From the Jacket
Written by a geologist who read the texts of the Puranas and the Epics in Conjunction with a mass of studies on geological history of the larger Indian Continent and his own extensive field work in different parts of the country this illustrated book endeavors to demonstrate that the narratives by scholarly sages embodied in these ancient Sanskrit works do not represent figments of poetic imagination but provide if shorn of metaphors idiomatic phrases and allegories the revealing facts and invaluable information on the geography and geomorphological layout the ethnicity of the people who lived in different parts of the country the flora and fauna that peopled the land of Bharatvarsha and the drastic geodynamic events and climatic changes that overtook the land particularly in the last 12,000 years of the Holocene Epoch called the Chaturyuga in the Puranas and Epics.
The scholars of the Puranas and epics time were quite knowledgeable about the origin evolution and progression of life including the coming of man the interior of the earth the dynamics of crustal upheavals the occurrence mining and metallurgy of minerals the tapping of natural gas reclaiming land from seas and building bridges across even a sea.
The relevant original Sanskrit text givesn in the Devanagari Script is accompanied by the authors interpretation rigorously tested on the anvil of incontrovertible evidence adduced from scientific studies on geological phenomena human genetic markers climate changes and backed up by tell tale photographs.
Recipient of many national awards including S.S. Bhatnagar Prize (1976) of the council of Scientific & Industrial Research National Mineral Award of Excellence (1997) of the Ministry of Mines Pitambar Pant Environment Fellow (1982-1984) of the Ministry of Environment & Forests Hindi Sevi Samman (2007) of the Ministry of Human Resource Development Padmashree (2007) of the Government of India National Lecturer (1977-1978) of the University Grants commission D.N. Wadia Medal (1995) of Indian National Science Academy and L. Rama Rao Gold Medal (1980) of the geological Society of Indian Prof. K.S. Valdiya is a fellow of all the three national Science Academies of India the third world Academy of Sciences the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of Nepal.
Presently he is Honorary Prof. of geodynamics at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research Bengaluru. He has held high positions as Additional director in the wadia institute of Himalayan geology as Prof. of geology, Dean Science and Vice Chancellor in Kumaun University and Golden Jubilee Research Prof. of Indian National Science academy at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for advanced Scientific research. He has also been a distinguished Guest Prof. at Indian Institute of technology Mumbai and Visiting Honorary Prof. at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.
He has written several books and monographs including Geology of Kumaun Lesser Himalaya (1980) Aspects of tectonics Focus on Southcentral Asia (1984) Envrionmental Geology Indian Context (1987) Dynamic Himalayan (1998) Saraswati the river that disappeared (2002) Geology, Environment and Society (2005) the making of India geodynamic Evolution (2010) and Ek Thi Nadi Saraswati (2010) his is a prolific writer popularizing earth science and general science.
Various Factors sum up to make a study valuable and expedient. The reach and scope of the topic selected the significance of the primary data used the propriety of the line of approach followed the sobriety of the inferences drawn and conclusions arrived at and above all the competence of the scholar to do justice to his subject are admittedly the most potent ones among them. And I have no hesitation in starting that this book authored by K.S. Valdiaya is worthwhile on all these counts.
The epics and the Puranas constitute the primary source material of the present study and define its spatio temporal scope. To begin with this in itself is a notable point. For who can deny the importance of the epics and the puranas? The two together constitute the two eyes so to say through which one can see the significant role in formation of Indian psyche can hardly be exaggerated. Besides they are valuable not only for an Indian point of view but have a universal relevance and appeal as well. In fact as a set of global literary heritage they stage unique in their content and coverage. To be sure there is no other known ancient literature anywhere in this world that is as rich in knowledge and wisdom and as expansive in its geographical and chronological horizons as the epics and the Puranas. The rigveda is undoubtedly the earliest book known to us, but it is surpassed by the Purãnas in antiquity of contents. Though couched in a much later language, the Puranas provide us a lot of pre-Rigvedic information.
A study of the epics and the Puranas is most welcome today because of another reason too. The European scholars, who initiated modem study of ancient Indian texts in nineteenth century, labelled them as ‘mythology’, meaning thereby that they were figments of poetic imagination and the descriptions contained in them were not factual. This stigma falsely attached to them has ever since deterred many a worthy scholars from taking them seriously. Even today, in certain quarters, this false notion persists. As a result, the epics and the Puranas could not get the attention they deserve. Prof. Valdiya is right in totally rejecting this ‘mythology thesis’ since the perpetrators of this thesis are doubly wrong. Firstly, it is incorrect to label all epic and Puranic descriptions as mythology. Secondly, and more importantly, mythologies are not unreal. Due mostly to phonetic resemblance, the English term ‘myth’ and Sanskrit word ‘mithyaa’ have been confused with each other and taken to denote the same sense. But, basically they have different connotations. While the Sanskrit word ‘mithyaa’ means ‘false’, the English term ‘myth’ originally meant ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (equivalent to Sanskrit ‘vaach’), a meaning still preserved in Greek. The modem distortion, nay, complete reversal in the meaning of ‘myth’ is uncritical and unfortunate to say the least, for ‘myth’ in its pristine sense is closer in meaning to ‘real’ than to what we understand by ‘fact’. Fortunately, this truth is being realized gradually and cultures are being defined now in terms of their unique ‘systems of images’ (Bimba-Vidhaana) constituted by networks of symbols, metaphors and myths.
Prof. Valdiya is an eminent geologist with commendable reach in many other disciplines, and it is but natural that his writings would have an impact of his unique academic make-up. With a true scholar’s politeness (vidyaa dadaati vina yam), he writes in the Preface of this work: “I wish to emphasize that this is not a scholarly treatise, nor a comprehensive analysis. It is just a geologist’s interpretation.” In fact, it is this geologist’s perspective, the geologist’s angle of looking at things, that makes this book extremely significant and distinguishes it from all other over three dozen books hitherto published in the field of epic and Puranic studies.
I read the texts of the Puranas and the epics in Conjuction with a mass of studies on the geological history of the Indian Continent and my own fieldwork in the Himalayan the Kachchh-Saurashtra region the Aravali the Vindhya the mountainous Peninsular India and the western coastal belt. I realized that the accounts given in the works of Valmiki and Krishna Dvaipayan Vyas cannot be rubbished and ignored. They do proved kernels of truths of revealing facts even though they are enmeshed in verbose language full of metaphors and allegories. As I read and re-read these works my awareness increased considerably of the historical values of the narratives in the Purans by Scholarly sages and spiritual leaders.
The interpretation of these narratives and descriptions brings out the perspective of the geography of the lands inhabited by the peoples of the Puran time. The authors of these works adopted the mode of story telling presumably to convey the subjects to the general public in a memorable and enjoyable manner. I realized that we tend to interpret and have indeed interpreted the ancient texts by taking meaning today of the words of the language that has evolved considerably over the last at least three to four thousand years. Surely the meaning of the three-to four thousand years old words and phrases have changed and cannot be taken to mean the same thing or convey the sense the original authors wanted to. Moreover Sanskrit of the past when in wide use must have been enriched by idioms. Being careful of the strong possibility of idioms in the Puranic narratives, I have desisted from literal translation of shlokas.
Shorn of metaphors and desisting from resort to allegories, I read the texts in the context of natural geodynamic events of the last eleven thousand years of what the earth scientists call the Holocene Epoch. I have endeavored to find the geological reality lying behind the stories and anecdotes narrated by various sages and passed down the oral pipeline from generation to generation. I have ventured to highlight only a few of the many crucial points as examples to show the depth of wisdom, the spectrum of knowledge, and the range of interests of the authors of the Purãns, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat that were conceived three to four thousand years ago. From the accurate and comprehensive accounts of geography of the vast land encompassing not only the Indian subcontinent but also Central Asia, it is obvious that among the peoples of the Purana times lived great explorers and intrepid adventurers who roamed the lands and the seas.
It emerged that Mount Meru, located at the centre of the continent Jambudweep, was the focal point of what I would like to call the Puranland. It turns out that the Mew is the Puranic name of the Pämir massif of the present. The history with geography given in the Purans and epics is, therefore, of the vast stretch of the land encompassing the countries of the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia around the Pamir massif.
Most of the mountains and rivers discussed in the Purans and the epics have been precisely located in modem maps. The scholars knew the trends and dimension of mountains and the precise sources of rivers emanating from them. They knew the rivers’ points of discharges into the seas. They were quite familiar with the natural environments with their floras and faunas of the terrains. They were aware of the crustal movements that caused shifting of the courses of rivers and their blockages leading to formation of lakes. Their spiritual leaders chose to locate the holy shrines in geomorphic ally picturesque and geologically extraordinary places, characterized by singularly fantastic geodynamic features resulting from uncommon earth processes. And these were located in different parts of the country extending from the Mount Kailas in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, from Saurashtra in the west to Assam in the east. Importantly, the spiritual leaders and the scholarly sages made the peoples to visit religiously and regularly these shrines as well as teerths developed on the river banks in different parts of the country. The idea behind this practice seems to be to persuade the people to know peoples who speak different languages, eat and dress differently, have different lifestyles and observe different socio-cultural practices. This was a marvelous mode of integrating the peoples of the country.
The rishis (sages) were fired by the mission of spreading education and knowledge of the philosophy of life, as they established ashram after ashram in wooded tracts of the tribals in different parts of the country.
Profound thinkers and keen observers that they were, the Puranic scholars had a fairly accurate idea of the structure of the earth, and the origin, evolution and progression of life on land. They not only knew where the ores occur, but also methods of the mining and converting them into metals. They also harnessed the gases that oozed out from underground sources and burned as flames. They had fairly good grip of the science of engineering of fortifying towns, reclaiming lands from the sea, and building bridges across even a sea. And they could interpret uncommon signals of geophysical changes and anomalous behavior of birds and animals; and had the prescience of imminent occurrence of natural hazards.
These and many things more that I could read between the lines of ancient texts of the Purans and the epics are discussed briefly. Admittedly, I could not help but project my perception based on my understanding of the geological setting, geographical layout and geodynamic development in the Indian continent. I wish to emphasize that this is not a scholarly treatise, nor a comprehensive analysis. It is just a geologist’s interpretation, presented with a modest objective of providing a few telling examples indicating that the Purans and epics do contain reliable source material for writing the geography and the history of India in the prehistoric times.
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