Saturday, January 14, 2012

Concept of the Ancient Floods with special reference to Indus Valley Civilization.

Floods played an important role in the decline of Harappan civilization.


Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; fir the earth is filled with violence through them with the earth…And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life…were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. And the waters returned off the earth continually; and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated…”

Some might feel that times have not changed very much since The Flood, but in this article I am concerned with human morality, frailty and punishment- though it is interesting to note that the great catastrophic flood which is recorded in the mythology of other races through out the world is attributed to punishment by a deity of one form or another for the sins of mankind.

A world – destroying flood ( “world” in those days being localized rather than planetary) is a common legend in the ancient history of many races apart from the Hebrews; for example, the Americans, Babylonians, Indians, Persians, Polynesians and Syrians.

Archaeologists in Mesopotamia have discovered evidence of severe flooding at various levels- in particular a stratum of clay eight feet deep, excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur, which he identified with the biblical flood.

The Babylonian records say that some 4,000 years old refer to a “dark cloud” that encompassed the planet and intense fire that scorched the land- “all that was bright was turned into darkness. For six days a deluge of water driven by hurricane winds swept over earth, destroying all forms of life and changing the face of the planet.”

Hindu legend tells of the appearance in the sky of a rapidly expanding dark shape in the form of boar, which suddenly broke into loud thunder. The shape hurtled into the water which, convulsed by the motion, rose in enormous waves.

The same basic story is related in the mythology of other races and countries, including even the Celts of Britain and the Maoris of New Zealand.

Research since the 1970s suggests that there were three global super-floods: 15,000 to 14,000 years ago; 12,000 to 11,000 years ago; and 8,000 to 7,000 years ago. The second period ties in with the date Plato ascribed in the Timaeus and Critias to the destruction by earthquakes and flooding of Atlantis, and with the Tamil myth of the submerging of the fabled land of Kumari Kandam. Kumari Kandam, an antediluvian civilization said to have existed thousands of years ago around south India. It is believed to have been a great center of learning with magnificent academies which may have left a legacy of cartographic and astronomical knowledge which exists today in the ancient Indian texts.

There is also strong evidence that nearly half the total melt water released at the end of the last Ice Age was concentrated into these three relatively short periods. Such events would have had a momentous impact on the human inhabitants at that time, leaving a marked impression on oral tradition, the original transmitter of all ancient myths.

Geological record indicates that during Late Pleistocene glaciation, waters of the Himalaya were frozen and that in place of rivers there were only glaciers, masses of solid ice. As and when the climate became warmer, the glaciers began to break up and the frozen water held by them surged forth in great floods, inundating the alluvial plains in front of the mountains.

Floods played an important role in the decline of Harappan civilization. Several individual sites like Dholavira show that floods and rising sea levels leading to increased salinity made them uninhabitable. The Rann of Kutch, for example, was inhabited during the Harappan era. Dholavira, a major Harappan site is located in the Rann.

When we use the term ‘floods’ with the reference to the Harappan civilization, it is important to distinguish between the river floods and encroachment by the flooding ocean due to rising sea levels. The latter is recorded scientific fact.

In coastal areas, floods do not necessarily mean riverine floods but tidal waves and rising sea levels. The Mausala Parva of the Mahabharata seems to record a tidal wave leading to the destruction of Dwarka. The description in the Mausala suggests a massive tidal wave triggered by underwater volcanic activity- sometimes known as the tsunami. There are far more deadly than river floods. More seriously, if it is part of permanent environmental change, their effect can be permanent. This seems to have the case with coastal areas of the Harappan civilization.

Rising sea levels can be devastating for coastal settlements since there is no recovering from it. We find records of floods in the literature all across the ancient worlds. The better known among these ( outside India) are the Bible and the ancient Mesopotamian work known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The question is : can we find any record of floods on the Indus seals? We have found at least two that record the terrifying effects of floods.

The first of these is a seven – sign message inscribed in the compact form characteristic of most Harappan writing. It is written from right to left and may be deciphered as follows.

Decipherment: saka-ta-va-sa-ma-dra (right –to- left in original)

Reading : Śakta vāsa samudrah

Written in the concise Harappan (sutra) style, this may be rendered into English as follows: “ The sea has entered dwelling places.” The writing on the next seal is more vivid and poignant-almost an anguished cry for help. It is written from left to right which is the more common mode on the Harappan seals. With a total of sixteen signs it is one of the longer Harappan inscriptions on record.

Decipherment: Line 1: da-śa-sa-sra-dha
Line2: a-gha-va-asta-ja
Line3: śaka-ta-kavrahan-yat-ta

Reading Line 1: dāsśuse-śrudhi
Line 2: agho vai astojan
Line 3: śaktikah vrā hanāyattah

The inscription may be explained as follows. The first line is an invocation: “Oh Gods! Hear our prayers as we make our offerings to you in your yajnas”. The second line is a description of the flood: “ We see before us floods (enemy) in eight directions ( or all around us).” The third is a cry of despair: “Powerful people find themselves at the mercy of death.”

These seem to be inspired by the experience of floods and their own helplessness before them.

Prompted by the discovery of some 30 skeletons in the ruins, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, dean of subcontinent archaeology in the 1940s and 1950s, wrote that “men, women, and children were massacred in the streets and houses, and were left lying there or, at the best, crudely covered without last rites.” To Wheeler the “massacre” tracked with verses in the Rig-Veda, a collection of ancient Hindu hymns that recounts the destruction of cities by the fierce and war like God Indra.

Today archaeologists point out that no weapons or other evidence of an attack were found at Mohenjo Daro. Some believe that skeletons were of persons who died of disease. And many archaeologists doubt that there was an invasion. Examination of skeletons from Indus cemeteries has failed to show that the original people were supplanted by new-comers with different characteristics.

No one can say with certainty why the subcontinent’s long-lived civilization came to an end, but experts suspect unruly rivers. Geological and archeological evidence, it turns out, give strong evidence that a long and devastating drought followed by devastating floods led to the abandonment of the settlements along the banks of the Indus and Saraswati rivers in western India, ending an urban civilization that had flourished, archeologists now surmise, sometime between 2,600 BC and 1,900 BC. Experts think the fluctuations of the Indus had a major impact on Mohenjo Daro. It whipped back and forth across the plains, causing floods that destroyed the agricultural base of the city. Trade and the economy were disrupted. Hundred of villages may have been destroyed by floods or by rivers carving new channels.


National Geographic, June 2000, vol. 197, no.6.

Patten, D.W. 1966. The Biblical flood and the ice epoch. Pacific Meridian Publishing co., Seattle.

Rajaram, N.S. 1999. Sarasvati Civilization in the Harappan Seals. In ed. B.P. Radhakrishna and S.S. Merh, Vedic Sarasvati Evolutionary history of a lost river of Northwestern India. Geological Society of India, Bangalore.
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