Rakhigarhi is the largest excavated Harappan site. Rakhigarhi represents the urban apogee of Harappan civilization extended from Manda in Jammu to Daimabad in Maharashtra. Rakhigarhi was first reported, in 1963. Its first record was published by Suraj Bhan in 1969 wherein he documented mature Harappan traditions like town planning and architecture in Rakhigarhi
A small town in Hissar (Haryana), Rakhigarhi is the largest excavated Harappan site. Measuring 350 Ha, it was the largest Harappan city of its time (do note that recent excavations have established that Rakhigarhi was larger than Mohenjodaro). The town shows continuous habitation from 2600 BCE to 1800 BCE.
Rakhigarhi represents the urban apogee of Harappan civilisation that extended from Manda in Jammu to Daimabad in Maharashtra, covering a distance of around 1,600 km.
What is noteworthy is that the area covered by the Harappan civilisation was more than that of the contemporary civilisation(s) in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Rakhigarhi was first reported way back in 1963. Its first record was published by Suraj Bhan in 1969 wherein he documented mature Harappan traditions like town planning and architecture in Rakhigarhi.
The recent sensation from Rakhigarhi is a DNA study of two individual skeletons found at the site. This study comes in the wake of the discovery of a 'chariot' at Sanauli (Uttar Pradesh)- a site contemporary to mature or late Harappan civilisation. The site is generally dated to 2100-1800 BCE.
The discovery of the chariot is significant because it is the earliest such find in the Indian subcontinent and perhaps, even in the world. The earliest-found chariot in India dated to c.350 BCE.
The earliest excavated chariots in the whole world were considered to be those of the Sintashta culture (2050-1800 BCE). However, whereas the chariots at Sintashta were spoked, the vehicle excavated at Sanauli was solid-wheeled.
There were eight burials in total in Sanauli. On one of the burials is inscribed a horned headgear, which is a very typical Harappan-like motif.
In the wake of the discovery of Indian “chariot”, the ancient DNA study holds a great value. Vasant Shinde, the lead researcher of Rakhigarhi DNA study has this to say,
“The Rakhigarhi human DNA clearly shows a predominant local element — the mitochondrial DNA is very strong in it. There is some minor foreign element which shows some mixing up with a foreign population, but the DNA is clearly local. This indicates quite clearly, through archeological data, that the Vedic era that followed was a fully indigenous period with some external contact “
Not surprisingly, then, these discoveries rekindled the decades-long debate between archaeologists and geneticists. Between those who hold that the Sanskritic civilisation originated from outside and those who hold it was indigenous.
While Indigenists see the findings as a reconfirmation that chariots, which formed a key element in warfare during early Vedic civilisation were indigenous to the land and not brought by the so-called Aryans from outside. The weapons along with the chariots indicate it was a royal burial. These conclusions are contested by those scholars who hold Aryans came from outside.
1. They question the date of the burial since no carbon dating has ever been conducted at the site.
2. The solid-wheeled vehicles cannot be considered true chariots (rathas).
3. No bones have been found at the site. It is not clear whether the vehicle was driven by equids or bulls.
According to Indologist Michael Witzel, the Sanauli vehicle was not a chariot. It was a "cart with two full wheels, as is known from Harappa and Daimabad".
He believes that the swords show the Harappan people were not as peaceful as often maintained. He adds that the Rakhigarhi DNA study cannot be used to draw conclusions as the sample size was just two. Yet, he thinks the DNA results, which did not find central Asian element in Rakhigarhi, were consistent with the Aryan invasion/immigration theory which holds that the Aryans came to India after the decline of the Harappan civilisation.
Here, the friction between archaeology and genetics is again palpable. For archaeologists, the continuity between Harappan and Vedic is apparent.
Vasant Shinde is of the view that the manner of burial at Rakhigarhi is similar to that in the early Vedic period. He also notes that the burial rituals associated with the Rakhigarhi site are performed even today by locals attesting to its unbroken cultural continuity.
It should also be noted that the Rakhigarhi settlement continued into 1800 BC, a period which many (Aryan invasion theorists) believe, marked the entry of the Aryans into India.
It is significant that in Rakhigarhi there are no traces of any violence, invasion or warfare. There is no sign of destruction and there are no cuts and marks on the skeletons.
Here is the catch 22.
For the Aryan invasionists, dating the arrival of the Aryans post-1800 BC is not without its problem. The Rig Veda is a bronze age text. The text knows of Ayas (bronze).
Iron (Shyam ayas) was first attested in Atharva Veda. We know that iron smelting began in India by 1800 BC. We also find the presence of the so-called Indo-Aryans in the Middle East by 1800 BC.
Due to these reasons, it is hard for the Aryanists to date the so-called invasion post-1800 BC.
Also, Rakhigarhi lies on the banks of the erstwhile river Drishadvati. This region between Sarasvati and Drishadvati was considered by the Vedic people as their holiest land. Later texts call it 'Brahmavarta'.
We expect an early Vedic settlement in this region. Thus, the archaeological continuity found at Rakhigarhi indeed poses its problems for the Aryan invasionists. What is needed is to make sense of all the data available and exploit the data to push one's theories.
“Decline of Indus?”
It is very common to speak of the 'Decline of Indus', often associated with the suggested movement of the Indo-Aryans. The implication by some invasionists is that if the Indo-Aryans themselves did not destroy the Indus civilisation, they at least indirectly led to its decline.
However, such assumptions fall flat on examination of archaeological evidence. Rather than abandonment and decline, there was overcrowding and encroachment in the late Harappan culture.
As Indus archaeologist Kenoyer puts it,
"These new excavations indicate that the late Harappan occupation at the site was much more widespread than originally thought. Baked brick architecture was constructed with both newly made bricks as well as reused bricks from earlier structures. During the late Harappan period, there is evidence of over-crowding and encroachment rather than abandonment and decline."
Further, glass was being produced for the first time ever in the Indus valley and Indian subcontinent. It is indeed surprising how this period, which also saw technological advancements, is passed off as 'decline'.
Let us assume for a second that Western Indologists are indeed right and Indo-Aryans entered the Indian subcontinent after 1800 BC.
The question that inevitably props up is how the 'invasion' of the Indo-Aryans was different from that of the Huns and later day invaders. It is not to be forgotten that the Indo-Aryans, whether they were originally from Mars or Haryana, were the creators of the Indic civilisation.
In the hypothetical case that Indo-Aryans 'invaded', they definitely did not invade India as there was no India. In fact, India as a civilisational entity was created by these so-called 'invaders'.
The same Western archaeologists who talk about the Indo-Aryans immigrating from outside of India hold that the speakers of Dravidian languages were entering India from Sindh about the same time as the Indo-Aryans were entering from Punjab.
The language then spoken by mainland India is, according to this hypothesis, 'language X'. Proto-Munda was spoken in the region around Bihar. We have no clue about other languages.
The Ahar-Banas civilisation of Rajasthan was strikingly different from its adjacent Indus valley civilisation. The Jorwe culture of Maharastra was different from either of them.
Now compare this situation with the one present when the Islamic Turks first invaded India.
The temples of Kafirkot in the north-west were more similar to the Kailasanatha temple of Kanchi than any Western-domed structure. This remarkable civilisational and cultural unity is known as the Indic civilisation had its roots in the Vedic culture.
Also, the analogy is deceptively fraudulent. By this logic, one could argue the 2002 war was not an invasion of Iraq and Iraq cannot be invaded since Iraqi Arabs were themselves 7th-century invaders from the Arabian Peninsula.
The very essence of the word 'invasion' is lost. This means that Iraq is open to invasion by any country and every country could justify an invasion of Iraq by simply saying, "look, you are invaders too".
After all, if Vedic people are foreign to India just because they allegedly entered India in 1500 BC, the Persians, who entered Persia after 1000 BC are foreign to Persia. The Greeks who entered Greece after 2000 BC are foreign to Greece. The French are foreign to France as French is just a descendant of the vulgar Latin, which was brought in by the Latin colonisers during Roman conquest in the first century BC. Spanish is foreign to Spain. English, brought by the Anglo Saxons to Britain in the fifth century, is foreign to England. This is the kind of logic employed by the anti-Hindu lobby to shame and guilt trip the Hindus.
The Hindus do not become foreign to India just because the Indo-Aryans allegedly entered the Indian subcontinent in 1500 BC. The Vedic people are makers of the Indic civilisation. Nothing can change the fact that it was the Vedic culture that led to the birth of the Indic civilisation. Hinduism is the native culture of India and nothing can change this fact. It cannot be compared to later-day invasions even if the alleged Indo-Aryan migration happened.
The remarkable discovery of the 'chariot' and the DNA study indeed provide us with valuable information, which is otherwise unavailable due to the want of other historical sources.
It is possible that more discoveries will be changed upon in the future. One should not be surprised if a spoked-wheeled chariot remains to be discovered in this region in the future.
The 'invasionists' have to accept the fact that our understanding of this early pre-historic period is meagre.
The cultural continuity of regions like Rakhigarhi is remarkable. As noted by the afore-mentioned archaeologists, the way of life remained unchanged in some aspects even today. This once again shows how the continuity of Bharatiya civilisation was remarkable and everlasting.
Simple explanations like violent mass invasions uprooting and destroying everything before them cannot explain this continuity. Witzel also has a point when he says a minor sample size is inconclusive. It is clear that the discovery in Sanauli was not a spoked-wheeled chariot (ratha) as described in the Vedic literature. What is needed is a nuanced perspective which makes the best sense of all the evidence available before us.
 B.B Lal, the earliest civilization of South Asia, New Delhi,1997, P.4
Last Updated 12:16 PM IST