Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Origins of Indian thought: Chapter 4 — excerpts

When this expansion of the universe is traced backwards in time, we arrive at the conclusion that at one point, the entire universe must have been contracted to a point. This point is named a "singularity". Physicists do not know anything of what happened at the time of the explosion, but they have been able to form a number of theories regarding the manner in which the universe would have expanded –for example, what would have been the nature of the initial gases and so on.

It is important to understand that the big bang does not mean matter expanding to fill an empty universe; rather, it is the expansion of the universe itself, along with space and time, which are the real agents of the expansion. Before that, there was no universe, only the singularity. Hence, there is no central point in the universe as the site of the explosion. All the points in the universe are moving away from each other, as if new space is being generated everywhere. This is compared to the surface of a balloon being blown up, in which two points drawn anywhere on it will always be separating, without any points approaching each other. It is impossible to conceive in our minds what all this actually means and we cannot form any corresponding analogy. It must remain a theoretical conception beyond our imagination.

Why did only one species develop intelligence, and why did the other primates (and in fact all other species) remain so atrophied in their intelligence? The answer is probably that intelligence does not automatically guarantee better survival. Many experiments as well as anecdotal stories prove that gorillas and chimpanzees have quite a high degree of intelligence, equal to that of a four-year-old child. But this has not helped them in dominating their environment in the wild in terms of ensuring a better food supply, better shelter, or protection. Their survival capabilities are not much better than other animals in their environment. Intelligence is not a homogenous factor but comprises a number of skills such as memory, increased motor skills, communication, and imagination. All the different skills are interconnected and need to be equally developed before they begin to have an effect.

Hence, there is probably a threshold level that intelligence has to cross before it actually helps in survival, and once this threshold is crossed, intelligence becomes a real factor and begins to develop rapidly. In humans, perhaps this threshold was crossed in a particular field by, say, improved communication skills through better vocalization, and it would have been only when this particular skill had developed that development in other fields suchas increased memory would begin to help. Thus, once the threshold was crossed with any one skill, it would start off a cascade of development of intelligence as a whole. In other animals, this chance event of an isolated skill crossing the threshold never happened, and so the whole cascade never took off.

The Bronze Age represented a coming of age for humanity, and it marked the end of years of semi-wild existence and the beginning of the sophisticated culture, language, and wisdom of human civilization. The Bronze Age is one of the most intriguing passages of human history. The civilizations of this age still retained contact with the most ancient traditions of nature worship, and subscribed to many mysterious rites and rituals. At the same time, they appear to have been very advanced in some areas of their knowledge and left us beguiling archaeological wonders and literary achievements whose full significance is not yet known. Another surprising aspect is the apparent interconnections of these civilizations. The Bronze Ages left us Stonehenge in Britain, the pyramids in Egypt, the Vedas and the Indo-Saraswati cities in India, the temples in Mesopotamia, and legends of Minotaurs and magic in Aegean Greece. Other strange remains are the huge stone faces of the Cook Islands and the much later Mayan civilization.

The baffling nature of these remains, the almost superhuman technology that many of them must have needed and that seems to have been lost in the subsequent Iron Ages, and, most importantly, the apparent close links that existed between different civilizations at that time that are only being discovered now, present a beguiling mystery and have given rise to a number of legends, including that of Atlantis, to explain it.

It was probably during this period that the source of all Hindu thought, the Vedas, were composed, but this is still controversial. All Hindus today trace their roots to these Vedas, but in modern historical interpretation, there are two opposing views regarding the people, the time of their composition and the geographical site. This controversy, ironically, has nothing to do with India itself but arose from a vicious theory that had its origin in Europe and which gave rise to the calamitous events of World War 2. This is the theory of Aryanism, that a race called Aryans spread and conquered the whole world around 1500 BC, and all modern culture originated from them. It arose from a twisted reconstruction of Indian and European history by Europeans when they first came across the Vedas.

It is surprising now to think that before the eighteenth century, the word ‘Aryan’ was unknown in Europe. The only people who called themselves Aryan were Indians. The Persians of old in Iran had also called themselves Aryan, but after their conversion to Islam this became a forgotten part of their history. When the Vedas and other Sanskrit texts were first translated into European languages around the 1750’s, many were amazed by the richness revealed in them. It was soon realised that there was great deal in common between Sanskrit and Latin, and the theory arose that the two languages had developed from a common source.

For a time, this source was believed to be India itself, and thinkers of that time like Voltaire began to consider India as their ancient motherland and the source of all the wisdom of European civilisation. But around the beginning of the nineteenth century, this interpretation began to change. This was brought about mainly due to a rise of ultra nationalism among German philosophers. The common language theory was carried forward to mean a common race too, but it was twisted around so that the Germans became the true Aryans, and Indians, ironically, became a side branch of this master race, although till a few years previously Germans had hardly known the word which in India was an ancient birthright.

A German scholar, Max Mueller, had concluded from a rather nonsensical study of the differences in the parts of the Vedas that Sanskrit had originated around 1500 BC. This became a part of the lore of the master race to give rise to the Aryan theory in its full glory, the master race which conquered the world in 1500 BC, and gave rise to a new world.

The distinguishing features of this race was of course their anatomical features, which came to represent the type of white, tall and blonde people. The Aryans were also supposedly characterised by the use of horses, and along with their use of iron in arrows and spears, the final image was of these warlike people conquering the Bronze Age world on their horses and chariots with iron weapons, thus bringing in the tougher, more ‘masculine’ Iron age in their wake. These people supposedly set up the Indian, the Greek and the Persian civilisations and hence were the originators of the world civilisation of today.

This was now used to interpret Indian history, and the Vedas became the literature of this master race that entered India in 1500BC. When the archaeological remains of an ancient Bronze Age civilisation in India from around 3500 BC to 2000 BC were discovered, the Indo–Saraswati civilisation, this was fitted into the theory to show that this civilisation had been an old degenerate Bronze age civilisation which was conquered by the victorious Aryans. Only the later Gangetic civilisation, around 1000 BC, was considered to be a true Aryan civilisation.

This interpretation of the Vedic people was quite alien to the Indians. The Indians had always called themselves Aryans, and all their understanding of the Vedas, their ancient myths, songs and culture had always told them that it was in this land that they had been settled since times immemorial, and here that the Vedas were composed. The Indo–Saraswati civilisation which shows a civilisation of numerous cities with kings and priests conforms to the legends of sages, kings and priests of Vedic lore. Because of some environmental factors, mainly the drying up of the Saraswati river, the Indo–Saraswati civilisation had to be abandoned to give rise to the Gangetic civilisation which conforms to the Puranic and epic times. But the people would still carry with them the memory of their simple and grand civilisation. This is how most Indians still understand their history, even when they have been taught otherwise in schools and colleges.

The Aryan theory, on the other hand, made the Vedic people (the people described in the Vedas) into a nomadic semi-barbaric people who composed the Vedas in an alien land and whose contact with India began only much later. The Vedic culture therefore is not one grown organically in the present homeland of Hindus, and Indians of today are only a mixture of Aryans or the ‘pure’ Vedic people and the tribes they defeated.

The Gods possessed the wealth bestowing Agni.
Praise him, ye Aryan folk, as chief performer of sacrifice,
Adored and ever toiling,
Well-tended, Son of Strength, the Constant Giver.

(Rig Veda, 1.96.)

The Aryan invasion/migration theory is so riddled with aberrations that no historian today outside of India will extend full hearted support to it. It is ironic that while everywhere else, the Aryan theory is considered a fascist theory, in India it is just the reverse and it is the leftists who support it and those who oppose it are called fascists. In the first place, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever of such a movement of people into India at that time. When there is any significant movement of people, they always leave behind signs such as new styles of pottery, shelters, ornaments, etc. but there are no such remains at all in India. The Aryan theory mainly counted on an interpretation of the writings of the Vedas, but this interpretation has been roundly challenged and its mistakes shown up. The various passages which were once quoted in support of an invasion have been quite logically shown to have other interpretations as well.

For example, the descriptions of pastoral life in the earliest Vedas could just as well be that of the pre-urban phase of the cities, the fights between dasas and Aryans could as well be fights between the city dwellers of the Indo-Saraswati and the surrounding tribesmen or even between different cities, etc. Another important point is that virtually everything mentioned in the Vedas, the bull-worship, fire altars, etc. have been found in the cities of the Indo-Saraswati period and an impartial view should have no difficulty in identifying the descriptions of the cities in the hymns.

Another clinching piece of evidence is the discovery fairly recently of a dry bed of a very large river, parts of which are still known as Saraswati, and the discovery of numerous cities of that period on its banks. The Vedas do not mention the Ganges and its chief rivers are the Indus and the Saraswati. It is apparent that this fits in very nicely with the Indo-Saraswati civilisation being the Vedic civilisation. This river has been shown geologically to have dried up around 2000 BC and it was this perhaps that compelled the people to move into the Ganga valley. The Aryans, who are supposed to have come in at 1500 BC, would have found only a dry bed. It takes a very dogmatic mind to believe that they would compose the hymns of the Vedas in praise of a dry river!

There are many other points that go against the Aryan theory. In the first place, the mythical homeland of the Aryans has not been found yet. It has been proposed in all kinds of places, ranging from central Asia to the Caspian sea, but there is no evidence, archaeological or otherwise, of such a civilisation. In fact, one theory even proposes that the earth is hollow and the Aryans came from a superior civilisation that still exists underneath our feet! Besides this, there are the usual suspects like Atlantis and space aliens. These out–of–the–way theories are just about as credible as any of the others proposed.

Again, nomadic civilisations by their very nature are thinly populated and spread out, and this means that without exception they have been found to have somewhat primitive cultures. It is very unlikely therefore that a nomadic group would develop sophisticated and multi-textured languages like Sanskrit and Latin. The theory of the Aryans being an Iron Age people who brought in iron into India would in fact contradict their being the Vedic people because most of the Vedas are quite clearly a bronze age text.

It is also ridiculous to propose that anyone would drive in in chariots over the mountain passes of Afghanistan. The one point most often quoted by Aryan theorists is the problem of horses. Horses are very frequently mentioned in the Vedas, but there is little archaeological evidence of horses in the Indo-Saraswati cities. This has been cited negatively to show that these cities cannot be those of the Vedas. It is not that no equine bones have been found, in fact they have been found in large numbers, but they have all been described by the early colonial archaeologists as 'unstratified' or 'badly recorded' or 'onager bones', the thrice condemned! This mysterious onager, or wild ass, which is very rare now, was apparently quite common then and used to wander about the cities like stray animals!

Besides, some unequivocal evidence of horses has been found in the cities, although relatively scarce. The important point is that the horse problem cuts both ways because horse bones begin to be found in significant numbers in India only around 4th century BC, thus ruling out the presence of any horse riding people before that.

The Aryan theory also had its problems in its interpretations of other histories. In Europe, the first major civilisation, the Aegean civilisation of the Greek island of Crete, was considered a non–Aryan, non–Greek speaking and Bronze Age civilisation, which was conquered by the Aryan race in 1500 BC. The difficulties associated with this have been a subject of controversy since then. There is again no archaeological evidence to show that the later Greeks were an entirely different people from the Aegeans. Besides, the script of the Greeks, linear B, is only a derivation of that of the Aegeans, and since the Greek script has been deciphered, there is no reason to doubt that the Aegean script too when it is figured out will be a Greek one.

Another problem is that posed by the Persians, who used Sanskrit as their official language and also called themselves Aryans, and appeared in Iran at the end of the Mesopotamian civilisation. It is very likely that they were the western most part of the Indo-Saraswati civilisation, since there is clear archaeological evidence of the civilisation extending through Afghanistan into Iran. They possibly moved out after wars with the mainland Indo-Saraswati cites, and it is significant that they called their gods ‘ahura’ or asura, (their god is Ahura Mazda, the 'great asura'), and their evil ones are called devas, just the opposite of the Vedas.

A better theory which corresponds to both archaeology, genetic information and literary interpretations is that the Indians and Europeans, even if they had originated from the same source, had separated a very long time back, much earlier than the bronze age, and the respective people had come into India and Greece forming the Bronze Age civilisations, the Indo-Saraswati (Vedic) and Aegean civilisations, and it was the same civilisations which developed into the Iron Age civilisations, the Gangetic and Greek ones respectively. Such a theory would agree not only with scientific evidence, but also with the myths and traditions of Indians and Greeks. The Aryan theory has already given rise to one of the saddest episodes of human history. It is vital now that this theory should be subjected to very close examination, and its truth or falsity be cleared up once and for all, so that we can once again look at our history with open minds.

The Indo-Saraswati civilisation is the first civilisation of India. It comprised of a large number of cities on the banks of the Indus and Saraswati rivers in the north-western part of India. It was a bronze age civilisation, its full development ranging from around 3500 BC to 2000BC. It was concurrent with the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Aegean civilisations. At that period, it was the largest of all its contemporary civilisations in the world in geographical extent and had the largest population as well. The civilisation is curious in character. There is none of the flamboyance that marked its contemporaries in its sculpture and design. Instead we have some very well planned cities with rows upon rows of similar brick houses set along straight streets with excellent sewage facilities and covered drains, huge granaries, common religious places with the fire altars of the Vedas and a very successful trading system. It without doubt was the most democratic and offered the greatest civic amenities to its citizens among all the civilisations of that time, which were generally characterised by palaces amidst surrounding hovels.

It was as if a very intelligent people had sat down and planned out how to build great cities that would benefit everyone, not just the rich or the rulers. Religion undoubtedly formed a very big role in this ordered society, and a large proportion of space was set aside for it. In the seals of the cities, we find all the motifs that are still a part of Hinduism now, the great Bull, the peepul tree, a man in a yogic posture, the swastika, an image of the Mother Goddess, one of Shiva, etc. The ideas and words of this ancient civilisation continue to reverberate throughout Indian society today with the strength of its simplicity and modernity.

India has always been famous for its wisdom, through the strength of its philosophical systems and theoretical science in such branches as mathematics. Travelers have come in all ages in search of this "wisdom of the East", from Pythagoras and many other Europeans to the Chinese and other Asian people. This wealth is contained in the vast ancient literature of India.

The root of all this knowledge is the Vedas. From this knowledge sprang the Puranas, the Agama texts, and the epics. Based loosely on these is a fantastic array of texts, covering every aspect of philosophical intercourse possible in its minutest details. There are also huge collections of texts covering subjects ranging from very advanced books on the sciences, such as mathematics, economics, administration, and medical and veterinary practices, to treatises on arts such as music and dance, as well as bewitching literary pieces such as plays and poetry. There are also intriguing texts like the Kama Sutra, a text on sexuality, and any number of books on magic. Much of this knowledge continues to be as relevant today as when it was first thought out.

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Index / Introduction / Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Biblio

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