At a time when Hindutva and pan-Tamil social media have been rivalling each other in propagating the relative antiquity of the culture and scientific temper of their forebears without challenging each other, R. Balakrishnan keeps it academic, strengthening internal evidence to establish the ‘Dravidian heritage’ of the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC).
Balakrishnan, honorary consultant at the Indus Research Centre (IRC) of Chennai’s Roja Muthiah Research Library, has stayed away from controversy, relying instead on scholarship, analytical facts and extensive reading of previous Indus and other archaeological and socio-anthropological studies to establish onomastic linkages, based on common place and people names, between IVC and ancient Dravidian/Tamil culture and civilisation.
It is likely that such a detailed comparison of names of places and persons in present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan on the one hand and ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu on the other would not have been possible without computer software. The linkages that the author has established between the ‘KVT commonality’ of place names (Korkai, Vanchi and Thondi), among others, in ancient Tamil Nadu and present-day Pakistan linked to IVC studies is fascinating.
The reference to the southern Tamil Nadu river Vaigai in the title relates to the ongoing archaeological research at the Keeladi neighbourhood. Balakrishnan, like many predecessors, has accepted a north-south migration as ‘Indus to Vaigai’ suggests, though the reverse might have been equally true, given that both civilisations were seafarers of repute and were trading, hence migrating. Alternatively, the two might have co-existed, and one might have outlived the other, about which independent studies may have to be undertaken.
Balakrishnan has gone further to peel off layers of IVC-Dravidian linkages through a closer study of ‘Dravidian Gujarat’ and ‘Dravidian Maharashtra’ in the north and IVC ‘vestiges’ of the Kongu and Nagarathar communities in present-day Tamil Nadu. In particular, his substantial references to IVC-era excavations at Adhichanallur on the banks of the Tamirabarani and later-day works at Keeladi (Keezhadi) on the Vaigai, make the study more relevant.
Recent studies by the Tamil Nadu archaeology department and of the ASI in Keeladi, respectively, in 2003-05 and 2018-19, add value and validation. Dating of the Keeladi excavations has since put ‘Dravidian antiquity’ and the related Tamil-Brahmi script older by 300 years or so, at 600 BCE. Against this, IVC is commonly dated at 3000-1300 BCE and by some at 5000 BCE. The antiquity of the Vedic Age is put at 1500-1100 BCE.
In contextualising the ‘Dravidian hypothesis’ of the IVC, Balakrishnan readily concedes that a clearer picture could emerge if and only if the ‘Indus Code’ is deciphered, and a bilingual format found to fix the gaps in the current understanding of IVC. In doing so, he stops with establishing name-based connectivity between the two and has stuck to well-accepted ‘migration’ theories, indicating it is the Indus peoples who had moved down south—taking names and place names with them.
Yet, most meanings and explanations that he offers to the words flow from the Sangam literature or other Tamil sources. Considering that Sanskrit and Tamil have varying antiquities, though one might have borrowed words and phrases from the other, most of the person and place-names that the author has identified as common to ancient Tamil Nadu and IVC do not find a place in Vedic literature. As he has established, more literary linkages have remained between IVC and ancient Tamil Nadu, rather than between IVC and Vedic north, whichever preceded the other.
Balakrishnan has dedicated his work to the late Indus researcher Iravatham Mahadevan, who is acclaimed for his work on the ‘Tamil Brahmi’ script. Journey of a Civilisation is a must-read for students of archaeology and socio-anthropology. The publishers should try to take it to a larger audience, through a condensed version, but using commonly-spelt names (Silappadikaram instead of Cilapaticaram) for the non-academic reader to relate to and identify with.
(The writer is head, Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation)