Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Reluctant pride

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We know that the Sindhu River, which we popularly know by its Greek pronunciation of Indus, gave rise to a great civilisation that outshone the much later one of the Nile in Egypt. Here, over the past nine thousand or so years, in its wide valley that nestled in the west under the crags of the Suleman Hills and in the east merged into other valleys of now lost rivers, grew a number of glorious cities. The development of these cities, it was once believed, was influenced by the 'superior' culture of Mesopotamia — perhaps by an eastward immigration of population groups.

Moen jo Daro
When the brush and the scalpel were first put to the mound of Mehrgarh in the Bolan River gorge near Sibi (Balochistan) by a French team in 1976, there began to emerge a city whose origin was immediately datable to the year 6500 BC (now pushed back another thousand years). Moen jo Daro and Harappa (to name just two Indus Valley cities) had already been discovered and much was known of life in those far off days. But science is an eternal bubbling spring (unlike stagnating dogma) that constantly renews and refreshes itself. And so the uncovering of Mehrgarh upset a few beliefs. Among them, that the valley of the Sindhu was peopled by an eastward migration from West Asia.

Dental morphology of Mehrgarh burials showed that these people were of a distinctively Asian gene pool: Mehrgarh and, by extension, other Sindhu Valley cities were indigenous cultures. So far as the origin of Mehrgarh is concerned, Mark Kenoyer, an archaeologist who has worked two decades in the Sindhu Valley, believes that it started off as a winter camp for highland communities. Over time, it became permanently settled.

That Mehrgarh and its contemporary settlements were peopled by local races was not the only turnabout in perspective. It was also learned from these ruins that the use of domesticated plants and animals was a local development as well. Until Mehrgarh, it was believed that domestication of cereals and animals having originated in the Near East gradually travelled across the Iranian plateau to the Sindhu Valley. The discovery of Mehrgarh changed that perspective once and for all.

Here they found ample evidence of barley and wheat, sheep and goats being used as food. The transition from hunter to husbandman is clearly shown in the cultural sequence at Mehrgarh: around 6500 BC we see bones of gazelle, deer, pig and even larger wild animals like nilgai (Blue Bull) and wild ass. Within the next one thousand years the percentage of wild animal bones decreases with a proportional increase of bones of domesticated goats and sheep.

Thereafter, Mehrgarh, howsoever her citizenry called her, did not look back. Agriculture and animal husbandry developed with a corresponding decrease in the need to hunt and gather food. That left off time to do other things. Shortly after 5500 BC, the people of Mehrgarh had turned to travel and trade. Soon we find them travelling to and mixing with Mesopotamian populations: about this time we see a definitive shift with skeletal remains showing an increased similarity with West Asian populations. It is not hard to imagine wealthy traders bringing Mesopotamian wives for themselves or their sons or giving away their own daughters to their distant counterparts.

That was the pattern that led to the development of the entire Sindhu Valley civilisation that is today marked by the awe-inspiring ruins of Moen jo Daro, Amri and Harappa. This was the birth of a culture that flourished over the next four and a half millennia. With ample lucidity Kenoyer shows that success of this culture as well as the government was based on control of trade, the arts, religion and learning and not on militarism. At its heyday, this was a culture so developed that Sargon the king of Akkad (2334-2279 BC) would proudly boast of the ships that called from Meluhha in the ports of his kingdom. Meluhha, archaeologists tell us, was the West Asian name for the Sindhu Valley.

And when the civilisation was wiped away from the face of the earth it was not at the hands of savages pouring in from across the north-western passes. It was because the river that once gave it life began to cause repeated flooding that gradually caused decay and eventual death.

When the 'savages' did come, they did not destroy what they found here. They assimilated. In his epic work of 1931 John Marshal draws interesting parallels between the large-busted Mother Goddess of the Sindhu Valley and Parvati of the Hindu pantheon. Again, in the horned male god who sits in yogic pose surrounded by wild animals (tiger, bull, rhino and elephant), Marshal sees the prototype for Shiva. Indeed, even the Hindu reverence for the pipal tree stems from our earliest ancestors of the Sindhu Valley. We see a recurrence of the pipal-leaf motifs as well as representations of a deity either upon it or in its shade. The pipal was sacred to the good folks of the Sindhu Valley.

The Aryans would have been held in thrall by the glory of the cities of the Sindhu Valley. Accustomed to living in tents, they would have been awe-struck by the opulence of these places, even if they were already in a state of decay. They simply could not have destroyed them. Although, so far as I am aware, there is no evidence of intermarriages between the newcomers and the natives, I like to believe that in my veins and in yours there runs a mixture of those two ancient bloods. We are descendents of those amazing people who founded one of the greatest and longest lasting civilisations the world has yet known.

But we who live today are apologetic for our ancient past. We may acknowledge Moen jo Daro, Harappa or other sites of the Sindhu Valley civilisation, but begrudgingly and with reluctance. Reluctant, because this great civilisation is pre-Islamic, while we (or our rulers since independence) wished to ingrain in ourselves an Islamic identity by inventing a history that began with the Arab conquest of Sindh. Officially we therefore attempt to wish away our early history.

Modern Egyptians do not shy from their past, nor too the Iranians. Only we, the Muslims of the subcontinent do. And when we do, we only give away our converts' inferiority complex.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Makran Coastal Highway

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,


At October 8, 2014 at 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We, the muslims, can not afford the history before Bin Qasim, only around 1300 years ago. How can we tolerate history more than 1400 years old!

At October 8, 2014 at 1:57 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

How can we pride in our glorious past when we are happy with the status quo - how worst it may be?

At October 8, 2014 at 1:58 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

How can we pride in our glorious past when we are happy with the status quo - how worst it may be?

At October 8, 2014 at 2:04 PM, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

I like to believe that in my veins and in yours there runs a mixture of those two ancient bloods. We are descendants of those amazing people who founded one of the greatest and longest lasting civilizations the world has yet known.

Beautiful Lines Indeed

At October 9, 2014 at 6:55 PM, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

Pipal is a lovely way to reconnect to our ancient roots. Our ancestors were one hell of people because they're peaceful, practiced sustainability and showed organization. Marvelous!!!

At October 11, 2014 at 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again an excellent piece.

It may surprise some of us to find out that many of the Buddhist scholars identify some of the archaeological evidence found at Indus Valley Civilisation sites, is also of particular religious significance to Buddhism. This includes the symbols like the Bodhi tree (Pipal Tree) and animals such as the elephant and deer. Perhaps most important being the discovery of several images of figures sitting in cross-legged postures with their hands resting on their knees, with their eyes narrowed, half-closed, in postures of meditation as practiced by Buddha.

Interestingly, the Buddhist scholars also state that The Buddha Himself indicated the Indus Valley origins of His tradition when He said that the path which He taught was an ancient path and the goal to which He pointed to was an ancient goal. The Buddhists belief in six Buddhas prior to the Buddha Shakyamuni within this aeon, they state is indicative of this fact. The Buddhist scholars state that all these point to a continuity between the tradition of the Indus Valley Civilization and the teachings of the Buddha.

The mystique that is hidden at the core of Pakistan's earliest history is so intriguing and romantic that the more one reads into it, the more one falls in love with it.


At October 11, 2014 at 1:48 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Sound observations, Sufyan. Thank you very much for enlightening all of us.

At October 13, 2014 at 4:19 PM, Blogger Pat said...

Dear Salman,
On your point on Aryan invasion, may I suggest that after the decoding of the human genome, it has been conclusively proven by as many as 12 separate studies in Europe, India and US, that there was no Aryan invasion. If anything, the genetic material flowed the other way, i.e. from Africa to India and Pakistan, and from there to Europe and Asia. These conclusions have been drawn after path-breaking researches on the mitochondrial DNA from across the subcontinent.

Sure, Alexander did invade, but that did not leave any large genetic imprint on populations. But the so-called 4000 year old Aryan hordes - they actually never came.

You may want to Google it. It made me ponder, and after 2 years of mulling over it, many things are clearer in my mind. Happy Googling!!!


At October 14, 2014 at 4:23 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Hi there Pat. We spoke earlier on this subject. I don't google, please. I read books. I'll now seriously look for a book on the subject. But thank you very much.

At October 16, 2014 at 9:21 AM, Blogger Pat said...

Hello Salman! yes, we had discussed Jain philosophy earlier. Since you do not Google, here's a link to Michel Danino's paper:

Since this is a new debate not many books exist outside of academia. Stephen Oppenheimer's The Real Eve is one, perhaps.

I've read one more paper by researchers in BHU, but I could not locate it now. Will send you the link later.

At October 16, 2014 at 6:42 PM, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

Pat the link you mentioned, refers to Pakistan separately; I find that very odd. Especially Figure 1. and that Pakistan is so very distant (genetically) from the Indians and Punjabis. I hope you know more that 60% of Pakistan's Population is Punjabis.

You may want to go through the link below to give you a different side of the picture:


At October 17, 2014 at 10:10 AM, Blogger Pat said...

Rehan, the link I sent was to show that there is emerging evidence against the theory of 'Aryan' invasion. There is a lot of Nazi obfuscation around the origins of this myth. Its only now that researchers are getting around it. But that's another story.

The link that you sent is for the theses that Indian population is an admixture of Caucasoids, Mongoloids and Dravids. This theory has been proven wrong because it has been found that the M and the U haplogroups are the second oldest after east Africa. In other words its like saying that my grandfather has inherited genes from my son.

The second point of the genetic study (which is far from over, actually), is that the gene pool in India is mixed and is indigenous. That is to say, the Adivasis, the southern Indian, the Northern Indian, the Kutchis, Kashmiris, Punjabis, all have the same genetic markers. Which means that there was no 'Aryan' invasion and that the genetic pool of most of the subcontinent is indigenous despite the various theories put forward, starting from Max Mueller about the emergence of the caste system.

These are very big points. Much may change as we discover more genetic evidence. Its exciting times for not just for anthropologists but also for people like me who want to understand culture, language, mythology and rituals.

At February 15, 2015 at 9:44 PM, Blogger seema kapoor said...

Indus valley civilization was a Vedic civilization. The roots of IVC lies in the east of Sindhu at the banks of lost river Saraswati of deep antiquity.

Archeologists have found 900 pre harappan sites dating back as early as 8000BC in Haryana & Rajasthan.
Saraswati is mentioned in Rig Veda as the mother of Vedic civilization. Pakis are the descendants of Vedics & if they are bold enough to accept this fact than definitely they are a part of a continous ancient civilization which is way more glorious & mystical than egyptian, arabic or sumerian!

There was No aryan invasion, We Indians are the oldest & most civilized civilization founded by the Aryans themselves.

At June 1, 2015 at 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was no invasion by any Aryan horde.So lets put a stop to the Aryan invasion theory for all times.

At June 2, 2015 at 2:52 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Anonymous before yousay this show me one, just one, pure Aryan skull dating back to Moen jo Daro, Harappa or Mehrgarh. Since you cannot, you stop believing in fairy tales. The same goes for Seema Kapoor.


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