Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,New Perspective by Nalini Rao

Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,New Perspective

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  • Book Name Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,New Perspective
  • Author Nalini Rao
  • Language, Pages Engish, 664 Pgs. (HB)
  • Upload Date 2024 / 03 / 06
  • ISBN 9788124607435

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Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization,New Perspective
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Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization: New Perspectives. A Volume in Memory of Dr Shikaripur Ranganatha Rao is a compilation of the papers presented at the International Conference on the Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization: A Reappraisal held in Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, during 21-22 February 2009. Here, eminent archaeologists, philologists, anthropologists and historians re-examine recent researches and existing theories upon the nature of the interrelation between the two most ancient pre- historic cultures of the South Asian subcontinent: the Indus (Sindhu or Harappan Civilization) and the Vedic Civilization. The scholars touch upon areas of consensus and contentions, with a tentatively conclusive inter- disciplinary understanding about the pluralistic culture and shared identity of the two riverine cultures between 3000 and 1500 BCE.


They rightly swing the balance of the argument away from the archaic and now exploded Aryan Invasion Theory to the well-grounded Vedic Sarasvati milieu as the home of the Harappan Civilization. Thus it opens a new window to the cultural content of the prehistoric period of the subcontinent.


The eminent personalities that have contributed include Ashok Aklujkar, Shiva G. Bajpai, Giacomo Benedetti, R.S. Bisht, Edwin Bryant, Michel Danino, Subhash Kak, Robin Bradley Kar, Nicholas Kazanas, Mark [onathan Kenoyer, Prem Kishore Saint, Jim J. Shaffer, Diane A. Lichtenstein, Shrikant Talageri, Lavanya Vamsani as well as Sundara Adiga, S.R. Rao, and Nalini Rao.


This volume is poised to evoke keen interest among archaeologists, re- searchers, historians and students of history and archaeology.


About the Author


Nalini N. Rao, Ph.D. in Art History (UCLA) and Ph.D. in Ancient History and Archaeology (University of Mysore) is Professor of World Art in Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, CA, USA. She is the author of many books, some of which include Royal Imagery and Networks of Power at Vijayanagara: A Study of Kingship in South India (2010), Sangama: A Confluence of Art and Culture during the Vijayanagara Period (ed. N. Rao 2005), Contours of Modernity: An Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art (N. Rao and Debashish Banerji, 2005), Boundaries and Transformations: Masterworks of Indian and South East Asian Sculptures from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. William Price (1997), Belur (1979, 1990), and Sravanabelagola (1980). She is the Chairperson of Dr. S.R. Rao Foundation for Indian Archaeology, Art and Culture.




The memorial volume honouring Dr S.R. Rao had its origins in a conference on “Sindhu- Sarasvati Valley Civilization” held at Loyola Marymount University, USA, on 21-22 February 2009. It was sponsored by the Bridge Builder Endowment of the Loyola Marymount University and Nalanda International, both of which I have the good fortune of founding and supporting. The conference was meant to be a reappraisal featuring the most recent research on the subject, looked at from different disciplines, but it was also meant to be a felicitation for Dr S.R. Rao, who was eighty-seven years old that year, and had travelled to Los Angeles from India to attend the conference. At eighty- seven, he was remarkably well kept and his mind was as sharp as a razor. No one could forget his enormous contributions to our understanding of this earliest civilization of South Asia, his discovery of a large number of its sites, his revolutionary excavation of the port city of Lothal in the 1950s and 1960s, his opening of the field of Marine Archaeology and its use to establish the existence of Krsna’s underwater city of Dvaraka in 1979-80 and his continuing work on the decipherment of the Sindhu- Sarasvati script, showing it to be a Sanskritic language. On the occasion, Dr Rao spoke of his most recent work on the script, with detailed reasoning on his decipherments. In 2013, Dr Rao departed from the physical plane, but his legacy continues in a many- directioned advance towards the establishment of many of the intuitions he had about this civilization. This volume represents some of that large body of work that continues in the vast shade of his banyan-like erudition and eminence.


The essays here represent the state-of-the-art in research on Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization, an amazing settlement which flourished 5,000 years ago, establishing itself as the largest and most sophisticated urban culture in history. The ruins of this impressive civilization are twice the size of the Egyptian and Sumerian societies combined. The fact that these proto-historic remains exist today in two nations separated by a common partition makes one pause to consider how so much of our world is divided and even antagonized by differences of religion, economics, philosophy and politics. It makes us rewind into our own origins and also fast forward to the increasing Technological prowess of contemporary humans and their ability to probe their own hidden pasts. If we travel thus back in time, we discover that each of us comes from a common ancestry that makes us all related. Through genetic studies, we know today, that the most distant we are to anyone in the world is 50th cousin.


We could ponder our earliest ancestors originating in Africa and imagine the first tribes of Homo sapiens migrating therefrom to Asia, to India and on to Indonesia and further East. Concurrently, we would see these same ancestors parting and migrating north to China and America in the East and to Europe in the West. We could imagine how future generations from this common origin began to divide into many tribes. Soon the tribes lost the knowledge of their origin and taking each other to be different began warfare for domination. Later, rulers arose with the imperial urge to control large territories and many peoples, and spread into empires that colonized most of the world. Abridged histories are written - often by the rulers of the time or the nations that dominated those moments in our past. Still, these nations, these civilizations all started as one.


As we return to recent times, our eagerness for knowledge has brought us the discovery that we are all intimately connected. Through the internet, cell phones and GPS systems, our physical and cultural separations are giving way to the possibility of a knowledge of unity. This ‘‘body of humanity” is expanding its awareness in every field of human endeavour. The conference on the Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization was another example of this expansion of knowledge. Though ostensibly we turned our gaze on the antiquity of South Asia, the ancestors of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent, it was in reality another chapter of the story of a common humanity that we gathered together to decipher, in the spirit of Dr Rao’s archaeological excavations on earth and sea, an excavation without bias for universal knowledge.


Both in piecing together the stories of the different peoples of the earth, and in the disciplinary approaches taken to piece together each of these stories, we resemble the blind men of Hindustan spoken of in the Upanisads, each with their fixed belief in their interpretation of the elephant that confronted them. This has been the story of specialization in the modem world. But as we enter the twenty-first century, we find ourselves embarking on a new curve of the circle, the inward curve of integration. The way here is to collaborate and synthesize the results of the varied knowledge workers, attempting to provide an integral description from the piecemeal knowledge. Dr Rao set the example for this spirit, utilizing varied tools, intuitional, hermeneutic, technological and cross-disciplinary to arrive at a coherent understanding of the province of knowledge he set for himself. The papers in this volume are marked by this spirit of synergy and coherence. Evidence is probed for consistency; inconsistent results are re-examined. Integration of diverse approaches obtained from different fields of endeavour is attempted to bring forth the true image of the invisible” elephant in the room”, the vast civilization that disappeared along with the missing river Sarasvati.


Finally, though Dr Rao’s death is a great loss for all of us, I am heartened to see so much goodwill and enthusiasm among the present-day scholars who have submitted their research to honour their great forerunner; and most of all, the work done by Dr Rao’s daughter, Dr Nalini Rao, for her tireless efforts in approaching the scholars for the conference and later editing their papers to consolidate the present volume. My thanks go out to her. My thanks also to Prof. Debashish Banerji, Executive Director of Nalanda International for his organization and scholarship, which have gone into the conference and this volume; and to Prof. Chris Chapple, Doshi Professor at Loyola Marymount University, for arranging for the conference venue and helping with the complex logistics.




Anyone who attended the international conference Sindhu-Sarasvati Valley Civilization: A Reappraisal”, held in Los Angeles, California, USA on 21-22 February 2009, could not fail to be impressed by the level of discussions, the scholarship of the speakers and the enthusiastic support of the audience. The conference was about the nature of the two most ancient prehistoric cultures of the South Asian subcontinent: the Indus (Sindhu) or Harappan Civilization, which has been solely reconstructed from archaeological material, and the Vedic Civilization, largely known from Vedic literature preserved through oral tradition. The aim of the conference was a reappraisal of the place of Vedic culture within the Indus cultural system in the light of new pieces of evidence. It was a search for an objective historical interpretation that would provide a substantial understanding about the nature of interrelation between the two cultures, an issue that has intrigued scholars for the past fifty years. It was felt necessary to confront the issue of the overlapping of the Indus Valley Civilization and Vedic culture, and let prominent scholars re-examine recent research and existing theories and arrive at a consensus. The presentees in the conference included eminent archaeologists, philologists, anthropologists, historians and specialists in religious studies whose historical analysis was rooted in years of scholarship and fieldwork. They touched upon areas of consensus and contentions, with a tentatively conclusive interdisciplinary understanding revolving around the riverine cultures of the Indus and Sarasvati. In other words, it was centred upon primary archaeological and linguistic groups of evidence that could throw light on the pluralistic culture between 3000 and 1500 BCE. The specific issues examined ranged from origins to evolution dispersal, ecology, genetics, language, socio-cultural identities and continuities between the prehistoric and historic periods.


Those who participated in the conference do not by any means exhaust the list of specialists. Many colleagues were unable to participate but were kind enough to send their articles, which have been included in the volume; needless to say the volume would have been incomplete without their support. Our sincere appreciation to the participants: Ashok Aklujkar, Shiva Bajpai, RS. Bisht, Edwin Bryant, Subhash Kak, Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, S.R. Rao, Prem Saint and [im G. Shaffer. Our sincere thanks to the panel moderators, Damodar Sardesai, Emeritus Prof. of History, UCLA, and Mathew, Dillon, of Loyola Marymount University (LMU), William Fulco, Director of LMU’s centre for Archaeology who were responsible for initiating an extended discussion. Our sincere thanks also to Giacomo Benedetti, Michel Danino, Robin Bradley Kar, Lavanya Vemsani, Diane A. Lichtenstein and Shrikant Talageri who were kind enough to send their articles which have been included. The conference was generously funded by Nalanda International, and we thank its founding director, Navin Doshi, and Pratima Doshi. My heartfelt thanks to Christopher Chap pie, Professor of Religious Studies at LMU, who was responsible for hosting the conference and to Debashish Banerji for creating the website. I am particularly grateful to Shiva Bajpai and Ashok Aklujkar for their constant support and guidance.


My role in the conference as its director was to invite scholars, co-ordinate the topics and to provide a title to the conference. In regard to the production of the book, I have merely collected the written papers and handed them to the publisher without making any changes. The abstracts of the papers have been written by the authors themselves and vary in size as well. For the sake of convenience to readers, they have been placed after the Introduction and not at the beginning of each paper. I have allowed the articles to speak for themselves after providing a very brief introduction to this complex topic. My initial objective was to publish a felicitation volume to my father, Dr. S.R. Rao, since he has devoted his entire life to archaeology. He knew that a Festschrift was going to be published in his honour. However, unfortunately he did not live to actually hold a copy of it in front of his eyes or in his hands. He was kind enough to send his (already) published writing on Indus script and language, with certain revisions. Thus it has been included in a separate section, “Something From and About S.R. Rao”, which has a different format from the other papers in this volume. In this section are included an article by Sundara Adiga who has written about his reminiscences of S.R. Rao and a brief note on S.R. Rao’s life and personality by me.


The articles in the book have been arranged in alphabetical order as they defy division into conventional sub-headings or topics. The papers vary in size as the objective of the book was to allow scholars to explain their findings in the best possible way, ensuring academic freedom and objectivity. This is how my father taught me to view scholarship, with respect and open-mindedness.




The very title “Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization”, which we are not familiar with, draws attention to the fact that there is a whole area of interpretive historical research that has evolved from the earlier title of “Indus Valley and Vedic Civilizations”. It raises questions as to whether it is necessary to rename the Indus Valley Civilization as Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization. The reason for such a change lies in the gradual paradigm shift that has occurred (knowingly or unknowingly) during the past fifty years due to the incredible advances in our knowledge and pursuit of rigorous research by a variety of scholars: archaeologists, anthropologists, philologists and historians. The secondary literature has grown to be unwieldy, intriguing and extremely complex. This volume, with its divergent opinion, comes at a crucial time when a cohesive, updated picture of the earliest South Asian civilization is a necessity.


The title brings together two separate civilizations, Indus and Vedic, that have been interpreted as foreign vs. indigenous, superior vs. inferior, Aryan/Sanskritic vs. Dravidian, urban vs. rural, illiterate vs. literate, respectively. However, a dramatic change in our understanding of this shared civilization has occurred during the past decade. A brief historical background of the contentious nature might help us to understand the substantial issues that lie behind the paradigm shift.


The story of the beginnings of Indian civilization is still told by Indians by recitations and repetitions of the word “Sarasvati”. On the banks of this river were composed many of the Vedic hymns, among which the rgveda mentions the river Sarasvati more than sixty times as the most auspicious or as deserving of the highest praise. Interpretation of the roots of Indian civilization changed when it was announced that a more ancient civilization had been discovered by Daya Ram Sahni and R.D. Banerjee and later excavated by Sir John Marshall (1922-31) and E.J.H. Mackay at Mohenjo-Daro and by Vats at Harappa. While Marshall was inclined to name it Indo-Sumerian Civilization, Mackay called it Harappa Civilization, as Harappa was the first site to be discovered. However due to its marked differences from the Mesopotamian cities, Marshall changed the title to Indus Civilization due to its proximity to the river Indus.


However, even before the unearthing of the two sites, in 1785, Sir William Jones discovered that a number of languages such as Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, Celtic, Old German, and Persian had a common origin. Hence he gave it the name Indo- European/Indo-Germanic languages. Thus began a pursuit to locate the homeland of the Indo-European-speaking people outside India which was fixed in South Russia/ Central Asia. With further excavations at the two sites, there grew a desire to know the place of origin of these languages, and their relation to Vedic culture. The latter with its superior Sanskrit language and grammar led to the theory that one branch of Indo- European language group probably left their homeland around 2000-1200 BCE, migrated to Iraq, Iran, Baluchistan and settled in Sapta-Sindhu, the land of seven rivers, where they composed the Rgveda. It was asserted that the Indus Civilization was pre- Aryan and charged the Vedic Aryans with destroying the urban cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro on the river Indus. The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) was archaeologically constructed on the basis of a few skeletons reported to have been found scattered in Mohenjo-Daro and by relating the rgvedic term pur to the fortifications in Indus cities which were destroyed by invading Vedic Aryans.’ In the 1960s, a careful examination revealed that neither did the skeletons belong to one and same stratigraphical context nor was there any proof of any massacre. Most of the skeletons positively showed that the few were drowned in severe and sudden flood in the river and there was no evidence of warfare; while the literary interpretation of the word pur was wrong thereby proving that there was no battle between the Aryan and Dravidians. Linguistically, the theory claimed that a group, speaking an Indo- Aryan language, a sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages, had invaded India in 1200 BCE and imposed the Sanskrit language. This led to the dating of the J3.gveda to c. 1500 BCE.2 However no such event has been recorded in the Vedas or Puranas, Thus, with no literary or archaeological proof, or collective memory, mythology or cult, the theory was proved to be misconstrued. In the meantime its ramifications had been tremendous.


With the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, archaeological sites similar to Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were discovered and scientifically excavated in India, such as at Lothal, Kalibangan. Chanhu-Daro, Rakhigarhi, Dholavira and Surkotada. Almost 2,400 settlements came to be known beyond the banks of the river Indus, and soon the Indus Civilization came to be known as the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedic-Harappan dichotomy was modified by Aryan Migration Theory, which contended that there were no invaders but migrants in small batches at different points of time and spread over a long duration and believed to have migrated from Ukraine, through Ontic steppes, Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan to India. The migration theory claimed that the dasas, panis of the Indus Civilization were also outsiders and Indo-Aryan speakers, speaking a dialect different from the one used by the Aryans.


Several archaeological cultures were identified with the migrating Indo-European speakers on their way to India, such as Pit, Hut and Early Timber and Andronovo cultures, but, more importantly, the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC). BMAC is a Bronze Age culture that was discovered during archaeological excavations in the Bactria-Margiana area.’ Bactria includes the basis of the Amu Darya or Oxus River in northern Afghanistan and adjacent south-eastern Uzbekistan and Margiana, the deltaic region of the river in south Turkmenistan. Proof of the migration of the Indo-Europeans from BMAC was claimed to have been provided by artefacts in Mehrgarh-VIII and at Sibri (typical of BMAC) and Jukar Culture of Sindh and Gangetic Copper Hoards. The authors of the BMAC were believed to be the dasas and the destroyers of the strongholds (puras) described in the J3.gveda, relating to the Arya- Dasa wars in Central Asia.’ The BMAC and related minor theories regarding the flow of the Sarasvati in Afghanistan also negatively impacted the study of Indus Valley Civilization.


AIT had been proved as false as early as 1964 by Dales, Rao, Lal and rejected by Shaffer, Kenoyer, Hemphill, Lukacs and Kennedy, Elst, and Danino. With a shift towards the indigenous nature of the civilization, an out of India theory arose which was expressed in different ways. It held that the Rgveda was part of an earlier layer of world civilization that flourished before the rise of ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Indus Valley Civilizations. Based on a more logical linguistic interpretation are those who date the composition of the Rgveda to pre-3150 BCE. They propose that the Mesopotamian cultures were the borrowers from Indian cultures particularly in the use of bricks, rituals, astronomy, mathematics, writing, and mythological concepts.


Meanwhile, in 1993 a dramatic evidence in the form of lands at imagery exposed the palaeochannels which provided a scientific evidence of the drying of the historical river Sarasvati, around 1900 BCE. This initiated a rethinking of existing theories by providing a firm time-period to the origins, evolution and decline of the Indus/Vedic civilization(s), thereby altering the paradigm of the debate. The discovery of many more Indus Valley sites infused a new spirit into the controversy about AIT. It was found that more Indus sites existed on the dry bed of river Sarasvati than on the river Indus. No longer were Indus sites restricted to Indus Valley, but extended to Baluchistan with 129 sites (belonging to Mature Phase), 108 in Sindh, 310 in Gujarat, 60 in Pakistan Punjab, 360 sites on river Sarasvati. In other words, about 32 per cent of the total sites were on the dry bed of the Sarasvati basin which comprised of Harayana, Indian Punjab, north Rajasthan and Cholistan. The correlation of the two cultures in space and time initiated a change in the title, from Indus Valley to Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, taking into consideration the existence of a large number of Indus Valley sites on the banks of the Sarasvati than on the Indus.” This piece of scientific evidence buried the earlier theory, and shifted the focus to an indigenous, singular civilization, whose origins and heartland were on the river Sarasvati.


The discovery of the river Sarasvati had important repurcussions for historical research. It provided an incentive to re-examine the reasons for the location of 80 per cent of nearly 2,600 archaeological sites. It helped to prove that the loss of Sarasvati was later than the Vedic age, thereby contradicting AIT. In addition, it showed that the J3.gveda must have been composed not in 1500 BCE (after the drying of the river around 1900 BCE, but must have been composed while the river was still flowing, joined by its tributaries, Yamuna and Sutlej, which should be nearer 2000 BCE or even earlier, as the river was in full flow in about 3000 BCE. This analysis has been made possible primarily


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