By Sharon St Joan
There were no highways then and no paved roads. When the little girl went with her brothers to tend the cattle on top of the hillside, she could see a long way, out over sloping plains dotted with green trees. The sky was blue and the air was clear. When they returned at sunset, the small bricks of which their house was made shined gold in the rays of the setting sun, and there seemed to be magical beings dancing in the air. She watched as her grandmother took newly made, fired, ceramic vases out of the kiln, incised with red and white patterns, sometimes drawn in a row along with the horned head of a bull or a tree with outspread branches.
Nearby, the Saraswathi flowed, a vast, magnificent river, silver in the sunset, so wide that she could not see the other side. Her father had told her that it went all the way to the sea, and that the sea was much, much bigger than the lakes nearby – it was bigger even than the land on which they lived. No one they knew had ever seen the sea, but they had heard about it. On it sailed boats from other lands, and on these other lands, there lived people too. To the south, in the centuries to come, all along the river many other towns would grow up, possibly hundreds, and in the north among the hills, the river narrowed, and it sprang out of great rocks that lived near mountains, covered in snow year-round, that touched the sky, enormous high mountains where no one lived but only the Gods, and the Great God who brought into being – and would some day destroy – all the worlds.
Around seven thousand years passed, and during this immense span of time, the towns along the river, part of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization, grew into enormous, well-planned metropolises, with great paved roads, two-story houses, indoor plumbing, great public buildings, amazing art work, and writing. Around three thousand BCE, they rivaled the cities of Sumer and may have been the largest, most highly developed, most populated cities in the world.
Over many centuries, the great Saraswathi River narrowed in width, growing thinner and thinner, like a ribbon. Eventually, around 2000 BCE, it went underground, and reappeared only seasonally, with the monsoons, when the water flowed again for a few months at a time; now it is called the Ghaggar. With the going underground of this river, the people were unable to make a living on a land with little water; they moved on, some to the west, and many to the east. A few stayed nearby, living on in the deserts of Rajasthan. The great cities fell into ruin.
Nearly ten thousand years after the little girl used to climb the hill to tend cattle with her brothers, her lost city was known by the name Bhirrana. Her family’s house and her neighbors’ houses were found and dug up out of the sand by archeologists. No one knew her name or even that she had lived there. At first, no one knew how long Bhirrana had lain asleep in the sands. Nearby village people had known that there was an old town there, buried by the winds, but no one knew its history or its age. Archeologists came and dug. The more they excavated, the clearer it became that Bhirrana was not only part of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, but also that it was at least as old as the great cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Now it appears that it is, in fact, much, much older. Going back to the very beginnings of the Indus/Saraswathi civilization, to around 9,500 years before the present, Bhirrana is now believed to be the oldest city that has been found anywhere in India.
The ceramic ware that the little girl and her grandmother made and fired in their kiln was similar to the ware fired in villages further west in what is today Pakistan and also in the other Indian towns along the Saraswathi River; it is called Hakra ware. Bhirrana represents the earliest phase of what became the great Indus/Saraswathi Civilization.
The true age of this little town was revealed quite recently – by work done in 2015 and 2016. A scientific team examined animal remains found buried in the riverbed, testing the bones and the teeth of Bhirrana’s cattle and goats to determine phosphorous isotopes and date the remains. (Please see the link below.) The dates they found go back to over 9,000 years ago.
Renowned archeologist B.B. Lal, in his 2002 article, The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts (please see the link below) also traces the Neolithic stage in the northwest Indian sub-continent back to 9,000 years ago.
This is far older than anyone had imagined until recently and extends the age of the Indus/Saraswathi Civilization – and the age of Indian civilization — back to nearly 10,000 years. India has some of the earliest cities ever found and, arguably, the oldest continuing civilization in the world.
The life of the little girl is, on one level, imaginary, but not really, because surely there was actually such a little girl among the residents of Bhirrana. The continuity of India as one of the oldest, unbroken, ongoing cultures in the world cannot really be disputed. The threads of the other great early cultures of the world have been strained and broken, some recently, some long ago – ancient Egypt, China, and Sumer. Like many cultures in the Middle East and beyond, India too was invaded by foreign armies, but India survived. Her culture and her traditions were never extinguished by conquering armies, and they live on today.
This though may be just the beginning of all there is to discover about the story of India. On nearly every continent, there are hints, remaining to be followed up – of the profound influence of ancient India on the history of the world.
© Text, Sharon St Joan, 2017
Author: Thorsten Vieth
The Yamuna River, near the Haryana border, as it crosses the Taj Mahal, flows to the east of the Ghaggar River.
Author: Amy Dreher
Red pottery with red and black slip-painted decoration from Harappa , around 2500 BCE.
Author: Saqib Qayyum
A view of Mohenjo-Daro, existing around 2500 BCE.
The Ghaggar River today.
Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization
- Authors: Anindya Sarkar, Arati Deshpande Mukherjee, M. K. Bera, B. Das, Navin Juyal, P.Morthekai, R. D. Deshpande, V. S. Shinde & L. S. Rao
- Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 26555 (2016)
The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts
Author: Prof. B. B. Lal
Publication: Bharatiya Pragna
Date: March 2002
Re-published in Hindu Vivek Kendra
Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology