-fragmented Sanskrit manuscript discovered in Qizil in Eastern Turkestan, does not have the Virata and Anushasana Parvas. Most probably, the texts of these two parvas were included in the preceding Vanaand Shanti Parvas. That appears to be logical since the story of the secretly-lived one year, the Virata Parva, is just a part of the Pandavas’ stipulated period of exile (the Vana Parva) while the Anushasana Parva, Bhishma’s continued instruction of Yudhishthira, is merely an extension of the Shanti Parva. We hope Bhattacharya will go on to complete his guru’s project by translating the Anushasana Parva too. Having done the Mokshadharma, it should not be difficult for him at all.
(A shorter version was published in The Sunday Statesman’s literary supplement 8th Day on 25 December 2016.)
The Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India by Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak, David Frawley, MLBD 2005.
History begins at Sumer was the title of S.N. Kramer’s major work (1965) which reflects the prevalent view fostered by the West, that civilization – life in cities – first began in Mesopotamia. Over three decades later in BBC’s superb TV series LEGACY  Michael Wood put forward the same idea: the first city in the world was Eridu in Sumer. As though the Harappa Culture had not happened! No wonder Geoffrey Bibby in his Looking for Dilmun described the Indus Valley civilization as “the Cinderella of the ancient world”.
At long last a historian of religion, a professor of computer engineering and a vedic scholar have joined together to present a contrary thesis at significant length, showing that civilization began in the Indian subcontinent with what is popularly known as the Indus Valley Civilization, which they correctly rephrase as the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization. This Harappan world covered around three hundred thousand square miles with over 2,500 settlements found so far. Stretching from Afghanistan in the north to Godavari river in the south and from the Indus in the west to the Gangetic plains in the east, its size exceeds the combined area occupied by the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations and is much older, going back to the town of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan [c. 6500 BC].
Mehrgarh disproves Gordon Childe’s concept of a Neolithic revolution followed by an urban revolution, because here already in the beginning of the Neolithic age we have a large town, the largest in the ancient world, covering over 168 acres, five times the size of the contemporary Catal Huyuk site in Turkey which has been called the largest Neolithic site in the Near East. In comparison, the entire population of Egypt was around 30,000 persons around 6000 BC, around the same as of Mehrgarh alone! And this is two thousand years before Sumer. There is no break in cultural developments from Mehrgarh to Harappa to modern India—here we have proof of the oldest living civilization in the world.
To substantiate their thesis, after establishing the Vedas as the key to understanding the world-view of ancient India, the authors concentrate in the first half of the book on demolishing the myth of the Aryan invasion and proceed to present the advanced Harappan civilization citing major tectonic changes as the cause of the abandonment of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. In the second part, they discuss the cultural and spiritual legacy of ancient India to highlight not only the profound spirituality but also how ritual gave birth to science, particularly mathematics and astronomy. The work concludes with a presentation of the perennial wisdom of the Vedas, asserting its relevance for saving mankind from rushing lemming-like to its own destruction and for enabling man to realise the potential that lies at the core of his being.
The authors have to be complimented for pointing out that the prevalent belief regarding the age of the Vedas as between 1200 and 1000 BC is based purely upon an ad hoc pronouncement by Max Muller despite his admission in his last work  that the date could as well be 1500 as 15,000 BC! They proceed to show how the word “Aryan” has been twisted to provide a racial connotation that it never had (notably by Gordon Childe), paving the way for fascist racism. In Darius’ cuneiform inscription of 520 BC he alludes to making “the writing of a different sort in Aryan, which did not exist before”, thus giving it a secondary meaning of language. Colin Renfrew has recently reasserted this. Originally the word “arya” referred to a quality of character: nobility, and “arya-varta” meant the abode of noble people.
This book is one of the first to highlight the little known metal artifact carbon-dated to 3700 BC of a head with moustache and hair coiled with a tuft on the right that has been given the name, “Vasishtha Head”, now reposing in the Hicks Foundation for Cultural Preservation in San Francisco. Pointing out the remarkable accuracy of the weights found in the Harappan sites that follow a binary system up to 12,800 units, and the meticulous geometric layout of the towns, they bring home how scholars have neglected this evidence of scientific knowledge on part of Neolithic humanity. They list as many as 17 arguments to disprove Mortimer Wheeler’s melodramatic scenario of Aryan hordes destroying these cities. The Rig Veda celebrates the seven rivers, specially Sarasvati, which precedes the mythical Aryan invasion of 1200 BC by many centuries. Astronomical configurations are mentioned that could have occurred only between 2000 and 6000 BC. The Brahmanas and Aranyakas also belong to the third millennium BC.
Most important is the fact that the archaeologically established chronology for the cities shows them abandoned far before the alleged attacks in 1500-1200 BC. Just as tectonic changes led to the sudden collapse of the Akkadian empire after Manishtusu (2307-2292 BC), the death of the Bronze Age city of Tiryns in Turkey and of Troy (level VI) and the devastation of the Minoan civilization in Crete in about 1250 BC, so the Indian plate pushing into Asia was responsible for the abandonment of sites like Mohenjo Daro following the drying up of the Sarasvati River and its tributaries (the river had changed its course at least four times) and the emergence of the Kashmir valley. That is why the Indians migrated eastwards to the Yamuna-Ganga valley, a hint of which is in the Shatapatha Brahmana (1900 BC) that speaks of the conquest of the swampy area east of the Ganga by Mathava Videgha. The Vedic people were also seafaring merchants, as there is mention of sea travel in many hymns, and not just cattle breeding nomads as the invasion model asserts. Seals dated to about 2400 BC found in the Middle East substantiate this. The standard weights of Harappa were used in Bahrain (Dilmun), an inscription in Harappan script has been found on the Oman coast and it is possible that the Mesopotamian Meluha refers to Harappa. The authors very convincingly argue that the allegedly separate Vedic and Harappan cultures are actually the same Indus-Sarasvati civilization and its script is the origin of the Brahmi lipi.
The excellent analysis of data from the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh points out the use of the potter’s wheel, bow drills and domestication of cattle in the early fourth millennium, much before the so-called invasion. There is a direct development from Mehrgarh to Mohenjo Daro and the Rig Veda. The arguments could have been even stronger if the authors had cared to consult K.D. Sethna’s very important book,Karpasa in Prehistoric India (Biblia Impex 1984). Cotton finds mention in the earliest Sutras but is absent from the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas. Hence, if the Rigvedic people came after the Harappans, how can they be ignorant of cotton? Similarly, rice is not known to the Rigveda and the Avesta, while it is present in several Harappan sites within and outside the Indus valley. Therefore, the Rigveda has to precede the Harappan Culture. Silver is known from 4000 BC only, and is not found in this Veda, which must therefore antedate it. Sethna’s Problem of Aryan Origins (Aditya Prakashan, 1992) provides some more clinching arguments that the authors would have done well to study: Harappan seals with evidence of spoked shells are dated to 1960 BC far before the supposed invasion which Wheeler claims to have introduced the chariot and spoked wheel; evidence of equine remains is available dated before 2000 BC and even at Hallur in Karnataka c. 1800-1500 BC. Therefore, the Aryans whom Asko Parpola and Wheeler would like to immigrate to India c.1600-1400 BC cannot have introduced the horse in the Deccan centuries before their arrival! If the horse is a conclusive sign of Aryan presence, then it is in India long before the Harappan Civilization in Neolithic sites. Moreover, a terracotta horse-like figurine with a saddle on its back has been found in Balu in the Harappan urban phase. Sethna also provides evidence, going back to much before the second millennium BC of heavy flooding of Harappan settalements, with five floods found in Mohenjo Daro itself, each lasting for several decades. Considerable rise in the coast-line of the Arabian Sea is also a geological fact he cites. Hence there is no need to posit an invading Aryan horde to demolish imaginary dams where natural forces are at work. Further, points out Sethna, if invasion came from the north, why is it southern Mohenjo Daro instead of northern Harappan sites that shows noticeable decline in material prosperity? The coup de grace is administered with evidence from undersea excavations at Dwaraka, dating the submergence to c. 1400 BC, tallying with statements in the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa. If the Kurukshetra war occurred around this time, surely the period of the Rig Veda would have to be considerably anterior to it and by no means c. 1500 BC. How could the Aryans invade just a couple of centuries before the great war? Necessarily, therefore, the Rig Veda precedes the Harappa Culture that ended around the middle of the second millennium BC.
In their presentation of the antiquity of the Indian Civilization the authors lose the advantage of brilliant research by Sethna in his Ancient India in a New Light (Aditya Prakashan, 1989) that cites convincing evidence for identifying Megasthenes’ Sandrocottus with Chandragupta of the Gupta dynasty. Megasthenes’ references point to the Bhagavata Vaisnavite cult of the Guptas and not what the Mauryas practised. The Mehrauli Iron Pillar inscription is by Sandrocottus-Chandragupta-I whose term for the invading Greeks is “Vahlika” which fills in the puzzling gap in Indian records regarding incursions by them. Scholars have blindly accepted Fleet’s chronology of Fa-Hien as visiting during the reign of Chandragupta II, though he does not mention any king and his descriptions of social conditions to not tally with the Gupta regime. Similarly, Fleet misrepresents Al-beruni’s travelogue. The Arab categorically refers to the Gupta Era as celebrating the end and not the beginning, as Fleet states, of a dynasty that had come to be hated. Fleet even conjectured Skandagupta battling the Huns though there is no such reference in the Junagadh inscription of Rudradaman-I as Sethna proves. The Ashokan monuments have affinities not with Achaemenid art but with Mesopotamia and carry on the tradition of the realistic treatment of the Indus seals, the hall at Mohenjo Daro and the high polish of Harappan jewellery. Inscriptions at Mandasor of Dattabhatta and Yasodharman are analysed by Sethna to clear many misconceptions about the date of Ashoka whom he establishes at 950 BC, with Buddha’s death in 1168 BC and Mahavira’s in 1165 BC. This would have convincingly supported the effort of the book under review to illuminate the dark backward and abysm of a critical portion of our antique time.
If the thesis the three authors have presented motivates those interested in the history of the birth of civilization to thing afresh, untrammelled by preconceptions foisted by western scholars and their Indian followers over the last hundred years, it will be a consummation devoutly to be wished.