Book Review: Rivers of Rig Veda – A Geographical Exploration

Author: Jijith Nadumuri Ravi | Year of Publication: 2022 | Publisher: Notion Press
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The above book is by a former ISRO scientist who is the author of the gigantic Ancient Voice wikisite database that contains the entire texts of the two Itihasas, the four Vedas and the Vishnu Purana in more than 25 000 pages, providing millions of interconnected hyperlinks. His encyclopedic vocation and expertise in IT and cybertech has enabled him to organise an immense amount of information about Vedic India which collectively provides indisputable validation for the new perspectives on ancient history opened by archaeological, climatological, oceanographic, epigraphic, literary and astronomical studies, helped by the technological tools now available.

In 2002, the famous British investigator and writer Graham Hancock collected in a thick volume entitled ‘Underworld’ a compendium of many years of research and submarine dives off the Indian coastline which led him to the conclusion that a large part of the primitive subcontinent sunk under the ocean between 16000 and 8000 years ago (6000 BCE) in a series of momentous sea level rises, some of which coincided with rapid and colossal meltdowns of Himalayan glaciers, towards the end of the last ice age, to decisively change the landscape and contours of India while triggering similar cataclysms in other regions of the Earth. 

Ancient scriptures, both Tamil and Sanskrit, record the disappearance of flourishing kingdoms beneath the waves and the exodus of survivors towards higher grounds, whether in the Himalayas (the Meru Mountain or ‘the peak where Manu’s boat was moored’) or in what is now the Dravidian heartland around Madurai, the remaining area of Kanyakumari and its legendary but well attested First and Second Sangam.

These records, long dismissed as mythical fantasies, find support in the geological and oceanographic findings of contemporary scientists in various disciplines. They force us to contemplate at least the possibility that literate and material civilisations existed more than two hundred centuries ago and were fully or partly obliterated by natural disasters, whose return is staring at us in the face in the wake of the brutal climatic changes currently being witnessed around the world. The indelible memory of past deluges, which led to the permanent submersion in South Asia of territories at least as large as France, attests the antiquity of Indian sanskriti, further supported by the proven presence of homo sapiens sapiens since at least 80000 years and probably preceded by advanced ‘indigenous’ hominids millions of years back. Hancock is not the only student of the accumulated evidence to conclude that the Veda enshrines material that appears to date from the end of the last glacial period some 10000 years ago and that its contents may in part predate the earliest proto-Harappan archeological remains found so far. The flourishing mature cities of the Indus-Sarasvati region were, in that light inheritors of a much more ancient civilisation and many traditional dates within Aitihasic chronology appear to historically be plausible.

Given that scriptural and geo-historic background, it is becoming increasingly untenable and even absurd to hold on to the theory that the core of vedic literature is a foreign import from some hypothetical Central Asian invaders. Nadumuri Ravi’s book provides multiple corroborations for the evidence that the Vedic literature in general, and the Rig Veda in particular, is an Indian hymnic creation, replete with topographical, calendrical and historic references to India’s northwestern regions and surrounding lands, all the way to the south of ‘Aryavarta’ on one side and to the Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountains on the other. Ravi focuses his work on the rivers and on the physical characteristics attributed to them in the Samhitas as well as on the populations said to inhabit their shores, states, citadels and towns flourishing along them, wages battled around them and other historic features. The plethora of information gathered through the author’s exhaustive method makes a reader smile at the persistent notion that the Rig Veda must have been conceived in a remote country whose toponyms should then have been transferred to the subsequently conquered land of the five or seven rivers by the invading chariot-riding Aryas

After providing a brief nomenclature of Rig Vedic Rishis and their gotras, whether authors of the hymns or more ancient priestly figures cited by their successors and descendants, Ravi draws a list of the devatas (deities) invoked and alluded to in the Veda under diverse metaphoric epithets and euphemisms. He evokes the rituals dedicated to them and the symbols with which they are associated before taking up the enumeration of rivers, under their various names mentioned in the holy text. He has found forty-five streams, many of which are identifiable in modern Indian geography and occupy the northwestern quadrant of India and Pakistan. In page 74, the author writes: ’A mere tabulation of the Rig Vedic river based on the chronological ordering of the Mandalas will quickly demonstrate the core question of the direction of the migration of the Rig Vedic people. The migration happened from the east to the west, from the river Sarasvati in Haryana to Kubha (Kabul river) in Afghanistan.

The following 7th chapter addresses the issue of what the author calls the ‘zero point; of the Rig Vedic geography, from statements found in the sixth and third mandalas, generally recognized as the oldest. He concludes, after some other scholars such as Frawley and Elst that this holy land, called ‘the best place on earth’ is the area of Kurukshetra where the oldest dynasties of Aryavarta, the Ailas (from goddess Ila) and Bharatas are said to have originated, between the Sarasvati and Drisadvati rivers. Within that hallowed quadrangle, he locates the site of Gadli on the little Apaya stream as the Nabhi Prthvya (the earth’s navel) in what is also known as the Ilaspada, the cradle of the Manusas, the offspring of Manu who, dividing into the panchajanas, spread out from there in all directions across the land of the seven rivers and beyond, to Gandhara and Saryanavat in the northwest and Malva and Cedi in the South. The book endorses the increasingly probable theory that the migrations continued into Iran, Central Asia and eventually reached Europe where they disseminated the Indo-European linguistic, religious and cultural influence. Incidentally it is worth noting that the latter day Indian emigrants known as Gypsies or Roma still call themselves Manus as their remote predecessors did, making the word a generic for the human species in germanic languages.

Ravi’s book is not easy to read for non-indologists as it is crammed with information and stuffed with textual references. It establishes the fact that India was densely populated and divided into well-organized kingdoms and republics from the time when the Rig Veda took its definitive shape. The difficulty of analysing the wealth of data provided in the richas, even for native Sanskrit-speaking experts, makes it clear why European colonial indologists, whose knowledge of the devabhasha was acquired from often imperfect secondary sources in an age when computerised tools for indexing and cross-referencing did not exist, could not form an exhaustive view of the contents. Therefore, they often preferred to come up with simplifying ethnic-centric theories, imbued with Judeo-Christian or scientific prejudices about the origin of Aryans, based on the kinship between Sanskrit and most European language families. They happily disregarded many indications (pun not intended) provided in the hymns which they saw as hermetic or nonsensical. Yet, those meritorious non-indigenous pioneers remain the final authorities for many ‘eminent historians’ and it has taken scholars and researchers trained in other disciplines and sciences to break out of indological conventions and decipher some of the information’s true meaning. The earlier cited Graham Hancock has the merit to have collected and presented in a more accessible form a vast amount of technical material about the ancient history and proto-history of India and the planet. The herculean work done by Jijith Ravi can surely help Hancock and other such popular writers to access the oldest sources and educate the general reader about the forgotten human past and the origin and evolution of the great cultures to which we are all heirs.

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Côme Carpentier de Gourdon

Côme Carpentier de Gourdon is Distinguished Fellow with India Foundation and is also the Convener of the Editorial Board of the WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL. He is an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria. Côme Carpentier is an author of various books and several articles, essays and papers

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