Prehistory 101 B

Prehistory 101 B

Around three and a half thousand years ago the Indian subcontinent entered the Iron age. Population of the region by then was on its way to reach the fifty million mark, thanks to the fertile soil and sustaining climate. However, by today’s standard, it was still very thinly populated, with a handful of settlements separated by wide rivers in spate and impenetrable forest ranges. These settlements grew into sixteen major polities, called Mahajanapadas in various native literatures. Later, the twentieth century archeologists collectively termed these as the Vedic Civilization.


By sixth century BC one of these polities, Magadha, had produced the Jain philosophy through Mahavira as well as that of Buddhism through Gautama Buddha. This period worldwide witnessed a great spike in novel and horizon altering ideas from people like Thales and Confucius as well. Then in fourth century BC, Alexander, one of the greatest conquerors in world history invaded the subcontinent. After some initial success it is said that he retreated when his army mutinied against marching any further upon knowing that four thousand well trained and well equipped war elephants of the Gangaridei king awaited them. Being a Bengali myself, I cannot resist feeling the warmth of a silly pride there. Honestly, Alexander was on par with Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Hitler and the vegan elephants of Bengal made him retreat! Only the British Empire would later manage to put all these fantastic four’s combined greatness to utter shame!


Back then the rulers in Magadha were from the Nanda Dynasty. Their rule extended from the Bengal in the east to the Punjab region in the west, roughly a quarter of the total area of the subcontinent. This dynasty, among many other things, is famous for being usurped by Chandragupta Maurya, who founded the Mauryan dynasty in 322 BCE. He went on to unify almost all of India except modern day Kerala and Tamil Nadu along with the adjacent island that would later be called Sri Lanka. In the process he reclaimed the Satraps left by Alexander as well as defeating an invasion led by Seleucus I. The kings of this dynasty even went on to annex a large part of the present day Afghanistan to their empire.


However, the second ruler of this dynasty, known as Ashoka, renounced violence, albeit after his successful campaign in the vicious Kalinga War and decided to spread the message of peace ordained from Buddhism. His famous edicts and other philanthropic endeavors put him on par with the greatest of social reformers the world has seen so far.  By then the concept of nonviolence was already three hundred years old from the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira. After another millennium, the same trends were preached again by the emigrating followers of Sufism from Persia, which was under the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate  but by then we have managed to shake off the prefix from prehistory so more on that in the next episode.


Nevertheless this aura of nonviolence managed to penetrate both the native culture and collective conscience of the region to their cores. So much so, that it not only outlived almost eight centuries of foreign rule but is also providing the ruling stratum, even to this day, the opportunity to alienate its citizens to the status of poorly managed subjects while they can go on acting like colonial imperialists!



Coming Up ~ History 101

Prehistory 101 A

Prehistory 101 A


Dear fellow poets and bloggers,

How have you been doing? For the last 3 weeks or so I have not been active at all in the blogosphere apart from posting a few poems, primarily because I am trying to launch a YouTube channel to offer my two bits on literature, anthropology, history and politics. Unfortunately YouTube’s partnership program is not available in my country, so coming up with a sustainable design is turning out to be more difficult than I have imagined.


Anyways, one of the first episodes I plan to upload on the channel would be an overview of the prehistoric era in the Indian Subcontinent. The following text is more or less the first draft of the first episode of that series. As the final draft will be in a storyboard format, I have decided to share the first draft instead. However let me stick a little note of disclaimer here, this is a personal research which is neither rigorous and nor is it meant to be an academic paper. I still welcome your constructive suggestions and advices about enhancing the content. Let me know what you think of it!


So, around sixty thousand years ago, during the second great migration out of Africa, human beings started settling down in the Indus and Ganges river valleys. For the next forty to fifty thousand years these rudimentary settlements were rather sparsely scattered through the region that would later contain more than one fifth of the world population in the twenty first century. Interaction among the dwellers of different settlements existed primarily in the form of encounters between foraging or hunting parties. Superficial features like complexion began to change due to geography. Tribes living in relatively cooler north started losing the protection of melanin from their skin, while those living in the warmer south retained it. People from Sino-Tibetan descent also came to populate the land but mostly preferred the hilly areas over the plains.


When the glaciers from the last ice age began to recede around thirteen thousand years ago, some spectacular things happened and humankind started showing signs of ritualized worship of the supernatural. The famous temple at Göbekli Tepe  is from this period. Perhaps humanity found a unifying agent, albeit locally in today’s perspective, in the face of a near extinction event, possibly caused by a sudden rise of the sea level or an epic flood. Only a fortunate group of archeologists can tell what happened, if they happen to come across some evidences, still unearthed. In terms of the means used to communicate among the populace of a settlement, the language changed around this time as the Proto Indo European tongue of their ancestors gave rise to Proto Sanskrit in the north and Proto Dravidian in the south.


Within a few thousand years, around Seven thousand BCE, agricultural revolution happened and so did domestication of herd animals like the cattle. Due to the existence of the Himalayan range to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south the monsoons were regular and plentiful. Periodically both the Indus and Ganges rivers flooded too, providing a richly fertile soil for cultivation. Accordingly, within the next few thousand years, human habitats like the ones in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro began to grow.


These late bronze age civilizations thrived for a couple of millennia before succumbing to a worldwide collapse around four thousand years ago, most probably from the effects of a substantial change in the world climate. Despite the declining popular belief, no Aryan invasion occurred. The theory of such an invasion was cooked up by Max Muller et al in the nineteenth century, to justify the spread of imperialism as mere repetitiveness of history. The theory held its grounds for more than a century but during the last decade it has mostly been debunked.