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Kashmir, Sarasvati, and the Floods in Mohenjo-Daro

By Ram Nath Kak and Subhash Kak*

* Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901, USA
Pandit Ram Nath Kak
Pandit Ram Nath Kak

Subhash  Kak
Subhash  Kak

1. Introduction

According to the Nilamata Purana the valley of Kashmir was originally a lake. Geological facts also suggest that the valley was originally a lake, although it is not clear that the entire valley was submerged. Drew, in his book [1] on the geography of Jammu and Kashmir which appeared in 1875, suggested that the legend of the lake in the Nilamata Purana should not be considered to be an independent support ot the theory of the lake. He argued that the legend may have arisen out of an attempt to explain tho striking geographical features of the valley. A similar legend exists regarding the draining of the Kathmandu valley in Nepal [2]. Bhargava argues that the Rgvedic name Vitasta (meaning 'span') for the river coming out of the Kashmir valley means that "the gorge through which it comes out was shallower and narrower in those days and allowed a comparatively small quantity of water to flow out of the valley at a time. The so-called bursting and draining of the lake would really be due to some seismic disturbances, which resulted in the widening and deepening of the gorge through which the Vitasta came out, thus allowing a much larger quantity of water to drain away, increasing the size of the river and decreasing that of the lake." [3] This suggests that before this seismic event, the waters of the Kashmir valley would have had more than one point of egress.

There exists other indirect evidence that Kashmir valley was not settled in comparatively recent times since there is no mention of it in the early Vedic texts as well as the epics. So it is likely that the legend codes a genuine historical tradition.

We consider these facts in juxtaposition with recent archaeological discoveries that indicate that a major seismic event around 1900 B.C. was responsible for the changes in the courses of several rivers, including Satluj and Yamuna. We suggest that this was the same seismic event that caused the draining of the Satisara lake. This draining led to such an increase in the waters of the Indus river that catastrophic floods were caused in Mohenjo-Daro and other Harappan cities on tbe banks ol this river.

2. The Mahabharata Connection

Nilamata Purana says that upon a request by the sage Kasyapa, Visnu asked Balabhadra (Krsna's brother) to pierce the mountains of the valley. When the lake was drained the valley became inhabitable.

The significance of this legend has not been properly appreciated by historians. The reference to Krsna's era links the draining of Satisara to the era of the Mahabharata battle. The question of the dating of this battle has not been resolved yet. Three diverging eras for this battle that have been widely examined are: 1424 B C. as given by the Puranic evidence; 2449 B C. as claimed by Kalhana in his Rajatarangini and also before him by the astronomer Varahamihira; and 3137 B.C. as given by the tradition of the Kaliyuga calendar which is supposed to mark the death of Krsna, 35 years after the battle.

Recent research on the Puranic king lists, as well as analysis of the Vedic texts, indicates that the first date of 1424 B.C. is impossible; being too late. This leaves us with two candidates: 2449 B.C. and 3137 B.C. (This assumes that the astronomical markers associated with the battle were well remembered). Current archaeological evidence favours the first of these two dates. This is because new theories equate the Aryans with the Harappans and since the period following the Bharata battle was a golden period as far as Sanskrit literature was concerned, one would expect to find a period of material prosperity. The centuries in the period 2600-l900 B.C. were the most prosperous of ancient India and so, on current evidence, we pick Kalhana's date of 2449 B C. for the battle. [4]

The Mahabharata appears to remember events that are prior to l900 B.C. as in the legend that when Vasistha threw himself into the Satudri or Sutudri (Satluj) it broke into a hundred streams. Hydrological evidence has revealed that Satluj connected thus to the Sarasvati in the 3rd millennium B.C. [5]

The Bharata battle epoch of 2449 B.C. will be the earliest when Satisara drained if we accept the .Nilamata Purana reference to Balabhadra. This is supported by the fact that the accounts of the Mahabharata battle do not speak of the participation by any king of Kashmir.

The actual draining occurred after 2449 B.C. but the events were transferred to this famous epoch.

3. The Sarasvati Evidence

The archaeological discoveries of the past two decades have added a wealth of information to our understanding of the decline of the Harappan civilization that covered most of North and West India. This civilization is now seen as a part of the Indus-Sarasvati cultural tradition, with its focus in the region around the Sarasvati river, that has been traced back to at least 7000 B.C. It is generally accepted that the tradition met a catastrophe around 1900 B.C. when the Sarasvati river dried up in the sands of the Rajasthan river. [6] Tectonic upheavels are believed to have led to the capture of the Yamuna and the Satluj, which drained earlier into the Sarasvati system, by the Ganga and the Indus systems respectively. After this event the material condition of the region went through a phase of decline.

While the reasons for this decline are bound to have been complex, a primary cause of the abandonment of the cities was the drying up of the Sarasvati river which disrupted the entire economy of the region and the communities started shifting eastward. But at the same time there is evidence of flooding at Mohenjo-Daro which was one of the largest cities in the third millennium B.C. in ancient India. Apparently floods occurred at several times during the history of the city. This is evidenced by the accumulation of 30 feet of silt at that site. However there is not further such accumulation after the abandonment of the site.

Whatever the causes for the recurring floods, we speculate that a major flood at the end of the life of the city was caused by a catastrophic event. While the additional waters in the Indus owing to tho Satluj are likely to have led to flooding, it seems unlikely that this would have been the catastrophic event that would explain thc severe silting.

We propose that the breaking up of the Satisara lake in the same tectonic event released immense amounts of water that devastated the cities on the banks of the Indus. This seems more plausible than the theory that the shifting of the population centers around Sarasvati due to its drying up led to the gateway or trading cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro to lose their commercial importance. This other theory cannot explain tbe abandonment of these cities altogether as appears to have happened.

Although the Satisara draining occurred at the same time as the rechanneling of the Satluj and the Yamuna, later tradition associated the event with the Mahabharata battle, which to the generations who populated the valley must have been the most prominent ancient historical event.

4. Kalhana's King Lists

Basing his earliest accounts of the kings of Kashmir on the Nilamata Purana, Kalhana begins with Gonanda the First and assigns 1266 years to the first fifty two kings out of whom thirty five names are taken to be lost. Kalhana begins with this list at 2449 B.C. and before the Karkota dynasty began 600 A.D. the list is not very reliable; one king, Ranaditya, is assigned as many as 300 years. [7] As we said before astronomical references fixed the date of the Bharata battle correctly, but the accounts of individual kings were muddled since they were forced by a wrong tradition to begin with the time of the Pandavas.

Now if we use the archaeological evidence regarding the devastating floods in Mohenjo-Daro in 1900 B.C. and assume they were caused by a catastrophic tectonic event at the same time, then Kashmir became habitable only after 1900 B C. and its king lists should be started perhaps a couple of centuries later. This makes it possible to fit the pre-Karkota king lists of Kalhana into a plausible chronology where historical names such as that of Asoka and Mihirakula provide synchronisms with kings outside Kashmir.

5. Conclusions

In view of the majer tectonic events of India's ancient past, the geographical references in the Rgveda can be used to provide chronological clues. The draining of the Satisara lake is post-Rgvedic and current hydrological evidence indicates that it occurred in c. 1900 B.C. The draining of the Nepal valley has been ascribed to 5000 years ago, [8] and considering the inherent uncertainty in such estimates it is quite possible that the draining of the two valleys might have occurred around the same time due to related tectonic events.

Bhargava also suggests that the account of the flood in the Satapatha Brahmana might refer to the draining of the Satisara. If that is so then Satapatha Brahmana should be dated to early second millennium B.C. The reference to the Krittika not swerving from the east (SB 2.l.2.3), eta (krittika) ha vai pracyai diso na cyavante, sarvani ha vai anyani naksatrani pracyai disas cyavante, which was true for the third millennium B C., then represents an older tradition that was written down later.

6. References

[1] Drew, F. 1875. The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories. London. Reprinted Graz, l976.

[2] Brinkhaus, H. 1987. The Pradyumna-Prabhavati Legend in Nepal, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

[3] Bhargava, M L. 1964. The Geography of Rgvedic India. Lucknow Upper India Publishing.

[4] Kak, S. C. 1994. Astronomical Code of the Rgveda. New Delhi: Aditya.

[5] Agrawal, D. P. and Sood. R. K. 1982. "Ecological factors and the Harappan Civilization." In Harappan Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Warminster.

[6] Kak, S. C. 1992. "The Indus Tradition and the Indo-Aryans" Mankind Quarterly. 32, 195-213. Misra, V. N. l992. "Research on the Indus civilization: a brief review." Eastern Anthropologist. 45, l-l9.

[7] Stein, M. A. l900. Kalhana's Rajatarangini London; rep. Delhi, 1979.

[8] Boesch, Hans I974. "Untersuchungen zur morphogenese in Katmandu valley." Geographica Helvetica. No. l, 15-26, quoted in Brinkhaus (1987).

Published in:
Journal of the Oriental Institute
Tilak Road, Opp. Sayajigunj Tower
Vadodara - 390 002
Gujarat, India

Vol. 43, Nos. 1-2, September-December, 1993 Issue, pp. 1-5

Subhash Kak

 

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