Recent genetic finds in India at Rakhigarhi in Haryana, called the “Rakhigarhi Project”, confirm the continuity of populations in India – from early agriculture to the urban Harappan civilization of 4500 years ago to later India. It shows that the Indus Valley or Harappan Civilization is the largest source of ancestry for the populations of India and Pakistan, and perhaps regions beyond. This continuity of populations goes along with a parallel continuity of culture. It suggests a continuity of literature also, with the Vedic literature reflecting the same region of India as Rakhigarhi, the old Sarasvati River region. The study portrays India as an independent center of civilization, not borrowed from the Middle East or Central Asia, but having a wide influence of its own.
This monumental discovery should be highlighted and used to correct wrong historical accounts that typically portray India as country populated and ruled by invaders, and following cultures and languages borrowed from the outside. In other words, India’s cultural and civilizational identity, though vast in scope over a large region, has been vindicated and must be looked at in a new light.
Importance of Rakhigarhi
Rakhigarhi, the site of the genetic data, is located in the Kurukshetra region of Haryana, the famous land of the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata War. Yet Kurukshetra was famous long before Krishna as the land of the Kuru dynasty, with the Puranas listing thirty kings in this dynasty before the time of the War.
The Kurus were said to be the dominant kingdom and empire in India in later Vedic texts like the Aitareya Brahmana. The Kurus in turn were a branch of the Bharatas, whose kings dominate the older Vedic literature back to the Rigveda. From the Bharatas the traditional name of India as Bharat arose.
Bharatas in turn were a branch of the Purus, one of the five primary Vedic peoples, along with the Anus, Druhyus, Turvashas and Yadus. These five descendants of the great king/emperor Yayati were said to be given different parts or directions of his kingdom in India, with the Purus receiving the central region.
This central Sarasvati River region later called Kurukshetra was also called Brahma Varta, the land of the Vedas, or the land of Manu, the legendary first lawgiver. It was called Ilavarta, the land of Manu’s daughter Ila, another name for Sarasvati, and part of a greater Arya Varta or land of the Aryas.
Kurukshetra/Brahmavarta has held a sanctity as the most ancient and central region of India’s culture and civilization going back to the oldest Vedic literature. Kurukshetra is filled with sacred sites named after great sages, kings and yogis going back to Manu and the Vedic rishis. There is no substratum of older non-Vedic or non-Sanskritic names for any place in the region.
Rakhigarhi itself is the largest of the Harappan or Indus Valley civilization (IVC) sites with a massive mound of ruins. It is located within the larger Sarasvati River region, a river that dried up by around 2000 BCE. It is larger in size than Mohenjo-Daro or Harappa, though these have been better excavated over a longer period of time. Meanwhile, the surrounding region of Haryana/Kurukshetra shows some of the most ancient agricultural sites in India like Bhirrana going back to 8000 BCE. In other words, Rakhigarhi reflects a continuity in the development of civilization in India from early agricultural to urban Harappan phases and beyond. One cannot imagine a site so uniquely disposed to reflect the history of India both in terms of archaeology and the ancient Vedic literature, which are centered in this same region.
The DNA of various skeletons extracted from Rakhigarhi is the most important genetic find in Indian archaeology so far. It is the first DNA extracted from mature Harappan sites and can answer the question of the genetic identity of the Harappan people, which is the key to understanding their overall identity and place in the history of India.
Vasant Shinde and Niraj Rai
Here we must honor Indian archaeologists Vasant Shinde and Niraj Rai for their detailed work in this crucial project. I believe they have related genetic and archaeological data they will reveal over time that might confirm and expand these findings.
Note the comments of Niraj Rai from his social media on the ramifications of this discovery extending beyond India, and going back through the Neolithic Era when farming was first introduced.
The genetic finds at Rakhigarhi show the Harappan populations that formed India’s oldest urban civilization – which extended from Sindh and Gujarat to Afghanistan to the Ganga, and was centered on the Sarasvati River – remained the dominant population group of later India and Pakistan. Its influence did not disappear with the end of the Harappan urban phase, but spread to the East and South of India, and also to the West and outside of India to Iran and Central Asia.
That India is genetically a continuous and independent civilization is in itself a great discovery that should be highly lauded at a national level. Yet the ramifications are more.
The Question of the Vedas
Vasant Shinde of the Rakhigarhi Project has concluded from this genetic study that the Vedic era followed naturally from the Harappan/Indus Valley civilizations and was not introduced by outsiders/Aryans. Let us examine this important issue as well.
The history of India has been shadowed by a
proposed Aryan Invasion/Migration, suggesting the populations or at least the
literature that came to dominate India, the Vedas and their
Sanskrit language, was produced by nomads in faraway Central Asia and brought in from the outside, not anything original or indigenous to India.
The Vedic literature of India remains the largest and oldest literature from the ancient world, extending through four Vedas Samhitas, many Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads and related ancillary literature dating long before the time of Lord Buddha (500 BCE), comprising many thousands of pages of original mantras as well as detailed commentaries. Can this be something from the outside in origin or essence?
Though this literature is massive and eventually spread throughout the whole of India and beyond, western historical theories have placed its origins in Central Asia or in Eastern Europe, among nomadic people and tribes noted for their violent and destructive activity.
Even after these genetic findings such scholars holding to “Outside India theories for the Vedas” may say that the Vedas came to India later with genetic evidence of steppe people coming into India after 2000 BCE, which is after the end of the Harappan era and the drying up of the Sarasvati River.
Yet this conjecture fails to explain the continuity of India’s civilization and the influence of the Vedic literature throughout the country, not as the work of nomadic intruders, but as great rishis, sages and creators of laws and culture. Just as there is an archaeological and genetic continuity of civilization in India there should be a corresponding literary continuity to go along with it. It is hard to imagine that this massive Indus-Sarasvati civilization left no literature, when there is an existing continuity of populations and culture.
Similarly, why would the Vedas look upon the Sarasvati region and Kurukshetra as their ancient homeland, if they only arrived in the area long after the river had dried up and its urban culture declined, bringing in a very different nomadic culture of their own? The Indus-Sarasvati culture as the dominant and most developed culture of the region for many centuries would have more likely spread its influence, as the data indicates, than become shadowed by a later nomadic intrusion for which there is still no real evidence to substantiate.
This new data means we must reexamine the Vedas and see if they reflect a great civilization and its development, or just nomadic invaders imposing their primitive views upon others. Traditional Hindu views of the sophistication of Vedas must be given their place in studying the continuity of India’s civilization which to a great extent they represent. Then we might truly discover the secret of the Vedas that has so far been shadowed by misinterpretations.