Saturday , 17 November 2018
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Where did Parsurama’s arrow fall ?

Tensing Rodrigues

We have traditionally believed that it fell in Banavali in Salcete, Goa. And that the name of that village has been derived from that incident. You may shrug this off as a mere myth. Well a myth it is. But my intent today is far more than casting it aside as a myth. Banavaliis an ancient town in the Hissar district of Haryana, 15 km north-west of Fatehabad, on the left bank of the dried up Sarasvati River. Could it be that the sarasvat who settled in Banavali, Salcete named the village in memory of their home they had left behind in the Sarasvati valley, just as those from Kusasthali (>Kutthali), Shankhodhar (>Samkhaval) and Lothal (>Lotali) had done? Banavali was first excavated by ASI in 1974; the finds show its evolution from 2,500 BCE to 1,500 BCE, with abundant similarities with Kalibangan and Harappa.

The discussion of origin of the village name was only incidental. The question that I want to explore today is: what was the extent of the west coast that was uplifted? We have said earlier that the uplifting of the Konkan coast could have happened between 10,000 and 2,000 BCE. What we are interested in is, what was exactly the extent of the land to the west of the Sahyadri before the uplifting happened? This question has arisen in the context of the data thrown up by the Kamgavai well. As we have seen, the well lies in what was once a fresh water lake hosting a myristica swamp. And it is dated about 44,000 BCE. Kamgavai is just about 15 kilometres from the shoreline. This clearly implies that the palaeolake existed before the coast was uplifted. In fact the myristica swamp and the surrounding tropical wet evergreen forest were probably much older; they could have been there even before India parted company with Madagascar to join China! Some experts are of the opinion that they could be even older; that these are the vestiges of the forests that covered southern India when it was in the Equatorial zone! [Prasad, 2009: Evidence Of Late Palaeocene-Early Eocene Equatorial Rain Forest…, in Journal of Biosciences, 34(5)] It is difficult to arrive at any consistent conclusion. We have to wait for further geological or paleontological data to lead us.

Before we proceed any further, we need to understand the term ‘uplifting’ that we have used so often. The term is a reference to the fact that the Indian plate suffered a distension as it passed over the Reunion Hotspot; its western part domed up forming Sahyadri; and the eastern side of the dome cracked outpouring flows of molten rock. [Tying The Knots, April 9, 2017] The distension was further aggravated by the plate pressing against the Eurasian plate; the Indian peninsula as a whole slopes from NW to SE. But all that happened more than 6,10,00,000 years ago; so it has nothing to do with the appearance of the Konkan coast, or its extension. The Parsurama myth is connected with the rise and fall of the sea level because of later geological and climatic events. Basically, there are two views about the sea level variations: some hold that the sea level off the Konkan coast has continually risen after the end of the last ice age; while others contend that it rose first and then fell. The latter hypothesis seems to have more supporters. And it validates the Parsurama myth. Therefore, when we use the term ‘uplifting’, it is in a relative sense – the level of the coastal land in relation to the level of the sea; in reality, it is all about the sea level falling, rather than the land level rising.

Hashimi’s Sea Level Curve gives a good idea of the rise and fall of the sea level on the western coast; even if it is one of the estimates, it is representative. For our purpose, it is more than sufficient. Roughly, the sea rose between 13,000 and 2,000 BCE,with a sharp rise betweenabout 8,000 to 5,000 BCE. Then, beginning 2,000 BCE, the sea receded little by little, exposing the submerged land. That is the land ‘reclaimed’ by Parsurama’s arrow. Eventually the sea level fell back roughly to where it stood around 5,000 BCE. [Hashimi, 1995: Holocene Sea Level Fluctuations On Western Indian Continental Margin, in Journal Of The Geological Society Of India, 46] It should be noted, however, that the land lost or gained, as the sea rose and fell, was not the same all along the coast; it varied with the topography of the coast.

That enables us to answer the question we posed in the beginning: where did Parsurama’s arrow fall? We now know that Parsurama’s arrow fell where the 2,000 BC mark stands, and as a result the sea receded to the present level! But we also know now that Parsurama shot the arrow later than 2,000 BCE! That more or less fits the chronology we have already arrived at. The bramhana came to the Konkan coast just around that time. Whether Parsurama was a kshatriya who ensured a safe entry for bramhana into the hostile Konkan territory, or whether he was a bramhana himself, is of little consequence; his shooting the arrow marks the entry of the bramhana into the coastal Konkan. But perhaps we need to be a little cautious here: the term bramhana here should be referring to the non-sarasvat bramhana, those who came into the coast from the trans-Sahyadri Konkan; the advent of the sarasvat could be an entirely different story.

Looking at it from the mountain side, that is, from the point of view of the primitive settlers who came down the western slopes of the Sahyadri, what land lay before them towards the coast, would depend upon when they came. If they landed here around 13,000 BCE, there must have lain before them a vast plain covered with dense tropical wet evergreen forest, amidst myristica swamps – a truly dreadful sight to behold, and explore, and make their homes in. But if they arrived a few thousands year later, they must have beheld far less land, far less dreadful; for by then the sea level would have risen, the swamps would have shrunk and a good part of the forest turned deciduous. Most probably most of the migrations must have taken place at this stage.

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