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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Geography of Ramayana

 Geography of Ramayana
Continuation of Jambudwipa Series
The Harappan Civilization lasted for a millennium from mid third to early second before the current era. The first phase saw the integration of the core area into a uniform empire with very little regional variations in spite of a number of major urban foci. Harappa, Banvali, Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Ganerivala in the upper valley of the twin-rivers; and Mohenjo Daro, Chanhudaro, Dholavira, Lothal and probably a few others in the lower riparian region and the coast.
None of these names appear in the Indian tradition – Sanskrit or otherwise.
Each of them was a large urban center with a well developed administrative system to manage the surplus produce from the neighbouring country with a hundred or more production centers dotting the courses of the rivers and had loose if not political control over some sites farther away.
The next phase saw slow disintegration and regionalization of the civilization leading to a number of new settlements in the peripheral regions, chiefly, Gangetic Valley and Gujarat.
Until the clues in the script available to us on various seals and other sources – though very limited – are deciphered, we have no dispute-free way of ascertaining the actual names of these sites. However, that doesn’t stop us from speculating. Chronology based on the Puranic king-lists places the original events of the epic Ramayana to the Integration Phase and the principal events of Mahabharata to the Regionalization Phase.
There has been a lot of focused research on identifying the cities and towns mentioned in these epics, from Cunningham to now. Consistent with the conventional chronology, these sites almost invariably belong to the Post-Harappan phase in a region far to the east after a hiatus of approximately a millennium between the disintegration of the early Bronze Age civilization and the appearance of the earliest levels of these sites.  

The fundamental postulates underlying my argument are as follows:
1. After the disintegration of the core Harappan civilization the people that constituted it migrated in different directions and lived in new habitats for generations, carrying memories of a glorious age.
2. With the improvement and access to the new material and resources, they evolved new urban civilizations, yet drawing inspiration from the remembered past.
3. The ancient memories and knowledge was codified and enlarged in the new civilization milieu, forming the core of the second urbanization and its ethos – like the names of the ruling lineages and their administration centers.
4. Therefore, it is not illogical or surprising to find the descendents of the epic heroes and the parallel place names in the early historic times.
5. Knowledge of the regions to which the civilization extended was added to the epic tradition, enlarging it to encyclopedic proportions. 
6. Therefore, it is plausible that the major urban centers of Harappan Civilization are the original carriers of names associated with the core epic tradition.
Now, while speculating on geography of Harappan milieu, we must first draw a boundary restricting our assumptions to the core of the two epics – the key characters that constitute the principal stories and those related to them by ties of blood. 

Core Story of Ramayana
The protagonist of the epic is a prince of a kingdom called Kōsala with its capital Ayodhya. His mother is a native of the same country as her name Kausalya indicates. The early story refers to a family feud with his step brother who is a son of the princess of Kekeya region. His name ‘Bharata’ suggests lunar lineage as against the solar lineage of the protagonist. The female protagonist is a princess of Videha country with its capital Mithila.
Now the antagonist is an alien king Rāvana, who claims his descent from Pulasta, a cognate of Philistine. He lives in an island citadel that he had occupied earlier evicting its original ruler, Kubera forcing him to flee to the mountains.
The core story is as follows: Rama travels to Mithila and wins its princess in a contest and marries her. A family feud forces him to go on exile into regions outside the civilization. His wife Sita is abducted by Ravana. The hero follows her trail as directed by Sabari, who is personification of a river. The river leads him to Kishkinda, a settlement of a tribe outside the pale of civilization. The principal character here is Hanuman that aids him in locating the whereabouts of Sita. The hero mounts seize on Ravana’s citadel and defeats and kills him to recover his wife. After the triumph he returns to Ayodhya and reclaims his kingdom and extends its boundaries and establishes an ideal administration.
Now let us relook at the timelines from a logical standpoint. Analysis of Puranic king-lists places Ramayana to have had taken place in a period approximately in the late third millennium or early second millennium BCE (circa 2000 BCE). We know that the mature Harappan civilization belonged to the same time. The civilization has not extended beyond Yamuna towards east and Tapi towards south. Let us try to locate the following towns and regions belonging to the core story within this region and see if the timelines are plausible. 

1. Ayodhya
2. Kekeya region
3. Mithila
4. Sabari river
5. Kishkinda
6. Lanka
Ayodhya = Harappa

Let us take into account some Puranic references that do not make any sense in the context of our understanding of the geography of Ramayana, and see if there is any historical fact hidden there. Here I want to repeat what I had stated earlier in this series
“It was on the banks of Harayūpiya, Indra killed hundred priests called Vrichivats”, says Rigveda. Rāmāyana mentions the legend of Viswāmitra killing a hundred of Vasishṭa’s sons at Hariyūpa. They were called Vālashikhas. Sudas killed a hundred Vaikarnéyas on the banks of the river Parushni. Vālashikhas, Varashikhas and Vaikarnéyas belong to Vāsishṭa gōtra. All these above legends allude to one single incident in the remembered past.
We know that Parushni is the ancient name of Rāvi on whose bank we find Harappa. Therefore, it is possible that the original Sarayu/Harayu is none other than the river Rāvi”
If Vasishṭa is the chief priest of the kings of Ayodhya, what is this Brahmin doing in Punjab instead of staying close to Faizabad in UP? Unless, Rāvi was once called Sarayu and Ayodhya was the chief city on its banks.
Let us split the word “Harayu-yūpiya”
Harayu = Sarayu … like Hind = Sind.
Yūpa = Dhwaja = Stambha = Standard = Flag = Post etc…
Harappa certainly is the largest archaeological site on Rāvi and qualifies.
Of course, one cannot be sure until the script is deciphered.
However, there are a couple of historical references. Huen Tsang refers to a place near Indus called Rammanagara from the legend of Dipankara (Luminous) Buddha, mentioned both in Mahāvattu and Divyāvadana. This refers to a story of a Brahmin student in deer skins and matted hair at the feet of Buddha. This Rammanagara, Rammavati or Rammagāma (Mahāvamsa) existed in a period well before the current era. Secondly, an early Aramaic inscription from Sircap near Taxila mentions a proper noun ‘Ramadote’. This could be a personal name or could also be read as governor of a place Rama.
These may not prove anything as there are thousands of place names today across the nook and corner of India named after Rama. But, they are results of the wide popularity of the epic – a phenomenon later than the Pāli canon and give us reason to believe that there was a residual memory that existed in the region.

Kekeya Country = Rakhigarhi / Banvali Area

Vāyu Purana places Kekeya region on Saraswati to the west of Āryavarta. River Saraswati is also called Bhārati meaning either the river that flows in Bharata country or ‘the daughter of Bharata’. Not surprisingly, Bharata is the name of Kaikeyi’s son who is mentored by his maternal grandfather, Asvapati, the king of Kekeya country.  
There are attempts by other scholars to place Kekeya region to the west of the river Beas. The region later began to be called Gandhara, with its two cities founded by the descendents of Bharata – Taksha-Takshasila, Pushkara-Pushkalavati – identified as Taxila and Peshawar. Therefore the country to the west was not part of the Kekeya country during the epic.
Another Bharata in the latter age was the progenitor of the protagonists of Mahabharata, and their country is placed to its immediate east. Vāyu Purana calls the eastern region, Kuru-jāngala, the badlands or jungles of Kuru.
Most importantly, Banvali and Rakhigarhi are two sites that showed signs of fire altars and of course Kalibangan, downriver. Their significance lay in the raise of Brahmanical religion during the subsequent Dvāpara age dominated by the Bharata lineage.

Mithila = Ganeriwala

The kingdom of Mithila has vague beginnings. Their founder the first Janaka, is the twentieth generation before Siradhwaja, father of Sita, making the founding of the kingdom contemporaneous with the reign of Sagara. Sagara, ancestor of Rama, is credited with expanding of the influence of Ayodhya all the way to the coast. (The kings of Mithila also claim solar lineage making Sita a cousin of Rama – food for some thought especially for our Kaup Panchayats.)
Even the route Viswamitra takes from Ayodhya to Mithila for the swayamvara contest follows the banks of Ganga. There are three legends associated with this journey remarkably all of them relate very similar stories.

1. Descent of Ganges
2. Rescue of Ahalya
3. Killing of Tātaka
Descent of Ganges:
Agrarian Settlements on the Dry Bed of Saraswati
After Sagara expands the kingdom, his sons – sixty thousand of them – were cursed by a sage Kapila while they were digging a deep chasm through the ground. It was Sagara’s great grandson Bhagiratha that brings the waters of Ganga to revive them. Let’s assume for once that the sixty thousand sons of Sagara in actuality are the king’s subjects and the digging of chasm symbolized the construction of an irrigation channel that failed. It required Bhagiratha-prayatna to bring the waters of Ganga to revive these lands from their desolated state.
Sixty thousand sons!
Where do you find such a large concentration of agrarian settlements in the Harappan milieu?
You find between Kalibangan and Ganeriwala on the dry bed of Saraswati, more than hundred agrarian sites that certainly would have supported a sixty thousand households.
R. Saraswati had always been fickle. Imagine a scenario where the main feeder of the river, Sutlej, shifts its flow towards west into Indus, requiring a huge effort of digging a channel to bring the waters back to the old channel. Probably, that’s what Bhagiratha had done immortalizing his name.
But the legend is associated with R. Ganga, isn’t it?
Let us remind ourselves that Ganga is a Munda word synonymous with water. Except for the name Jāhnavi, Ganga was never mentioned in the main body of Rigveda. Even the legend of Jahnu, who drinks up Ganga and relents to release it, is associated with Bhagiratha.
Rescue of Ahalya:
Ahalya, wife of Gotama, was cursed by her husband who doubts her fidelity, was left as a desolate rock in the path of Rama. The touch of his foot rescues her, reviving the land to its earlier glory. Here again the legend recollects the revival of an Ashram that had fallen into bad times.
Killing of Tātaka:
Tāṭaki is a Yakshi who brings about ruin of once prosperous region by her depredations. Taṭāka means a tank or a lake. Tāṭaki probably was personification of a great irrigation tank gone dry. By killing her Rama revives the land.  
One of the most enduring characters of our mythology is Viswāmitra. He is the progenitor of Bharata race. His struggles for supremacy against Vasishta indicate not only the strife between Bharatas of Lunar descent against Ikshwakus of Solar lineage but the ultimate triumph of his descendents.
It was from his ashram that Rama had travelled to Mithila. Rama’s journey as the crown-prince to these lands and the legends of Ahalya and Tataki indicate reestablishment of settlements with active collaboration of Viswamitra. If we believe that the journey took the route of the old bed, the ashram probably was very close to Kalibangan and the destination, Mithila near Ganeriwala.
(Are the fire altars excavated at Kalibangan the actual venue of Viswamitra’s famous sacrifice protected by Rama?)
The irony of all these expansion processes, during Ramayana period, also indicates the rising influence of Bharata clan surrounding Ayodhya. No wonder, Rama’s reign rings the end of the yuga followed by overall decline. Placing Rama’s reign around 2000 BCE is consistent with the beginning of the Regionalization Phase of Harappan archaeology. Probably the reason, future generations remember his reign as the most glorious phase of history, Ramarājya.

The Exile

Now let us move on to the places visited by the hero during his exile.  
Major part of his exile – ten years – was spent at Chitrakoot. Then as advised by Agastya he travels south to Pancavati in the eleventh year. Lives there for three years – encounters a few unpleasant characters like Sūrpa-nakha and her brothers, Khara & Dushana – before his wife is abducted by Rāvana. 
The entry of Agastya is a giveaway. Agastya is associated with Sanskritization of Dravidian country. Agattiyar had been the agency for the popularization of Sankrit culture in south. Therefore, the entire shift of location of the exile story to Godavari valley and to Tamil/Sinhala country belonged to a later phase, when the knowledge of these lands was commonplace.
Looking at the timelines of the story, the events of abduction and recovery of Sita happen within a span of one year. It takes less than two months for the armies of Rama to travel from Kishkinda to Lanka, lay seize on the city, defeat and kill the villain in a battle and return to Ayodhya. The whole story that constitutes Sundara-kanda and Yuddha-kanda chapters of the epic begins after the rainy season and ends on Diwali day.
If the story has to take place – as is believed – in South Indian peninsula and Srilanka, where the rainy season actually ends only after Diwali, the whole chronology of Ramayana is not plausible.
Secondly, if we believe that Kishkinda is in Upper Deccan (Hampi), the distance the army has to travel from there to Rameswaram and across Palk Strait to Danushkodi is more than a thousand kilometers. Even on a forced march of a yojana – 11 kilometers – per day, it would take more than three months, leaving aside the time taken to build a bridge across the strait. Thirdly, the battle lasts until the tenth day of Dussera and the hero leaves Lanka to reach Ayodhya a day before Diwali. Of course, he takes Pushpak – an aircraft to travel a distance of 2500km as crow flies, in less than twenty days. If one wants to still believe that aircraft existed that could fly nonstop for 2500 km without refueling in that distant antiquity… there is nothing to argue.
But how do we reconcile the story and its chronology if we were to believe that the fundamental events of the epic are factual?
Simple… we look for possible candidates for the locations closer to the core areas of Harappan culture.
Let me draw a map…before recounting the story of exile.
Geography of Ramayana - Circa 2000 BCE
Rama leaves Ayodhya, crosses the great river at a regular ferry point, operated by Guha at Sringabhera, spends a season at Prayāg, and travels further south and settles down at Chitrakoot, still not very far from the capital. Bharata reaches there with a large contingent of citizens of Ayodhya, returns and establishes a temporary capital at Nandigrama on the banks of Ganga (Saraswati/Sutlez) understandably close to his stronghold, Kekeya. It is difficult to identify these exact locations though there are claimants to the status near Allahabad and farther east. In the historical period, the main arterial highway to south – Dakshināpatha – started from Kausambi. So it is easy for the future civilizations to locate such place names on that highway.
During historic period the focus of civilization was the Gangetic plain. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence of any established civilization there in 2000 BCE. Therefore, the start-point of Dakshināpatha or Southern Highway must be located somewhere south of Amritsar … near Fazilka?
Let’s draw a straight line – north-south – from there. It will intersect Delhi-Bombay highway, between Bikaner and Ajmer, just to the east of Thar Desert and west of Aravallis. This region was a thick bush-land – Kuru Jāngala – even in historic times. The first station – Chitrakuta – probably was located there.
Next station is Panchavaṭi at the source of a river that flows to the east. Sita is abducted there and carried away on a swift aircraft/watercraft. In the Aravallis, where do you find a waterway all the way to the sea?
Luni rises in Aravallis and flows south-southwest and debouches in the Rann of Kutch. Just north of its source the river Chambal takes a sharp turn east. The region is rich in raw material and is well connected by two seasonal waterways, Luni and Sabarmati, at the mouths of which rivers we find the important port cities of Harappan times, Dholavira and Lothal. Presence of raw material sourced from this region in Gujarat sites is well attested by Prof. Suraj Bhan and Aurel Stein.
Rama’s conflict with Khara and Dushana, agents of Ravana, near Panchavati is well attested in the epic.
Sabari = Sabarmati
Next station is just south of the spot. Rama reaches the banks of Luni, close to the point where R. Sabarmati originates, whose name is indicative of the presence of Sabaras. From this points there are two rivers leading to the sea. Here he receives the first clue from Sabari who asks him to follow the river. Did he follow Luni or Sabarmati? Going by the name, it is easier to assume that it was Sabarmati. Ramayana fully attests that Sabari is a river and it guides the hero in his search – but only until his next station Kishkinda where he makes friends with the Vānaras.
Kishkinda is at the source of a small river, terrain is mountainous. The region is called Banaskantha – Forest of Banas. Assuming that Vānaras are not monkeys but some kind of forest-dwelling people …
Vana = Forest
Nara = People
Vana + nara = Forest People.
Bana = Forest
Banas - Forest dwelling tribe.
Monsoon reaches here in late-June and the region is practically dry after August. Rann of Kutch is only 200 km downriver. A swift canoe can take Hanuman there and back in a couple of weeks on the small stream Saraswati.

Final Destination – Lanka

Is it Dholavira or Surkotada?
The name Surkotada probably held a meaning … Fortress of (A)sur. But the epic describes a fortress built of stone with multiple battlements and ramparts, certainly an awe inspiring city. When compared with Dholavira in the neighbourhood, Surkotada falls short.
Dholavira, it is.
Dholavira = Lanka

Let me set down a few traditional references to support the hypothesis.

1. Puranas and the epic tradition state that Lanka is built on Mt. Mandhara by Kubera, the king of Yakshas and Ravana evicts him from there.
2. Vāyupurana states that a peak of Mt. Meru was hurled into the sea of milk and it is called Mandhara.
3. Mandhara is the same hill that was lifted out of the sea by Vishnu as a Tortoise, on his carapace. Kachchapa = Carapace. Kachcha is the island Kutch.
4. Mandhara acted as the pivot for churning the sea of milk. I have earlier dealt with this identification of sea of milk with Rann of Kutch in my post …
5. Kirsara – simplified version of Kshir-sagara meaning ‘sea of milk’ – is a Harappan site in Kutch overlooking the Rann.
6. Prof. Gaur and Prof. Vora of Marine Archaeology Center, Goa have proved, based on the material from various sites in Gujarat, that the Rann of Kutch was 3 to 6 meters under water almost round the year during the Harappan times.
7. Early October is when the monsoon retreats in India and the inundation of the Rann, that we notice today, withdraws. In the epic, building of the bridge across the waters coincides with the same period of the year – one week before Dusserah – enabling dry crossing from the mainland to Kadir Bet.
8. Dholavira shows clear signs of destruction and decline around 2200 BCE a date slightly earlier than the overall decline of Harappan civilization.
9. Finally, Ramayana mentions that the glow of fire and smoke, when the city was burnt by Hanuman, were seen from the mouths of Indus that are only fifty miles away and possible on a clear day. 
Now, let us get back to the timelines. The trail taken by Rama in pursuit of the abductor; Hanuman’s expedition to Lanka and back to Kishkinda; the march of armies; building of Setu; battle and rescue of Sita as narrated in the epic fits in. But how did Rama reach Nandigrama within twenty days after victory?
He had set sail on a river craft or a swift galley from Dholavira, a maritime city. Both Indus and Saraswati are large navigable rivers and Harappa is easily reachable in a fortnight.
Chronology based on Puranic king-lists places Ramayana period in circa 2000 BCE, which is heyday of Indus valley Civilization. However, the places associated with the epic – as we know them today – belong to a later era. As the civilization spread, knowledge of new regions was added to the epic giving it a pan-India character. But, if one wants to find the actual geographical context, one must look for it in Harappan archaeology. Traditional memories and references in Puranas and epics may help us with some clues. This may in turn provide new perspectives to our understanding of Harappan civilization.
My concluding post on the Geography of Jambudwipa will deal with the Late Harappan context based on the core epic of lunar lineage – Mahabharata and the Story of Krishna.