An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Impact of Climate Change and Saraswati River study and analysis

A recent science article suggested that the Harrapan civilization ended due to a flood and climate change.

The new study suggests that the decline in monsoon rains led to weakened river dynamics, and played a critical role both in the development and the collapse of the Harappan culture, which relied on river floods to fuel their agricultural surpluses.

From the new research, a compelling picture of 10,000 years of changing landscapes emerges. Before the plain was massively settled, the wild and forceful Indus and its tributaries flowing from the Himalaya cut valleys into their own deposits and left high “interfluvial” stretches of land between them. In the east, reliable monsoon rains sustained perennial rivers that crisscrossed the desert leaving behind their sedimentary deposits across a broad region.

Among the most striking features the researchers identified is a mounded plain, 10 to 20 meters high, over 100 kilometers wide, and running almost 1000 kilometers along the Indus, they call the “Indus mega-ridge,” built by the river as it purged itself of sediment along its lower course.

The study authors want to claim how authoritative their study is by underscoring its comprehensive approach.

“We considered that it is high time for a team of interdisciplinary scientists to contribute to the debate about the enigmatic fate of these people,” added Giosan.

In context of this study, I wanted to bring along the analysis by Professor Makkhan Lal.

It has been amply clear when the debate was going on ancient sciences and mathematics, Aryan Invasion, ancient Saraswati and so on. None of the ‘great’ scholars ever cared to remember the pioneering works done in the field in 19th and early 20th centuries and published in English. I do not remember any one referring to (For example just a few) :

  1. Thibaut, G. 1875, “Sulva-Sutra” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, pp. 227-75.
  2. Hoernle, AFR, 1888, “The Bakhshali Manuscript” Indian Antiquary, pp. 38-48; 275-79
  3. Datta, Vibhutibhushan, 1932, The Science of the Sulva: A Study in Early Hindu Geometry. Calcutta
  4. H.T. Colbrook, 1817, “Introduction to Indian Algebra with Arithmetic and Mensuration” Published in Algebra with Arithmetic and Mensuration from the Sanskrit of Brahymeyagupta and Bhaskara. By Johan Murray, London.
  5. Sen, S.N.1958, The Positive Sciences of the Ancient Hindus,

Some scholars participating in the discussion think that Saraswati would have remained unknown but for their genius. They seem to forget (or may be they are unaware) that Saraswati has been discussed at length (rather in great details) both in terms of geography and literature for the last over 200 years: All that Landsat Imagerys have done is to confirm the earlier researches and curses of Saraswati mapped by scholars and geographers. We must not forget that first set of Landsat Imagerys were published by Amal Kar et.al and Yashpal et.al. Here are just a few early references regarding researches on Saraswati which are indeed very comprehensive:

  1. James Rennell, 1788, Memoir of a Map of Hindostan or the Mughal Empire. London.
  2. Alexander Burnes, 1835, ‘Memoir on the eastern branch of the river Indus, giving an account of the alterations produced on it by an earthquake, also a theory of the formation of the Rumm, and some conjectures on the route of Alexander the Great, drawn up in the years 1827-28’ Transactions of of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol.3, pp. 550-558.
  3. J. McMurdo, 1834, ‘Dissertation on the river Indus’ Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Vo.1, pp. 20-24.
  4. J.F. Fife, 1857, ‘A Report on the Earstern Nara’ , S.R.B.G. No. LXV, Bombay. pp. 1-45.
  5. R.F. Burton, 1855, ‘Sind and the Races that Inhabit the Valley f Indus’ Memoir of Sind. Vols. 1-2.
  6. C.F. Oldham, 1874, ‘Notes on the lost river of the Indian Desert. Calcutta Review, Vol. 59, pp. 1-27;
  7. R.D. Oldham, 1886, ‘On the probable changes in the geography of the Punjab and its rivers – historio-geographical study. Journal of Asiatic Society Bengal, Vo. 55, pp. 322-343.
  8. C.F. Oldham, 1993, ‘The Saraswati and the lost river of the Indian Desert,’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (New Series)Vol. 34, pp. 49-76.
  9. Raverty, H.G. 1892. ‘The Mihran of the Sind and its Tributaries.’ The Jurnal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, 61(4), pp. 155-297; Extra No. 1892, pp.298-508.
  10. Yash Pal, Baldev Sahai, R.K. Sood and D.P. Agrawal, 1980, ‘Remote Sensing of the ‘Lost’ Sarasvati River’. Proceedings of Indian Academy of Sciences (Earth Planetary Sciences), 69, 317-331.
  11. Ghosh, B. Amal Kar and Zahid Hussain. 1979, ‘The lost courses of the Saraswati river in the Great Indian Desert: New evidence from LANDSAT imagery’ Geographical Journal. Vol. 145(3):446-451; Amal Kar and B. Ghosh, 1984, ‘The Drishadvati River System of India: An Assessment and New Findings.’ Geographical Journal, Vol. 150, pp. 221-29; Sood, R.K. and B. Sahai,1983, ‘Hydrographic changes in northwestern India,’ Man & Environment, Vol. 7, pp. 166-69;
  12. Robert L. Raikes, 1968, ‘Kalibangan: Death from Natural Causes’ Antiquity, Vol. 42. Pp. 286-91.

Almost about 80 years back when Sir John Marshall published his first of the three volumes of Mohenjodaro and Indus Civilization he may not have had the “latest archaeological evidence with state-of-the-art geoscience technologies” at his disposal but being a first rate field archaeologist he concluded that demise of Indus Civilization (yes, it was known then by this name only) was due climate factors, erosion in fertile soils, decreased in rain fall and so on. Since then this thesis has been strengthened step by step. We seem to have forgotten the pioneering works done by Gurdeep Singh, V.N. Misra, S.N. Rajaguru, R.J. Wasan and many others in the field of sedimentology. Those who think that they have solved the problem are themselves looser in the realm of scholarship.

Briefly two more points: Indus Civilization and the Rigveda and the Aryan Invasion. These can be taken up in some details at a later date.

  • It may be worthwhile to remember that Joshn Marshall expressed most strongly that Indus Civilization reflect the present day Hindu civilization to a large measure. Though he did not attach it to the Vedas or the Rgveda. However, scholars like R.P. Chanda (1925) R.K. Mookerjee (1942), P.V. Kane (1953, Presidential Address to the Indian History Congress) R.C. Majumdar (1957) and K.N. Shashtri (1955), and S.R. Rao (many articles and books during the 1970s and 1990s) argued that Indus Civilization is nothing but the Vedic Civilization. I can go on listing references.
  • And the Aryans: It is not that whole world followed or even today follows Max Meuller and Witzel. There has been equally strong opposition to the Aryan Invasion theory for the last two hundred years – both by serious Indian scholars as well as western. By not giving any reference/credence to earlier works not reduce their value. If at all anything happens, it reduces the value of the works which ignores the earlier works. Swimming with the tide is fine but there is no harm in acknowledging the earlier works which were published before you joined the group or the issue.

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