India is an ancient land. Yet most of our history books do not do any justice to the antiquity of our motherland and focus merely on the political history, especially of the last 1,000 years. Pre-history is considered separate from history proper and is taught, if at all, separately along with archaeology, geology, anthropology, molecular biology and so on. All these subjects deal with history in one way or the other. But we are never presented an integrated whole.
In my opinion, school children should not be bothered only with details of Ashoka’s dhamma or Minto Morely reforms or Akbar’s day to day life or list of battles we have lost. The mere fact that Dharma still exists in India, despite so many battles we have lost, is proof that we have won much, significantly more battles than we have lost, but where is that talked about?
History has to be viewed and presented from multiple perspectives, especially when the education of impressionable young children are concerned. They should be taught geology, the history of humanity, the history of commerce, the history of science and math and so on. An all-round view needs to presented, else we will end-up with young people who either hate India or are at best indifferent to her past glory and miserable plight after 1500 years of savage invasions and being ruled by alien cultures.
This essay will thus attempt to present the history of India from multiple perspectives. It will present a sweeping canvas of Indian history from ancient times to present day in terms of migration patterns, society, culture, science, technology, mathematics, agriculture and spirituality. Before delving into the details we must understand a few concepts.
Genetics, Lineages and Haplogroups
Genetics is the study of genes, which are made of DNA, the building blocks of all living beings. It is important to understand some basic terminology so that we can appreciate the implication of many cutting edge genetic studies.
In genetic terminology, a “haplogroup” is a group of individuals that share a common ancestor with a particular genetic mutation. A haplogroup pertains to a single line of descent which typically dates back several thousand years. In other words, a haplogroup is a large, extended family or clan, all of whose members have a shared ancestry. There are two types of haplogroups: Y-chromosome (patrilineal) haplogroups, and mtDNA (matrilineal) haplogroups. Haplogroups are identified by letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, etc.) and sub-groups are denoted by letters and numbers (A1, A1a, etc.). (Chavda, 2017)
Out of Africa Theory
According to this theory, anatomically modern humans originated in Africa. Around 70,000 years ago these people colonized the Eurasian landmass. Being beachcombers they “expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe” (1). Only 50 people left Africa for India, and the rest of the world was populated out of India.
However the Out of Africa Theory does not sufficiently explain many contradictory findings. In fact there are many hard genetic and other evidence which fly directly against the face of the Out of Africa theory. However such evidence is either ignored or buried, and never cited by mainstream historians and scientists.
The issue is not so much as to what happened after say, 75,000 years ago, which is quite well documented. Rather it is the earliest human migrations and settlements, the fuzzy borderline between modern humans, archaic humans and other hominids like homo erectus, and the implication of such findings which challenges the Out of Africa model.
Aryans and Dravidians
Another important issue in the modern-day Indian context is the so-called Aryan-Dravidian divide. The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and its various avatars form the under-pinning of history of Indian-subcontinent, especially from the standpoint of South Asian specialists, linguists, Dravidian supremacists and leftist academicians. The three versions of this theory are as below.
- Aryan Invasion Theory – Invading fair-skinned central Asian migrants (barbarians) brought Vedic religion and culture to India in 1500 BCE by conquering India and subjugating the dark-skinned locals, who were most likely Dravidians.
- Aryan Migration Theory – This theory has gained currency in the last 25 years. According to this, small group of non-conquering migrants arrived in India and brought Vedic religion and culture to India in between 1700 BCE to 1400 BCE.
- Aryan Trickle-in Theory – This version has gained currency in the last decade among linguists and left historians. A few small tribes of people, from Afghanistan area, trickled-in to India from 1700 BCE and brought Vedic religion and culture to India.
This theory, in all its progressive forms, has been thoroughly discredited time and again because of the massive absence of any kind of scientific evidence of large-scale invasion or migration into India. However there is strong evidence for migration out of India from most ancient times. Moreover what started out as terms indicating two language families, Aryan and Dravidian, took racial connotations and eventually became, especially over the last 100 years, a political weapon and has been the cause of immense dispute among communities and resulted in Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu, the anti-Brahmin movement and an unnatural North-South divide in India.
With this background, let us delve right in.
Primitive man lived in central India near Narmada river basin in what is today known as Madhya Pradesh. He is referred to as Narmada Man and teams from United States and France, have identified the original Narmada skull as actually that of a human woman (“Homo Sapiens”) and not as male Homo Erectus as thought previously.
In 1982 a fossil hominid calvaria was found in a middle Pleistocene deposit in the central Narmada valley of Madhya Pradesh, India, and was assigned to the new taxon Homo erectus narmadensis. Subsequently, morphometric studies of the specimen were conducted by two separate research teams from France and the United States, both in collaboration with Indian colleagues. Results of the most recent study, which includes morphometric and comparative investigations, lead to the conclusion that “Narmada Man” is appropriately identified as Homo sapiens. (Kennedy, Sonakia, Chiment, & Verma, 1991)
An interesting find was that below the hominid fossil were found stone tools, bones of horses, boars, hippopotamus and an extinct elephant Stegodon dated anywhere between 800,000 years to 10,000 years ago. (Lal, 2016, p. 365)
It must be noted that horses became a political animal during the era of British Indology and continues to generate even today heated polemics among AIT proponents and opponents. Its absence in pre-Vedic India (before 1500 BCE), is supposed to indicate that horse-riding Central Asian Aryan’s invaded India. Yet we do have well-documented but unpublicized ancient horse remains at least 6,000 years older than the supposed AIT (considering the most unlikely conservative scenario)! In fact a much earlier date for domesticated horses in central India is known, as we will see a bit later.
Archaic humans were living as far south as what is Chennai today. A 160,000 years old skull of a 5 year old baby (Laterite Baby) was found, which was identified as (archaic) Homo Sapiens. Humans migrated from India to Zambia in south central Africa 160,000 years ago. The skull of the so-called Rhodesia Man has Taurus Angularis (part of skull bone) which is absent in all other older African skulls but is present in Narmada Man, and in all modern humans.
Narmada Man, Laterite Baby and Rhodesia Man pose serious challenge to the Out of Africa theory. If we consider the combined evidence of the above, which is hard scientific evidence, it would mean that indigenous archaic modern humans existed in India at least by 300,000 BP and were staying as far south as Chennai. Additionally as early as 160,000, an Indian had somehow migrated to central Africa and died there. Yet as per the prevailing Out of Africa Theory, modern humans originated only 80,000 years ago and migrated from Africa to India.
This could mean two things:
- Ancient humans had originated in India and had lived in India for a long time. Then somehow they all died out by 150,000 years ago. Then again they somehow evolved out of Africa, and then 50 Africans came to India, and then these Indians colonize the whole world. Or,
- Humans did indeed originate in India, and evolved to modern humans, and that there were back and forth migrations between Africa and Asia. The Out of Africa could then be a small but important part of the human journey, a sub-set of a potentially new theory and may have to be modified based on new evidence.
These are, after all, some serious questions which have significant implications as to how we view history of humans. Yet in the usual opaque way in which a politically motivated western academia works, they have simply ignored and buried any evidence which challenges the Out of Africa theory.
I leave it to you to decide which of the above conclusions seem more logical. I personally find the second alternative more convincing. In this regard, P Priyadarshi has given a compelling alternative for earlier periods which I present below. For latter periods, say after 75,000 BP, we have relied on the mainstream narrative as documented by National Geographic genographic project and Stephen Oppenheimer’s works.
Mitochondrial DNA Eve was most likely an Indian and lineages L0, L1, L2, L3, M and N all probably originated in India. In other words, anatomically modern humans originated in India and not in Africa. Then there was a migration of L0 and L1 lineages to Africa 130,000 years BP where they hybridized with a now extinct ancestor and became a different people. (Priyadarshi, 2012)
Again around 85,000 BP, another set of Indians L0 (L0a, L0k, L0d), L1, L2 and L3 (prior to split of M & N) migrated to Africa. Other Indians migrated towards South East Asia following the coast around Borneo till they reached South China.
In 74,000 BP, Mount Toba eruption occurred which covered Indian sub-continent in ash up to 5m deep. Global temperatures cooled down drastically and a “volcanic winter” was caused. Many modern humans in Indian subcontinent died of the severe cold and from resulting droughts and deforestation. L0, L1, L2 and L3, died out in India, while they continued to exist in Africa. It is believed that only 1,000 people survived in India.
According to the Toba catastrophe theory, a massive volcanic eruption changed the course of human history by severely reducing the human population. This may have occurred when around 70–75,000 years ago the Toba caldera in Indonesia underwent a category 8 or “mega-colossal” eruption on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. This may have reduced the average global temperature by 3 to 3.5 degrees Celsius for several years and may possibly have triggered an ice age. This massive environmental change is believed to have created population bottlenecks in the various species that existed at the time; this in turn accelerated differentiation of the isolated human populations, eventually leading to the extinction of all the other human species except for the branch that became modern humans(2).
After this repopulation of Indian sub-continent took place. Many of the Indians who were now settled in Timor and Borneo migrated to Australia and New Guinea respectively. Some people headed back from south-east Asia to eastern and north-eastern India.
Around 52,000 years ago there was a significant warming of world climate, and Indians migrated through Punjab, Sindh and Multan north-westwards towards West Asian Levant region and head towards Europe via Bosporus. Indian population started diverging into two groups, the Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians and present-day Indian population is a mix of ancient north and south bearing the genomic contributions from these two distinct ancestral populations.
At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India(3).
Modern Indians are thus descendants of two ancient founding populations, the older Ancestral North Indians (ANI) and the latter Ancestral South Indians (ASI). This genetic branching has however now become a major political issue and manifests itself as:
- North South divide
- Aryan-Dravidian divide
However, we must understand that the ANI-ASI divide is merely a genetic branching of two ancient population lineages. It is not a static and eternal divide that modern Tamil and Dravidian politicians would have us believe. From ancient times till modern day, there has been a constant churn of people all over India. People from North have gone to the south, and people from South have gone to the east and so on. There were of course periods of extreme climatic conditions when there was no interaction between different groups, and again once conditions became amenable, there was movements again. An Indian today is thus a mixture of ANI and ASI “types”. North Indians have more ANI and south Indians have more ASI. It has nothing to do with looks, skin color, caste or racism. Noted historian and economist Sanjeev Sanyal says:
The Indian reader may be tempted here to think of the Ancestral South Indians (ASI) as Dravidians and the Ancestral North Indians (ANI) as Aryans. While I have nothing against the words themselves, one should be cautious about using the terms as they are often used in the context of bogus nineteenth century racial theories. The ANI and ASI are just genetic cocktails and not ‘pure’ races. Moreover we are dealing here with Stone Age bands and not horse-drawn chariots, cities and iron weapons that were said to be part of the Aryan-Dravidian rivalry. (Sanyal, 2016, p. 29)
In the meantime, Neanderthals, a violent people who lived in Europe (and who rarely lived beyond 35 years of age), began to become extinct around 40,000 years ago, after anatomically modern humans had reached the continent but not before hybridizing with them and contributing to the European gene-pools.
The inescapable conclusion is that all Europeans today are essentially Pakistani Punjabi in origin with some Neanderthal genes. Let this sink in for a moment.
By now humans of Punjabi origin had moved into Hungary and Austria. (45,000 BP) and into rest of Europe. People from Assam and north-eastern India and Indo-China region move towards Tibet and then towards China. The implication is that the oldest Tibetans and Chinese are Assamese. Another wave of erstwhile Indians now migrated from South China towards mainland China. Another wave of West Asians and Punjabis and Sindhis, headed towards Central Asia and eventually moved towards Siberia.
Bhimbetka Caves in Madhya Pradesh located in northern fringes of the ancient Vindhyachal ranges are home to the extraordinary rock shelters and paintings.
Executed mainly in red and white, with the occasional use of green and yellow with themes taken from the everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, horse and elephant riders, animal fights, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masks and different type of animals etc. It depicts the detail of social life during the long period of time, when man used to frequent these rock shelters. Animals such as bison, tiger, rhinoceros, wild boar, elephants, monkeys, antelopes, lizards, peacocks etc. have been abundantly depicted in the rock shelters. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently(4).
Thus domesticated horse was known as early as 35,000 BP because there is a seated figure on a horse. Again this flies against the face of the so-called Aryan Invasion Theory according to which Aryan’s from Central Asia introduced horses (along with Sanskrit, racism and caste system) to Indian-subcontinent.
In parallel, people from Indian mainland reach Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and go on to be become the Jaroa and Onge tribes. Around 25,000 years ago there was a land bridge between Asia and North America. Different groups of population merged at the Bering Strait and became future Americans. Thus Native Americans or Red Indians as they were called earlier are indeed Indians.
Prior to this there was a common Mesolithic language in India with regional variations. However during the last Glacial Maximum (23,000 to 19,000 BP), due to extreme climatic conditions Indian sub-continent got divided into three zones shown below. Extreme isolation of Indian people into three groups led to linguistic differentiation and formation of three language families, the Indo-European, Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic. (Priyadarshi, 2012)
Interestingly, around 100 years ago, the great Rishi Sri Aurobindo, who himself was a polyglot and master linguist had realized, based on his extensive study of the languages and aided by his yogic intuition, that Sanskrit and Tamil in fact derived from an earlier mother tongue which is now lost, but which survives as a spiritual substrate in both these language families.
For on examining the vocabulary of the Tamil language, in appearance so foreign to the Sanskrit form and character, I yet found myself continuously guided by words, or families of words supposed to be pure Tamil, in establishing new relations between Sanskrit and its distant sister, Latin, and occasionally between the Greek and the Sanskrit. Sometimes the Tamil vocable not only suggested the connection but proved the missing link in a family of connected words. And it was through this Dravidian language that I came first to perceive what seems to me now the true law, origins and, as it were, the embryology of the Aryan tongues…The possibility suggests itself that they may even have been two diversions, or families derived from one lost primitive tongue (5).
The immediate implication is that the so-called Aryan-Dravidian divide is without any merit or substance. Incidentally, Indian astronomers started observing the sky minutely, and recording the position of stars as early as 24,000 BP. Raj Vedam of Indian Historical Awareness and Research (IHAR) quotes from Chapter 230, Verses 8-11 of Mahabharata, Vana Parva where it is mentioned that Kritikka nakshatra was at summer solstice, which happened 23.8-22.8k years ago.
This means that Indian sages have been observing the skies from 24,000 years ago. This is a staggering amount of time, that completely belies everything that we have been taught! Our popular romantic sentiment is that 24,000 years ago there were cave men who had clubs and were beating each other on the head… running around and grunting “ugghh … uggh… uggh”, those kind of things. But here you have a complex bunch of observations happening 24,000 years ago. So there is something wrong with the narrative that has been forced-fed (to us).” (Vedam, 2016)
Over the ages we have lost and rediscovered our knowledge systems many times. Yet every time we have managed to regain our knowledge but never in the same way as before. Like a Banyan tree we have spread and survived. Our roots are all around. Our history is not a book to be dusted and kept in a shelf. Our history and traditions live through each one of us. Every moment of our lives is a reflection of our ancient history.
Children should be taught this history. The history of human beings, the history of plant and animals in Indian subcontinent, the history of mathematics, the history of science and technology and the history of politics, all these should be taught to them. For impressionable young minds, a positive and uplifting, broad sweeping canvas is necessary so as to produce confident future Indians who can create an inspiring future for mankind at large.
Chavda, A. (2017). Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from IndiaFacts: https://indiafacts.org/aryan-invasion-myth-21st-century-science-debunks-19th-century-indology/
Kennedy, K. A., Sonakia, A., Chiment, J., & Verma, K. K. (1991). Is the Narmada hominid an Indian Homo erectus? American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 86(4), 475-496.
Lal, P. (2016). Indica A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent. Gurgain: Penguin.
Priyadarshi, P. (2012, November 10). Dr. P. Priyadarshi at IITK- History of Ancient India over last 1 lakh years. Retrieved from Vivekananda Samiti: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l7VsR-dW-c
Sanyal, S. (2016). The Ocean Churn. Gurgain: Penguin.
Vedam, R. (2016, January 10). Indian Civilization: Part 2: Astronomical Observations. Retrieved from IHAR Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2h6Cr6_GMc
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is from a data science background and his research interest includes history, religion and philosophy. He is the author of “The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam” and “Ashoka the Ungreat”.