History of a people is the story of their culture.
Traditions are as relevant to it as any inscribed or
excavated testimony. India's ancient past is seen,
exclusively in relation to Indo-Gangetic plains and
Himalaya is dismissed as an inconsequential
borderland. Dr. Kashyap's study shows that it is
precisely this great mountain that has been the cradle
and the most creative workshop of Indian culture.
Preserved in its hoary fairs and rituals are pre-Rigvedic
and early-Rigvedic traditions which open up an entirely
new vista for a reappraisal of ancient India. In them
we find history unfold itself and culture evolve over
countless years into a great urban civilisation. They
bring us face to face with living proof of continuity of
Indian culture, help outline .its chronology and sort
out Vedic-Harappan tangle. The author leads us to an
amazing panorama. We see Indra and Vrtra in mortal
conflict over possession of fire and control over water
and also the birth of a multi-dimensional universal
myth. We meet people called Sisnadevah and the ones
deified as Maruts. We witness Purusamedha performed
in settlements of Harappan immigrants. We come
across gods responding to polite invitations and urgent
summons of their devotees; join them in Sura Soma
drinking sessions and sumptuous feasts. We enjoy their
company on hazardous journeys along banks of the
Saptsindhus to reach (Arabian) sea and across high
ridges and passes to shake hands with neighbours in
Iran and Central Asia.
"Living Pre-Rigvedic and Early Rigvedic Traditions in Himalayas" with its wealth of fascinating documentation will be of interest to every reader with a
sense of Indian antiquity and some curiosity about its
Dr .. P.C. Kashyap, noted ethnoarchaeologist,
folklorist, journalist is' a student of ancient India. He
specialises in life and culture of the Himalaya.
He discovered a cluster of living Harappan
settlements along the Satluj banks upstream Ropar. His
work "Surviving Harappan Civilisation" was described
as "a sensational book (which) opens up a hitherto
neglected line of ethno-archaeological investigations."
Dr. Kashyap pioneered scientific studies of
Himalayan culture and folklore. His Ph.D thesis "Kulvi
Lok Sahitya" was adjudged "a brilliant piece of
research". He has also authored "Himalaya - Aitihasik
Aur Pauranik Kaihain"; "Himachal Pradesh - Aitihasik
Aur Sanskritik Adhyayan"; and "Himachali Sanskriti
He has been a member of Indian Information
Service and of National Academy of Letters (Sahitya
After the tragic partition of India in 1947, due to which 5000 years old sites
of' Harappa and Mohenjodaro of the Harappan or the Indus-Saraswati
Civilization remained in Pakistan, Indian archaeologists started looking for
other similarly old sites within the new boundaries of India. Their search led
to not only the discoveries of such monumental sites as Lothal, Kalibangan,
Dholavira, etc. but also reopened some old polemics of ancient Indian history,
the foremost being the birth and continuity of the Vedic Aryan tradition and
relationship of the Vedic Aryan tradition with the Harappan tradition.
Many issues concerning the Vedic Aryan and Harappan association and
dichotomy have been discussed by Indian and foreign scholars and it is now
generally agreed that there has never been any substance in the theory of
Aryan Invasion of Harappan towns. In fact, it now stands completely rejected. However, the problem of Vedic-Harappan dichotomy still looms
large in the minds of many scholars mainly because of the Max Muller's
interpretation of the Vedas, the Vedic hymns and the Vedic people and
John Marshall's picture of the Harappan Civilization - the former was projected as semi-nomadic and war-like while the latter as urban and peaceful.
Normally in the evolutionary model of the development of civilization the
'nomadic pastoral' stage should precede the 'urban' stage but in that case
the 'Aryan Invasion of the Harappan towns' theory of Mortimer Wheeler
had to face a rough weather. Thus, the Evolutionary Model was not used by
the Westerners to understand the first phase of the Indian Civilization. It was
easy to do that because although Max Muller felt that it was impossible to
date the Vedas, whether to 5000 B.C. or 3000 B.C. or 2000 B.c. yet at least
once he talked about 1200-1000 B.C. as the date of the Rigveda. Wheeler,
on the other hand, had put 1500 B.C. as the end date of the Harappan or
Indus-Saraswati Civilization which left a clear-cut 300 years of gap in which
Wheeler easily pushed in the Aryan Invasion.
In recent years scholars in India started looking at the Vedic hymns
afresh making statistical data on the occurrence of cow, horse, chariot etc.
and also the various contexts in which they occur. Bhagwan Singh questioned
many of the meanings attributed by Max Muller to the hymns. He has been
the one person after Max Muller who studied for more than a decade each
and every hymn of the Rigveda and other Vedic hymns, including Brahmanas
in the 'economic' model, because Max Muller's studies were also made in
this model when he declared to an unsuspecting Indian scholarship that
Vedic India was the India of semi-nomadic pastoral people occasionally
with limited or marginal agriculture, and semi-permanent settlements of mud
houses award with Thatch Bhagwan Singh studies have shown just the
opposite, that the Vedic hymns throw a flood of light on metals and
metallurgy, minerals and semi-precious stones, trade and commerce, industry
and merchant, boats and navigation, islands and bases' in islands, houses of
around a dozen varieties, including double storeyed brick houses. This work
has, therefore, finally shattered the Max Mullerian semi-nomadic pastoral
picture of the Vedic economy and replaced it by an early urban economy in
which trade and commerce played as much an important role as agriculture
and pastoralism. Max Muller stands guilty. He knowingly and purposefully
with a sinister design, as his personal letters also show, misled not one but
several generations of human beings on this earth.
Once that is settled, we find that the Vedic society is represented archaeologically by the 3rd millennium B.C. scenario of north-western India
of the Indus-Saraswati Divide when the Early and Mature phases of the
Harappan or the Indus-Saraswati Civilization prevailed. It, therefore, removes
the dichotomy between the Harappan and the Vedic civilizations and present
them as the two sides of the same culture-complex - cities and villages
existed side by side. It is common knowledge that pre-industrial cities de-
pended largely on the produce and the labour support of the villages. There
has always been many times more villages than cities at a given point of
time, in present-day India as well.
The learned author of this monograph, Dr. P.c. Kashyap, adopts this
model of early Indian history and then not only poses a very vital question
but also throws absolutely new light by way of its answer. His approach is
framed within Oral History and Cultural anthropology, sometimes called
It is common knowledge that the Vedas employ highly sophisticated
language, extremely standardised with a very complex system of grammar,
phonetics and lexicon, in Padapathas, Niruktas and Nighantu. Hence it
presents a picture of considerably developed society. It, therefore, pre-supposes the existence of pre-Vedic folk stratum of culture which through the
process of change-and-continuity got fully integrated into the Vedic system
of beliefs and practices. Still, the author very well argues, on the basis of
anthropological studies, that in back-water areas the pre-Vedic and Vedic
folk stratum may still be found existing. He identifies this back-water area in
the central and western Shivalik hills of the lower Himalayas, watered by
seven rivers of Punjab, Haryaria and Himachal Pradesh. This is the region in
which he has lived for decades and studied minutely many local fairs and
rituals held and practiced. He then went through the Vedic literature to
locate if he could find similar beliefs, rituals and mythologies. It paid him
. dividends. He has successfully located and convincingly proved that the
valleys of the Himalaya Shivalik hills have indeed preserved the Pre-Vedic
and Early Vedic rituals and mythologies. One such mythology is the Indra-
Vrtra legend in which Indra, who owns fire, in a successful warfare kills
Vrtra and releases water for his people'which was held by Vrtra. The whole
legend is enacted by the local people yearly in a play called Buddhi-Diyaudi.
This is not only fascinating, it is extremely enlightening. His description and
Vedic parallelism in Chapter-I is eye-opener. No one earlier to Dr. Kashyap
. had drawn the attention of the scholarly world to the continuation of a
major Rigvedic mythology in the present day folk festivals; it is still alive in
the remote villages of Himachal Pradesh in India where like Ram Lila it is
enacted and celebrated with popular participation.
Dr. Kashyap has studied yet another popularly enacted Rigvedic mythology in the villages of mid and western Shivalik hills; it is Sisnadevai: l or
the phallus form of Creation Myth. Creation is basic to all kinds of life. In
mammalians creation is achieved through copulation. Ours is the Maithuni
sansar as the Puranas mention. Thus, both the male and female generative
organs have been the objects of veneration and propitiation in one form or
the other in very many ancient societies of the world. Pre-Christian England,
Argentina, etc. have hundreds of tall stone phalli planted in villages for
veneration; several of them have been turned into crosses at a later date by
the Christians. Nude female figures in stone and terracotta have been found
not only in India but also Neolithic and Bronze Age West Asia and Central
Asia. Thus, the ancients expressed their gratitude to the male and female
principles of creation. They required more hands to till the land. They,
therefore, desired more children. And children are born through the union
of male and female organs. There is nothing obscene about it. In all pagan
religions all forces of nature which create, and also sustain, life are called
devas, i.e. one which gives. No one knows for certain whether Christ or
Vishnu can sustain his or her life but one experiences everyday the benefits
rivers, trees, sun, moon etc. bestow on him or her. Hence there is intimate
relationship between human beings, animals and flora and other forces and
items of nature. Thus, ancients all over the world had very healthy attitude
towards the generative organs and copulation. In Christianity, however, the
birth of a human being is out of sin but it has never been so in India; the
birth of a child is due to the merits the parents earned in their life because
of their good deeds. Unfortunately, with colonialism, the Christian sense of
morality pervaded the intellectual atmosphere of India and towards the most
natural and basic phenomenon of ~e we have developed the attitude of
Original Sin of the Adam and Eve which is fundamentally opposed to Hindu
view of life.
Once we understand Indian view of sex organs and copulation, which is
absolutely opposite to the Christian view in these matters, there is absolutely
no difficulty in understanding the underpinnings of fairs and festivals woven
round generative organs.
Jhiru is one of such plays which accepts this reality. Dr. Kashyap in
Chapter II has given a graphic account of this festivity. He has rightly observed that it was in all probability a pre-Vedic popular enactment which
continues in the hilly tracts of mid Himalaya.
Naramedh or human sacrifice is mentioned in the Vedas as one of the
four medhi yajnas or sacrifices. In the Bhunda enactment one can easily
locate the Naramedh tradition. However, the animals killed on such occasions appeared to be barbaric to the Britishers who practically stopped it in
the 20th century, though there has never been a total ban on it and at different points of time rituals connected with this sacrifice have been performed
in this century.
Maruts are repeatedly mentioned in' the early Vedic literature. They
seem to represent the Khasas who are located in whole region. They hold
Bishu festival, which is primarily secular but reflects the Vedic Maruts in
very many ways in archery and other martial and non-martial competitions.
At the end, I have absolutely no hesitation in recording my deep sense
of gratitude to Dr. Kashyap for bringing to our notice the solid evidence of
the continuation of several pre-Vedic and Vedic beliefs, belief systems still
living in the rituals, fairs and festivals of the sub-Himalayan region watered
by Saptasindhus or Seven Rivers. It is a classic example of Higher Tradition
being preserved in the so-called Lower Tradition.
Started as a pastime to escape the ennui of a retired life, at Dr. H.D.Sankalia's
suggestion in a newspaper review of my book "Surviving Harappan Civilisation", this study turned out to be a time-consuming, taxing and occasionally heart-breaking venture. It has been a stimulating, exciting, yet, at the
same time, frustrating exercise. I was mentally not prepared for the physical
ordeal of travelling, mostly on foot, in adverse weather, in difficult terrain
and sometimes at great heights for field studies and collection of data.
Occasionally I would be assailed by doubts whether the labour had any
socio-historical value at all in this fast changing age. Deeper reflection how-
ever, convinced me that this in fact is precisely the time for such participant
observation - based field studies and their analysis. Post-modern scholarly
studies being done in sociology, anthropology, archaeology and the history
of science, ideas and cultures are now providing a markedly different perspective on the vexed question of the remotest past. In Indian context, old
notions are yielding place to new .Insights.
To aggravate my worries, there was an unforeseen mishap. The manuscript I had given for typing was almost lost. When retrieved key portions
were missing. The gentleman to whom the job had been entrusted just disappeared. The missing material had to be reconstructed, which proved more
difficult than to write the entire text afresh. The situation was compounded
by the fact that there was none to whom one could turn for informed advice
and assistance, for the Himalayans in general did not realise the historical
value of their fairs and festivals. The urban intellectuals and historians, a
majority of them, scoffed at folk traditions being treated as a source material
for reconstruction of ancient history and the traditionalist Vedic scholars
laughed the attempt away as that of an ignorant upstart.
I am no professional historian or archaeologist, but had been only a
Governmental journalist. I am fully conscious of my limitations. It has been
a lonely journey, the only companion being Tagore's famous line: jadi tor
dak shune keu na ase tabe ekla chalo reo I have walked alone and toiled alone,
sustained by the conviction that the task had to be completed, for the tremendous sweep of the electronic media and the unrelenting pace of postmodernism might sweep away the traditions of the region much sooner than
expected and the priceless historical data be lost for ever. I hope this cultural archaeology of the Himalayas detailing the living pre-Rigvedic and
early Rigvedic history will be seen in this perspective. It is neither a discovery of fossils nor the result of excavations. It is an eye-witness report on
survivors of an age which is yet to be scientifically determined.
I owe thanks to the gentle souls who, irrespective of their ideological
leanings, soothed my frayed nerves and prodded me on to persist in my
endeavours. I acknowledge with deep gratitude all the authors whose scholarly works I have consulted and when needed cited. My special thanks to
Dr. Bhagwan Singh whose monumental works have been a source of references to me. I am grateful to the sthit-pragya intellectual H.Y Sharda Prasad
who went through parts of the manuscript, to the fellow Himalayan Dr. P.C.
Joshi to S.Prasad and P.K. Tandon who read the manuscript from cover to
cover, to Dr. Bansi Ram Sharma, C.R.B. Lalit and Acharya Diwakar Dutt for
their generosity in supplying me photographs and reference books. Thanks
to R.K. Jain, a friendly counselor and a source of encouragement.
I am deeply grateful to the historian-archaeologist scholar Dr. S.P.Gupta,
who has been a constant inspiration to me and has promptly acceded to my
request to write a foreword to the book. But for him, the work might not
have been completed.
I pay my respectful homage to Dr. Sankalia. I wish the findings were
presented to him when he was alive.
I owe special thanks to my wife, Sudarshana, for critically examining the
formulations; and to my daughter-in-law, Dr. Urmila Kashyap who has been
untiring in nursing me back to health; to my younger daughter-in-law
Dr. Purnirna Kashyap and sons Avinash and Prabhas for their unwavering
support which enabled me to keep up my spirits.
The history of a people is the story of their culture. This story records not
only their political fortunes but also social, economic and religious contours
in time and space. It is not dependent on dates and dynasties. Inscribed,
minted, drawn, moulded, sculptured, written or excavated testimony is, of
course, very important, but equally indispensable, particularly in India, is
folklore. Folk tradition is the repository of the people's past, their ancient
memories. The oral or folk tradition is as basic as the written text for the
entire ancient literature the world over was once only oral, srut. It became
the Veda, the Avesta, the Jataka or the Bible only after the oral tradition
was sifted and compiled for memorising or writing. It was this srut which
fired the imagination of the Vedic poets to compose their hymns, a fact
vouchsafed in Rigveda (x. 88 .15) itself where the poets speak of having
heard two traditions, one relating to deities and the other relating to men -
dve sruti asrnavam pitranamaham devanam uta martyanam. It means that the
themes had come to the poets through the word of mouth or tradition.
These themes and traditions were ancient to the Rigvedic poets also. But
then how ancient is the ancient in the context of a people as ancient as the
Modern archaeology and modem anthropology and history in general
markedly follow the traditional Judaeo-Christian concept of time. They differ
from Indian or even Greek concepts to a very great extent. Ancient Indian
historical literature, particularly the Puranas, also called Itihasas, place human
existence in the context of repeating time cycles called Yuga and Kalpas,
lasting hundreds of millions of years. During this entire time, according to
the Puranic accounts, humans co-existed with creatures in some ways
resembling the earlier tool-making hominids of modern evolutionary
Rigveda is generally perceived to be eternal, which means that it
mentions events, men and their deeds, real or imagined, of a still distant past.
And notwithstanding certain dissenting voices, the Veda is accepted as the
source material of ancient Indian history. In the Vedic and Puranic texts
there are allusions to a primitive stage when people lived in forests and
caves, moved naked and free or covered in leaves and barks, with no sex
Living Pre-Rigvedic & Early Rigvedic Traditions of Himalayas
taboo and no matrimonial bond. The Rigveda also mentions the earliest
discord for power or supremacy i.e. for possession of fire and control over
water and its ultimate evolution in a grand myth, the Myth of Creation. It
delineates different phases the early people passed through to create a
culture unparalleled in its time. As such Rigveda preserves a gold-mine of
Similarly the Himalaya has preserved, as if in deep freeze, the story of
Indian people from the very ancient to the modem times. Here we find
history living in the present, unfossilised and unburied under the heap of
It is rather paradoxical that a region which at one time came to be
called the land of kriya hina mlechhas and vrishalas, the outcasts who were
devoid of any contact with Vedas and Vedic culture, should preserve fairs,
yajnas, ceremonies and rituals which directly relate to Rigvedic events,
episodes, allusions practices and personages. For the modernists, however,
these living remnants of India's remotest past are no better than 'barbaric
vestiges of a savage past, which fail to answer question of history' and as
such are 'irrelevant to reconstruction of ancient Indian story.'
Among the noteworthy fairs, festivals, practices and rituals in the
Himalayan terrain of the Rigvedic Sapta-sindhus - the Yamuna, Sarasvati,
Sutudri (Satluj), Vipasa (Beas), Parusni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Vitasta
Jhelum) and Sindhu (Indus) are Baddhi-Diyaudi-Birtasura Meld; jhiru;
Bhunda and Bishu which affirn the survival even today of pre-Rigvedic and
early Rigvedic society.
Jhiru presents a part view of the primitive pre-Rigvedic life when man
lived free without any inhibition, sexual or social. It brings us face to face
with people who denied the overlordship of Indra and other Vedic gods
and did not believe in performance of yajnas. The Vedic elite called them'
sisnadeuah, those who were given to sport with sisna (phallus).
Bishu, on the other hand, clearly indicates that the great Rigvedic Maruts
were after all humans and still exist as Khasa-Khasiyas. Though followers of
Indra (Imra or the god of lightning, Bijat) they do not abhor sisna play.
This is so because both come from the same stock.
Baddhi Diyaudi gives an eye-witness account of man's first-ever recorded
struggle for control over fire and water, the two basic elements. It was a
long-drawn-out bloody conflict. Of the two rivals, Indra possessed fire and
Vrtra controlled water. The tussles were most probably two separate events
which with cultural advance assumed the form of hero and dragon conflict
i.e. the Myth of Creation. What is of great historical significance is that this
Exclusive Creation Drama of Buddhi Diyaudi portrayals in interiorof the Sarasvati-Satluj-Beas valleyshas had its echo in in the Babylonian Epic where it formed part of a New year rituals some 4000 years ago.
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