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Purāṇas as the Source for a Chronology of Indian History

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Abstract

This paper proposes a chronological framework for ancient Indian historical tradition, as found in the Purāṇas. In itself the endeavour is not new. FE Pargiter’s genealogical reconstruction well historicises the 7th manvantara, and Subhash Kak’s paper on Indian chronology set a plausible paradigm for dating the Mahābhārata war. This leaves the issue of the previous 6 manvantaras, beginning with Svāyambhuva Manu, which need be addressed from a chronological point of view. In this paper, beginning with the onset of the Holocene era in ~10000 BC, we will map Paurāṇika tradition to history, geology, archaeology and linguistics to show how the Indian historical record carries valid memory from deep antiquity. Along the journey, we will also address issues on language genesis and dispersal, especially that of proto-Indo-European (PIE). By the end of this framework, we would have understood where in history to plausibly place seemingly mythological names such as Hiraṇyākṣa, Prahlāda, Bali, Skanda, Pṛthu, Vaivasvat, Māndhātṛ, Bharata, Sagara, Rāma, Sudās and more.
Introduction

Sometime between 2000-1500 BC, India, a young man by the name of Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana set out to explore his country and culture. Son to a ṛca-perceiving ṛṣi, he was no stranger to the Veda nor to the history and antiquity of his civilisation. But his travels, occurring during a time of great unrest and displacement, brought to him a fair bit of despair. He lamented the fall of knowledge and the decay of civilisation, and resolved to do something about it.

To his great fortune, he encountered a sage named Jātūkarṇa—an expert not only in the Veda but also in its arrangement and compilation. This merited Jātūkarṇa the title of a vyāsa, of which he was the 27th. Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana took tutelage under him, and eventually the student surpassed the master. He arranged the ṛcas into maṇḍalas, and put together ten maṇḍalas that captured all the primary ṛcas of the land, bringing several different ṛṣi-schools and time-periods under a single, organised umbrella. He named it the Ṛgveda, and followed it up by compiling the Sāma, Yajus and Atharva. The grand knowledge-nexus of Bhāratavarṣa was thus given formal shape, and Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana would henceforth be known as Veda Vyāsa, the 28th and greatest of this title.

But his task had only begun, for Vyāsa’s resolve was to give articulation to dharma and itihāsa, to both the civilisational code and its history. Not satisfied with the Vedas, he put together an account of the past, of tales from both history and myth, though of course he did it with dharma in mind. This work we call the urPurāṇa, and all later Purāṇas are thought to descend from it. The task was seminal in the history of Indian civilisation, reeling at the time from the drying up of the great Sarasvatī River.

Veda Vyāsa might have considered his work over at that, and would have dedicated the rest of his life to disseminating the Vedas and Purāṇa to his disciples. But late in his life fomented a great war of ancient Bhāratavarṣa, many of its protagonists possibly his own descendants. The four Vedas and the ur-Purāṇa were deemed insufficient for his mission, so he took on a final project. He put together one last work, a mixture of contemporary dharma and recent itihāsa, and named it Jaya. Within a few generations his disciples added to it, and today we call the grand tale Mahābhārata.

According to mainstream Indology, all of the above is an entirely fabricated account. It considers the Mahābhārata a fictional tale, and the Purāṇas a much later emergence with no tethering to real history. Indeed, even texts on Vedic composition and assembly wholly ignore Veda Vyāsa. In other words, we are told that none of the Paurāṇika history ever happened, that the Mahābhārata never happened, and consequently that Veda Vyāsa was never a real figure. In this paper we present an alternative view—that Paurāṇika tradition contains genuine and valid history, one that can be attested in geology, genetics, linguistics and archaeology. Using these mainstream fields, we will articulate a chronological framework for the Indian historical tradition, but rooted in Paurāṇika tradition.

The endeavour isn’t new, and illumination was seminally cast in this direction by Pargiter’s Ancient Indian Historical Tradition[i], which examined the Purāṇas for historical details and reconstructed a plausible genealogy and history for the 7th manvantara of Paurāṇika time-keeping—the current manvantara, the era of Vaivasvat Manu. More recently, a paper by Subhash Kak[ii] proposed a chronological framework for ancient Indian history and identified three likely dates for the Mahābhārata war—2400, 1900 and 1500 BC. Closer to the present, Giacommo Benedetti’s[iii] paper finds strong archaeological reasons to fix Mahābhārata at 1500 BC, and maps prior archaeological developments to dynasties of Paurāṇika genealogy.

And yet these works deal only with the 7th manvantara, while the Purāṇas speak of 6 prior manvantaras and several mahāyuga cycles. If we are to explore the historicity of the 7th manvantara, why stop there? What gives us reason to think Paurāṇika tradition is historic for the current manvantara but fabricated for the previous? A complete chronological framework for Paurāṇika history must commence at the 1st manvantara, the era of Svāyambhuva Manu. Even this wouldn’t be complete, for Svāyambhuva was preceded by Brahmā, and by an early generation of the latter’s progeny. We must account for all this when we map tradition to chronology.

We open this framework in earnest at the onset of the Holocene Era[1], and for reasons shown we link it to commencement of the 1st manvantara. Thus, from 10000/9500 BC begins a historical account that can be linked to Paurāṇika tradition, and laid out temporally such that it brings us eventually to Veda Vyāsa and the Mahābhārata, and we will recapitulate reasons to place the latter at 1900-1500 BC. But we begin at the prologue, or in prehistory, prior to the Holocene—in the lost millennia of Brahmā and his early progeny.

Prehistory

In the beginning, there was Brahmā, and he was alone. Under a historic lens, he was the realisation by early Indians that an inherent creative principle lay behind the world as they knew it. As humans are wont to do, they imagined this principle as a larger version of themselves, possessed of mentality and sapience as they were, but also of superhuman abilities they lacked.

This anthropic interpretation was not the result of primitive thinking. A psychological hypothesis, the Bicameral Mind, argues that ancient humanity’s mind was initially split in two, in a state akin to schizophrenia, where it was not yet aware of its own thought processes. Julian Jaynes theorised that humans were bicameral as recently as 3,000 years ago, and that they thought the voices in their heads to be gods commanding them. The theory is highly controversial and has never found mainstream support, but behind it lies an important intuition.

All mammals are sentient creatures, but only our species is sapient—self-aware and capable of understanding the subjectivity of its experience. The transition from sentience to sapience, whether a singular switch or a long continuum, represents humanity becoming aware of itself. The emergence of ego and true consciousness. Brahmā is the symbolic first mind to gaze into the abyss. The self-born, i.e., the first to become self-aware. He is both what gazes and what gazes back. What listens and what is heard. Both It and Not It. Both Brahmā and Abraham. The two parts of the bicameral mind become whole, the first true human consciousness.

The self-born, the self-existent, he desired to create and play. From his mind he produced offspring, first the Kumāras Sanaka, Sananda, Sanat and Sanātana. Brahmā asked them to go forth and reproduce, to populate all of creation such that he would never be alone again. But these mind-born sons, themselves endowed with deep mentality, wished instead to explore the inner universe and dedicate themselves to meditation. So Brahmā produced more sons, each a thinker in his own right—Rudra, Marīcī, Atri, Aṅgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Krātu, Bhṛgu, Vasiṣṭha, Dakṣa, Nārada and Kardama. Then came a daughter, Vāc or Speech.

This forms the earliest layer of our framework, and it sheds light on human proto-history. The tale of Brahmā and his earliest progeny is a non-literal memory of the evolution of consciousness and consequently of language, or speech. In an exaggerated interpretation, Brahmā and his first progeny were the first modern human tribe with consciousness and language. They represent the turning of the human mind inwards, to existential questions on mentality and the nature of consciousness. There was a time when humanity first looked at the mirror and realised that its own reflection stared back, and later humans remembered this seminal event in their ancestors’ lives.

In our framework we necessarily place Brahmā and this earliest progeny beyond all historical event horizons, beyond the Holocene and Younger Dryas geological markers. We also know that many knowledge systems originated in this shadowed past, including that of methodical star-gazing, or ancient astronomy. When we find in Vedic literature astronomical timestamps that date to 15000 BC or beyond, we know they come from the cultural continuity that remembered Brahmā and the evolutionary trajectory he represents.

The reproductive impulse in him is finally fulfilled when he creates the son and daughter pair, Svāyambhuva and Satyavatī, whose daughters are matriarchs to all early Indian tribes. Taking this as a literal truth may seem absurd, but we know the Younger Dryas to have been a demographic bottleneck. Human populations survive through cataclysms with remarkably small numbers, so the memory of common origins is neither absurd nor implausible. At the absolute biological level we know this to be true, so the most we can claim is that the intuition is coincidental. This is Svāyambhuva’s early family tree, as given in the Purāṇas:

Priyavrata was the elder son, Uttānapāda the younger, and the three daughters were primary matriarchs for early Indians. But a certain peculiarity must be noted in this family tree, which sheds light on its relative internal chronology. If the genealogy of Svāyambhuva and Satyavatī is a literal truth, their descendants should have been contemporaneous to each other, and featured in common stories. But none of the Paurāṇika stories of the patrilineal lines feature any personality from the matrilineal ones, and vice versa. The earliest association is found in the line of Uttānapāda, whose daughter is given as mother to Prahlāda, a relatively late figure in genealogy.

This in fact is the expected situation, when we understand that the further we go back in time, the more are myth, geology and memory combined into Paurāṇika history. Each of Svāyambhuva’s progeny must be treated separately and understood as such, for the account of each is a discrete layer in tradition. Priyavrata and his descendants are always detailed with an elaboration of ancient geography, which is because Priyavrata is shown to inherit the entire known world from his father.

He divides this into seven realms, which are further inherited by his sons—Krauñcadvīpa, Plakṣadvīpa, Śālmalīdvīpa, Kuśadvīpa, Śākadvīpa, Puṣkaradvīpa and Jambūdvīpa. Ali’s[iv] exegesis of Paurāṇika geography showed these seven regions to cover all of Asia and parts of Europe and Africa. Of these, Jambūdvīpa is, broadly, the Indian subcontinent and some regions north of it. The traditional account is that Priyavrata’s descendants proliferated across these regions and populated the known world. This allows us to speculate that Priyavrata is not the literal son of Svāyambhuva, but a composite memory of ancestors prior to the Younger Dryas. In turn, this explains why these descendants feature in none of the early stories of Daityas, Ādityas and Dānavas, for the former predate the latter by a margin.

We are emboldened to posit this in our framework by an aggregate of genetic evidence, which paints a vivid picture of the Indian subcontinent as humanity’s second primordial homeland[v], outside of Africa. During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), southern Tibet and the south-eastern Himālaya were refuge areas, with permafrost covering Asia all the way to Beijing. As the glaciers began to retreat and sea-levels rose, Indians from the coastlines were pushed into migration. A number of genetic facts have recently emerged:

  • The ancestors of indigenous Australians, in the distant past, lived on the Indian subcontinent.
  • The paternal haplogroup D likely originated in India during the Palaeolithic, and dispersed all the way to East Asia.
  • mtDNA (R30) and yDNA (D2) show that the first wave of peopling in Japan originated in India, 25,000 BP.
  • The paternal lineage H (M69) is native to India, as is the clade K*, and likely F*.
  • The yDNA haplogroup O (M175) split into three primary descendants during the LGM, somewhere in the eastern Himālaya. The descendants went to Yunan and the Pearl River Delta.
  • R* clade has deep ancestry in India and likely originated here, which means that if genetics are to be linked to linguistics, then India was the ultimate PIE/Nostratic homeland.
  • Both R* and Q* in any case descend from P*, which was decidedly rooted in India.

What this tells us that leading up to the LGM, surviving human populations bunched together in isolated pockets, either along extended coastlines or in the Tibetan sanctuary. After the LGM they began to disperse again, and with them they took the seeds of ethnic, genetic and linguistic genesis for groups found in the Holocene era. Indian tradition remembers this in the tale of Priyavrata, the elder son of Svāyambhuva Manu, the first Manu.

The line of Uttānapāda in reality appears much later to Svāyambhuva, evidenced in its first attestation only in the 5th and 6th manvantaras, as we will see. This correlates with the need to consider Prahlāda, Virocana and Bali late descendants of Diti, not falling in direct genealogy. Svāyambhuva’s true direct descendants are likely to have come through his daughters, which is why their stories are found earlier in relative Paurāṇika chronology. Of the ten avatāras of Mahāviṣṇu, the first is the Varāha, who incarnates at the plea of Svāyambhuva to deal with Hiraṇyākṣa, Diti’s elder son and the first Daitya.

This brings us to a crucial aspect that needs exploration in prologue—that of the flood myth(s). During our long existence on the planet, our species has witnessed countless floods, earthquakes and cataclysms. In itself, this should be reason not to make much of the preponderance of flood myths across world cultures. Even an isolated riparian tribe can have flood myths built around its river.

But evidence accumulates that the Younger Dryas was a catastrophic period experienced across large parts of the northern hemisphere. Geologically, it abruptly reversed a trend humans were getting accustomed to for thousands of years, since the LGM. The coastlines extended further out, the rivers withdrew into frozen glaciers, global temperatures dropped and a severe setback was lashed upon nascent agriculture. This was a population bottleneck, and the humans who would survive it would consider it definitive for their era.

In Paurāṇika tradition, Diti’s elder son, Hiraṇyākṣa, is portrayed fierce and destructive. He beats and presses the earth down with his club, eventually submerging it under water. The distraught Svāyambhuva appeals to Mahāviṣṇu, who incarnates as the Varāha to defeat Hiraṇyākṣa. Varāha restores the earth back atop the waters, reclaiming land for Svāyambhuva and his progeny to inhabit. In some Paurāṇika versions of the Varāhāvatāra, there is no Hiraṇyākṣa at all, and the myth is entirely geological.

Not all is well among the early Ādityas either. Indra, the leader among them, is arrogant and martial. His brother, Tvaṣṭṛ, wishing to best him, chants a mantra to produce a son that would slay Indra. But his pronunciation is off, and instead is born a son that would be slain by Indra. This son, named Vṛtra, is the great mythological dragon of India. He holds the world’s waters, maho arnaḥ, within his lock. He is the great obstacle that impedes flow. In the metaphors of the Ṛgveda, as long as Vṛtra or obstacles guard the way, no Sarasvatī can flow. Only Indra can smash the obstacles, and thus is he Vṛtrahana.

Paurāṇika geography was well familiar with the Pamir Plateau, the Roof of the World, which it called Meru. During the Younger Dryas, spread from Meru to Kailāsa in all directions, was a permanent coat of snow. The ancient Indians knew what this snow was—it was the rivers of their ancestors sucked up by Vṛtra. They called it the Hema Gaṅgā, the metaphorical river of snow that birthed all world rivers.

The retreat of the Younger Dryas, the onset of the Holocene, the deglaciation and the release of the great rivers—this was the defeat of Vṛtra at the hands of Indra. This was the primordial origin myth of geology, from a Paurāṇika point-of-view. It does not matter which side of Meru humans resided, for in every direction Indra’s triumph released civilisation-birthing rivers. Gaṅgā, Yamunā, Sarasvatī, Śutudrī, Sindhu, Cakṣu (Amu Darya), Bhadrasoma (Zeravshan), Sitā (Yarkand) and Brahmaputrā—these and more came from the metaphorical Hema Gaṅgā, and all due to Indra’s defeat of Vṛtra.

The Younger Dryas to the Holocene Onset is thus the formative period for geological myths associated with Svāyambhuva, Hiraṇyākṣa, Varāha, Indra and Vṛtra. Linguistically, there can only be a hypothetical proto-Nostratic, but linguistic bottlenecks are likely to have been as narrow as genetic ones. The linguistic epistemological window opens truly only in the Holocene. From the Holocene commences a proto-Neolithic history in Paurāṇika tradition, marked by a few millennia of conflicts among nomadic and semi-nomadic Indian tribes—Ādityas, Daityas and Dānavas. These are remembered as twelve great Deva – Asura wars, of which the first was Varāha vs. Hiraṇyākṣa. The conflicts continue through Hiraṇyakaśipu, Prahlāda, Virocana, Narasiṁha, Tarakāsura, Skanda and other figures of mythohistory.

A separate testimony comes from Tamil tradition, which speaks of three lost Sangams, or conferences of Tamil literature, which happened at ‘Madurais-lost-to-the-sea.’ The Holocene onset was terribly devastating for civilisation along India’s coastline, which would have been submerged in the rise of sea waters. During the Younger Dryas and the LGM, it’s likely that Sri Lanka was joined to the Indian peninsular tip.

Dating the lost Sangams is difficult, but tradition holds that the first lasted 4,440 years, the second lasted 3,700 years, and the third lasted 1,800 years. Tamil literature first comes into historical record in the 1st millennium BC, so if we simplistically date the combined period of 9,940 years we are again taken back to the 10th millennium BC—the Younger Dryas to Holocene onset period. This attests that southern India too has memory of long cultural continuity, the archaeology of which is under the ocean.

Myth and geology thus give us ample reason to place Svāyambhuva Manu at 9500 BC, the Holocene Onset. More than being a literal truth, this implies that Paurāṇika tradition remembers history from here on, a manvantara being a historical marker or epoch. And as we have seen from the stories of Priyavrata and Brahmā’s early progeny, there is memory of continuity from prior to the Holocene—though crystallised into myth and retained through the complicated bottleneck of Younger Dryas.

This leaves us with the issue of yugas and mahāyuga cycles. It must be understood that yugas work at multiple levels, including astronomical, cosmological and esoteric. To map yuga cycles to history, as is, is to misunderstand the complex ways in which the concept was used by ancient Indians. Ravi[vi] uses the Holocene as a frame of reference to develop the concept of a Mārkaṇḍeya Yuga. Reality is an endless, infinite cycle of ascending and descending mahāyugas, of which the Mārkaṇḍeya Yuga is the one commencing with the Holocene era.

The four yugas within it—Kṛta, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali—follow a descending cycle of periodicities 4,800, 3,600, 2,400 and 1,200 respectively. Ravi places the Mārkaṇḍeya Kṛta Yuga at 12500 BC, which yields the dates 7700 BC, 4100 BC and 1700 BC respectively for the Mārkaṇḍeya Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali Yugas. This sequence is the larger, major mahāyuga of our framework. To it we add the concept of nested, minor mahāyuga cycles running within the major mahāyuga.

The minor yuga cycles and manvantaras weave into each other, overlapping at places, and triggered together at places. Reconciling Paurāṇika tradition requires conceptualising at least two mahāyuga cycles. The first, the larger, is the Mārkaṇḍeya Mahāyuga, as detailed by Ravi. The second, the smaller, nested within the former, is the Vaivasvat Mahāyuga, which commences with the 7th manvantara. When tradition tells us that the Kṛta Yuga ended with the death of Arjuna Kārtavīrya, or that the Dvāpara Yuga began with the coronation of Rāma Dāśarathi, or even that the primary period of Ṛgvedic assembly and compilation was the Dvāpara Yuga, it is talking of the nested, smaller Vaivasvat Mahāyuga. This itself is reason why dates of 12000 BC for the Rāmāyaṇa are untenable.

Works by Pargiter, Kak and Benedetti have dealt with a chronology for the Vaivasvat Mahāyuga, and Pargiter’s 94 generations map neatly against a timeline where the Mahābhārata happened 1900-1500 BC. Of supreme import within this mahāyuga is the issue of proto-Indo-European (PIE) origins and dispersals, where the combined works of Talageri, Elst, Kazanas, Tonoyan-Belyayev and Semenenko have built a valid case for out-of-India (OIT). This model maps well against general timelines of PIE dispersal, where the Western IE languages split between 3500-2600 BC and the Eastern IE languages between 2500-1500 BC. Talageri, Tonoyan-Belyayev and Witzel’s PIE dispersals timelines have been mapped to Kenoyer’s periodisation of the Harappan civilisation in a previous paper.

With the preceding introduction and prehistory, this paper now maps Paurāṇika history to the following broad framework:

  1. 9500 BC, Holocene Onset, 1st Manvantara

Dated to more than 10,000 BP ago, findings at the site of Baghor II in the modern Son Valley have been associated with female goddess worship by Kenoyer. The rectangular stone rubble platforms, triangular central stones and concentric arrangements around them are found as artefacts of mother goddess worship even today. The antiquity of this practice is attested in Indian tradition when we’re told by the Purāṇas that Svāyambhuva and his early descendants worshipped devī, the mother goddess.

While the onset of Holocene came with a general rise in rainfall and resultant growth of plant and animal life, the tangible effects of it would have been felt differently in different parts of the country. To north India, Indra’s defeat of Vṛtra released the great rivers once again, providing a trajectory for reduction in nomadism and the emergence of seasonal sedentarism. But from south India comes the memory of the first lost Sangam, when the first Madurai was eaten up by the sea. This fate would have been common to all coastal civilisations at the Holocene onset.

A recent report, yet to be properly confirmed, finds evidence of rice cultivation in Sri Lanka as far back as 15000 BC, which gives archaeological supplement to Tamil tradition’s memory. Prior to the Holocene, Sri Lanka was joined to the tip of southern India, and together with the modern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu would have been lush wetland ripe for human settlement. The great coastal flooding is remembered as the wrath of Hiraṇyakṣa, who beat the earth into the water, and mandated the incarnation of Varāha to reclaim it for Svāyambhuva and his descendants.

Matrilineality looms large in tradition during this period, which lines up with anthropological notice of matrilineality in ancient human societies, or in modern ones with ancient continuities. The genealogy of the 1st manvantara is better rendered through the matriarchs, beginning with Satyavatī, whose three daughters are previously named. Akutī, the eldest, is married to a sage named Ruci, and they birth the son-daughter pair of Yajña and Dakṣiṇā. We may wonder if this is the mythic memory of the emergence of social contracts, of alliance by ritual and donation, where dakṣiṇā could possibly have meant giving one’s daughter in marriage. If so, it should be no surprise that the dakṣiṇ-naire supreme, Dakṣa, gave several daughters in marriage. Their mother, or Dakṣa’s wife, is Prasutī, Satyavatī’s youngest daughter.

And born to Devahutī, through the sage Kardama, are a number of daughters, who are married to Brahmā’s early sons. Through the mixture of Devahutī and Prasutī’s family trees originate, as daughters of Dakṣa—Diti, Aditi and Danu. They are all married to Kaśyapa, the son of Marīci through a daughter of Devahutī, and are respectively the mothers of Daityas, Ādityas and Dānavas. Each early generation of Diti’s children are slain by their cousins born to Aditi. Diti’s sons, Hiraṇyakṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, are slain by the avatāras Varāha and Narasiṁha respectively. Indian tradition remembers 12 major wars between the Daityas and Ādityas, who were later mythologised as the Asuras and Devas of the Ṛgveda. The Varāha and Narasiṁha incarnations are the first two of these.

In the Purāṇas, tribes are described during this period as emerging and disappearing as bubbles do, which is what could be said of nomadic tribes, constantly on the move. An important historical myth is the legend of Tāraka, a Daitya who briefly dominated the Āditya tribes and required the intervention of mountain people, led by Śaṅkara and Skanda, before being defeated. This is remembered as another great Daitya – Āditya war, and the Purāṇas give us vivid description.

The rivalry was clearly of massive proportions, one that pulled into tenure all the major and minor tribes of the time—Daityas, Dānavas, Ādityas, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Kinnaras, Kimpuruṣas, Piśācas and more. Quite like the Mahābhārata allowed no one to abstain in later India, the Tārakāsura war allowed no neutrality in early India. Descriptions have the air rent with the sound of conches, war drums, musical instruments and elephant calls alike. Weapons as varied as lances, clubs, slings, axes, javelins, spears, mallets, discuses, darts and arrows are brought into service, but swords, helmets and armour are not mentioned. The battlefields turn into feeding grounds for crows, jackals and vultures, and entire rivers turn red with blood. Great individual battles are played out much like they are in the Mahābhārata. The battle between the respective commanders-in-chief, Yama of the Ādityas and Gṛṣaṇa of the Daityas, resembles the one between Bhīma and Duryodhana millennia later. Similarly does Kubera of the Yakṣas battle Jambhu the Asura, and those who constantly seek ethnic and racial colours in Indian history should note that in this prehistoric battle the Yakṣas and Rākṣasas fought on the Āditya side.

Viṣṇu is as instrumental in this war as Kṛṣṇa is in the Mahābhārata. He takes on several different enemy commanders, marshals the Rudras into a formidable infantry, and advises Śatakratu Indra at many instances on the best way forward. A Paurāṇika description of Viṣṇu and Indra in this war is difficult to not associate with the story of Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. It’s likely the Tārakāsura war conflates several different conflicts, themselves the continuation of an ongoing war for supremacy between the Daityas and Ādityas. After major Daitya warlords such as Gṛṣaṇa, Kālanemi and Jambhu are defeated, the Daitya king Tāraka himself steps into battle. He takes on significant rivals—Hutasa (an Agni), Maruta (a Vāyu), Yama, Varuṇa, Dhanada, Nirṛti, Garuḍa, Vahni (another Agni) and bests them all.

It’s hinted that his capital is near the Mahānadī Delta, a possible confirmation of early Daitya geography. It aligns with what we know from genetics—that post the Holocene, early populations from south India migrated along the eastern coast to modern Orissa and West Bengal. No doubt some of the mtDNA and yDNA here belonged to Daityas. After defeating the Āditya rivals, Tāraka claims rule over the Daitya-Āditya-Dānava people and returns to his capital.

As they do across Paurāṇika history, the defeated Ādityas appeal to the one tribe that can turn the tide in their favour. This would be the Rudras, then under the leadership of Śaṅkara. Though old, Śaṅkara is still a formidable warrior and will indeed fight for the Ādityas. But a new generation is to dawn in the great ongoing war, and Śaṅkara’s son is to lead the war effort. Skanda, or Subrahmaṇya, or Kārtikeya is crowned the new Indra, leader of the Ādityas. Great Āditya veterans declare their support for him, and patriarchs such as Tvaṣṭṛ and Pūṣāna arrive at his coronation to offer the services of men under their command.

A new force is thus assembled, and under Skanda the Indra’s leadership they march at Tāraka’s capital. We are told that this army’s approach is south-west. If Tāraka’s capital is near the Mahānadī Delta, Skanda’s path brings him from north-east, near modern Tibet or further north. This is consistent with tradition which usually places the Rudras between Meru plateau and the Tibet basin. A great war ensues in which Skanda kills Tāraka and establishes Āditya supremacy.

But the hostility is not over, and many consequent Daitya/Āditya generations are still fated for war. A generation later the new Rudra, a Śiva, is called into service to destroy the three capitals of Tārakāsura’s sons, commonly called Tripura. Śiva’s burning of the Daitya cities is remembered as the Traipura War. This alludes to early conflicts between nomadic and urbanising populations. Settled cities with agriculture and cattle would obviously have been attractive to semi-nomadic tribes, and raids that stole urban resources are frequently attested in Indian literature. The Traipura War suggests that Daityas were ahead on the race to civilisation, while Āditya-Rudra conglomerates envied this development. The pattern recurs throughout Indian history. Daityas are the elder tribes in lead while Ādityas only periodically catch up, through miraculous interventions by Mahāviṣṇu or Mahāśiva.

These events cover the first few millennia following the Holocene Onset. Beginning with Svāyambhuva Manu, they feature the earliest nomadic tribes that later Indians remembered as their ancestors. It’s implausible that the genealogies contained are unbroken and accurate, given that even genealogies of the 7th manvantara require meticulous reconciliation to become historically viable. Thus, this framework proposes that we ought not to take this family tree as literal truth: Hiraṇyakaśipu > Prahlāda > Virocana > Bali

Instead, the names represent composite memories of personalities that lived across different time periods. The proposal is not remarkable, for Kazanas[vii] succinctly explained—“There is nothing remarkable about a tribe of gatherers and hunters having a ‘monarch’ in 6000 or 60000 years BP. If there is a group of people, someone of necessity will be ‘first among equals’ and if his leadership proves good he is bound to pass into history/legend.”

Indian tradition remembers many such figures of legend, and given our framework we understand that the years 9500 BC onwards were a period of proto-Neolithic micro-revolutions, not only in India but across Eurasia. Tribes of gatherers and hunters were finding new ways to sow grain and till the soil, or to craft the wheel, or to extract shiny things from the earth. It was not a period without violence, and we must arm ourselves with an anthropological amorality when we assess these late-nomadic tribes.

  1. 8000 BC Onwards, Neolithic Revolution(s)

The early Daitya – Āditya wars already evidence that inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent were set upon a technological trajectory with the Holocene Onset, and post 8000 BC we begin to find strong archaeological evidence for the same. Early Neolithic cultures have been found at a number of sites in north India. The site of Mehrgarh is dated from the 8th millennium BC. At Mehrgarh we find the complete spectrum from handmade, plain pottery to painted, wheel-turned pottery, cultivated cereals, mud-brick houses and even cotton seeds. A kind of barley found at Mehrgarh requires irrigation to cultivate, leading us to wonder whether Mehrgarh had irrigated farming. The bricks used in Mehrgarh dwellings are in the ratio 4:2:1, the same which would manifest in Sindhu-Sarasvatī Civilisation (SSC) cities two thousand years later.

This already is astonishing continuity, the kind that makes us pause to wonder. It has only been two thousand years since Christ, but we’re talking of human settlements four times as old as that. By the 4th millennium BC Mehrgarh displays copper industrialisation, public granaries, town planning, fortified settlements and the division of a town into an upper part (Citadel) and a lower town. There is also evidence of turquoise, lapis lazuli and seashells—none of which are found close to Mehrgarh—indicating long distance trade.

Bhirrana in Haryana displays a similar spectrum and is dated to be as old as Mehrgarh, if not older. At the earliest stages, humans lived in underground dwelling pits coated with mud from the Sarasvatī alluvium. We find here mud-brick platforms with circular fire pits and hearths. Along with Rakhigarhi, Kunal, Banawali and a host of other sites in modern Haryana and Rajasthan, Bhirrana evidences that the SSC had an independent and continual development from Neolithic to Bronze Age, established primarily along the Sarasvatī river system.

The brick ratios in Bhirrana were initially not in 4:2:1, unlike Mehrgarh and mature Harappan cities. But at Kunal with a parallel timeline we do find 4:2:1 ratios. This indicates that Neolithic Indians experimented with various brick and construction ratios. From the 8th to 5th millenniums BC the Sarasvatī river system gave home to several rural settlements with similar characteristics in dwelling patterns, diet, farming and other cultural aspects. Early settlements at Kalibangan, Bhirrana, Rakhigarhi and other sites in modern Haryana and Rajasthan were part of this culture. Somewhat contemporarily, sites like Mehrgarh, Kot Diji and Rehman Dheri on the Sindhu were also on the path of civilisational progress.

To Paurāṇika tradition, this is the era of the lost manvantaras, 2nd-5th, and we call them ‘lost’ because details on them are relatively scant. The Purāṇas explain this by claiming that similar events happen in each manvantara, and similar personalities are played out over and over again. It would thus take “hundreds of years” to recount the events of each manvantara. But when we look at the continuation of lineages in Paurāṇika tradition, we find a number of events that can be mapped to this period.

There are good reasons to assume distance between Prahlāda, Virocana and Bali. For example, in the era of Prahlāda the Indra is Śakra, but in the era of Bali it’s Mantradruma. In Prahlāda and Virocana’s time, the Ādityas are powerful and dominate the Daityas. But by Bali’s time, Ādityas face a cultural decay and are subdued. This maps with the above highlighted lacuna in accounts of the 2nd-5th manvantaras.

There are also archaeological reasons to place Bali squarely in the middle of the Neolithic revolution, for the Samudra Manthana account of Indian tradition is but the account of early Neolithic tribes beginning to settle down, tame the earth, husband the animal and eschew their erstwhile warring dynamics. It also offers a number of scenarios that can be mapped to posited linguistic trends of this period. The following parallels can be drawn:

  • The churning first throws up halāhala, or poison, ash and lava. Only Rudra, who dwells in the mountains, can consume it. This is the memory of proto-metallurgy, of early attempts to mine the earth and dig out shiny things. During bottlenecks such as Younger Dryas and LGM, survivor populations in the Meru to Tibet area would have been repositories of continuing knowledge. Even today, in modern Nepal, survive ethnic groups that are traditional copper-smiths.
  • Mahāviṣṇu incarnates as Makara, the tortoise, to bear the weight of this great churning. This is the collapse of land, caves and mountains during proto-metallurgy, and humans had to learn to prop the earth up before they could dig deeper.
  • Lakṣmī, the personification of wealth and prosperity, is next to emerge from the churning—a primary symbol of the Neolithic Revolution.
  • Emerge Kāmadhenu, Ucchaiśravas and Airāvata—the mythic cow, horse and elephant respectively. The ancient Indians had learnt how to tame animals and had commenced upon domestication.
  • Comes Dhanvantarī, the god of medicine and healing, which of course has deep roots in all human cultures.

But the revolution is not yet complete, and the tales are still myth and macrohistory. Renfrew posited that PIE originated in Anatolia during this period, and dispersed through the spread of agriculture. Given the indigenous development of agriculture in the Indian subcontinent, this hypothesis is no longer tenable. But there is the Nostratic hypothesis, which posits the origin of Nostratic in the Neolithic—and with it the birth of proto forms of PIE, Dravidian, Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan.

To begin, we may note that Ali’s reconstruction of Paurāṇika geography clearly shows many Āditya settlements north of modern Kashmir, spread in all directions from the Pamir Plateau, or Meru. Varuṇa’s city, Vibhāvarī, is said to be north of Meru. Viṣṇu’s Vaikuṇṭha lies in modern Afghanistan, and Indra’s Amarāvatī is between Meru and Kailāsa. Even the early Rākṣasas, Yakṣas, Gandharvas, Siddhas, Ugras and other tribes are placed in modern Ladakh, Xinjiang, Tajikistan and Mongolia. Those determined to find foreign origins to Indian culture should in fact abandon the Aryans and pick up the Ādityas!

But this situation should not be remarkable when we realise that these were nomadic tribes, and the borders of the modern world had no salience upon their movements. The entire Himālayan stretch, the Pamir Plateau and the Tibetan Plateau were prehistoric thoroughfares for humanity, and provided many pockets of ethnic and linguistic genesis prior to the opening of epistemological windows for tangible proto-languages.

There exists the story of Vāmana, who incarnates to beguile Bali and exile him to Pātāla, before the latter has to be called back for the Samudra Manthana. Where might Pātāla have been? We must ignore speculations that place Bali and Virocana in modern Central/South America, for the simple reason that Bali’s presence in the Samudra Manthana implies his continuing stake in the resources of India. We might have speculated Tibet, finding folk etymological association between the Potala Palace and Pātāla. But equally could Bali have been exiled to southern India, which could explain the arrival of Dravidian languages there to those positing an out-of-India origin for proto-Dravidian. If the eastern Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau were indeed a linguistic melting pot, this is not an untenable speculation.

A separate reason to place Bali during this era, and not directly as the grandson of Prahlāda, comes from the Paurāṇika declaration that his reign was during the 6th manvantara, the era of Cākṣuṣa Manu. This is reconcilable with genealogy by understanding that Uttānapāda was not the direct son of Svāyambhuva. Instead, he should be considered a name of later prominence, who arose in the period of Neolithic revolution, and claimed his descent from an ancient, mythic patriarch. His son is Dhruva, a prominent personality in the Purāṇas, whose story shows the antecedents of devotional worship and an internalised relationship with the divine, in contrast to the goddess and sun worship prominent in previous manvantaras.

We may also consider this the formative period for some early ṛṣi lineages of India. The Bhṛgu ṛṣi, Śukrācārya, is prominently associated with Bali, and the Aṅgirasa ṛṣi, Bṛhaspati, with Ādityas during the same period. The eponymous ṛṣis Bhṛgu and Aṅgiras are completely mythic personalities, even in the Ṛgveda, and are necessarily placed prior to the Holocene in our framework. Given Bhṛgu’s association with fire, we may even speculate his memory is from a period when fire was first applied in the process of cooking food. If derived from the word aṅgāra, or charcoal, we could speculate that Aṅgirasa origins lie in proto-metallurgy—for charcoal is the blacksmith’s fuel.

Born five generations after Dhruva is Cākṣuṣa, whose period marks the beginning of the 6th manvantara. With the passing of Bali, the epoch of Daityas and Ādityas is coming to a close. They continue to exist in the following manvantara, but increasingly fade to the background while the settled, urbanising mānava tribes gain prominence. This begins with a legendary name in the line of Cākṣuṣa.

  1. 6000 BC, Pṛthu and the Mature Neolithic

Through the Greek historians Pliny and Arrian, we have a separate testimony for Indian history and genealogical records. Working possibly from the same source, they reported Indian records to contain memory of more than 150 kings, running through a span of 6000+ years. Witzel[viii] finds reason in this to doubt Paurāṇika testimony altogether, where genealogies for the 7th manvantara are often found jumbled, a-synchronistic or conflicting. From Vaivasvat Manu to the characters that fought the Mahābhārata war, the Purāṇas give only between 50-90 generations. So the Greek records seem incorrect. This confusion is bound to arise if we take the king lists to begin with Vaivasvat Manu, in the 7th manvantara. But nowhere do the Purāṇas call Vaivasvat or his immediate descendants—Ikṣvaku, Ilā, Purūrava—the first kings. So there is no reason to begin our count from here.

Linguistic epistemological event horizons begin to open up by 6000 BC. Colin Renfrew theorised that PIE originated in the 7th-6th millennia in Anatolia, and dispersed from there with the spread of agriculture. Alan Bomhard conjectures this was the period of Nostratic, a hypothetical mother language to proto forms of IE, Dravidian, Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan language families. Some linguists argue that Anatolian is not a daughter to PIE, but a sister. This means that it split from a kind of proto-Anatolian-PIE, and this may have happened around 6000 BC. Comparative Linguistics is good at noting filial relationships between languages and drawing conjectural family trees, but it is not equipped to give temporal certainties, especially when dealing with an era when attested language is not found.

Sites like Mehrgarh continue to display aceramic ware and no pottery during this period. But there are seashells and lapis lazuli, indicating long distance trade, and drilled molar crowns—a remarkably advanced degree of protodentistry. At Rakhigarhi, the earliest reading comes from 6420 BC, and Bhirrana at this stage develops along an early Harappan, food producing trajectory.

Around 6200 BC, our planet experienced a notable geological event. Called the 8.2-kiloyear event, it was a minor Younger Dryas of its own—bringing a sudden decrease in global temperatures for nearly four centuries. In India, among other places, the results were widespread aridification and the flooding of coastlines due to near instant release of sea waters from global ice sheets. Tamil tradition remembers this as the second lost Sangam, when another Madurai was taken by the sea. But Paurāṇika tradition blames a ruler by the name of Veṇa for all this misery.

The great-grandson to Cākṣuṣa, Veṇa, presides over a period of general decay and aridity. He bans the study of Vedas, bans rituals of all kinds, and prohibits the usage of soma—which he denies even Ādityas the access to. Instead he commands people to pray to him, declaring himself to be the only true source of power. His reign is marked by widespread drought and famine. The earth dries up, the trees disappear, and even the waters are not to be found. This is a memory of the 8.2-kiloyear event. But narrative blames poor Veṇa, whose people rebel under the ṛṣis and dethrone him. In his place is installed his son, Pṛthu Vainya, and here begins Indian political proto-history.

Pṛthu Vainya is remembered as the first cakravartin in Indian historical tradition. He is born with a bow in his hand, donning a chain of metal armour. He’s the first kṣatriya and he’s dressed like it. He’s also the first rājā, called so because he brings rañj or delight to his people. He’s the first to conduct the rājasūya, ritual of coronation and the aśvamedha, ritual of conquest. In his time originate Niṣadhas, the riparian fishermen of ancient India, the Tuṣāras or Tocharians of Uttarakuru, and the Pitṛs under Yama who much later migrate to modern Iran.

He chases the earth to all corners, forcing it to yield to him and thus acquire the name Prithvī, Pṛthu’s daughter. There are signs of movement from a nomadic existence to a settled one. Before Pṛthu there were no towns and cities, no cultivated plants, no breeding of cattle, and no great shopping centres. But Pṛthu leads a civilisational change, the settlement of a people and the consolidation of culture. Everyone benefits from this. With the cow as a metaphor for the earth, the mānavas yield milk and crop. To the ṛṣis this cow is soma, and their yield is penance or the knowledge thereof. The Ādityas take the cow as Indra and extract ojaskāra, or energy—a clear allusion to their aspiration to cling to former glory. Pitṛs, Nāgas, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas and Gandharvas are all invited to participate, and each tribe takes something from Pṛthu’s prosperous reign.

The reformed earth contains mines, plants, farms, cities and towns. There’s gold and silver, milk and grain, soma and ritual. There are elephant cavalries and cattle ranches. The people now plough the land through all seasons, for the knowledge of irrigation has been gained. Great serpents beneath the earth that previously spewed venom and fire are tamed, for men have learnt primitive metallurgy. Placed in around 6000 BC, Pṛthu is primely positioned as the monarch who plausibly established the first urban conglomerations of India—Mehrgarh, Bhirrana and Rakhigarhi. Not that these were not previously settled, but that the layers that show planning, organisation and culture appear near the 6th millennium BC. By 5500 BC, Mehrgarh evidences pottery, ceramics and mature artisanship.

Archaeology gives us nothing to link Mehrgarh and Bhirrana in this era, and they developed then in isolation. Either Pṛthu began from India and expanded towards Iran, or it was in the other direction. We previously thought that agriculture was introduced to India in the 7th millennium BC by Iranian agriculturists, a scenario that would have supported Pṛthu’s expansion from the west. But we now know that agriculture developed indigenously in India at multiple locations. If Pṛthu expanded from India, why do we find Yama, Pitṛs and Pārthavas in Iran while the dynastic link immediately died out in India? This is explained when we consider what happens to the dynasty after Pṛthu.

Many generations after Pṛthu are born the Pracetas, sons of Barhiṣa in his line. All dynasties suffer from the decay of time, and Pṛthu’s is no different. Disinterested in rule, the Pracetas migrate away in search of meditative knowledge. This is the departure of Pṛthu’s line from India, and it’s followed by a general decay remembered in the Purāṇas as Prithvī being left unguarded. Trees overgrow human settlements, vines and creepers take over the habitations and farmlands disappear in vast cataclysms of fire. An appeal is made to the Pracetas to return, and in this is revealed the oft-used trick of Paurāṇika composers.

Not all history was available to them. They did not always know how one dynasty passed to another, how civilisation arose again after a decay. So they used the concept of progenitors, or prajāpatis who incarnated afresh in each era to seed population. Manu is the best example of this, and indeed he is the first among all prajāpatis. Kaśyapa is another, as is Dakṣa who gave his daughters away. To the Pracetas then is reborn Dakṣa the Prajāpati, and once again he gives his daughters to the primary ṛṣis—Marīcī, Atri and others.

But a significant period elapses before this. Dakṣa first begets a group of sons known as Haryāśvas, who are lured away from reproduction and towards meditation by Nārada, according to Paurāṇika accounts. The same fate befalls Dakṣa’s second creation, a group of sons called Śabalāśvas. Only then are the ṛṣis born anew, and thus are Ādityas found in genealogy again. In multiple Purāṇas the listener interrupts the narrator here and demands an explanation. How is Dakṣa born again? How is another Kaśyapa found in the current Manvantara? To this the Purāṇas reply—“Origin and annihilation occur continuously among living beings. Sages and other learned people are not deluded in this respect.”

What they mean is that, instead of miring themselves in the unique technicalities behind each era, they paint a broad pattern that applies to any. By around 4500 BC a descendant of the Pracetas establishes marital relations with an Āditya tribe, and through this union is born Vivasvān or Sūrya. Purandara reigns as the current Indra, and Soma or Candra falls in love with Bṛhaspati’s wife Tārā, fathering the infant Budha. Another great Daitya-Āditya war breaks out over this act of adultery, where the furious Bṛhaspati is supported by Ādityas and the truant Candra by Śukra and Daityas.

To Vivasvān the Sūrya is born Vaivasvat Manu, and the latter’s daughter Ilā will marry Budha. The current era of ancient Indians, the 7th Manvantara, has begun. After a long journey from the nomadic to proto-rural living, through generations of bloody warfare and spurts of cultural consolidation, from eras of amoral lifestyle and warfare, emerges a new social order possibly speaking PIE, though both in its ancestry and neighbourhood still reside Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman and Dravidian speakers.

  1. 4500 BC, 7th Manvantara, Vaivasvat Mahāyuga

Referring back to the framework shown earlier, we see that a number of things coincide by 4500 BC. The major, Mārkaṇḍeya Dvāpara Yuga begins, and with it a nested minor Kṛta Yuga—itself the first yuga of the 7th manvantara. We also find a break in the subcontinent’s skeletal record at this period, which could be conjecturally linked to Vaivasvat Manu’s flood myth. Regardless of whether we think that Ṛgvedic Āryas came to India from outside, or migrated out of here, we know that they traced their ancestry to Vaivasvat Manu, and to the Āditya and Daitya tribes that preceded him. The Purāṇas tell us that, in his previous life, he was a king of Drāviḍadeśa named Śraddhādeva, which could have been a stronger clue if we had evidence of coastal flooding in southern India near 4500 BC.

Either way, we’re told his boat lands in Ayodhyā, from where begins the genealogy of the current manvantara. The area is not virgin territory by any means. Not too far from modern Ayodhya, the site of Lahuradewa evidences inhabitation since the 8th millennium, and shows rice cultivation as far back as 6409 BC. Jhusi, near modern Prayagraj, shows evidence of Neolithic inhabitation with the same antiquity and continuity. To note here is Pargiter’s intuition, made a century ago, that in the origins of Vaivasvat Manu were melted IE, Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman ethnolinguistic genesis events. The intuition may not have been too far off the mark. Van Driem[ix] speaks of the Himālaya and the Gangetic Plains as a prehistoric thoroughfare for humanity, and Elst[x] points to the emerging field of research on IE – Tibeto-Burman connections.

The period 4500-3300 BC is archaeologically called pre-Harappan, and is characterised by the emergence of local archaeological clusters. In the north, across modern Greater Punjab, rises the Hakra Ware Culture. Along Sarasvatī and Dṛṣadvatī, with antecedents from many millennia prior, the Sothi-Siswal Culture begins to take shape. On the Sindhu’s western banks coalesces the Kot Diji Culture, which will soon be characterised by fortified cities. And spread over modern Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh is the Ahar-Banas Culture in a proto-Chalcolithic state.

From Vaivasvat’s eldest son, Ikṣvaku, descend the Aikṣvākus or Sūryavaṁśa. From his daughter, Ilā, descend the Ailās or Candravaṁśa. All other tribes of India are drawn from Vaivasvat, through his other sons. A son named Revata migrated to Gujarat and established Kuśasthali, later Dvārakā. Sons named Gaya and Utkala founded realms in modern Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. Descendants from other sons migrated out of India, any number of them possibly resulting in linguistic dispersals.

The Ailā tribes proliferate in the immediate generations to come. Ilā’s son, Purūravā, establishes his capital at Pratiṣṭhāna, or modern Prayagraj, or the archaeologist’s Jhusi. His wife is Urvaṣī, an Apsarā, and the consequent bloodline thus has Mānava and Apsarā blood.  Their son, Ayu, marries a Daitya daughter and their son, Nahuṣa, marries a Dānava daughter. In turn, Nahuṣa’s son Yayāti marries a daughter of the Daitya ṛṣi, Śukrācārya. At the genesis of the 7th Manvantara, there is thorough admixture between India’s extant tribes and ethnicities. Yayāti Nāhuṣya is remembered as the first cakravartin of the 7th manvantara. He leads a migration from Pratiṣṭhāna to the Sarasvatī River, and thus are the pre-Vedic people brought to their seed-land. From Yayāti descend the pañcajana, or five tribes, through his five sons—Yadu, Turvaśa, Anu, Druhyu and Pūru. Occurring in the period 4200-3900 BC, this is the great Sothi-Siswal consolidation.

Around 3700 BC is the era of Śaśabindu Caitraratha, a Yādava and the next cakravartin. The Yadus are placed in central India or south of it, so at this stage his rise cannot be linked to Sindhu-Sarasvatī archaeology. But we can plausibly map them to the proto-Chalcolithic Ahar-Banas Culture. Śaśabindu marries his daughter to an Aikṣvāku prince who is to become a cakravartin himself—Māndhātṛ Yauvanāśva. Māndhātṛ must be held responsible for PIE dispersals out of India. He wages war against Pūrus, Ānavas, Turvaśas and Druhyus, defeating them all. His campaigns bring the Aikṣvāku bloodline to the Haryana/Greater Punjab areas, where it will reside even during Ṛgvedic times. Aṅgāra, a defeated Druhyu ruler, migrates northwest and his descendant establishes the kingdom of Gāndhāra.

A number of fortified cities arise on the Sindhu during this period—Rehman Dheri, Amri, Chanhu-Daro, Kot Diji—signalling repeated attacks from the east, presumably by the likes of Māndhātṛ. Also to come into the record are Kalibangan and Kunal. Tradition implies these were Pūru cities during this period, and Māndhātṛ’s maternal descent from a Pūru ruler might have meant he did not attack these cities. A final critical era in this period is the reign of Sivi Auśinara, also a cakravartin. He leads the consolidation of Greater Punjab under the Ravi Phase, and his capital of Sivipuri could have been Harappa, which comes into archaeological record after 3500 BC. The reign reiterates out of India migrations that have commenced since the reign of Māndhātṛ, around 3 centuries before Sivi.

  1. 3300 BC, Vedic Era Begins

An argument frequently cited against out-of-India models of IE dispersal is that it’s much simpler to argue for a single migration into India, than to posit several out of India. But this argument holds true for any theoretical homeland, and cannot be used to singularly rule one out in particular. The consensus theory is that PIE did originate in one place and spread out from there, so the debate is only on where that place could have been. In the modern era we have the example of English, which spread out to the entire world from one tiny island. Granted, it had the benefit of modern dispersal mechanisms and long-distance maritime travel, but this is why it came to dominate the world in such a short time. PIE on the other hand dispersed over several centuries, and in different waves.

After the split of Anatolian and Tocharian, the next major wave of IE dispersal was of the Western IE languages. From the Indian homeland this might not be a discrete dispersal event, but a continuation of trends from the era of Māndhātṛ and Sivi. Around 3100 BC is the era of Arjuna Kārtavīrya, a notorious cakravartin in Indian tradition. He and his clan of Haihaya Yādavas are both imperial and destructive. They besiege the Gangetic Plains, defeating the kingdoms of Kanyākubja, Ayodhyā and Kāśī. This is remembered as a dark period in the Purāṇas, when erstwhile bastions of civilisation were given to Rākṣasa tribes following Haihaya attacks.

At 3100 BC, contemporaneous to Arjuna Kārtavīrya, is born Viśvaratha in the Kanyākubja line. Following a conflict with Devarāja Vasiṣṭha, Viśvaratha takes the brāhmaṇa path and travels as far as modern Bihar. Here he gains a kind of enlightenment along the river that takes its name from his clan—Kauśitakī, or modern Kosi. He returns to the world as Viśvāmitra, a primary composer in the Ṛgveda. Thus the period of Ṛgvedic composition (not final assembly) has begun.

Viśvāmitra’s grand-nephew, Rāma Jamadāgneya, kills Arjuna Kārtavīrya and this ends the nested minor Kṛta Yuga. But the Haihayas are not yet altogether defeated. They are pushed back initially by Marutta Āvikṣita, a cakravartin, and finally by Sagara Aikṣvāku, who destroys the Haihaya capital. Sagara also battles a number of north and northwestern tribes, and must be accounted for in IE dispersal events. The Purāṇas give a detailed picture of the many tribes he exiled out of India. With Sagara’s coronation, near 3000 BC, begins the minor Tretā Yuga.

Following him, the Aikṣvāku line is associated with the rise of proto-Ochre Coloured Pottery Cultures in the Gangetic Plains, along with the rising power of federated Yadu tribes. Rulers like Bhagīratha bring organised agriculture and irrigation, attested in the flowering of agriculture in the Gangetic Plains 2900-2400 BC. Bhagīratha’s myth of bringing the Gaṅgā to the earth is but the memory of an irrigational revolution. The Yadus intersect on the Sarasvatī’s plains with a renascent Pūru people, and near 3000 BC the latter are ruled by Bharata, the founder of ancient India’s most dominant dynasty. Yadu tribes in this time have spread across modern Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and further south. They establish western India’s early port cities. Though tradition has Yadus and Turvaśas descend from Yayāti, these might not have been IE-speaking tribes. In the Ṛgveda, the IE kit is more apparent for Ānavas, Druhyus and Pūrus.

In the Aikṣvāku line, a most critical era is of Rāma Dāśarathi, near 2600 BC. This is the era when north India and south India commence true cultural interactions, evident in the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. Following his victory in Laṅkā, Rāma goes on to establish a large, federal empire in north India. His brother, Bharata, establishes the cities of Takṣaśilā and Puṣkalāvaṭī. Through these campaigns, the Aikṣvākus are brought into the Pūru-Bharata horizon, and thus will feature in Ṛgvedic history. These events also trigger the dispersal of names like Sarayu and Gomatī to India’s north-west, and eventually they reach Afghanistan as Harayu and Gomal. Rāma’s coronation commences the nested minor Dvāpara Yuga.

Rāma’s father, Daśaratha, is contemporary to Divodāsa Bhārata of the Ṛgveda. Both battle the Dāsa/Asura named Śambara, and Daśaratha marries a Kekaya princess. Kekaya is a realm in the Greater Punjab, descended from Sivi Auśinara. During the era of Divodāsa Bhārata, the Kekayas are an allied people. This is evidenced by Daśaratha and Kekaya fighting alongside against Śambara, and by the favourable references to Abhyāvartin Cāyamāna in the Ṛgveda. It also explains why Kekayī names her son Bharata—a favourable name to her people at the time.

By 2600 BC we are brought into the Ṛgvedic window proper. The first Ṛgvedic maṇḍala is the 6th, associated with Divodāsa Bhārata and Bharadvāja Bārhaspatya, who is his purohita. This is the period of Western IE dispersals in models by both Witzel[xi] and Tonoyan-Belyayev[xii], and our framework allows us to associate them with the eras of Arjuna Kārtavīrya, Sagara Aikṣvāku and Divodāsa-Daśaratha-Rāma. Paurāṇika accounts of Sagara give vivid picture to the many royal lines he exiled out of India, and many would have resulted in IE dispersals through the father-tongue model.

  1. 2600 BC, Bhāratavarṣa Rises

This period is somewhat poetically titled, for more accurately we see in it the emergence of a proto-Bhāratavarṣa, one that builds atop Rāma’s Bhārata and establishes its north/northwestern cultural boundaries. This is also the classical Ṛgvedic period and that of Mature Harappan archaeology, so a number of pillars well coincide here. Since this period begins near the coronation of Rāma Dāśarathi, we can visit his account first, where the general story does not do justice to the imperial nature of his reign.

To begin, we must understand the existing precedence of rule, conquest and war in the Gangetic Plains. At the dawn of the 7th manvantara, the earliest Aikṣvāku kings had to contend with a variety of other tribes. Some, clubbed as Rākṣasas or Asuras, continued to be hostile through the centuries. Others, such as the Kanyākubjas and Kāśīs, eventually became allied people through cultural and marital contacts. Still others, like the Yādavas, were at time allies and at times considered Dānavas (maternally they were indeed Dānava, but by 2500 BC the name becomes generic).

Paurāṇika evidence indicates that between 3600-3000 BC the Aikṣvāku people were often displaced, and ousted from their capital city. This was largely under duress of repeated Haihaya raids from near the Narmadā River. The Haihayas were not really conquerors, for they abandoned the cities they won and left them for wild tribes to occupy. The Aikṣvākus are redeemed only near 3000 BC by Sagara Aikṣvāku, who destroys the Haihaya capital and ends their threat once and for all. A literal reading of his campaigns has him go to southern India, beyond the Narmadā, and also north of India to the Tibetan Plateau.

The empire Sagara forges is clearly a federated union of culturally allied janas, or tribes. It sets precedence for the kind of republicanism that will prevail in India to the 1st millennium BC, the era of mahājanapadas. Born 4 centuries after Sagara, Rāma is born in a strong, stable and imperial Aikṣvāku lineage. His father’s original name is Nemi, and he earns the title of Daśaratha in war. There is an archaeological anachronism in the suffix of –ratha existing in this era, indeed even in Bhagīratha of ~2900 BC, since no evidence exists of chariots in India in that period.

Some honest questions can be asked of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. It has Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā take on a number of rākṣasa armies during their exile. Is this literally possible? The mythic explanation of bala and atibala, since it possesses a supernatural character, cannot be incorporated. We know that Sagara’s legend is a composite of many generations of Aikṣvāku-Haihaya conflicts. Similarly, elements of Rāma’s story are a composite of many generations of conflicts between expanding Aikṣvākus and resistant southern Indian tribes.

On his victorious return from Laṅkā, Rāma brings back an idol of Vāmanāvatāra, which is consecrated either at Mathurā or at Kanyākubja. This, along with Rāma’s encounter with an Agastya ṛṣi, is the cultural opening of southern and northern India. True imperial history begins after Rāma returns to Ayodhyā and is made king. With his brother, Bharata, he goes to north-west India, where Bharata establishes the cities of Takṣaśilā and Puṣkalāvaṭī. Travelling south then, they recreate Rāma’s original journey and affirm the alliances formed with Yādavas, Vānaras and Rākṣasas. His brothers Lakṣmaṇa and Śatrughna, along with his nephews, carry out the aśvamedha ritual on his behalf and conquer parts of south-eastern India, along with the Mahānadī Delta. This indeed is the true kingdom Rāma forges, a kind of proto-Bhāratavarṣa.

During his exile, Rāma encounters the ageing Ahalyā, who is sister to Divodāsa Bhārata—giving us a way to link the Rāmāyaṇa’s temporal window with the Ṛgveda’s. A few generations after Rāma, by 2500 BC, emerges Sudās Bhārata and the classic Ṛgvedic period begins. Here, Sudās’ reign as the formative period for Mature Harappan and the dispersal of Eastern IE languages is detailed in a previous paper[xiii]. It is shown in it that Sudās is the primary monarch of Mature Harappan, the one who yokes it together into a federal union and brings it to the integration era. A few generations after him, his descendants seal the empire and establish civilisation boundaries at the Bolan and Khyber Passes—giving India a boundary with Iran that would last for thousands of years.

The dāśarājña is more accurately an account of many battles by Sudās, conducted over a long reign, against several tribes of ancient India. Some are forced to migrate out, taking with them IE dialects, while others accept Sudās’ overlordship and the new federal structure. Others still, like a cousin Bhārata tribe led by Saṁvaraṇa, are exiled to the forest and must await a few generations before revival. But to Saṁvaraṇa’s line a revival does come, in the form of his descendant Kuru, who begets the next great dynasty of ancient India, the Kuru-Bhāratas. If the Pūru-Bhāratas are the primary dynasty of the Ṛgvedic period, the Kuru-Bhāratas are the prominent line of the post-Ṛgvedic period. The final figures from Paurāṇika genealogy to be mentioned in the Ṛgveda are Pratīpa and Śāntanu, who are ancestral to the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas. Kuru’s line extracts vengeance on the descendants of Sudās and takes control of the greater Sarasvatī-Dṛṣadvatī region, but a geological development of import forces them to turn eastwards.

This development is the great drying of the Sarasvatī River system, hitherto the lifeline to civilisation in northern India. While the system declined in phases over many centuries, we know that by 1900 BC the Sarasvatī had stopped meeting the ocean. This is confirmed by a rigorous study of Sarasvatī in the Mahābhārata by Sastry and Kalyanasundaram[xiv]. The disturbances this triggers add to dispersal and migrationary pressures, and by 1900 BC the site of Kalibangan is completely abandoned. We find an emergence of the Cemetery H culture in parts of the Sarasvatī valley, reaching up to parts of modern Punjab and the Swat Valley. Benedetti’s paper links this to the archaeological decline of SSC, leading up to the Late Harappan or localisation era post 1900 BC.

Following the fading of Sudās’ dynasty, the Kurus and Yadus rise to great prominence, reaching as far as Magadha in modern Bihar and to Vidarbha beyond the Narmadā River. To Paurāṇika tradition, the minor Dvāpara Yuga that commences with Rāma’s coronation is the era of Ṛgvedic assembly. By the period of Hiraṇyanābha in his line, near 2200 BC, sāmans also exist apart from full Ṛgvedic ṛcas. A few centuries later, Brahmadatta in the Kuru line has at his court the ministers Gālava and Puṇḍarīka, who are credited as ācāryas of Veda. Gālava institutes Vedic śikṣa, and also the kramapāṭha method of recitation.

It is already a new Bhārata by this time, far different to the early Ṛgvedic era, and millennia away from the world of old, Neolithic tribes. From Paurāṇika genealogies, the lines of Kanyākubja and Kāśī are long gone. As are the Vaiśālīs, Ānavas and Haihayas. In the east, covering modern Bengal and Bangladesh as the region of Āṅga and Vaṅga, are the Eastern Ānavas, called so because their line was believed to have split from the primary Ānava line generations ago.

  1. 1900 BC and Beyond

We arrive back where we started, to Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana—who sets out during a period of unrest, conflict and geological decay (of the Sarasvatī). Looking back into the past, he accumulates the eulogist-bard traditions of the land, known to us as the suta-magadha tradition that forms the Paurāṇika core. To the Purāṇas, this tradition commenced with Pṛthu Vainya—the first king and the harbinger of settled, agricultural civilisation.

Thus, though Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana puts together many stories that predate Pṛthu, he lists the latter as the first cakravartin. Among all the elaborate genealogies we find in the Purāṇas, there are only 16 cakravartins—a sign that building civilisation was difficult in those millennia, and that empires once forged did not necessarily last long.

Beyond the era of the Mahābhārata we begin moving towards attested, or accepted Indian history. Not long after the great war, dynasties such as the Bārhadrathas, Pradyotas, Śiśunagas and Nandas rise in the record. While the Mahābhārata’s date is by no means fixed by consensus, a wealth of evidence points to the early 2nd millennium BC as the best-fit era. This is summarised most recently, and comprehensively, by Ravi[xv].

We must also account for the Sinauli chariot, dated to 1900 BC and accompanied by a wealth of evidence pointing to a warrior culture familiar with advanced copper metallurgy. It links well with the material culture suggested in the Mahābhārata, and adds weight to 1900-1500 BC as the plausible era of the war. Beyond this period, Paurāṇika history gives way to “mainstream” history, to eras and dynasties that Indology does not contest.

To recapitulate our journey, we began in ~10500 BC with the era of Svāyambhuva Manu, with acknowledgment for the pre-Holocene memory of Brahmā and his early progeny—possibly even Svāyambhuva’s alleged elder son. Evidence to place the earliest Paurāṇika stories in this period comes from geological hints found in the legends of Indra, Vṛtra and Hiraṇyākṣa.

Proceeding on, the next few millennia are the eras of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, in varying states of progress towards agriculture and metallurgy. Hints of this are found in the first few wars between Daityas and Ādityas, epitomised in the Tārakāsura war. Beyond this, Neolithic micro-revolutions commence and are remembered in the legend of Samudra Manthana.

But true civilisation, or organised agriculture and advanced metallurgy, arise near 6000 BC—an era clearly remembered by the Purāṇas through the story of Pṛthu Vainya. Even the tale of his father, Vena, maps uncannily well to the 8.2-kiloyear event of 6200 BC. It is unmistakable from the Paurāṇika evidence that Pṛthu’s era associates with large-scale Neolithic revolution, and not for nothing did even Ṛgvedic Āryas call their land Pṛthvīyā.

The 7th manvantara begins near 4500 BC with the birth of Vaivasvat Manu—a product both of Pṛthu’s line and of Āditya descendants. Admixture happens quickly between Vaivasvat’s descendants and the extant Daitya/Dānava tribes, and Paurāṇika tradition remembers 15 cakravartins from here on, leading up to Bṛhadratha Vīra near ~2100 BC—who predates by a few centuries the Kuru ancestors Pratīpa and Śāntanu.

Watch video presentation here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lzw_meciDgc

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lzw_meciDgc

References

[1] The Holocene Onset is dated to 11,500 years before present, or 9500 BC. The Younger Dryas was a preceding era that commenced ~11000 BC. It was a temporary return to glacial conditions, marked by a sharp decline in global temperature, a fall in sea levels as water returned to icebergs, and the drying up of river systems due to glaciation.

[i] Pargiter, FE. Ancient Indian Historical Tradition. Oxford University Press.

[ii] Kak, S. On the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture. Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 2000. https://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/chro.pdf

[iii] Benedetti, G. The Chronology of Puranic Kings and Rigvedic Rishis in Comparison with the Phases of the Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization. https://www.academia.edu/7683313/The_Chronology_of_Puranic_Kings_and_Rigvedic_Rishis_in_Comparison_with_the_Phases_of_the_Sindhu_Sarasvati_Civilization

[iv] Ali, SM. The Geography of the Puranas. People’s Publishing House.

[v] van Driem, G. The Prehistoric Peopling of Southeast Asia. https://www.academia.edu/40866846/The_prehistoric_peopling_of_Southeast_Asia

[vi] Ravi, JN. Yamuna Sarasvati Links. Research Journal of Indraprastha, 2016. https://www.academia.edu/35366567/Yamuna_Sarasvati_Links

[vii] Kazanas, N. Indo-Aryan Origins and Other Vedic Issues. Aditya Prakashan.

[viii] Witzel, M. On Indian Historical Writing: The Case of the Vanshavalis. Journal of the Japanese Association for South Asian Studies, 1990. https://www.academia.edu/43690308/On_Indian_historical_writing_The_case_of_the_Vamsavalis

[ix] van Driem, G. The Himalayas as a Prehistoric Corridor for the Peopling of East and Southeast Asia. https://www.academia.edu/21620946/The_Himalayas_as_a_prehistoric_corridor_for_the_peopling_of_East_and_Southeast_Asia

[x] Elst, K. Arya-Tibetan Case for OIT. Pragyata, 2018. https://koenraadelst.blogspot.com/2018/08/arya-tibetan-case-for-oit.html

[xi] Witzel, M. Indocentrism: Autochtonous Visions of Ancient India. The Indo-Aryan Controversy, Routledge, 2005. https://www.academia.edu/43671388/Indocentrism_Autochthonous_visions_of_ancient_India

[xii] Tonoyan-Belyayev, IA. Five Waves of Indo-European Expansion from the South Asian Urheimat: An OIT Model. https://www.academia.edu/36998766/Five_waves_of_Indo_European_expansion_a_preliminary_model_2018_

[xiii] Pandey, A. A New Reading of the Dāśarājña, or Battle of Ten Kings, in the Ṛg Veda. https://www.academia.edu/44619611/A_New_Reading_of_the_Dāśarājña_or_Battle_of_Ten_Kings_in_the_Ṛg_Veda

[xiv] Sastry and Kalyanasundaram. Sarasvati in the Mahabharata – A Study. International Conference on Sarasvati River, 2019. https://www.academia.edu/38369132/Sarasvatī_in_the_Mahābhārata_A_Study_Sastry_and_Kalyanasundaram_2019_pdf

[xv] Ravi, JN. Kurukshetr War Debate Analysis. https://www.academia.edu/45060286/Kurukshetr_War_Debate_Analysis

Image Credit: (Purana manuscripts from 15th to 18th century) wikipedia


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