Tuesday , 19 March 2019

The Curse of Akkad

Tensing Rodrigues


In the previous part we discussed the first three events in the timeline of Konkani history, the first two of which may have appeared rather irrelevant. However I have chosen to begin with them so as to place the Konkani history in proper perspective. All three are known more by way of legends; it was therefore very necessary to attempt to align the myths with the geological data. Himalaya delimits the northern extent of India; and its north-western syntaxial bend is where the saraswat history begins; “Many Vedic texts, including most notably the Rigveda, were composed in the region more or less overlapping with modern Panjab and surroundings.” (Bronkhorst, 2015: Reflections on the fate of northwestern Brahmins, Indologica Taurinensia, Vol 40, 37) Himalaya and Vindhya together define the kshatriya settlement and the early movement of the arya. The Sahyadri and the Deccan Plateau is the arena where the more recent Konkani history enacts.

Composition of Rigveda

5,000 BCE – 1,200 BCE.

[Murthy, 1980: The Vedic River Saraswati – A Geological Approach, Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol 15, 189]

(Rigveda is important in the context of River Saraswati; this foundational text of the arya has very vivid descriptions of the river. Reconciling these with the archeological evidence can provide us an important insight into the early history of the saraswat and their eventual exodus from their homeland. However it is difficult to fix a date for its composition. Not only because there is no clear evidence, but also because it was probably created over several millennia. RV 01.003.11: “Inciter of all pleasant songs, inspirer of all gracious thought, Sarasvati accept our rite.” This probably suggests the very composition of Rigveda on its banks. RV 01.003.12: “Saraswati, the mighty flood” probably describes its force. RV 01.164.49: “That breast of thine exhaustless, spring of pleasure, wherewith thou feedest all things that are choicest, wealth-giver, treasure finder, free bestower, – bring that, Saraswati, that we may drain it.” This describes the abundance of prosperity that the river bestowed upon the people settled on its banks. RV 02.041.16-17: “Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Saraswati, We are, as ‘twere, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown. In thee, Saraswati, divine, all generations have their stay. Be, glad with Sunahotra’ssons: O Goddess grant us progeny.” This is the apex of the praise that the saraswat offer to their dear river. RV 06.061.08: “Whose limitless unbroken flood, swift-moving with a rapid rush, Comes onward with tempestuous roar.” This gives an idea of how mighty the river must have been. RV 07.095.02 “Pure in her course from mountains to the ocean” This categorically points to the fact that at that time the river flowed into the sea. [Griffith, 1896]

Drying up of River Sarasvati

“The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,

The inundated tracts produced no fish,

The irrigated orchards produced neither syrup nor wine,

The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.”

These poignant lines from a Mesopotamian clay tablet dated 2200 BCE describe the end of the Akkadian Empire after a prolonged drought. Almost at the same time, another flourishing civilisation, more than two thousand kilometres to the east in the Saraswati valley, was in its death throes. Was it a mere coincidence? (Kolbert, 2005: The Climate of Man II: The Curse of Akkad, Annals of Science)

Radiocarbon dates of groundwater available at depths of 50-60 metres along the course of a buried channel of a ‘defunct river’ in northwestern Jaisalmer.

3,700 – 2,200 BCE.

[Danino, 2010: The Lost River – On The Trail Of The Sarasvati, 75]                (The date of the fossil waters suggests the onset of aridity or the stopping of the recharge of the aquifer.)

A phase of aridity

≈2,200 BCE

[Staubwasser, 2003: Climate change at the 4.2 ka BP termination of the Indus valley civilisation, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol 30, 1425]

2,600 – 1,900 BCE.

[Valdiya, 2017: Prehistoric River Saraswati, Western India – Geological Appraisal and Social Aspects, 109]

(Dry climate with reduced rainfall from SW monsoon all over Indian subcontinent)

≈ 2,100 BCE

[Dixit et al, 2014: Abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon in northwest India, Geology]

(The palaeo-climate record (at Kotla Daharpalaeo lake in southern Hariana) provides indirect evidence for the SW monsoon weakening at ≈ 2,100 BCE in northwestern India, leading to severe decline in summer overbank flooding that adversely affected monsoon-supported agriculture in this region.)

2,000 – 1,500 BCE

[Phadtare, 2000: Sharp Decrease in Summer Monsoon Strength, Quaternary Research, Vol 53, 122]

(A sharp decrease in temperature and rainfall at 2000–1500 BCE in Garhwal Higher Himalaya represents the weakest monsoon event of the Holocene record.)

Why I have cited so many estimates of when the aridity set in, is because there is considerable disagreement on the dates. But in spite of the differences on exactly when, there is unanimity on the fact that the availability of water in the Sarasvati valley around 2,600 – 1,500 BCE was no better than what it is today; that aridity was a significant factor for the downfall of the vibrant civilisation – the curse of Akkad!

Southward deflection of River Tamasa abandoning River Sarasvati and joining River Yamuna.

1,900 – 1,700 BCE.

[Valdiya, 2012: Geography, Peoples and Geodynamics of India in Puranas and Epics, 82, 171]       (A fault tore apart the Siwalik Range, dislocating the western part horizontally southward, uplifting the western block by about 20 metres and sinking the eastern block by about 14 to 30 metres.)

The rising of the Indo-Gangetic Plain against the Siwalik by about 20 metres due to the reactivation of the Himalayan Frontal Fault.

1,900 – 1,500 BCE

[Valdiya, 2012: 172]

(See the figure)

River Shatadru abandoning RIver Sarasvati and swinging westwards to join River Beas flowing into River Indus.

≈500 BCE.

[Valdiya, 2012: 173]

(See the figure)

It should be noted that the drying up of River Sarasvatī was not an event; it was a continuous process that might have extended even up to the 19th century CE. According to some historians the Rann of Kutch provided a fairly deep channel allowing the ships to move up the river into Sind during the invasions of Alexander of Macedonia in the 4th century BCE and of the Arabs in the 9th century CE. According to Todd’s Annals of Rajasthan, the River Hakra (identified with the extinct Saraswati) in Bikaner became dry for the first time about the year 1044 CE. The 1819 CE earthquake is noted to have caused considerable upliftment of the Rann, cutting it off from the sea. [Murthy, 1980: 189]

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