On the Eurasian subcontinent a chaos of water from the mountainous north formed tributaries that merged into the great Indus River and ran to the Indian Ocean. Around 6000 BCE, a nomadic herding people settled west of the Indus River. They domesticated sheep, goats and cows and water buffalo. Within the next couple of thousand years they were living in small houses built with adobe brick. They were growing barley and wheat using sickles with flint blades, and soon they began using bronze.
Across centuries, climate change brought an abundance of rain. And, on the plains alongside the Indus River, jungles grew that were inhabited by crocodiles, rhinos, tigers, buffalo and elephants. By 2600 BCE a civilization as grand as that in Mesopotamia and Egypt had arisen in the Indus Valley. Seventy or more cities were built, some of them on top of buried old towns, and by 230 BCE there was trading with Mesopotamia. One of the cities was Harappa, considered the center of what today is called Harappan civilization. It had a written language that was partly phonetic and partly ideographic. It had a system of weights and measures, using arithmetic with decimals. People made cotton cloth and manufactured pottery. And like others they had religious figurines.
Why their civilization vanished between the years 1800 and 1700 remains a mystery, except that rainfall is known to have declined. People abandoned their cities in search of food. Later a few people resettled in some of the abandoned cities, in what archeologists call a "squatter period." Then the squatters disappeared. Knowledge of Harappa civilization died, to be discovered by archeologists in the 1920s.
Around 1500 BCE, rainfall in the Indus Valley increased again. It was between 1500 and 1200 that an illiterate pastoral people, today called Aryans, migrated from the steppe lands of what today is Russia, through Afghanistan and the Khyber Pass. Their language was Indo-European, related to modern European languages except for Basque, Finnish and Hungarian. They came to the Indus Plain in waves separated by decades. The had two-wheeled chariots packed away in their oxcarts. They hunted with bow and arrow. Each family was ruled by an authoritarian male, and each tribe had a king called a raja who felt obliged to consult with the tribal council.
Aryan tribes spread out across the Indus Valley region. They settled in areas that provided them with pasture for their animals. They grouped in villages and built homes of bamboo or light wood, and they began growing crops. But following their impulses, they began warring with each other – wars that might begin with the stealing of cattle. The word for obtaining cattle, gosati, became synonymous with making war.
The Aryans had their stories, including a story of creation. They described the world as beginning when the god that embodied the sky mated with the goddess that was earth. One version of this story read:
In the beginning was nothing, neither heaven nor earth nor space in between. Then Non-being became spirit and said, "Let me be!." He warmed himself, and from this was born fire. He warmed himself further and from this was born light.
According to one story, to guard against humanity invading their territory the gods talked their Sky Father (Dyaus Pitar) into creating a woman who lusted after sensual pleasures and who aroused sexual desires in men. According to this story, the world had become overcrowded because humankind lived forever like the gods. So the Sky Father decided to make humankind mortal, and he created the goddess Death – not a goddess who ruled over death, but death itself. This creation of mortality for humankind pleased the gods, for it left them separate and of a higher rank than humans. According to the story, Sky Father proclaimed that he did not create the goddess Death from anger. The goddess Death was at first reluctant to carry out the task assigned her, but she finally did so while weeping. Her tears were diseases that brought death at an appropriate time. To create more death, the goddess Death created desire and anger in people – emotions that led to their killing each other.
The Aryans had a male god of thunder, rain and war called Indra. He was what Aryan men commonly thought men should be: a warrior who enjoyed drinking and making war, with courage. Another god was Agni – fire. It was with Agni that they sacrifice animals,sacrifices performed by priests to obtain success in war, wealth, health, longevity and children and all else that contributed to their happiness.
CONTINUE READING: Hinduism, Caste and Wisdom Literature
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.