Mesopotamia was not at all an island from where civilization radiated, as was believed before the scientific revolution brought by radiocarbon dating washed away the "diffusionism" (see Chapter 2). Actually, both in the west and the east of Mesopotamia other cultures bloomed together with the Mesopotamia civilizations, some almost completely unknown today, as was proved by the recent discoveries made in the Iranian site called Ajantep.
As far back as the 1920s, archaeological discoveries started to show that there had been a civilization in the Indian subcontinent that was as old as the Mesopotamian civilization. It was indeed at that time that the excavations in the two cities of the Indo Valley, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, began. This civilization owes its name to these two cities, even though we know that it actually bloomed much further east than that, in the flooding bed of a river that does not exist anymore, the Sarasvati.
Around the year 2500 BC, the Indo-Sarasvati civilization, just like the Mesopotamian one, had cities accurately planned, with hundreds of buildings, pensive gardens, and a public sewage system.
Unfortunately, scholars are not yet able to decipher the many inscriptions found, especially on document seals. The lack of literary documents themselves was, until recently, perfectly coherent with the idea that Sanskrit, the language of the main sacred Indu texts, the Veda, was not native to the area but had been imported to the Indian subcontinent by a people coming from the west, the Aryans, around the end of the second millennium BC.
Based essentially on arbitrary interpretations of the Veda themselves, the
idea of an Aryan invasion (even believed to be the absolute bringer of civilization before the discovery of the archaeological sites in the Indo Valley) was promulgated by Childe and by Wheller, and was accepted until recent years. But now we know that there is no real evidence of such an invasion; beside, the drying up of the Sarasvati river and its tributaries, mentioned in the Veda, happened progressively during the centuries around the year 2000 BC, and therefore long before the first supposed invasion, which probably never happened (Feuerstein et al. 1995).
The Veda (meaning "knowledge") were therefore written during the Indo-Sarasvati period. Its four main books were orally passed on from a very early period. Until about a thousand years ago, no one had ever inscribed them in writing, so they were transmitted by memory (a typical Veda contains about ten thousand verses). There is no doubt, however, that the Brahmins memorized the Veda (as they still do today), being careful not to change a single syllable of the texts, which are considered sacred. Therefore, we can be sure that the texts of the four books, which contain hymns (Rigveda), sacrificial formulas (Yajurveda), melodies (Samaveda), and magic formulas (Atharvaveda), are today very close to the texts as they were conceived at least 3000 years ago. The interesting thing is that many of the verses of the last three books are copied by those of the Rigveda, as if the author wanted to put together a certain amount of verses (see below).
The backdating of the Veda brought with it a radical revision of their interpretation—a revision that is ongoing today. In particular, a part of this revision includes the analysis of the astronomical content of the texts, a point that was never considered before. Today, although much of the astronomical code is yet to be deciphered, we are at least sure that the Veda contain astronomy and show mutual influences with Babylonian astronomy (Kak 1994, 2000).
The main idea at the heart of the Veda is that of a tripartite division and connection: connection between the three levels of the cosmos (earth, earth surface, and sky) and connection between the three levels of souls (spirits, humans, and celestial divinities). The level of humans had its center in Mount Meru, a true belly button of the world for the Indus, while the celestial level was located in the polar region of the sky, viewed as a cosmic counterpart of the mountain itself. In Vedic astronomy, just as in the Babylonian astronomy, the sun, the moon, and the planets played a crucial role and were identified with the seven main gods of the Hindu religion. The planets' motions, and those of the sun and the moon, were accurately followed through the naksatras, 27 celestial divinities (stars or constellations) that were used to divide the ecliptic into equal parts (the sun would then spend about 13 1/3 days in each naksatra every year). We have many
lists of naksatras compiled in different centuries; the lists contain the same celestial objects, but start at different points; the reason for these differences is that each list started with the naksatra with the sun rising on its background during the spring equinox and, due to precession, this background very slowly varies with the passing of time. There seems to be no doubt that the Indian astronomers knew that the sun was "changing the naksatra" with a slow but constant velocity every thousand years or so (25,776 years of the precessional cycle divided by 27 naksatras).
The tripartite nature of the cosmos was replicated on the fire altars that played an important role in Vedic life and religion. Study of Vedic ritual has shown that these brick altars were used to represent the connections among the astronomical, the physical, and the spiritual levels. The altars therefore embodied Vedic astronomical knowledge. In particular, an important ritual comprised the construction of three brick altars: one round, representing the earth; one half-moon shaped; and one square, representing the universe as a whole and consisting of five layers (three levels with two interconnections). Another important altar was connected with the concept of time-flowing and was shaped as a falcon, oriented toward the east. Astronomy ruled in a systematic way every aspect of the construction of these altars, including, for instance, the number of bricks used to build each layer, and the area of every extension of the altar itself, determined according to analogical criteria. For example, since there were three different calendars—one linked to the naksatras; a second, lunar, of 354 days; and a third, solar, of 365 days—the ratios between the areas of preexisting altars and restored altars had to be equal to the ratio between the numbers of the days of the three calendars, the total number of bricks used had to equal that of the hours in a year, and so forth (Kak 1993).
Finally, it seems that this strict principle of analogy is the key to understanding the very same structure of the Veda. Indeed, it looks like the Veda themselves were conceived as a brick altar, meaning that the number of syllables, the number of verses, the number of hymns, and the number of books have all been determined according to astrological-astronomical criteria.
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