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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mound of the Dead

Mound of the Dead
What was its real name?
We know, there existed, a city.
A conservative estimate from the excavated ruins tells us that it was a city spread over 240 Hectares, and probably had a population of around fifty thousand. A conservative estimate, mind you.
It was only one mound, which was excavated.
Archaeologists have found six more within a radius of 5km. All of them are of similar size or a little bigger.
Now, let’s imagine that some aliens have excavated the ruins of Manhattan sometime far into future while the rest of the city lay underground and unexplored; and they have estimated the population of New York as one tenth of its urban agglomeration.

The table shows the names, sizes and the estimated populations* (Population estimates based on the area of habitation mounds) of the urban complex, which buzzed with life with people of many hues, trading with the far corners of the known world then, between 2800BCE to 1900BCE.
Let us make a small comparison:
The estimated human population of the entire world in 3rd Millennium BCE was slightly more than 100 million. That means 0.04% of the world population lived there. What is the percentage of population of New York to that of today’s world? 200 million out of 7 billions = 0.03%
The population salience of Mohenjo-Daro during its high noon was more than that of New York today and in area it was at the least five times larger than its contemporary cities in Iraq or Egypt.
Yes, it had disappeared, ruined beyond recognition and we call it by the name: Mound of the Dead.
Could that be its name when it was ‘alive’?

India claims a tradition which goes back eons in time. Yet we have no clue what those numerous cities which dotted the landscape of the Great Bronze Age Civilization were called.

Where do we search for clues? 
  •   Indian tradition
  •     Contemporary records from the Middle East
  •     Later reminiscences from Antiquity
  •     Historical records
    Indian Tradition 

    It is our understanding that the Harappan Civilization had declined and was in ruins by the time the country was invaded by the barbarian hordes called Aryans across the Hindu-Kush Mountains and they had in time, erased the earlier memories completely and replaced them by an imported tradition which belonged to the lives and lands foreign to the Sub-Continent. 

    There was complete discontinuity for a period of 1000 years before the Aryans built a second urban civilization on the banks of Ganges entirely independently.

    This is what every textbook of Indian Antiquity taught us for the last hundred or more years.Theoretical edifices, built during those nascent years of exploration and discovery have calcified into unyielding political and ideological positions which deter any attempts to set right the errors.

    But now, advances in the fields of Archaeology and Human Genetics have put forth strong evidence that the civilization had not disappeared overnight but had continued to exist even though at a less glorious state.

    And, there is no proof of any major shift in the genetic makeup of the population to indicate an invasion of new people immediately after the Harappan phase.

    And, if we have evidence of the motifs, skills and more importantly the generations of people which had continued into the historic period, why should there be a complete discontinuity of memories: of names, heroes and legends from that period?

    Linguistic and literary evidence points to a date of 1500BCE for the beginning of Indian Tradition as it survives to today. There is consensus that some parts of the tradition captured in the Vedas, Puranas and Epics belonged to periods of great antiquity even at the time of their initial rendition. We have lists of kings and saints which, when seen in retrospect, indicating an approximate time of 3100 BCE for the beginning of kingship in India, a date which agrees with similar developments in other Bronze Age Civilizations of the Middle East and Egypt. Archaeologically the rise of Harappan Civilization more or less coincides with this date.

    Therefore, it is eminently probable that some of the names of the cities associated with the legends captured in the Vedic, Puranic and the Epic traditions belonged to that period and the civilization. 

    Let us list down some of those names: 

    Sonita-pura: The capital of Tāraka, the demon killed by a son of Shiva; Udavraja: The principal city among the hundred ruled by Sambara, killed by Indra; Pātāla: The later exile of Bali and his brood of Rakshasas; Lanka: The city of Gandharvas, which was captured by Ravan of Ramayana; Ayōdhya: The capital of Ikshvāku line of Solar Kings; Mathura: Principal city of Yadavas; Māya: The city of Maya the Architect; Kānchi: The city of Bronze; Kāsi: Capital of a line of Solar Kings and also called the World Capital; Avantika: The city on Narmada, Probably associated with Bali in its early phase; Dwārāvati: A port built by Krishna, submerged at the beginning of the current era. (The list is not exhaustive but would serve our purpose)

    Out of the above, we strongly ‘believe’ in the present location of some. Let us examine the archaeological evidence from them: 

    Lanka is Ceylon or a city in the island republic of Sri Lanka. We have no archaeological evidence of any urban civilization before the historic period, ie. 300BCE. 
    Ayodhya is believed to be the controversial site at Faizabad in Eastern UP. There was a native structure, possibly a temple belonging to a time prior to Mughals. But the earliest levels in the neighborhood do not go below the early historic phase, the period of Buddha, 600BCE. 
    Mathura is a town on the banks of Yamuna slightly to the Northwest of Agra. It was a major historic city, yet the earliest levels of urbanization were of the first millennium BCE. 
    Kānchi is the temple town west of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, capital of Pallavas who ruled from the 2nd Century CE. The earliest dates of urbanization of South India are 3rd Century BCE. 
    Kāsi is the sacred city of Benares or Varanasi on the banks of Ganges in eastern UP, and due to its references in the Puranas and its association with the Vedic Legends, we consider this the most ancient extant city in the world. But the archaeological evidence shows that the city and the surrounding region were not urbanized until the beginning of the 1st Millennium BCE. 
    Avantika is usually identified with the city of Ujjain at the confluence of a small tributary of Narmada. The area has many sites of the Harappan and Late Harappan age which may fit the bill. 
    Dwārāvati or Dwāraka, thanks to Marine Archaeology and the efforts of Prof. S R Rao, is discovered under water - a burgeoning port belonging to the mature and late Harappan period, which came to an abrupt end around 1500BCE. 

    This date is seminal to our discussion. 

    All the cities mentioned above, as per our tradition, belonged to periods earlier than that of Dwāraka. If the archaeological data shows beyond reasonable doubt that the currently identified locations of the cities have not existed before the date of Dwāraka, then where were they? Is our identification based on ample research by the likes of Cunningham wrong? 

    We know that there was a gap of around 5 centuries between the late urban phase of Harappan towns and the early cities of the historic period. And we also know that some of the traits of the early period had persisted into the later. 
    We have ample evidence from the past that the people when they had migrated to new areas, named their new settlements after their native land and the cities. We have New England and New York in the American continent and similarly an Ayodhya in Thailand and a Madurai in South India and many more examples from the world over to prove this tendency.

So let us for once assume that the names of the Indian ‘Second’ Urbanization were derived from a past, from the names of those cities which had ceased to exist but were fondly remembered by their builders.
We have evidence of cities which existed in the past, which are now called by various names with meanings tantamount to ‘Mounds of Dead’ or ‘Fortresses of Demons’ etc..

‘Isn’t it possible that these ruined mounds were known by some of the names mentioned above?’
A dead end?
Let us examine the other source....

Contemporary records in the Middle East
We don’t get much help from the present state of our knowledge from the records of the Sumerian Cities, Assyria and Egypt. The names presumably associated with India were variously: Meluhha, Sidi and Ophir*. Any attempt to associate them with Indian tradition could only be convoluted. Let us hope that more finds will surface and better reading techniques prevail to give us new evidence from there.
(* Meluhha from Acadian cuneiforms, Sidi of Gilgamesh Legend and the Ophir of the Torah or Old Testament)

Later reminiscences from Antiquity
The early Zoroastrian book in Zend, a language belonging to a period almost contemporaneous or a little later than Rig-Veda, Vendidad has a description of all the lands of the known world, sixteen in all. The last few belonged to the lands to the east, east of the Iranian Plateau.

They are:

14. Varéna, “for which was born Thraêtaona, who smote Azis Dahâka, whereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is death, and he counter-created by his witchcraft abnormal issues in women and oppression of foreign rulers”. 
15. Hapta-hindus or Seven Rivers, “whereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is death, and he counter-created by his witchcraft abnormal issues in women and excessive heat”.
16. Rangha (Land by the floods of), “where people live without a head, whereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is death, and he counter-created by his witchcraft winter, a work of the Daêvas”.

The earliest portions of Rig Veda record a legend of the dragon Ahi-Dahaka or Vritra killed by Indra, who is thereby called Vritraghna, but they do not mention the location. But Zoroaster tells us that it had happened at Varéna.
By the progression of locales mentioned in Vendidad, the region/city of Varéna lies to the west of the country of Seven Rivers, Vedic Sapta-Sindhu: the country drained by Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Bias, Sutlej, Saraswati and Dṛshadvati.
Where, then do we place the region of Varéna?
Isn’t the region of Indus a good possibility?
Does the familiar identity of Lord Varuna with a large body of water tell us something?
Isn’t the most sacred of our ancient cities called Vāranāvat, which is same as Kāsi/Vāranāsi?
Now let us assume that there existed a city called Vāranā on the banks of Indus and look for confirmation in the other sources if there are any further clues to narrow down its location.

Historical Records
The earliest of the records belong to the Roman World, mostly in the form of references and quotations from the Alexandrian period.
Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri: Book VIII (Indica) records some of the geographical references and legends associated with the expedition of the Macedonian king into the valley of Indus. Any conclusion based on these references is foolhardy. Yet, these fragmentary pieces of unconnected references were treated with more seriousness by the historians than any of the native source material. We shall also do the same while considering them.
One reference which comes to my mind is “the Story of the Rock of Aornos”, which was forced by Alexander in a singular effort, while the legend has it that even Heracles had failed and was repulsed thrice; about which even Arrian had said, “I am inclined to think is a Macedonian boast”. Why was this Rock of Aornos so important for Alexander to boast?
It belonged to past, a legend and probably an unprotected fortress: there was no reference to any fight. The local inhabitants, interestingly called Sibae or ‘Sivas’ had not given him a fight. They said it was founded by Dionysus, who as per Arrian’s reckoning reached India in 6363BCE, which Heracles, a local hero had tried to capture, in vain. Certainly they were referring to an important local legend, a battle or a war which was remembered by the natives.
What was this impregnable Aornos? And, where was it? The location is unclear from the descriptions in Strabo’s Geography: Book XV: “When Alexander, at one assault, took Aornus, a rock at the foot of which, the Indus River flows, his exalters said that Heracles thrice attacked this rock and thrice was repulsed; and that the Sibae were descendants of those who shared with Heracles in the expedition, and that they retained badges of their descent…”
But the clue here is Sibae; Or, Sivas or Sibis who lived in the region. The town of Sibi still exists within a stone’s throw from Mohenjo-Daro on the way to Quetta Valley.
The location more or less corresponds with the current location of Mohenjo-Daro.

Now let’s examine some Chinese sources:

Ta-T‘ang-Hsi-yü-chi, the title of a book found in many Buddhist monasteries of Far East when translated to English, “Records of Western Lands of the Great Tang Period” was more simply known to us as the record of the travels of a Chinese pilgrim called Yuan Chwang, who visited India in the first half of the 7th Century CE. While he was traveling through this country, characteristically he had narrated many legends associated with the places, especially of Buddhist interest.

India is variously called in Chinese records as Hsien-tou, Hsien-tu, Kan-tu, Yuan-tu, Tien-chu, Tien-tu and Yin-tu.  Brother Yuan preferred ‘Yin-tu’ which he said was derived from the Hindu word for ‘moon’ (Indu).
But the earliest name for the country as given by its neighbors of Bactria ( Ta-hsia in Chinese records) was Kan-­tsi or Kat- chi. An envoy Chang Ch‘ien in 120 BCE had recorded this name for India and it was more than 700 years before Chwang.  The most ancient name recorded by Chinese to the Indian territories neighboring Bactria, resembles something like Kānchi or Kāṇsi.

Now a little more specific reference from Brother Yuan:
On the north bank of Indus he had visited a town called ‘Ⱳu-to-ka-han-ťu’, restored variously as ‘Uda-khanda or Udaka-khanda. The neighborhood has a stupa and a Blue Rock of Mahadeva (Bhimala/Siva) at its foot. Let me quote from the Chapter VII, Chuan III of Si-Yu-Ki translated by Thomas Watters: “From Udakakhaṇda city a journey north over hills and across rivers (or valleys) for 600 li brought the traveler to the Wu-chang-na country. Now what is this ‘Udyāna’ country?  According to Cunningham, our pilgrim’s Udyana belonged to Swat Valley, drained by the river, ‘Su-p‘o-fa-su-tu’.
But the name of Swat had always been ‘Suvastu’ not Subhavastu (Su-p‘o-fa-su-tu) of Chwang. The identification is doubtful.
But another reference to a city called Pὁ-lo-mên-tu-lo in its neighborhood points to a location of Udaka-khanda to Sind instead of upper Punjab. Pὁ-lo-mên-tu-lo can be read as B-ra-men-stha-la or ‘Brahmanasthala’.  Doesn’t it indicate the city of Brahmanabad in Sind?

Now, why all the brouhaha about the town Udakhanda?
Our pilgrim associates the region with a well known legend: The legend of a king selling his wife and child to pay his dues to a Brahmin. Does it ring a bell?
Yes, it’s the story of Harischandra, king of Ayodhya, an ancestor of Rama who had sold his wife and son Rohita near the sacred city, Vāranāsi.
‘The Jataka of Rahul’s Mother’ (I am not talking about Ms Sonia Gandhi) associates the tale of a sage called Ekasringa with Vāranāsi. Yuan Chwang narrates that the local legend associates a place 5miles from Udakhanda with the story.

Rig-Veda associates Uda-Vraja as the capital of a kingdom with hundred cities of the greatest demon king, Sambara.  Udavraja means a fortress surrounded by waters. Vāranāsi of the legend was a city between two rivers: Vārana and Asi.

There were seven towns forming a complex spanning a period of a thousand years or more, one of which is called today: the Mound of the Dead.

Was it the same as the Zoroaster’s Varéna?
Was it the same as Huen Tsang’s Udaka-khaṇda?
Was it the same as Alexander’s Aornos?
Was it the same as Harischandra’s Vāranāsi?
Was it the same as Rig-Vedic Udavraja, chief amongst a hundred cities?
Was it the same as Ancient Chinese Kāṇsi?

Location references point to Mohenjo-Daro: 

  • Zend Avesta locates Varéna west of Saptasindhu. 
  • Huen Tsang locates it in Sind on the banks of Indus. 
  • Arrian and Strabo put Sibis on the route taken by Nearchus between the confluence of Sutlej and the mouths of Indus.

Ancient legends associated with the names and locations indicate the same: 

  • The legend of Sambara’s Udavraja and that of Ahi-Dahaka belonged to early Rig-Vedic period vastly predating the historic Benares on Ganges Valley. 
  • The legend of Harischandra predates Ramayana and unless we assume that the epic, if ever it had taken place, had taken place in the Second Urban Civilization milieu.
Therefore, the archaeological site on the banks of Indus in the Larnaka District of Sind amongst a complex of six unexplored mounds, fondly called by us as the Mound of the Dead had a significantly more familiar name, as the seat of the Lord of the Known World, the Capital of a Hundred Cities, A Fortress surrounded by Waters.

Vāranāvat or Vāranāsi.

Or, Kāṇśi, the City of ‘Bronze’ (Kāṇś in Hindi)

It was the most sacred of the ancient cities and the capital of India’s Bronze Age Civilization.

So my next pilgrimage must coincide with a cricket match at Karachi. Hope, I get a visa.

Aren’t you wondering where Ayodhya was?


  1. Fantastic, and believable too. Your article forces those who read it to think radically.

  2. Diodorus is said to have referred to a place called 'Hermetalia' - which could be the same as 'Brahmasthala' as "the last place of the Brahmans on the river". So, could the city of ancient Varanasi/Varanawat/Kansi have been a larger city further into Punjab?

  3. Excellent, Sai, exactly what I was looking for. I will quote you on the Harappa,com Facebook Site and also put links in my articles dealing with the migration routes after ca 1500 BCE from the Sapt Sindhu Valley. Propostion Part I point 9 on... Darn... I'm trying to paste the weblink to an article of mine but the new iPod does not take certain editing features on the Ipod version of Blogger. My email is wim underscore borsboom at yahoo dot ca (no spaces) Please contact me...

  4. Thanks Wim.
    I'm not sure ... what you need. A link to my post is here. Hope it serves the purpose. I'm sending the link to your mail id also. Cheers!

  5. Sai,

    Great article. You may want to read my book "When did the Mahabharata War Happen? The Mystery of Arundhati'. If interested, let me know and I will send you PDF or kindle version of it. Paperback and Kindle versions are also available on Amazon.

    My book will allow you to put the timing of Indus civilization in persepective. It will certainly make you question 1500 BC.

    If interested write me at

    1. Dear Sir,

      I am and astrologer from Kanpur, India. I am interested in reading your Book 'When did the Mahabharata War happen? The Mystery of Arundhati'.

      Kindly send me a PDF version of this book as soon as possible.

      Best Regards

      Rahul Gupta

  6. Great logical Work

    waiting for 2nd part