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The collapse of the Harappan civilization paved the way for the Vedic period in northern India. (Part eight of a continuing series.)

photo by Manfred Antranias Zimmer courtesy of

The Late Holocene Meghalayan Age, newly-ratified as the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale, began at the time when agricultural societies around the world experienced an abrupt and critical mega-drought and cooling 4,200 years ago. This key decision follows many years of research by Quaternary scientists, scrutinized and tested by the subcommissions of the International Commission on Stratigraphy under the chairmanship of Professor David Harper, Durham University, UK.

Agricultural-based societies that developed in several regions after the end of the last Ice Age were impacted severely by the 200-year climatic event that resulted in the collapse of civilizations and human migrations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley. Evidence of the 4.2 kiloyear climatic event has been found on all seven continents.

This worldwide drought coincided with the collapse of the Harappan civilization, 4,200 years ago, prior to the development of the Vedic period in northern India. The drought lasted roughly 200 years and may have caused the collapse of societies all over the world. The collapse was accompanied by starvation, migration, cannibalism, civil war, and loss of continuity for cultures– the disintegration of many societies with universal suffering and many thousands of premature deaths (there were only a few million people in the world at that time.)

The civilizations destroyed included “the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley, the so-called Old Kingdom in Egypt and the Longshan Culture in East China.” (See reference next paragraph.) No American civilizations are mentioned, perhaps because there are none known that old. The Stonehenge civilization must have been affected, but there are no written records nor surviving artifacts from that period other than the graves and henges (and the ones in western Europe.)

The drought was dated by ice cores from tropical glaciers all over the world. See the article about ice cores from “The Conversation” in this link: “”

(The article linked above describes what would be found in ice cores from the present time: lower carbon dioxide emissions due to pandemic-induced slowing of civilization.)

Prior to the drought, around 7000 BCE, farming and pastoralism (the cultivation of herds of cattle, goats, or sheep) had developed and replaced foraging. This settled life resulted in the growth of urban centers and culminated in the Indus Valley civilization.

The drought roughly corresponds to the end of the urban Indus Valley civilization. After the drought, the redevelopment of urban society in the Ganges plain corresponds to the beginning of the Vedic period. There is some evidence, somewhat controversial, that a migration of Aryan tribes from the northwest occurred after the drought began.

Recovery from the drought began the rebuilding of civilizations worldwide, including the society in northern India which was encompassed by what is now called the Vedic period. Whether migration from other areas or indigenous development stimulated the creation of the Vedas is not clear. What we do know is that early written records collected later on showed a developing society along the Ganges river and the rise of the Kuru kingdom.

The Kuru kingdom was a tribal union in iron-age India that included the modern states of  DelhiHaryanaPunjab and some parts of western part of Uttar Pradesh, It is dated to roughly 1200 BCE and corresponds to the archaeological period known as Painted Grey Ware culture. (Wikipedia)

This kingdom or union was “Brahmanical” and was recorded in Vedic literature. A central feature of Brahmanical society was the concept of Varna, a grouping of people into social classes or castes. Whether this was a pre-existing feature of religious society in the area or introduced by the Indo-Aryans is unclear. We do know that the Vedas were a synthesis of the previous religious culture and the new Indo-Aryan culture. This religious synthesis has lasted to the present day.

At that time, the area of the Ganges plain was deforested and large agricultural regions developed. The region became more and more urban. Towards the end of the Vedic period, roughly around 600 BCE, there was a reaction to the Brahmanical and Hindu culture and religion, and ascetic movements developed.

Asceticism was reflected in the Jain and Buddhist religions. This new asceticism opposed the rituals developed in the Vedas and the social classification of the Varna.

The civilization of the Vedas was disrupted around the time of Alexander the Great when the Nanda empire briefly took over northern India. The Nandas were a short-lived dynasty that supposedly began when a barber became the queen’s lover (by his good looks) and overthrew the king. There was popular resentment of the Nandas because of their “low birth.” Alexander’s men mutinied when they were faced with the prospect of attacking the Nandas, and Alexander was forced to retreat from India.

The Nandas were succeeded by the Maurya empire, a more extensive and longer-lasting dynasty that is said to have been the largest political entity in the Indian subcontinent at its zenith under the ruler Ashoka. The first Mauryan ruler, Chandragupta Maurya, supposedly embraced Jainism. Then Ashoka is said to have converted to Buddhism, and the earliest written records of Buddhism to survive are the Ashokan edicts. These edicts were inscribed on stone pillars, many of which are still standing in the original locations.

The Mauryan empire under Ashoka (around 250 BCE) covered India all the way west to eastern Afghanistan (to the Hindu Kush mountains) and east to Bengal– 1.9 million square miles. Its northern extent was along the south side of the Himalayas and its southern end included Odisha and stopped at Andhra Pradesh.

(All this information is summarized from Wikipedia. It is complementary to what I have described in previous posts, jumping over the descriptions of the Vedas to the following period. The next time I have a chance, I will go over the Mauryan empire.)

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