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THE EARLY VEDIC AGE
Early Aryan Settlements
INDIA, as is well known, derives its name from the Sindhu (Indus), and the earliest civilisation of this country of which we have any definite trace had its cradle in the valley of the same river. We have seen in the last chapter that excavations at several places in the lower part of the valley have laid bare the ruins of well built cities, and seals surprisingly similar to those discovered at Eshnunna, Kish and Ur in Mesopotamia, and assigned by archaeologists to the third millennium BC., have been found. The identity of the originators of this early Indus culture is uncertain. They appear to have professed a religion that was iconic and laid emphasis on the worship of the Mother-Goddess and a male deity who seems to have been the prototype of Siva. The phallic cult was prevalent, but fire-pits were conspicuous by their absence.
Far different is the picture of another civilisation which had its principal home higher up the Indus valley. The people who evolved this culture called themselves Aryas or Aryans. Their earliest literature makes no reference to life in stately cities comparable to those whose remains have been unearthed at Harappa God mitraand Mohenjo-Daro. Their religion was normally aniconic, and in their pantheon the female element was subordinated to the male, and the place of honour was given to deities like Indra, Varuna, Mitra, the Nasatyas, Surya, Agni (Fire) and other supernal beings who seem to have been quite unknown to the originators of the “Indus” culture as described in the last chapter. Unfortunately, the early literature of the Aryas-called the Veda-cannot be dated even approximately, and it is impossible to say with absolute precision in what chronological relation the civilisation portrayed in the Veda stood to the “Indus” culture of the third millennium BC. Max Muller hesitatingly placed the beginning of the Vedic literature in the latter half of the second millennium BC. Tilak and Jacobi, on the other hand, tried to push the date much farther back on astronomical grounds. But, as pointed out by several Indologists, astronomical calculations prove nothing unless the texts in question admit of unambiguous interpretation. Tilak himself points out how unsafe it is to act upon calculations based on loose statements in literature regarding the position of the heavenly bodies.
In the chaotic state of early Aryan chronology, it is a welcome relief to turn to Asia Minor and other countries in Western Asia and find in certain tablets of the fourteenth century BC., discovered at Boghaz Keui and other places, references to kings who bore Aryan names and invoked the gods Indra, Mitra, Varuna and the Nasatyas to witness and safeguard treaties. It is certain that the tablets belong to a period in the evolution of the Aryan religion when Indra, Varuna, and the other gods associated with them, still retained their early Vedic pre-eminence and had not yet been thrown into the shade by the Brahmanic Prajapati or the epic and Puranic Trimurti.
Did the worshippers of Indra go from an earlier home in the Indus valley to Asia Minor or was the process just the reverse of this? In this connection it is interesting to note that in one passage of the Rig-Veda a worshipper invokes from his pratna okas, or ancient abode, the god Indra whom his ancestors formerly invoked. We are also told that Yadu and Turvasa, two among the most famous Rig-Vedic tribes, were brought by Indra from a distant land. The former is in several passages brought into special relation with Pasu or Parsu, a name borne by the ancient people of Persia. The latter took part in a conflict with a king who is styled a Parthava, a name that reminds us of Iran and is comparable to Parsu mentioned in connection with the Yadus. If the name Hariyupiya, which is the designation of a river or a city according to the commentators, and is associated with the mysterious people called Vrichivats who “broke the sacrificial vessels”, can be connected with Harappa, as has already been suggested by some, we have here an interesting glimpse of a period when that great centre of early Indus civilisation formed a battle-ground of fierce invaders exulting in the worship of Indra, clad in coats of mail (varminah) and possessed of “prancing horses”, both of which the warriors of the lower Indus culture possibly lacked.
The Indra-worshipping tribes seem to have been divided into two rival groups. One of these included the Srinjayas and their allies the Bharatas, both lauded by the priestly family of the Bharadvajas. To the other group belonged the Yadus, Turvasas, Druhyus, Anus and Purus who are found frequently in alliance with indigenous tribes. The first two tribes of the second group are branded as Dasas in one passage of the Rig-Veda, and of the remaining three, the Purus are styled mridhravachah, “of hostile speech “, an epithet otherwise applied only to the non-Aryan Dasyus.
Distinct from both these Indra-worshipping groups were the Dasas proper or Dasyus, a dark-skinned, flat-nosed race who spoke a tongue unintelligible to the Aryans, possessed forts and herds of cattle coveted by the new-comers, despised the sacrificial religion of the latter and possibly worshipped the phallus. This latter characteristic connects them with the men who evolved the prehistoric civilisation of the lower Indus valley.
It may be that the folk (jana) of the Bharatas represents an Aryan stock altogether different from that of the Yadu group. The memory of the migration of the Bharatas is not distinctly preserved in any of the hymns, while Yadus and Turvasas are expressly mentioned as new arrivals. In the Rig-Veda Brahma princes are found sacrificing on the Drishadvati, the Sarasvati and the Apaya, all rivers in the western part of the Madhya-desa, far away from the north-west frontier. It is interesting to note that they are specially associated with the cult of Agni, the Fire-God, a deity conspicuous by his absence in the Boghaz Keui records of the fourteenth century BC., and of whose worship no traces are found in the early ruins of Mohenjo-Daro.
The Bharatas were at first admittedly inferior to their foes and were “shorn of their possessions … but Vasishtha became their family priest, and the people of the Tritsus prospered.” Tritsu seems to have been the name of the ruling dynasty of the Bharatas, the most famous representatives of which were Divodasa and his son or grandson Sudas. Opposed to the Tritus and the allied tribe of the Srinjayas stood the Yadus, Turvasas, Druhyus, Anus and Purus.
It is clear that the Bharatas and their allies did not like the idea of being permanently “shorn of their possessions” by their enemies. The result was that the two rival groups of tribes engaged in a deadly struggle with one another. In one of these contests the Srinjayas scattered the forces of the Turvasas and their allies the Vrichivats. In another and a more famous conflict, known as the Battle of the Ten Kings, Sudas, the Tritsu king, defeated the hostile tribes, who were joined on the river Parushni (Ravi) by the Sivas, Pakthas and associate tribes from the north-west. The Bharatas now definitely established their preeminence among the Aryan folks, and a late Vedic text-the Satapatha Brahmana-refers to an old gatha which describes ” the greatness of the Bharatas neither the men before nor those after them attained.”
More important than the internal conflicts of the Aryans were their struggles with the non-Aryans, which gradually led to a considerable extension of the Aryan dominion towards the east. To Divodasa belongs the credit of fighting against a Dasa chieftain named Sambara. His policy was continued by Sudas who crushed a hostile combination of indigenous tribes on the bank of the Jumna. Under the guidance of a priest named Visvamitra, the Bharatas even seem to have entertained designs against the Kikatas, a non-Aryan people traditionally associated with South Bihar. In the campaign against the Dasas, the Bharatas were ably seconded by their rivals the Purus, one of whose kings bore the significant name of Trasadasyu, i.e. “terror to the Dasyus.”
The geographical area eventually occupied by the Rig-Vedic tribes is clearly indicated by the mention of certain rivers which permit of easy identification. The most important among these are the Kubha, (Kabul), the Suvastu (Swat), the Krumu (Kurram), the Gomati (Gumal), the Sindhu (Indus), the Sushoma (Sohan), the Vitasta (Jhelum), the Asikni (Chenab), the Marudvridha, (Maruwardwan), the Parushni (Ravi), the Vipas (Bias), the Sutudri (Sutlej), the Sarasvati, the Drishadvati (the Rakshi or Chitang), the Jumna, the Ganga and the Sarayu. The mention of these rivers implies the possession by the Aryans of a considerable portion of the country stretching from eastern Afghanistan to the upper valley of the Ganges. The major part of this area came to be known as Sapta Sindhu-the Land of the Seven Rivers. The whole of this extensive tract of land could not have been occupied entirely by Aryan tribes, because we hear also of the clans (Visah) of the Dasas who must have occupied some part at least of this territory, and whose supersession in any case must have been a slow and gradual process. Moreover, vast tracts of country were still covered with forest (aranyani) or were altogether barren, containing only a few wells (prapa) here and there.