Paradigms Lost, Past Continuous – Saraswati and some other rivers: Janaki Nair

Guest post by JANAKI NAIR

Maj General GD Bakshi (hereafter MGB) feels enough is enough. Having dealt with the Information Warfare and Psychological Operations in the Indian Army, he has now trained his guns on the internal enemy, abandoning the trenches of Jai Jawan for the far messier archaeologists’ hangout. In his battle dress – impeccable suits and ties– he wages war in the cause of snatching back History from historians, particularly Marxist Historians, Oxford and Harvard Historians, Colonial Historians, Tony Joseph, and above all JNU Historians who pose the Greatest Threat to the Continuity of our National Past. (Fortunately, he has not heard of Subaltern Historians, who have dared to polish up arguments instead of his shoes; or of feminist or Dalit historians, who impertinently ask whatever happened to the Vedic dasi).  While waging this war, he also hopes to win some minor battles on behalf of the Indian Taxpayer by shutting down JNU.

Then MGB had a second think: why waste a chance of planting a flag on a beautiful 1000-acre campus just because it was a Marxist redoubt? And what safer flag in these times of COVID than a Webinar in the JNU ether?  So MGB is ready to announce the Paradigm Shift in the study of the Saraswati Civilisation.  (For those who were reared on that disloyal diet of NCERT books, it refers to the Indus Valley Civilisation, or Harappan Culture).  This Paradigm Shift will fortunately not be as fickle as the Sutlej,  which changed its course mid-holocene. In fact, this Paradigm Shift does not rely much on historians or archaeologists,  but more on scientists – geologists, geneticists, accurate carbon dating physicists – who along with MGB, alone are capable of Total Objectivity, and know that only Good Things happened in the Indian past.

Of course, there are some untrustworthy exceptions among the scientists, such as David Reich, who operates the Ancient DNA lab at Harvard,  and gave us the startling news that ‘no group in India can claim genetic purity’ since we have all emerged from the hopeless intermingling of two highly divergent  Ancestral North Indian and Ancestral South Indian populations. MGB would park him alongside those who produce other Pernicious Binaries that threaten to break up India (i.e. Brahmin-non Brahmin, secular-communal, centralized-segmentary, etc etc).

MGB is not deterred in his quest for Total Objectivity by the fact that on closer scrutiny, even the scientists are not exactly in agreement about what happened in the mid-holocene.

No, one lot  said, Bronze Age urbanism in the drainage divide between the Sutlej and the Yamuna was not always dependent on any perennial Himalayan river, which had in any case dried up circa 8000 BCE, long before the settlements were established; Bronze Agers more likely followed monsoon fluvial activity [1].

No, No, said another bunch of scientists, who once more asserted that the palaeochannels of the Ghaggar Hakra are indeed identifiable with the Saraswati [2].

Not quite, said the third lot investigating Bhiranna, a site in Haryana, affirming that ‘most Harappan settlements grew in the floodplains of river systems including those of the Indus or now defunct Ghaggar-Hakra’ though Harappans  adapted creatively to monsoonal decline. They did not have the supreme confidence of MGB, perhaps because they had done the research, that Ghaggar Hakra  was the mythical river Saraswati [3].

MGB  will have to choose his scientists cautiously, since, they too might arrive at similar problematic conclusions as the (aforementioned) historians and archaeologists.

That the Indus script has not been deciphered is a minor inconvenience; meanwhile, MGB  says, there is plenty of visual material to analyse.  So his Paradigm Shift also relies on the visits that he has made to the National Museum, where, while he was peering through the glass at the terracotta female figurines on display, in his suit and tie, he discovered Continuity in the form of vermilion in the hair parting, Continuity in the form of bindis on the forehead, and Continuity in the form of bangles worn all the way past the elbow. Then there is the shape of the pot which has remained Continuously the same to the present day, except that it is made of aluminium or steel, or worse plastic, which the Harappans were fortunately unaware of. This truth of Continuity has been kept from the Indian People by those (aforementioned) historians and archaeologists who have emphasized instead that the word Aryan denotes language speakers rather than race, and that historically the building of urban cultures (such as Harappa),  or their declines,  are slow processes,  as are migrations which are sometimes centuries or millennia long, but nevertheless discontinuous, with  many breaks and disjunctures.  The (aforementioned)  archaeologists and historians are certain of certain uncertainties: about the structure of political power in Harappa, about how exactly the post-urban Late Harappa culture lost a lot by about 1900 BCE,  including that undecipherable writing. They shamefully conclude that there are many enigmatic and suggestive material pasts that call for detailed, careful research. These are  ways of thinking, MGB knows,  that took root in the colonial past, when the only goal was to produce Binaries.

The largest sites of the Harappan culture  are in present day enemy territory, which allows THEM to claim the unbroken urban heritage. The  Enemy might even claim that the Harappan Culture represents a proto-Islamic civilization, given the important burial sites that have been excavated. But they can’t do a thing to take away the Unbroken Hindu heritage, which as MGB asserts, is evident in Seal 420, depicting a horned deity,  which is none other than the forebear of the Rg Vedic Pasupathi.

MGB  honourably lowers his antipathy to colonial archaeologists and historians, when it’s for the great Continuity cause.  Was it not John Marshall, who,  in a 1930s speculation that ever after  became Historical Truth, suggested that Seal 420 may well be a ‘proto Siva’ Pasupathi, surrounded by tiger, buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, and deer below the seat? Colonials like Marshall have their continued uses because his Truth coincides exactly with the Truth that MGB wants to paradigmatically ingrain into the Indian people. ‘We have always been Hindu.’  

There is the small problem of dealing with those religious studies experts, art historians and archaeologists such as Doris Srinivasan[4]  Shireen Ratnagar[5] and Shubhangana Atre[6],  who have argued, unfortunately persuasively, that in the Rg Veda, Pasupati protects cows, horses, men, goats, and sheep, in short , domestic animals critical to the economy of the Vedic period.  Also,  the horned deity featured in many other societies than just India.  And finally, as Srinivasan and Atre have shockingly concluded, the proto Siva is really a proto female goddess![7]  Or as Ratnagar says, all the voluptuous and not so voluptuous female terracotta figurines, plentiful and usually unclothed,  are evidence of a fertility function or a cultic function, since they were found largely thrown in the garbage after domestic rituals. Scandalous! And then they suggest that there may be nothing yogic in their postures, especially when most of them were barely or very lightly clothed! Even a seated female figurine with both legs reaching the ground,  European style? Outrageous.

Fortunately, all of them can be dismissed by MGB because they are mere women, exceeding their proper task of maintaining Continuity etc while he gallantly soldiers on in his suit.

It is very likely that the Harappans did not know how to ask challengingly ‘Do You Know Who I Am?’ an art perfected by most elite Indians today:  certainly their city plans and structures do not reveal great disparities, nor do the material artefacts suggest a society that was deeply hierarchical. It should interest a military historian such as MGB  that not a single seal shows warfare or battle, or a captive or a victor.

But these are all minor Discontinuities which MGB will steadfastly ignore while paradigmatically shifting the discourse to the Right Side.  Of course to do this, he will also have to overlook other Discontinuities: the Harappans did not say ‘We are like that only’ when it came to public hygiene and sanitation, on which all are agreed, they were really top dog.

MGB does not fortunately descend to the level of Gyandev Ahuja, who in 2016, when the scandalous state of anti-nationalism in JNU stood exposed, scrupulously examined JNU detritus for large and small bones revealing meat consumption, among other details. In our current context, it is better for MGB not to include in his Paradigm Shift the news of the animal remains that indicate a good meatarian diet in the Ancient Civilization of Continuity: ‘besides the dietary use of cattle and goats, wild fauna such as nilgai (Boselaphas tragocamelus), Indian spotted deer (Axis axis) and antelope (Antilope cervicapra) were also a part of the diet’.

The problem, as MGB knows, is that there is too much history lying around in our country. And not much of it is of use to the nation,  that is Bharat. He has found a simple workable answer to the Evidence-Shevidence problem that concerned Collingwood, Carr, Kosambi, Thapar, and other unnameable Imperialists and Binarists. It is the Military Method:

We Don’t Have  History! We Must Have a History!! Ours not to reason why; ours but to GLORIFY!

So decide on the Truth that you want, and then go looking for the evidence. In a country as full of history as ours, and with enough people who will provide more history on demand, as he and the Babri Masjid-Ram Janam Bhoomi kar sevaks have  proved,  this will be an easy task.  Meanwhile, should the Indus script be deciphered,  with MGB in command, I am sure we will learn that India has always been Bharat, and that we have all always been Saraswats.

[1]  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01643-9.

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-53489-4

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/srep26555

[4]https://elibrary.azimpremjifoundation.org:2146/stable/25211627?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=doris&searchText=srinivasan&searchText=indus&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Ddoris%2Bsrinivasan%2Bindus&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3A78551e55997634a37fbae907bd413705&seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents;

https://elibrary.azimpremjifoundation.org:2146/stable/20062578?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=doris&searchText=srinivasan&searchText=indus&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Ddoris%2Bsrinivasan%2Bindus&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Aa302251ce3cf59f567bfdb01530c9beb

[5] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2348448916665714?journalCode=sipa

[6] https://elibrary.azimpremjifoundation.org:2146/stable/42930267?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=s&searchText=atre&searchText=mother&searchText=goddess&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Ds%2Batre%2Bmother%2Bgoddess&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Afbece63ddec5f55120b7a842cc508c43&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[7] https://elibrary.azimpremjifoundation.org:2146/stable/42930267?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=s&searchText=atre&searchText=mother&searchText=goddess&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Ds%2Batre%2Bmother%2Bgoddess&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Afbece63ddec5f55120b7a842cc508c43&seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents

Janaki Nair is a historian who taught in JNU till recently.

3 thoughts on “Paradigms Lost, Past Continuous – Saraswati and some other rivers: Janaki Nair”

  1. A very well written piece and a much required academic response to such lecture of MGB, which is an official misuse of University platform. Thanks for writing.

  2. Thank you for this well written article. In this age of manufactured facts, one needs to keep hearing the alternate facts.

    some of the links are not accessible without access to the site.

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