Saturday, May 12, 2018

Indus Valley Civilisation - More questions

This evening, one attended a very informative and thought inspiring lecture at the National Museum. (Cities of Indus Valley Civilisation). One of the questions asked after the talk was - 'How did the cities die?' The answer was rational and well balanced - different cities died in different ways and for different reasons. But most of those reasons had to do with the environment. Either the rivers dried up or they changed course.

That got me thinking. We know that in Rakhigarhi at least, DNA material has proved that there is continuation of the genetic stock from at least later Harappan period - 2500 BC. Which means that the skeletons received from the Harappan period were the direct ancestors of the current residents of Rakhigarhi.

What if...
What if, there was no vanishing? What if the citizens who remained, merely migrated? And took the civilisation with them?

When I discussed this with another person who was present at the talk, she said, "But the next urbanisation in India does not appear until 600 BCE. If the people did not perish, where were the city building skills for that whole time?"

So now we have the following statements:
1. There is continuity of genetic stock from at least 2500 BCE to present day.
2. There are many, many elements of cultural continuity - the shapes of cooking pots, the bangles and the adornments, the bullock cart designs and the images of the Gods.
3. Yet, the next urbanisation is not found until, as the lady suggests, 600 BCE.

So, where was town planning during this period?

On another note, the speaker did say some things that gladdened the heart:
1. They were largely a mercantile civilisation (I have maintained earlier that the inscriptions we have seen on the seals are positively mercantile in nature and since there are so many of them, mercantile activity had to be the economic backbone of the civilisation.)

2. While there was an astounding standardisation of weights and measures across vast geographical regions, the political leadership does not appear to be imperial or monarchical. I also feel that the earliest political establishment, and one that sustained, was of janapadas - republics, with ministers/ representatives of various citizen groups making it to seats of power so that all interests are safeguarded. (as indicated in the movie Mohenjodaro)

I think what happened then was very similar to what is happening now:

The janapadas were from various mercantile groups. They did not pay attention to the ecological price of their frenetic economic activity. They grew more and more prosperous and less and less sustainable.

Slowly, the inevitable happened. They had ravaged their ecological balance so completely that no U turn was possible.

So, as indicated, they migrated. And this is where it gets interesting. The migrating populations were not homogenous. Both, in their skills, and their ability to move, there were many classes. But broadly, I see at least 2 categories of people - the knowledge workers (the white collars) - the merchants, bankers, quality control state executives and the implementers of 'the system',  and the hand workers (blue collars) - the artisans, the bead makers, the farmers and the plain labour.

There was, therefore, no single, homogenous migration. As it would happen today, different people migrated to where they thought they could survive. The knowledge workers had the resources and the inclination to move to a place where they had contacts - the West. The hand workers, on the other hand, had no way to move to the West, and didn't know anything about whether they would be welcomed. They were more likely to choose the path towards the East - where there were denser jungles, more water and perhaps, lands to grow crops on and someone to use their pottery and jewelry.

Some classes definitely moved towards Central India, and perhaps the boat makers went further South.
Even if some people with knowledge of town planning did move to Eastern and other parts of India, they moved to agrarian or primary sector based economies. Primary sector/production based economies have neither the need nor the resources to invest in town/city planning. (As we also know in modern times).
Since it takes only 2 generations to lose a skill entirely, it is safe to assume that those sections who had knowledge of city planning did not retain this knowledge for more than 2 generations. A similar parallel would be people who migrated from Bengal and Punjab. Some skills were native to the lands they came from. In the new country, there was little opportunity to practice or bequeath those skills to the next generation. So now, even though we are descendants of the same people, we do not possess the entire skill set of our grandparents.

To sum up:
In short, the people migrated - short and long distances. So town planning may not have survived as a skill in this part. But the people did not just up and go. They are still here. There wasn't a vanishing act. There was, just like in a magic show, a change of place. We have to find out where all they went, and then, a lot of the things that appear disjointed today - the Dravid origins of IVC, the Gond script connection et al, will make a lot of sense.

Post notes:
1. There was, a 900 year long drought between 2450 to 1450 BCE, which was roughly the period when our civilisation died. This drought was apparently caused entirely by weather conditions. The study does not mention any human causes of this long drought. But maybe there were. Water is, after all, a cycle, and we, the people living today, know exactly what it means to lose sources of fresh water due to "weather disturbances."

2. Another hypothesis that we are familiar with, is that the saline content in the land grew because of the crop mix, and little was done to restore the alluvium of the soil. This led to gradual depletion of ground water.

3. The largely mercantile nature of a civilisation cannot be unique to the IVC. Why is the IVC among those that did not survive climate change?


Himanshu Tandon said...

Migration does make logical sense. Good one.

How do we know said...

Dear HT: Thank you!