The idea for following book arose after a special meeting between the two authors and seven Swamis of the Swami Narayan order, at the behest of Sadhu Brahmavihari Das. The meeting took place at the new Akshardham temple complex in Delhi, which was then not quite yet finished (March 2005). The Swamis also honored us with a tour of this new and spectacular monument.
As part of this tour, the Swamis showed us their “Ten Minute Down the Sarasvati River” display, one of their important cultural presentations on ancient India, and a great production in its own right. They sought our help with the display and its information. In the ensuring dialogue the idea arose of a short book on ancient India written specifically to accompany the display. At the same time, we concluded that the book should have also general value as a concise, complete and well-illustrated volume that would be useful at all Hindu religious centers and, on a broader level, for the general public.
Both authors have written extensively on ancient India, in various books and articles widely published in the Indian press and in other countries, particularly the USA. The present volume allows us to summarize and update the material we have previously presented. We have also individually written on different aspects of Indian culture and Vedic sciences, not simply as specialists on history. Our perspective is of those who respect the Vedic tradition and can look at ancient India from its broader perspective.
We must emphasize that the ancient history of India still requires revision in light of both recent scientific information and a more accurate study of India’s own venerable literature. Many of the commonly accepted and textbook accounts of ancient India have now been contradicted by new evidence in several fields. Whether one entirely agrees with the alternative views we have put forth or not, these old accounts can no longer be accepted without question.
To treat the revision of historical books as a kind of tampering with scriptures, as some scholars in India are suggesting today, makes no sense at all. History is man-made; it must be updated like all knowledge. All over the world, the dates for the beginning of civilization and for human populations are being pushed back in time. India cannot be exempted from such a revision. The historical accounts of fifty years ago cannot be made the last word any more than the science of fifty years ago.
On the scientific side, recent geological finds like the many urban sites along the now dry Sarasvati River and a greater understanding of natural history and genetics, like the dispersal of human populations from Southeast Asia eight to ten thousand years ago, have important ramifications relative to the history and cultural development of India.
On the literary side, the recognition that the Vedas contain important spiritual, scientific and historical knowledge contradicts older European views of them as primitive and unsophisticated. Such data must be considered carefully and cannot be ignored. In this regard, we have tried to make the book engaging, examining the most difficult and disputed issues, so to arrive at a deeper truth.
We have also aimed at a book that honors the cultural heritage of India and seeks to present that as part of the history. A great culture cannot arise from an historical vacuum or from mere borrowings from invading nomads, as many current accounts of ancient India suggest. India’s culture is itself a proof of a great history.
We have tried to make the book relevant and alive for the modern reader, especially the youth. The book seeks to inspire as well as to inform, to turn the history into a cultural experience rather than a technical presentation only. The book is something like a hundred page ride down the Sarasvati River. Through a culture of ten thousand years, numerous sages, and the development of one of the world’s greatest civilizations, it can only provide a few snapshots and summaries that address the main points.
For those who want more information on these subjects, we urge the reader to look into our other books and those given in the bibliography. The history of India is one of the world’s great cultural and spiritual adventures, which all people should study and can learn a great deal from.
We thank in particular the Swaminarayan movement for allowing us this opportunity. We only hope that our work does justice to the great civilization of India and helps renew it for coming generations.
Summary of Main Points Emphasized in the Book
1) India had the largest and most continuous of all the civilizations of the ancient world starting by at least 3000 BCE, with a much more extensive urban civilization than Egypt or Sumeria of the same time periods. Yet its role as a source of civilization has largely been ignored by the historical biases of the West.
2) The Vedic Literature is the ancient world’s largest, with its many thousands of pages dwarfing what little the rest of the world has been able to preserve. This literature reflects profound spiritual concepts, skill in mathematics, astronomy and medicine, special knowledge of language and grammar and other hallmarks of a great civilization. It cannot be attributed to nomads and barbarians or to the short space of a few centuries.
3) The ancient Indian literature, the world’s largest, and ancient Indian archaeology, also the ancient world’s largest, must be connected. We can no longer accept the idea of Ancient India without a literature and Vedic literature reflecting no real culture or civilization. Vedic literature and its symbolism is clearly reflected in Harappan archaeology and its artifacts.
4) Southeast Asia, which included South India, was the home of most human populations, which migrated after the end of the Ice Age, when the water released by melting glaciers, flooded the region around ten thousand years ago. Southeast Asia, not the Middle East, is the likely cradle not only of populations, but culture and agriculture as well.
5) The Sarasvati River, the dominant river in India in the post-Ice Age era, after 8000 BCE, and the main site of urban ruins in ancient India, is well described in Vedic texts. It ceased to flow around 1900 BCE, making the Vedic culture older than this date. All stages of the development and drying up of the Sarasvati can be found in Vedic texts down to the Mahabharata, showing that the Vedic people were along the river at all phases.
6) There is no scientific or archaeological basis for any Aryan or Dravidian race, which are now discredited concepts. No Aryan skeletal remains have ever been found in India apart from the existing populations in the country going back to prehistoric times. There is no archaeological evidence of any Aryan invasion or migration into India but only the continuity of the same populations in the region and their cultural changes. This requires that we give up these old ideas and look at the data afresh apart from them.
7) Connections between Indian languages and those of Europe and Central Asia, which can be found relative to both Sanskritic and Dravidian languages, are more likely traceable to a northwest movement out of India after the end of the Ice Age. The late ancient Aryan and Dravidian migrations, postulated to have taken place c. 1500 BCE into India from Central Asia of western linguistic theories occur too late, after populations and cultures were already formed, to result in the great changes attributed to them. Besides no records of such proposed migrations/invasions have yet to be found. Archaeology, literature and science, including genetics, all contradict it.
8) Vedic spirituality of ritual, mantra, yoga and meditation, based on an understanding of the dharmic nature of all life, created the foundation for the great spiritual traditions of India emphasizing individual experience of the Divine and spiritual practice over outer dogmas and beliefs. Such a spiritual ethos is the fruit of a great and mature ancient civilization.
9) The Hindu view of time, as through the Hindu Yuga theory, that connects human history with natural history of tens of thousands of years marked by periodic cataclysms makes sense relative to new scientific discoveries relative to natural history through genetics and climate changes.
10) This ancient, eternal Vedic culture is still relevant to the world today and lives on in the great ashrams, temples and spiritual practices of India. Reclaiming this ancient spiritual heritage of India and spreading it throughout the world is one of the greatest needs of the coming planetary age, in which we must go beyond the boundaries of creedal boundaries and materialistic values.