Sunday, 21 February 2010

Archaeological discoveries and Vedic traditions

The last March, an important archaeological discovery has been divulged: near the village of Farmana, Haryana, India, where excavations were already carried out in 2008 by an Indo-Japanese team (I was there in March 2008 thanks to my friend Shungo Kameyama), it has been discovered a burial site with 70 graves, of the Mature Harappan Period
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The typical traits of these burials are a rectangular form and a NW-SE orientation. The director of the excavations, Prof. Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, asserts in an interview: "All the graves are rectangular - different from other Harappan burials sites, which usually have oblong graves", but, according to S.P. Gupta, in Disposal of the Dead and Physical Types in Ancient India (Delhi 1972), p.75, in Harappan cemeteries the body was buried in 'oblong pits' which, when more carefully dug, "assumed rectangular shapes". Apparently, the graves of Farmana belong to this category. Shinde adds: "The site shows evidence of primary (full skeleton), secondary (only some bones) and symbolic burials, with most graves oriented northwest-southeast, though there are some with north-south and northeast-southwest orientations as well. The variations in burial orientation suggests different groups in the same community".

Now, I would like to make a comparison with what Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa XIII.8.1.5 says (I use here Julius Eggeling’s translation given on the excellent site :

Four-cornered (is the sepulchral mound). Now the gods and the Asuras, both of them sprung from Pragâpati, were contending in the (four) regions (quarters). The gods drove out the Asuras, their rivals and enemies, from the regions, and, being regionless, they were overcome. Wherefore the people who are godly make their burial-places four-cornered, whilst those who are of the Asura nature, the Easterns and others, (make them) round, for they (the gods) drove them out from the regions. He arranges it so as to lie between the two regions, the eastern and the southern, for in that region assuredly is the door to the world of the Fathers: through the above he thus causes him to enter the world of the Fathers; and by means of the (four) corners he (the deceased) establishes himself in the regions, and by means of the other body (of the tomb) in the intermediate regions: he thus establishes him in all the regions.
As it can be seen, the burial is oriented towards south-east like the greatest part of the graves in Farmana. S.P. Gupta (ibidem) speaks generically of a north-south orientation for the Harappan burials, with the head northwards, but here in Farmana we have something even more specific, coinciding with the Vedic conceptions expressed in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. This text should be placed, according to my chronology, after 1300 B.C., but it can surely preserve unchanged traditional conceptions, like that of the association of the south-eastern region with the world of the Fathers (which in other Vedic passages is more simply associated with the southern region). Not only: according to ŚBr.XIII.8.1.9, the north-western region is the direction of ‘the living ones’ (jīvānām).

It is not finished here: when I visited the site of Farmana in 2008, I also went to a flat field in the near countryside, where the archaeologists had found some traces of burials (I imagine that that was the place of the subsequent discovery): through a local student who knew English, I asked the peasants if the ground was salty, and they said that it was actually so. I made this question because a study on the cemetery of the Harappan site of Kalibangan, by A.K. Sharma, The Departed Harappans of Kalibangan (New Delhi, 1999), p.104, observed that the ground of the cemetery has a high percentage of salt, and that this corresponded to what the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa said, in XIII.8.1.14:
He makes it on salt (barren) soil, for salt means seed; the productive thus makes him partake in productiveness, and in that respect, indeed, the Fathers partake in productiveness that they have offspring: his offspring assuredly will be more prosperous.

Then, it seems that there are strong elements to prove the uniformity with the Vedic tradition of these ancient Indians of 2600-2200 B.C. Now we wait with interest the results of the analysis of the DNA of the bones, carried out in Kyoto: it should belong mainly to the Ancentral North Indian type, and if the chromosome Y showed a R1a1a haplogroup, that would exclude the opinions attributing this haplogroup to external Indo-Aryans coming in the II mill. B.C., and would make more acceptable the identification of the Harappans with an 'Indo-European' people.

P.S.: there is a recent publication about the Farmana burial site (as you can see in  or  ).

An interesting document of the importance of the Farmana site not only for the cemetery is given by Steve Farmer in this message after a conference in Japan:  This opens the question of the regional characters of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, which - I find - harmonize with the traditional division of the five tribes… but this is another story…