Origins of Vedic
Kenneth Chandler, Ph.D.
(Three chapters from a book in progress)
The Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilizations spread over
more than 250,000 square miles, and included over
1600 sites. Most of the villages and cities were laid out
on an exact north-south grid on sites west of the river,
and were built with kiln-fired brick of uniform size.
Sites have been found dating from 6,500-7,000 BC.
Origins of Vedic
Did Aryan Invaders of India Create the
HOW ANCIENT IS THE VEDIC TRADITION and how did it begin? Was it the
creation of a people who invaded India from outside, as many European scholars
believed for centuries? Or did it arise among an indigenous people of northern India? In
this chapter we will ask where the Vedic tradition originated, and in the next chapter,
we will consider when it came into existence. In the third chapter, we will consider its
relation to European civilization.
According to the Vedic tradition, the Veda is eternal. It exists within the eternal
fabric of consciousness itself. As such it is uncreated. But even so, we can ask, when
was the Veda first cognized? And when did the tradition of reciting the Veda begin?
Did Invaders of India Create the Vedic Tradition?
Many myths about the Veda and Vedic tradition have formed that must be dispelled
before we can get an accurate picture of its origins. One myth is that a race of lightskinned
Aryan peoples invaded India from outside, pushing the dark-skinned natives,
called Dravidians, into the south. According to this theory, the lighter-skinned race
invaded India in an incursion that took place, some scholars project, around 1,500 BC.
This myth persisted long after an overwhelming body of scientific evidence, and a
consensus of archeologists, showed that it is completely untenable. It must be
discredited before we can get an accurate picture of the character of Vedic Civilization.
As we will see, the Veda was first “cognized,” not by invading races from outside
India, but by a people who had lived continuously in India for thousands of years. Also,
the dates commonly ascribed to the origin of the Vedic tradition are probably off by
many thousands of years. Archeologists at Harvard, Oxford, and other top universities
in the US and Europe are now widely agreed that there was no invasion of India from
outside that displaced the peoples of the Saraswati and Iudus river valleys. This
civilization arose within northern India and there is also evidence, which we will
3 Origins of Vedic Civilization
consider in the next chapter, that Vedic civilization was either a precursor to the Indus-
Saraswati civilization or an early contributor to its cultural and spiritual heritage. Vedic
civilization arose in India many millennia before the speculative mythologies of the
Origins of the Indo-European Hypothesis
Linguistic similarities between Indian and European languages were recognized by
the earliest European scholars. In the late eighteenth century, it was observed that
Sanskrit, Iranian, and most European languages share many common words and
grammatical structures. Early linguists classified Vedic Sanskrit and the majority of
European tongues in the same “family of Indo-European languages.”
Sir William Jones was the first to show that there are many common cognate words
shared by Sanskrit and European languages. Speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta
on February 2, 1786, Jones made a statement which was soon to become quite famous:
…the Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a
wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more
copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than
either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in
the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could
possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed,
that no philosopher could examine them all three, without
believing them to have sprung from some common source,
which, perhaps, no longer exists.1
A quick glance at some of the common cognate words of English and Sanskrit shows
definite family resemblances that Jones spoke about:
1 Quoted in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ed. William Morris (Boston and
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), article by Calvert Watkins, p. XIX.
4 Origins of Vedic Civilization
Common Cognate Words Shared by English and Sanskrit
wit video, vid
me, mee, mum
In nineteenth century, the German linguist Friedrich Schlegel suggested that the
main body of European languages were derived from Sanskrit. Schlegel’s suggestion
was widely rejected, mainly because European scholars did not like to think that their
language and culture derived from India. But the early nineteenth century it was widely
recognized that all European languages and the Indic languages belonged to a common
“family,” distinct, for example, from Chinese, African, and American Indian language
families and groups. All but a few of the European languages, such as Basque for
example, belong to this distinct family of Indo-European languages. Thus, the idea that
an Indo-European language was at the root of the family of the main body of European
languages came into prominence.
To many European scholars of the nineteenth century (characterized more by their
Euro-centrism than by scientific attitudes towards peoples of other cultures), the idea
that the family of European languages family could have originated in India was
unthinkable. It was just not culturally acceptable to think that the roots of European
language and culture could be traced to darker-skinned peoples indigenous to India. So
European thinkers began to speculate about a pre-historic “proto-Indo-European” race
who had migrated from somewhere in Western Asia, perhaps around the Black Sea,
Eastern Europe, or Russia, to settle in India and in Europe. This, as we will see, was a
purely racial and cultural bias, with no basis in archeological fact.
2 G. S. Rayall, English and Sanskrit: A Common Heritage of Words, (Patiala: Punjab University Press,
Origins of Vedic Civilization
Many European scholars immediately bought in to the “Indo-European hypothesis,”
which was the stimulus to develop the discipline of historical linguistics. European
scholars like Max Muller, Thomas Young, Joseph de Goubinau, Dwight Witney, Sir
Mortimer Wheeler, A.L. Basham, George Cox, and John Fiske all adopted the theory of
Indo-European origins. They commonly proposed that a people speaking “proto-Indo-
European” came from somewhere in central or Western Asia or southeaster Europe,
invaded India from the northwest, overran the local culture, and settled in the north of
These Indo-Europeans were said to be “Aryans” in race and language, which meant
primarily fair-haired and light-skinned people. By the twentieth century they were
conceived, mainly by German scholars, as a blue-eyed, blond race that was the stock of
the Germanic people—all nicely fitting the cultural-political-racial agendas of Western
Europe—and Nazi Germany in particular.
In spite of the large number of scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century who believed the invasion theory, it turns out, as we see below, that there is
almost no shred of evidence to support it. It is one of the great myths formed by
European scholars to support their bias that outside invaders created early Indian
civilization. Anthropologist today find all evidence points to an origin of the Vedic
tradition that is indigenous to northern India.
The End of the Invasion Theory
In the 1990s, a new wave of scientific evidence, coming partly from satellite photos,
geological study, archeological digs, and other anthropological finds began to seriously
discredit the old myth. Once the rubble of false assumptions was cleared away, a far
more simple scientific picture of the origins of ancient north Indian civilization began
Professor Colin Renfrew, professor of archeology at Cambridge University, in his
Archeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (1988) gives
evidence for Indo-Europeans in India as early as 6,000 BC. He comments:
As far as I can see there is nothing in the Hymns of the
Rigveda which demonstrates that the Vedic-speaking
population were intrusive to the area: this comes rather 6 Origins of Vedic Civilization from a historical assumption about the ‘coming’ of the Indo-Europeans.3
Professor Schaffer at Case Western University writes in “Migration, Philology and
South Asian Archaeology” that there was an indigenous development of civilization in
India going back to at least 6000 BC. He proposes that the Harappan or Indus Valley
urban culture (2600-1900 BC) centered around the Saraswati river described in the Rig
Veda and states that the Indus Valley culture came to an end, not because of outside
invaders, but due to environmental changes, most important of which was the drying up
of the Saraswati river.
Schaffer holds that the movement of populations away from the Saraswati to the
Ganges after the Saraswati dried up in about 1900 BC, is reflected in the change from
the Saraswati-based literature of the Rig Veda to the Ganges-based literature of the
Itihasa and Puranic texts. He also states that the Aryan invasion theory reflects a
colonial and Euro-centric perspective that is quite out of date. He concludes:
We reject most strongly the simplistic historical interpretations…
that continue to be imposed on south Asian culture
history…Surely, as south Asian studies approach the
twenty-first century, it is time to describe emerging data
objectively rather than perpetuate interpretations without
regard to the data archaeologists have worked so hard to
Anthropologist Brian Hemphill of Vanderbilt University has been studying the human
remains of the northern Indian subcontinent for years. He states categorically that his
analysis shows no indication of population replacement or large-scale migration.5
Archaeologist Mark Kenoyer, associate professor of anthropology at the University of
Wisconsin at Madison, and co-director of the Harappa Archeological Research project,
holds that the invasion theory is completely unsupported by archeological, linguistic, or
literary evidence. He writes in an article on the Indus valley civilization:
3 Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archeology at Cambridge University, in his famous work, Archeology and
The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988) Renfrew
also sees evidence that the Indo-Europeans were in Greece as early as 6,000 BC.
4 in Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia: Evidence, Interpretation and History, ed. by Bronkhorst and
Deshpande, University of Michigan Press.
5 See Jonnathan Mark Kenoyer, “Birth of a Civilization.” Archeology, January/February 1998, 54-61, p.
7 Origins of Vedic Civilization
If previous scholars were wrong about the origin of the
Indus people, they also missed the boat when it came to
explaining their downfall, which they attributed to an
invasion by Indo-Aryan speaking Vedic tribes from the
Archeological evidence simply does not support the thesis of an outside invasion.
Kenoyer argues, “it’s likely that the rivers dried up and shifted their courses, altering
trade routes and undermining the economy.” Kenoyer holds that the Indus valley script
can be traced to at least 3,300 BC—making it as old or older than the oldest Sumerian
Archaeologist Kenneth Kennedy writes that no Aryan skeletons have been found in
the Indus valley that differ from the skeletons of indigenous ethnic groups.
All prehistoric human remains recovered from the Indian
subcontinent are phenotypically identifiable as south
Asians. Furthermore their biological continuity with living
peoples of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the border regions
is well established across time and space.7
Scientific archeology, it is now safe to say, no longer gives the invasion theory a grain
of credibility. It has lost its supporters among serious scientists.
Also, as professor Renfrew argues, there is no internal evidence from the ancient
Vedic literature that Vedic civilization originated outside India. The verses of the Rig
Veda, the most ancient songs of Vedic tradition, detail many aspects of daily life of the
people. There is no hint in this vast literature of a migration or of a history that lies in a
homeland beyond the mountains of northern India. All evidence from archeology,
anthropology, and Vedic literature indicate that Vedic civilization was indigenous to
northern India. Geological data now explains the demise of the Indus and Saraswati
valley civilizations in terms of climactic change, bringing an end to the outsideinvasion
6 Mark Kenoyer, “Indus Valley: Secrets of a Civilization” in Wisconsin, Fall 1998. See also E.J.H. Mackay,
Further Excavations at Mohenjo-daro, 1938, p. 222.
7 Kenneth Kennedy, “Have Aryans Been Identified in the Prehistoric Skeletal Record from South Asia”
appearing in The Indo-Aryans of South Asia (Walter de Gruyter, 1995) Kennedy writes, “Assumptions
that blondism, blue-grey eyes and light skin pigmentation are physical hallmarks of either ancient Aryans
or of members of Brahmin and other social groups in modern south Asia, find their origins in the
improper marriage of excerpts from Vedic texts with nineteenth century Germanic nationalistic writings.”
8 Origins of Vedic Civilization
Causes of the Decline of the Indus-Saraswati Civilization
Geological and archeological evidence, it turns out, give strong evidence that a long
and devastating drought followed by devastating floods led to the abandonment of the
settlements along the banks of the Indus and Saraswati rivers in western India, ending
an urban civilization that had flourished, archeologists now surmise, sometime between
2,600 BC and 1,900 BC. The Indus and Saraswati valley civilization was vast and
widespread, and covered over 250,000 square miles, from north central India in the east
all the way to the eastern edge of Iran in the west. There is no evidence to suggest that
this vast civilization was destroyed by Indo-European Aryan invaders, but rather, it is
now virtually certain that its demise came as a result of widespread climatic changes
that occurred in 1,900 BC.
Recent studies by Louis Flam of H. H. Lehman College of the City University of
New York have shown that the course of the Indus river changed dramatically around
1,900 BC, probably flooding many settlements along the river and disrupting the Indus
valley civilization. Jim Schaffer of Case Western University has found impressive
evidence that settlers of the Indus valley migrated at this time east to the plane of the
Mortimer Wheeler, the anthropologists who excavated Mohenjo-Daro in the in the
1920s , one of the most well-preserved cities of the Indus Valley civilization, brought to
the project an “outside invasion theory.” He found unburied skeletons in the most
recent layers of the city which led him to think that he had evidence that the civilization
was overrun by invaders from outside. More reliable recent evidence has shown that the
people of the Indus valley were not victims of invasion and massacre, but that their
civilization withered as a result of various climactic changes, including prolonged
droughts and extensive flooding, and possibly also earthquakes that changed the course
of the rivers.
It was not outside invaders of India who brought an end to the Indus-Saraswati
civilization, but a series of climactic changes and natural disasters. The biases of
European scholarship caused them to see invaders where there were none. They existed
only in the imagination of European scholars.
Historical Linguistics and Migrations of Early Civilization
The other issue that needs to be considered is language origins. Historical linguistics
appears to detect patterns of language change which some think may imply patterns of
8 See Jonnathan Mark Kenoyer, “Birth of a Civilization.” Archeology, January/February 1998, 54-61, p. 60.
9 Origins of Vedic Civilization
migration of early peoples, and which may therefore provide a clue to the origins of
The original theory proposed by the early historical linguistics who considered these
issues was that Vedic Sanskrit conserved the original sound system of the “proto-Indo-
European” language most closely, and that Iranian and European languages underwent
a systematic sound shift, creating break-away or daughter languages spoken by the
people who populated India and Europe.9 According to this theory, Vedic Sanskrit was
put at near the trunk of the proto-Indo-European language tree, if not the trunk itself.
This theory has been challenged and hotly debated in recent years, most especially by
computer linguists.10 Since the 1990s, it is now common for computer linguists to hold
that Sanskrit is not so near the root of the Indo-European language tree, but a
subsequent branch. A currently dominant theory is that the original Indo-European
language stemmed from an Indo-European proto-language that has since been lost.
The first languages to break off from the proto-Indo-European root, according to the
dominant contemporary linguistic theories, was Anatolian (the language of what is now
central Turkey), followed by Celtic (a language found in nearby Thrace in northeastern
Greece, and also Ireland suggesting that there was a commerce or colonization between
Ireland and early Thrace), then Greek, and then Armenian.11 According to these
theories, the Indian and Iranian language groups are still later branches off the proto-
The linguistic evidence appears to imply migrations of people from the Black Sea area
into India, and yet there is no anthropological evidence to support either a migration
into northern India, or an invasion. Evidence from skeletal remains, as we saw, as well
as pottery and other artifacts, show no cultural replacement at any time in north Indian
9 Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, “Family Tree of the Indo-European Languages,” Scientific
American, March, 1990, p. 110 and following.
10 Dr. Don Ringe and Dr. Ann Taylor, two linguists at the University of Pennsylvania, with the help of
computer scientist Dr. Tandy Warnow, developed a computer algorithm to sift through the Indo-
European languages and look for grammatical and phonetic similarities between them. Their work,
published in 1996, has thrown up four possible family trees. “We have come up with a favorite,” says Dr.
Warnow. The tree shows that the first breakaway language was Anatolian, an ancient group of languages
once spoken in Turkey. Celtic was quick to follow, spawning Irish, Gaelic, Welsh and Breton. Armenian
and Greek then developed from proto-Into-European. Strangely enough, one of the later branches to
emerge, according to the runs of the computer programs, was Sanskrit.
11 It is interesting that the Celts settled in Thrace in northern Greece, just a short distance from Anatolia.
Thrace was the birthplace of the Orphic mysteries which swept into Greece in the sixth century BC.
Celtic is one of the earliest languages, along with Anatolian and Greek, to break off from the Indo
European proto-language. The technique for self-knowledge described by Socrates were said to have
come from Thrace. The Anatolians of central Turkey occupied the area near where the pre-Socratic
tradition sprang up in the sixth century BC. This suggests that a technique was passed from India into the
10 Origins of Vedic Civilization
history. This makes it difficult to conclude that a people speaking a proto-Indo-
European root language migrated to India from outside, resulting in a language shift to
the daughter language of Sanskrit. The hard anthropological evidence just does not
support such a view. How else, then, can we account for the apparently late evolution of
Sanskrit from the proto-Indo-European root language?
Eminent computer linguists caution against drawing conclusions from computersimulated
language programs—which may reflect the assumptions of the programmers
more than the branches of the linguistic tree.12 They caution that computer linguists
tend to program in assumptions that reflect their own biases and expectations, and
therefore the outcomes cannot be any more accurate than the assumptions. Computer
linguistics does not necessarily mean unbiased, objective linguistics, but may, on the
contrary, program in distinct biases of the linguists. If linguists start with a theory of an
outside invasion, they will naturally bring those biases into their work, and it is not
unthinkable that such biases have colored computer and historical linguistic theories.
It also needs to be pointed out that if a false assumption is programmed in, then
anything at all can come out. Anything at all can be derived from a false assumption. If
the assumption that Sanskrit is not the proto-Indo-European language root be false, then
More on the Indo-European Proto-Language
In 1990, Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, authors of the two volume The
Indo-European Language and the Indo-Europeans,13 published an article in Scientific
American, in which they state, “The landscape described by the reconstructed Indo-
European proto-language is mountainous—as evidenced by the many words for high
mountains, mountain lakes and rapid rivers flowing from mountain sources.” They note
also that, “the [proto-Indo-European language] has words for animals that are alien to
Europe, such as “leopard,” “snow leopard,” “lion,” “monkey” and “elephant.””14 The
authors suggest, on the basis of this and other linguistic evidence, that the homeland of
the proto-Indo-Europeans was somewhere in the Caucasian mountains of western Asia
near the Black Sea in around 4000 BC.
These same words could be used to make the case that the mountainous terrain, and
more especially the elephant, monkey, and snow leopard are more commonly found in
12 Personal communication with several faculty of the linguistics department at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill.
13 Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, The Indo-European Language and the Indo-Europeans,
(published in Russian in 1984)
14 Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, “Family Tree of the Indo-European Languages,” Scientific
American, March, 1990, p. 110 and following.
11 Origins of Vedic Civilization
the region of northern India and the Himalayas.15 If the words for elephant, monkey,
snow leopard, and mountains are in fact more abundant in the Indo-European protolanguage,
this would most likely put the proto-Indo-European home somewhere in the
Himalayan region of northern India, rather than in the Mountains to the east of the
Black Sea. This would tend to support the hypothesis that the Indo-European protolanguage
originated in the region of the Himalayas of northern India and Tibet, rather
than in the area of central Turkey, where there are few monkeys and elephants.
At present, there is simply not enough evidence to discern the early patterns of
migration and language shift that brought about the different language groups. We can
say with relative certainty, however, that the Vedic people did not migrate into India
from outside, so it is relatively unlikely that the Vedic language came from outside
India. Thus the origins of Vedic Sanskrit remain obscure.16
Many linguists stress that our “linguistic heritage, while it may tend to correspond
with cultural continuity, does not imply genetic or biological descent. There is no more
reason to suppose that we, as speakers of an Indo-European language, are descended
biologically from the speakers of proto-Indo-European, than that the English speaking
population of Nigeria is Anglo-Saxon.”17 It is necessary to be very careful in drawing
conclusions about migration patterns and racial origins from linguistic evidence.
Rules of Language Transformation
A main tool of historical linguistics is the set of rules of sound and grammatical
transformation governing the language change. One language evolves into another due
to cultural or geographic separations of peoples due to migrations or other cultural
displacements, such as conquest. Using the rules of historical linguistics, it appears to
15 Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, “Family Tree of the Indo-European Languages,” Scientific
American, March, 1990, p. 110 and following. The authors argue that more “recent evidence now places
the probable origin of the Indo-European language in western Asia.” They hypothesize that the proto-
Indo-Europeans originated sometime around 4,000 BC in the region around the Black Sea.
16 Radio-carbon dating of skeletal remains of the “Kennikut man” found in the late 1990s in the Columbia
river gorge on the west coast of north America shows that caucasoidal men inhabited Oregon more than
ten thousand years ago. Some words of the Klamath Indians of that region of Oregon are also of apparent
Indo-European origin. The Klamath word which means “to blow” is “pniw” and may be linked to the
Greek “pneu” which means breath or to blow, and ultimately to the Sanskrit “prana” which means breath.
Linguists assume this was mere accident before the discovery of Caucasoid remains in the area. This
would suggest that a migration into the Americas took place 10,000 years ago or more—and the
immigrants brought with them an Indo-European language, putting the dates of the proto-European root
at before 10,000 BC. The Rig Veda civilization, like the American Indians, had a bow and arrow
technology. Rig Vedic civilization can be placed in time as more advanced than the Indian culture of
10,000 years ago.
17 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ed. William Morris (Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin, 1969), article by Calvert Watkins, p. XX.
12 Origins of Vedic Civilization
be possible to discern patterns of change and to determine which language has shifted
into the other.
One such rule is the softening of consonants over time. Thus, for example, the “v” in
the Sanskrit “Veda,” meaning knowledge, is transformed into the softer English “w” in
“wit,” “witten,” “wisdom” and the German “wissen,” which also means knowledge,
and derives from the more ancient Sanskrit root. The Sanskrit “deva” is transformed
into the softer Latin “deus,” Greek “theos,” Lithuanian “dewas,” Irish “dia,” and Old
Using such transformation rules, linguists attempt to reconstruct which languages are
earlier and which broke off later in the transmutation of language. Historical linguists
assume that these rules are constant over time and that they apply to early
transformations as well as later ones.
If we assume that the basic rules of language transformations are constant and do not
mutate over time, then these conclusions follow. But could there have been sound shifts
in the opposite direction at much earlier times in history? Perhaps different laws
applied at the time when Vedic Sanskrit changed from and to other languages.
Consider that there are also changes in the reverse direction. For example, the “g” in
the Sanskrit “go,” (meaning cow) is transformed into the harder consonant “k,” to make
the German word “kuh” for cow. The English word “cow,” pronounced with a hard
“k,” is a harder, guttural form than the “g” in the Sanskrit “go.”
Also, in the case of the Vedic tradition, we have a people who were highly conscious
of language and sound and the rules of sound transformation, even from the early
Vedanga period. The Vedangas give elaborate theories of sound and its relation to
meaning. Ancient Sanskrit grammar has its own rules for the transformation of
consonants, internal rules for change, codified in ancient texts on phonology and
grammar (Nirukta and Vakaran), both of which express elaborate theories of sound.
Such self-reflective theories at an early date may have influenced the direction of
language shift and may be anomalous to the rules applied in later linguistic theory.
Other hypotheses may explain why Vedic Sanskrit appears to not be the proto-Indo-
European root language. One might propose, for example, that an early form of Sanskrit
arose in northern India, and that some north Indian peoples migrated west to the Black
Sea area, where their language mutated into Anatolian, Armenian, Celtic, and Greek.
Then language change within Vedic Sanskrit, due to self-reflective grammatical
theories, have mutated this earlier form of Sanskrit in a direction contrary to the typical
rules of linguistic transformation.
13 Origins of Vedic Civilization
Computer simulated models of language change may be simply wrong or misleading.
In other words, the transformation “rules” of historical linguistics may not apply to
changes as early as Vedic Sanskrit. Or they may reflect more the racial and cultural
biases of the programmers. Rather than assume a migration from the Black Sea area
into India, which is not supported by anthropological evidence, we must simply
acknowledge that we do not have enough knowledge to discern the early patterns of
migration of the people who wrote the Vedic literature. The simplest hypothesis to
account for the data may be that Vedic Sanskrit is itself is the mother tongue of the
Summary: Euro-centrism and Objective Science
For years, theories of the origins of the Indo-European people were based on small
bits of evidence that were used to make sweeping generalizations. The Euro-centric
perspective so heavily biased the discussion that it became necessary for scientists of
the later twentieth century to re-examine and re-balance the perspectives in order to
remove long-standing misconceptions formed by two centuries of speculative mythmaking.
When these misconceptions are eliminated by objective science, no evidence
remains that the Veda tradition came to India from outside.
Now we come to our second main question, How long ago was the Veda first
cognized? When did the Veda first come to be known in the civilization of India? How
far back in time does the Vedic tradition go?
How Ancient is the
New Light on the Cradle of Civilization
A SECOND MYTH that dies hard is that Vedic civilization came into existence as
recently as 1000 to 1200 BC. Many scholars today have come to think that these dates
are ridiculously recent and that the Vedic tradition, meaning the tradition of reciting the
Rig Veda and the Vedic literature, is far more ancient. Scholars of the nineteenth
century, the highly venerated Max Muller for one, give dates as recently as 1,000 to
1,200 BC.18 These dates, like the Aryan invasion theory, are products of a Euro-centric
bias. They were rooted in unsustainable religious, cultural, and ethnic assumptions that
were not based on scientific evidence.
Max Muller, one of many Christian missionaries to India, was firmly committed to
the Biblical account of creation. Muller accepted the date of creation given in the Bible
at 4004 BC and the great flood at 1500 BC. This compelled him to date the Rig Veda
much later in time than an impartial scientist would have done. Muller had to fit the
entire Vedic tradition into a time-frame following the great flood, which Biblical
scholars held took place in 1500 BC.
Muller wrote a letter to his wife, dated 1886, in which he said “The translation of the
Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of
millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what
the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the
last 3,000 years.” These are hardly the words of an unbiased scientist. No matter how
great Muller’s scholarly reputation, we have to examine his reasons for setting the dates
around 1000 to 12000 BC.
Muller recognized that the Vedic tradition had to exist (n part) before Buddha, who
lived in about 500 BC and who reacted against the Vedic tradition. Muller and other
Germanic scholars also noticed that the Agni Purana (16) and other Vedic texts refer to
18 These dates were given by Max Muller. For a recent discussion of Muller’s projected dates, which were
meant as a minimum of time, not an actual dating, see Maurice Winternitz, A History of Vedic Literature,
Vol. 1, (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), pp. 270-288, especially p.273.
15 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
Buddha, so they felt justified in thinking that the Vedic tradition was just a little more
ancient than Buddhism, and they put the dates of the Vedic period roughly two-thirds of
way between the great flood (the Biblical limit they accepted) and the time of Buddha.
Muller thus set the dates of the Vedic period at 1000 to 1200 BC. Muller reasoned that
if Buddha rejected the Vedic tradition, the Rig Veda must have preceded him by at least
several centuries, but it had to have started (in his opinion as a Bible scholar) after the
Even Muller, however, recognized that this was an estimate of a bare minimum of
time that lapsed between the beginning of the Vedic tradition and the time of Buddha.
However, it became commonplace for textbooks to give the dates of the Vedic tradition
as 1,000 to 1200 BC, based on Muller’s minimum estimate. Soon these were known as
the dates of the Rig Veda. This fixed Muller’s estimate of a bare minimum into an
absolute date in the popular imagination.19 The mud of speculation had become
sedimented into the brick of common belief. Current evidence shows that the Veda did
not began so recently in human history. The references to Buddha occur in very late
additions and have no bearings on the far more ancient origins of the Vedic tradition.
Satellite Photographs and Geological Evidence:
Dates of the Saraswati River and the Rig Veda
More recent scholars, such as David Frawley, Dr. B.G. Siddharth, Dr. S.B. Roy,
Professor Subhash Kak, Dr. N.R. Waradpande, and Bhagwan Singh have made a case
for much more ancient dates of the Rig Veda. Also B.G. Tilak, P.C. Sengupta, Pargiter,
Jagat Pati Joshi, Dikshit, K.N. Shastri, Sri Aurobindo, Hermann Jacobi, Dayananda
Saraswati, B.G. Sidharth, among many others, have argued for its greater antiquity.
David Frawley and N.S. Rajaram, in Vedic “Aryans” and the Origins of Civilization,
put forward an interesting and compelling theory of the origins of Vedic civilization.
Drawing upon a large array of evidence from anthropology, satellite mapping, geology,
historical linguistic, and literary study, they have helped discredit the old “Aryan
invasion theory” to establish that the Rig Veda was of much greater antiquity than
Muller had estimated.
One of the strongest bits evidence comes from satellite pictures of an ancient and
dried riverbed that is now taken to be the former bed of the Saraswati river. This great
19 There is strong evidence that Max Muller mistakenly judged the antiquity of the Indian literature by
thousands of years or more (see below). His arbitrary and most unconvincing placement of Alexander’s
visit to India to coincide with Chandragupta Maurya is widely disputed today by many scholars.
According to the evidence of the Purunas, Buddha lived approximately 1,800 BC., and Chandragupta/
Tekshasila (Taxila) was about 1700 BC. The university at Nalanda probably flourished around 1,400 BC.
16 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
river, described in the Rig Veda as a “mighty river flowing from the mountains to the
sea,” has long since disappeared from the maps of modern India, until satellite pictures
revealed the bed of an ancient river running from the Himalayas to the western gulf of
the Indian ocean, roughly paralleling the course of the Indus, but lying to the east of the
Satellite photos and geological field studies show that the Saraswati ceased to be a
perennial river and flowed only seasonally, sometime before 3,000 BC. Also, since
approximately 1,900, the Saraswati riverbed has been completely dry. This, as we will
see, is a key piece of the scientific evidence to establish dates of the Rig Veda.
The Saraswati was fed by melt from Himalayan glaciers, after the receding of the last
ice age, about 8,000 BC. As the melting glacial waters ceased to feed the river, it
changed its course, became a seasonal river, perhaps went underground, and eventually
dried up in its former riverbed. Some, like Subhash Kak, hold that the change in the
course of the river was due to an earthquake.
This event left the many settlements along the banks of the Saraswati to their fate. As
the river dried, without water the agricultural settlements and villages were no longer
sustainable. After this time, the towns and cities were re-located to the Indus river
valley nearby and still later, after the droughts and flooding that came to the Indus and
Saraswati valleys around 1,900 BC, settlers migrated further east to the Ganges river
The Rig Veda mentions the Indus river quite often, and it mentions the Saraswati no
less than 60 times. Its reference to the Saraswati as a “mighty river flowing from the
mountains to the sea” shows that the Rig Vedic tradition must have been in existence
long before 3,000 BC when the Saraswati ceased to be a “mighty river” and became a
seasonal trickle. Frawley and Rajaram drew the conclusion that the Rig Veda must have
been composed long before 3,000 BC.
Rajaram writes that the “Saraswati described in the Rig Veda belongs to a date long
before 3,000 BC.” He concludes that, “All this shows that the Rig Veda must have been
in existence no later than 3,500 BC.”20 He thus places the beginning of the Vedic
tradition “long before 3,000 BC” and its end before 2,000 BC.
The Mahabharata, the great epic of classical Sanskrit, describes the Saraswati as a
seasonal river. Since the Saraswati dried up by 1900 BC, the Mahabharata would have
to be dated at least before 1,900 BC. Since it was still a seasonal river in 3,000,
Rajaram and Frawley put the date of the Mahabharata in 3,000 BC.
20 N.S. Rajaram, Hindustan Times. N.S. Rajaram, Aryan Invasion of India: The Myth and the Truth.
17 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
Evidence from French SPOT satellite and the Indo-French field study have changed
this conception of history. By showing that the Saraswati ceased to be a mighty river
long before 3,000 BC, they showed that the Rig Vedic civilization must have begun
long before the Saraswati became a seasonal trickle sometime long before 3,000 BC. If
the Rig Vedic tradition began before 3,500 BC, this would date it earlier the
civilizations of Egypt, Harappa, or Mesopotamia.
Other Approaches to Dating the Vedic Tradition
In an article entitled, “Birth of a Civilization,” in Archeology, January/February 1998,
anthropologist Mark Kenoyer sums up decades of scientific research on the archeology
of India and argues that the Rig Veda verses were known on the subcontinent sometime
before 1500 BC, by communities in the northwest area of the subcontinent.21 This is,
again, a minimal date, not an attempt to fix the time of the Vedic period at 1,500 BC.
Maurice Winternitz, a German scholar and author of the two volume History of
Indian Literature, extensively re-examined the evidence for Muller’s dates in 1981, a
decade before the movement to push back the dates of Vedic civilization that started in
the 1990s. Winternitz estimated how long it would have taken for the vast body of
Vedic literature to form and develop before the Buddhist revival in 500 BC. He
considered each of the major periods of Vedic literature and estimated a bare minimal
time for the incubation of each. His estimate of 1900 years put the beginning of the
Vedic tradition at sometime before 2,400 BC as a bare minimum.
The vast literature of the Rig Veda, the Brahmanans, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads,
the Vedangas, the Upangas, the Puranans, the Itihasa, the systems of Ayur-Veda,
Winternitz argued—each a huge body of literature—required a sustained incubation
period that must have taken an extended period of time. Winternitz could not imagine
that this had taken place in the short span of time that had been assigned for it to
happen between 1,500 BC and 500 BC when Buddha lived. This, it must be
emphasized again, was Winternitz’s estimate of a minimum time, and was not meant to
fix the date of the Rig Vedic beginning.
The City Under the Sea:
Undersea exploration of an ancient city about half a mile off the coast of Gujarat in
India, in 1981, lead to the discovery a city that had been submerged since 1,600 BC.
The city is well established to be Dwarka, an ancient city mentioned in the
Mahabharata, the great epic of the late Vedic period of Itihasa. The Mahabharata
21 Jonnathan Mark Kenoyer, “Birth of a Civilization.” Archeology, January/February 1998, 54-61, p. 61.
18 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
describes Dwarka as built on land reclaimed from the sea. Boulders have been found
under the fortified city walls, showing that it was the result of land reclamation. The
Mahabharata also mentions that Krishna warned the residents of Dwarka that the city
would be reclaimed by the sea. The discovery of a seal engraved with a three-headed
animal at the Dwarka site corroborates a reference made in the Mahabharata that such
a seal was given to the city. Seven nearby islands described in the Mahabharata have
also been discovered.
Since archeological research shows that the city was submerged around 1,600 BC,
this would date the Mahabharata at least before 1,600 BC. Again this is a minimum
time. Pottery found at the site, inscribed with the script of the Indus valley civilization,
has been established by thermoluminescene tests to be about 3,530 years old.
The Mahabharata was written toward the end of the classical Vedic period. If we
accept Winternitz’s estimates a minimum of 1,500 years lapsed from the beginning of
the Vedic period to the Mahabharata, then since Dwarka was submerged by 1,600, this
would set the date of the Rig Veda back to before 3,100 BC. This again marks the
minimum date of the Rig Veda, and should not be construed as a fixed date.
The body of literature produced by Greece and Rome from Homer to Proclus spans
roughly 1,300 years. The Vedic tradition produced an even larger body of literature
from the beginning of the Rig Veda to the end of the classical period, so it would
probably require at least 1,300 years for the Vedic tradition to generate a larger amount
of literature. If we take 1,600 BC as the minimum date of the Mahabharata, this would
put the beginning of the Vedic tradition sometime before 2,900 BC. If we take
Wintenitz’s estimate of at least 1,900 years, this would put the beginning of the Rig
Veda before 3,500 BC.
Frawley and Rajaram, as well as many others, now put the date of the Mahabharata
war at about 3,000 BC (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi also gives this date in his commentary
on the Bhagavad Gita). If we add 1,900 years incubation time as Winternitz estimates,
this would put the dates of the Rig Veda back before 4,900 BC.
Astronomical References in the Rig Veda and Other Evidence
Evidence from other sources known since the late nineteenth century also tends to
confirm the great antiquity of the Vedic tradition. Certain Vedic texts, for example,
refer to astronomical events that took place in ancient astronomical time. By calculating
the astronomical dates of these events, we thus gain another source of evidence that can
be used to place the Rig Veda in a calculable time-frame.
19 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
A German scholar and an Indian scholar simultaneously discovered in 1889 that the
Vedic Brahmana texts describe the Pleiades coinciding with the spring equinox. Older
texts describe the spring equinox as falling in the constellation Orion. From a
calculation of the precision of the equinoxes, it has been shown that the spring equinox
lay in Orion in about 4,500 BC.
The German scholar, H. Jacobi, came to the conclusion that the Brahmanas are from a
period around or older than 4,500 BC. Jacobi concludes that “the Rig Vedic period of
culture lies anterior to the third pre-Christian millennium.”22 B. Tilak, using similar
astronomical calculations, estimates the time of the Rig Veda at 6,000 BC.23
More recently, Frawley has cited references in the Rig Veda to the winter solstice
beginning in Aries. On this basis, he estimates that the antiquity of these verses of the
Veda must go back at least to at least 6,500 BC.24 The dates Frawley gives for Vedic
Period 1. 6500-3100 BC, Pre-Harappan, early Rig Vedic
Period 2. 3100-1900 BC, Mature Harappan 3100-1900, period of the Four Vedas
Period 3. 1900-1000 BC, Late Harappan, late Vedic and Brahmana period
Professor Dinesh Agrawal of Penn State University reviewed the evidence from a
variety of sources and estimated the dates as follows:
• Rig Vedic Age – 7000-4000 BC
• End of Rig Vedic Age – 3750 BC
• End of Ramayana-Mahabharat Period – 3000 BC
• Development of Saraswati-Indus Civilization – 3000-2200 BC
• Decline of Indus and Saraswati Civilization – 2200-1900 BC
• Period of chaos and migration – 2000-1500 BC
• Period of evolution of syncretic Hindu culture – 1400-250 BC
The Taittiriya Samhita (6.5.3) places the constellation Pleiades at the winter solstice,
which correlates with astronomical events that took place in 8,500 BC at the earliest.
The Taittiriya Brahmana (3.1.2) refers to the Purvabhadrapada nakshatra as rising due
east—an event that occurred no later than 10,000 BC, according to Dr. B.G.Siddharth
of India’s Birla Science Institute. Since the Rig Veda is more ancient than the
Brahmanas, this would put the Rig Veda before 10,000 BC.
22 Maurice Winternitz, A History of Vedic Literature, Vol. 1, p. 277.
23 B.G. Tilak, The Orion, or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas (Bombay: 1893).
24 For example, Rig Veda, verses 1.117.22, 1.116.12, 188.8.131.52.
20 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
Attempts to date the Rig Veda based on astronomical evidence have some merit, but
the conclusions are hotly debated, and probably not entirely free of conjecture. Some
contemporary scholars take them quite seriously as a method of dating the Rig Veda,
but the evidence is inconclusive at present.
Evidence from Sthapatya Veda Architecture:
Relation of Vedic Civilization to the Indus/Saraswati Civilizations
Perhaps the most interesting evidence for the antiquity of the Vedic tradition comes
from architectural remains of towns and cities of the ancient Indus-Saraswati
civilization. The Indus Valley Civilization flourished, according to the most reliable
current scientific estimates, between 2,600 and 1,900 BC—but there are cities, such as
Mehrgarh, that date back to 6,500-7,000 BC. These dates are based on archeological
fieldwork using standard methods that are commonly recognized in the scientific
community today. Over 1600 settlements have been found in the vast Indus/Saraswati
region that extended over 25,000 square miles.
The most well known cities of the Indus valley civilization, Mohenjo-Daro and
Harappa, were built of kiln-fired brick and laid out on an exact north-south axis. This
means that the main streets of the city ran north-south, and the entrance of the homes
and public buildings faced east. The cities were also built to the west of the rivers, so
that they were on land that sloped east to the river.
These facts, which may seem trivial on first glance, turn out to be highly significant.
The ancient architectural system of Sthapatya Veda prescribes detailed principles of
construction of homes and cities. One of the main principles of Sthapatya Veda is that
cities be laid out on an exact north-south grid, with all houses facing due east. Another
is that the buildings be oriented to the east with a slope to the east and any body of
water on the east. Most of the cities of the Saraswati and Indus valley followed these
21 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
These early cities were planned and constructed according to exact principles that
align the microcosm of human dwelling to the larger cosmos. They applied laws of
nature that are set out in Sthapatya Vedic architecture. When the principles were
codified into a system is open to question, but since the building and city planning were
done according to Sthapatya Vedic principles, it is reasonable to conclude that
Sthapatya Veda was known and practiced during the ancient period of Indus-Saraswati
valley civilizations. The system called Sthapatya Veda architecture may have preceded
this period, or may have been codified later, but the cities were built according to
Sthapatya Vedic architecture.
Since these cities were constructed as early as 6,500 to 7,000 BC, this would suggest
that Sthapatya Veda may have been known as early as that. This gives another reason to
put the origins of Rig Vedic tradition even before that time. This is another bit of
evidence, which is not noted in previous literature, that may establish the great antiquity
of the Rig Vedic tradition.
Archeological research has shown Indus Valley civilization was an outgrowth of an
earlier agrarian civilization. Richard H. Meadow of Harvard University has shown for
instance a gradual shift from the hunting of game to the raising of sheep, goats, and
cattle called the humped zebu, which were apparently domesticated in the Indus
The city of Mehrgarh, lying to the West of the Indus river near the Bolan Pass,
between ancient India and Afghanistan, was first inhabited from 6,500 BC to 7,000 BC
by a largely agrarian people who cultivated barley and cattle.26 The Rig Veda frequently
mentions barley and milk cattle, and may have come from this agrarian period that was
precursor to the Indus-Saraswati valley civilization.
Yoga in the Ancient Indus Valley
There are still other reasons to think that the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro was home
to a civilization that knew the Vedic tradition. One artifact from Mohenjo-daro is a seal
with a figure of a seated deity, pictured here in lotus posture:
25 See Jonnathan Mark Kenoyer, “Birth of a Civilization.” Archeology, January/February 1998, 54-61, p.
26 Jonnathan Mark Kenoyer, “Birth of a Civilization.” Archeology, January/February 1998, 54-61, p. 56.
22 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
Picture of a king seated yoga posture with Pipili Leaf,
found in the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro in the Indus
Mark Kenoyer, the University of Wisconsin anthropologist mentioned earlier,
describes this figure as “seated in a yogic posture.” Kenoyer characterizes it as a deity
with three faces, his feet in a yogic posture extending beyond the throne, with seven
bangles on each arm, and a pipili plant adorning his head.
Here is further evidence that the Indus valley civilization was not pre-Vedic. Rather
than being overrun by “Indo-Europeans” who composed the Rig Veda, the Indus valley
was apparently intimately linked to the Vedic tradition, and its kings practiced yoga. If
the practice of yoga was known at the time of Indus valley civilization, yoga must have
been practiced in India before 1,900 when the Indus Valley settlements were withered
If the Indus valley civilizations practiced Sthapatya Veda architecture and Yoga, then
the Vedic tradition was well established in India during the Indus valley civilization
which flourished, archeologists think, around 2,600 BC. The Indus Valley civilization
is thus either contemporaneous with the Vedic tradition, or the Vedic tradition was its
predecessor; but in no case was the vast Indus Valley civilization, extending over 2,500
square miles and 1,600 settlements, destroyed by outside invaders. The Indus-Saraswati
civilization may have been a successor to, or late remnant of, an earlier Vedic
civilization, which built their towns and cities on Sthapatya Vedic principles in the
Indus valley and introduced yoga. It was the drying up of the Saraswati in around 1900
BC that ended Indus-Saraswati civilization, not Aryan invaders.
23 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
The Devanagri Script:
Is the Vedic Tradition Pre-Indus-Valley?
Now we consider the Devanagri script in which Vedic Sanskrit is written. For years
after Mohenjo-Daro and other settlements of the Indus valley were excavated, the only
evidence of a writing script were a few artifacts that were inscribed with characters that
appeared to be pre-Devanagri. Devanagri is the language in which both Vedic and
Classical Sanskrit are written, so if the script of the Indus valley was indeed an earlier
and more primitive script, as it appears to be, this led many archeologists to speculate
that the Vedic tradition belongs to a post-Indus valley civilization and that the period
came after the end of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. Thus some scholars felt that the
Vedic tradition must belong to a period more recent than 1900 BC, when the peoples of
Indus and Saraswati settlements apparently abandoned their homelands and migrated
east to the Ganges river valley.
This speculation, it turns out, is completely unfounded. Recent digs in western India
have unearthed stone inscriptions in Devanagri, that date from 3,000 BC. This is an
extremely important finding. For one thing, we know that the Vedic tradition began as
an oral tradition. Recitation of the Vedic hymns employed, as we mentioned, elaborate
methods to perpetuate the oral tradition. The Vedic tradition existed before the advent
of a written script, and was passed on in an oral tradition long before the advent of a
The Rig Veda was memorized by heart and recited in teams of two pundits, who
sang in unison to preserve its purity, precisely because there was no script in which to
write it down and preserve it over time. Preservation depended on memorization and
passing it on in a formal method of oral recitation.
Since the oral tradition of recitation was a phenomenon that belonged to the period
before the advent of a written script, and, since the Devanagri script existed in the Indu-
Saraswati valley by 3,000 BC, this would place the origins of the Vedic tradition long
before 3,000 BC. The Vedic literature in its entirety is a body of oral literature, passed
on first in recited songs, and only later written down, after the advent of a script. If we
take Winternitz’s estimated time for the incubation of the Vedic period, which is 1,900
years, this would put the beginnings of the Vedic oral tradition sometime before 4,900
New Light on the “Cradle of Civilization”
Textbooks on the origins of civilization commonly state, even today, that the “cradle
of civilization” was in Mesopotamia, in the flood plane between the Tigris and
24 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
Euphrates rivers. Mesopotamian artifacts have been dated as far back possibly as 4,500
BC, and Egyptian, Assyrian, and other ancient civilizations extend back possibly as far
as the early fourth millennium BC..
The discovery of cities such as Mehrgarh in the Indus valley, which dates from 6,500
to 7,000 BC, puts the Indus valley settlements much further back in time. Exactly how
long ago the Rig Vedic tradition began remains unfathomable, but there are far more
ancient cities in the Indus-Saraswati valley than have been found in the middle-eastern
civilizations of Mesopotamia.
How long ago did urban civilization begin in India? The most reliable answer is that
we don’t know. More importantly, the Vedic tradition may have begun before the
advent of the written languages and the building of brick towns and cities. The
appearance of a written script and building of cities may have come after the decline of
the oral Vedic tradition. Moreover, there is evidence of a long period of human activity
in India long before the earliest appearance of towns in the Indus-Saraswati valley
around 7,000 BC
Archeological evidence shows that at 40,000 BC, during the last ice age, groups of
hunter-gatherers lived in central India in painted shelters of stacked rocks. There are
also sites with rock windbreaks in northern Punjab in India dating from this time.
As early as 100,000 BC, there were humans with 20th-century man’s brain size
(1,450 cc), and as early as 300,000, Homo Sapiens roamed from Africa to Asia.
Evidence of human use of fire dates to 360,000 BC. There is also evidence that
hominids occupied the Punjab region of northern India as early as 470,000 BC. Stone
hand axes and other primitive chopping tools found in northern India have been dated
to 500,000 BC. Other stone artifacts found in India have been found dating from two
million years ago. Remains of the genius “Homo” were found in Africa that are dated
between two and a half to three million years ago.
How far back in time, then, does the Vedic tradition go? The most sure answer is still
at this point in time that we simply do not know. At present there is not enough
evidence to determine, except we can venture that it is far more ancient than has been
commonly supposed. The Rig Vedic civilization almost certainly dates from long
before 3,000 BC, and possibly before 6,000 BC.
However, in dating the Rig Veda, the range of possibilities must not be considered
too narrowly. We must not arbitrarily assume that Vedic tradition originated at any
given date. Its origins may go back in time tens of thousands of years, or even longer.
Since it is an oral tradition, it left no footprints in stone. What is certain is that the
Aryan invasion myths and the dates given by Muller and other nineteenth century
25 How Ancient is Vedic Civilization
scholars came from wild speculations that served nationalist, religious, and racist
agendas, not from scientific considerations.
India and the West
The Flow of Science and Mathematics from India to
Arabia and Europe
THE EUROPEAN SCHOLARS who postulated the Aryan invasion theory were
biased, unscientific—and ultimately wrong. The Rig Veda was cognized by a people
indigenous to India, probably sometime long before 3,000 BC. So we move on to the
next question. How did the Vedic Civilization of India influence the civilizations of the
Middle-East, Egypt, and Europe?
Evidence from a variety of sources shows that an influence of Vedic civilization
flowed west to the continent of Europe. As we will see, science and mathematics
originated in India and came to Greece centuries later. Science and mathematics were
probably introduced into Europe and Egypt from India, possibly through Persia, Arabia,
and Mesopotamia, although possibly also directly.
Vedic and Indic Influences on Persian and Greek Civilization
The Zend-Avesta of Persia took many names of deities from the Rig Veda, most
notably Indra, and included Vedic deities in its pantheon. An archeological excavation
in 1907 found clay tablets from early fourteenth century BC in Boghazköi, near the site
of the ancient city of Troy on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, in what is now
northwest Turkey. These tablets invoke the names of four Vedic deities—Indra, Mitra,
Varuna, and Nasatyau—in sealing a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitani.27 A
Vedic influence was definitely in eastern Mediterranean prior to the Trojan war, which
occurred about a century later. This site is just up the coast from the Greek city states
where the Pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece sprang up about eight hundred years
Indications of a Vedic influence in the Zend-Avesta in Persia are found earlier than
1,600 and a Vedic influence was in Greece as early as 1,400 BC. But there is much
evidence of a link between the early Greeks and the more ancient Vedic civilization of
India, suggesting that Vedic culture flowed west to Persia and Europe.
27 Maurice Winternitz, A History of Vedic Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 282-283.
27 India and the West
Many of the Greek gods and goddesses are highly similar to those of the and those of
Vedic civilization, suggesting a strong historical connection. Both Vedic Indra and the
Greek Zeus, called king of the gods, were associated with the unbounded and called by
the appellation “Thunderbolt.” Saraswati and Athena, female goddesses of sacred
wisdom, both had similar roles as representing wisdom and nurturers of the creative
arts.28 The Vedic Pushan and Greek Dionysus were both associated with youth, goats,
and wine. Pushan was described as “goat-born,” Bacchus “half-goat.” The tenth
Mandala of the Rig Veda relates that the young god Pushan stole the cattle of Indra,
herded them backwards into a cave, and hid them somewhere inside in a mountain.
Homeric hymns from the ninth century BC attribute exactly the same feat to the young
god Dionysus, who put false feet on the cows, pointed backwards, and then herded
them into a mountain cave, so the gods could not find them.29
The Katha Upanishad of the Vedic tradition relates a metaphor in which the self is
the lord of the chariot, the intellect the charioteer, the body the chariot, the horses, and
the senses. “He who has no understanding…” the Upanishad say, “his senses are out of
control, as wicked horses are for a charioteer.”30 Exactly same metaphor is found in
Plato’s Phaedrus, which uses the image of a chariot moving through heaven and falling
to earth when the self, the charioteer, allows the horses, representing sense and appetite,
to get out of control.31
The Vedic practice of performing sacrificial rites also has echoes in the religious
practices of Greece and Israel. In the Odyssey, Odysseus makes sacrificial offerings of a
bull to the gods, and in Israel, in the Old Testament, there are many descriptions of
burnt offerings of animals to the gods. These practices have their roots in more ancient
Fragments from Empedocles’ book on Purification give the same definition of
health that the Charaka Samhita of the Vedic tradition did more than two thousand
years earlier. Heraclitus defines “health” as a balance of the fundamental elements
28 There is also a link between the “angirasas” of the Rig Veda, who were higher beings-intermediates
between gods and men and attendants of Agni, who is often described as a messenger between heaven
and earth. They personify flames of fire as messenger to heaven. This view is borne out by the
etymological connection of Sanskrit “angiras” with the Greek “angelos” (messenger).
29 The cow symbolizes the senses in the Rig Veda, so the backward movement of the cows appears to be a
metaphor for retiring from the outer senses to go within the self.
30 See The Principal Upanishads, ed. S. Radhakrishnan, p. 624. The line quoted is from section 3, no. 5.
31 See The Principal Upanishads, ed. S. Radhakrishnan, (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1994) The metaphor
of the chariot is given in the Katha Upanishad, pp. 623-625. Plato’s metaphor in the Phaedrus is used to
talk about the experience of the eternal.
28 India and the West
(earth, air, fire and water32) in all parts of the body, each part having the proper
proportion that is right for it. Plato’s Timaeus defines health in the same way. This is
how it is defined in Charaka Samhita.
Ancient legends in Greece speak of the early Pre-Socratics as traveling to India.
Thales, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato were all fabled to have made
the journey (although the legends are rarely given credibility). Commentators on the
early Greeks from around the first and second century passed BC on these legends.
While these journeys may or may not have taken place, it is not unthinkable, for there
were well established commercial routes between India and Greece along the Silk
Road, protected by Persian king, as well as between ports on the Red Sea that linked
Greece with India in a thriving spice trade.
Plotinus in the third century AD set out from Alexandria (a city famed for its esoteric
knowledge) on an expedition to India to gain more experiential knowledge of the
transcendent. The expedition never completed the journey, so that Plotinus never
arrived in India, but Plotinus believed that it was the place to learn about the
transcendental unity of Being.
If anything specifically Vedic brought the Greek awakening that occurred in the early
sixth century BC, it was not ideas or concepts from India, but the introduction of a
technique of transcending to experience pure consciousness. Plato writes about a “fair
word” that a physician of Thrace gave to Socrates to enable him to become immortal
and gain self-knowledge.
A Lighthouse for Scientific and Mathematical Discovery
India remained a lighthouse for the advance of civilization long after the classical
Vedic period. Our modern zero-based number system (the place-value number system)
was first developed in India. Called ‘Arabic numerals’ in the West, they actually
originated in India and were passed into Europe through Arabia, whence they derived
their name in the West.
In Arabia, mathematics was called the “Indian Art,” and the numerals used in Arabia
were called “Indian numerals.” Arabic scholars knew that mathematics had come into
Arabia from India and not vise versa. It was also in India that the counting numbers
were first invented. This inspired Albert Einstein to say, “We owe a lot to the Indians,
32 See Plato, Timaeus, see §82 and following. The Greeks had four elements, earth, air, fire, and water and
the Vedic tradition the same four plus space.
29 India and the West
who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could
have been made.”
The following chart shows the evolution of the numerals from the early Indus-
Saraswatic valley script to Devanagri to the Arabic to the present:
Evolution of the “numerals” which are mistakenly called “Arabic numerals” in the West. In
fact they came into Arabia from India. In ancient Arabic, these numerals were called “Indian
numerals” and mathematics was called the “Indian art.”
The value of “pi” was first calculated in India by Budhayana (conservative scholars
put him at least in the sixth century BC) long before it was known in Europe.
Budhayana was also first to introduce a mathematical way to calculate the hypotenuse
of a right triangle. The Shulba Sutra (the Budhayana) written prior to the eighth century
BC in India, used the theorem about two centuries before it was introduced by
Pythagoras into Greece in the sixth century BC. The wording of the theorem in the
30 India and the West
Shulba Sutras is exact: “The diagonal chord of the rectangle makes both the squares
that the horizontal and vertical sides make separately.”33
a2 + b2 = c2
33Saraswati Amma, Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India, (Motilal Banarisdas, 1979), p. 18. For a
discussion of mathematics in ancient India, see also Herbert Meschkowski, Ways of Thought of Great
Mathematicians, (San Francisco: Holden-Day Inc., 1964), and Saraswati Amma, Geometry in Ancient
and Medieval India, (New Delhi: Motilal Banarisdas, 1979), p. 18. For an update on the scientific
understanding of the Rig Veda, see Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism,
with a Foreword by Subhash Kak, Toronto, Canada: Golden Egg Publishing, 1999.
The Shulba Sutra are among the most ancient of mathematical texts known to man. In the valley of the
Indus River of India, the world’s oldest civilization had developed its own system of mathematics. The
Vedic Shulba Sutras (fifth to eighth century BC), meaning “codes of the rope,” show that the earliest
geometrical and mathematical investigations among the Indians arose from certain requirements of their
religious rituals. When the poetic vision of the Vedic seers was externalized in symbols, rituals requiring
altars and precise measurement became manifest, providing a means to the attainment of the unmanifest
world of consciousness. “Shulba Sutras” is the name given to those portions or supplements of the Kalpa
sutras, which deal with the measurement and construction of the different altars for religious rites. The
word shulba refers to the ropes used to make these measurements.
Although Vedic mathematicians are known primarily for their computational genius in arithmetic and
algebra, the basis and inspiration for the whole of Indian mathematics is geometry. Evidence of
geometrical drawing instruments from as early as 2,500 BC. has been found in the Indus Valley. The
beginnings of algebra can be traced to the constructional geometry of the Vedic priests, which are
preserved in the Shulba Sutras. Exact measurements, orientations, and different geometrical shapes for
the altars and arenas used for the religious functions (yagyas), which occupy and important part of the
Vedic religious culture, are described the Shulba Sutras. Many of these calculations employ the
geometrical formula known as the Pythagorean theorem.
This theorem (c. 540 BC.), equating the square of the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle with the sum
of the squares of the other two sides, was utilized in the earliest Shulba Sutra (the Baudhayana) prior to
the eighth century BC. Thus, widespread use of this famous mathematical theorem in India several
centuries before its being popularized by Pythagoras has been documented. The exact wording of the
theorem as presented in the Sulba Sutras is: “The diagonal chord of the rectangle makes both the squares
that the horizontal and vertical sides make separately.” The proof of this fundamentally important
theorem is well known from Euclid’s time until the present for its excessively tedious and cumbersome
nature; yet the Vedas present five different extremely simple proofs for this theorem. One historian,
Needham, has stated, “Future research on the history of science and technology in Asia will in fact reveal
that the achievements of these peoples contribute far more in all pre-Renaissance periods to the
development of world science than has yet been realized.”
The Shulba Sutras have preserved only that part of Vedic mathematics which was used for constructing
the altars and for computing the calendar to regulate the performance of religious rituals. After the Shulba
Sutra period, the main developments in Vedic mathematics arose from needs in the field of astronomy.
Jyotisha, the science of the planets, utilizes all branches of mathematics.
The need to determine the right time for their religious rituals gave the first impetus for astronomical
observations. With this desire in mind, the priests would spend night after night watching the advance of
the moon through the circle of the nakshatras (lunar mansions), and day after day the alternate progress of
the sun towards the north and the south. However, the priests were interested in mathematical rules only
as far as they were of practical use. These truths were therefore expressed in the simplest and most
practical manner. Elaborate proofs were not presented, nor were they desired.
31 India and the West
Major centers of learning operated in ancient India. The World’s first major
university and trade school was in Taxila (Takshila) then in northwestern India, around
700 BC (some scholars estimate). It boasted a thousand students from all over the
known world who studied 60 disciplines taught there. The University of Nalanda,
established in the forth century BC, was also a major center of learning in the ancient
The Indian astronomer and mathematician Bhaskaracharya in the 5th century BC
(this is an estimated date that may be too recent), calculated the time taken by the earth
to orbit the sun to nine decimal places.34 Algebra, trigonometry, and calculus were first
set forth in ancient India. Aryabhata the Elder (476-550 AD) gave a summary of Indian
mathematics that covers astronomy, spherical trigonometry, arithmetic, algebra and
plane trigonometry. Aryabhata also gives a formula for finding the areas of a triangle
and a circle. His main work, the Aryabhatiya, contains continued fractions, quadratic
equations, sums of power series and a table of sines. Aryabhata gave an accurate
approximation for “pi” of up to 3.1416 and was one of the first to use algebra.35 His
most important achievement was the invention of the “0,” which enabled the
development of the place number system.
Aryabhata also wrote an text on astronomy, the Siddhanta, which taught that the
apparent rotation of the heavens was due to the rotation of the Earth on it axis.
Aryabhata gives the radius of the planetary orbits in terms of the radius of the
Earth/Sun orbit as essentially their periods of rotation around the Sun. He believed that
the Moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight, and he taught, incredible though it
may seem, that the orbits of the planets around the sun are ellipses. This was a thousand
hundred years before Copernicus and Kepler came up with the same discovery in
Europe. He also correctly explained the causes of the eclipses of the Sun and the Moon
and calculated the value for the length of the year at 365 days 6 hours 12 minutes 30
seconds. This is a slight overestimate since the true value is less than 365 days 6 hours.
His work, written in 121 stanzas, gives a remarkably accurate view of the structure of
the solar system.
Brahmagupta (598-670 AD, again an estimated date that may off), head of the
astronomical observatory at Ujjain, the foremost mathematical center of ancient India,
developed algebraic notation and gave remarkable formulas for finding the area of a
cyclic quadrilateral and for the lengths of the diagonals in terms of the sides.
34 According to Bhaskaracharya’s calculations, which were made in the 5th century BC, the time taken by
earth to orbit the sun is 365.258756484 days (slightly larger than the correct time).
35 Aryabhata also introduced the versine (versin = 1-cos) into trigonometry.
32 India and the West
Brahmagupta also studied arithmetic progressions, quadratic equations, theorems on
right-angled triangles, surfaces and volumes, and calculated the length of the year at
365 days 6 hours 12 minutes 36 seconds.
Quadratic equations were first discovered by Sridharacharya in the 11th century. Then
Bhaskara (1114-1185 AD) reached an understanding of the number systems that solved
equations which were not solved in Europe until several centuries later. Like
Brahmagupta before him, Baskara was head of the astronomical observatory at Ujjain,
where he developed a sophisticated understanding of 0 and the negative numbers.
The art of navigation was invented 6,000 years ago by navigators of the Indus river.
The English word navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Navgatih’ and the
word navy from the Sanskrit ‘Nou.’ The first known reservoirs and dams for irrigation
were also built in India.
Ayur-Veda, the earliest known system of medicine and surgery, was developed in the
Vedic period in India. Sushrut, the father of surgery, developed surgical procedures
including cesareans, cataract removals, setting fractures, removing urinary stones and
even plastic and brain surgery. Over 125 surgical tools are named in the ancient Sushrut
medical texts. Anesthesia was also well known. Detailed texts on anatomy, physiology,
etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics, and immunity date from Vedic
Sometime around 444 BC, Empedocles introduced a medical system into Greece
modeled on the then ancient Ayurvedic system of India. Empedocles’ book on
Purification gives, as we saw, the same definition of health as the Charaka Samhita. It
bears repeating: health is the balance of the fundamental elements (earth, air, fire and
water36) in all parts of the body, each part having the proper proportion of each that is
right for it. Empedocles adopts this definition from the Vedic tradition. Plato’s Timaeus
defines health in the same way.
Joseph Needham, the eminent physicist and cultural historian, comments that, “Future
research on the history of science and technology in Asia will in fact reveal that the
achievements of these peoples [of India] contribute far more in all pre-Renaissance
periods to the development of world science than has yet been realized.”37 The first
pioneer of wireless communication was Jagdeesh Bose—not Marconi as commonly
taught in the West.
36 See Plato, Timaeus, see §82 and following. The Greeks had four elements, earth, air, fire, and water and
the Vedic tradition the same four plus space.
37 Quoted in V. Raghavan, Presidential Address, Technical Sciences and Fine Arts Section, XXIst AIOC,
New Delhi, 1961.
33 India and the West
India’s most substantial gift to world civilization was, however, the discovery of pure
consciousness and the mapping out of the architectonic structure of pure knowledge.
All other achievements derive from this great awakening of knowledge that took place
in ancient Vedic India.
Summary and Conclusion
The Vedic heritage of India has been grossly miscalculated, misunderstood, and
under-appreciated. The light of Vedic knowledge burned brilliantly in Vedic India long
before is spread into Iran, the middle-east, and Europe.
It appears that Rig Vedic civilization originated in northern India, definitely before
1,900, and probably before 3,000 BC. The Vedic tradition may have originated before
6,500 BC. Passed on from father to son in unbroken tradition of pundits who recited the
Vedic verses, it is still sung by pundits in India today. Imagine if Homeric bards were
found today who could still chant the Iliad and Odyssey according to the oral tradition
handed down from Homeric times! This would be heralded as a monumental event. Yet
the Vedic tradition was possibly as ancient to Homer when he lived as Homer is to us
The Vedic tradition lives in the songs softly chanted by pundits today that may have
originated ten thousand or more year ago, or even further remote in time. The Rig Veda
and the Vedic literature were preserved by a tradition of chanting, with self-correcting
feedback methods, always involving two pundits reciting the verses together. Other
methods of self-correction were used, so the authenticity of the tradition is well
preserved. The written Veda did not emerge until the Devanagri script was invented,
and that was post-Indus-Saraswati civilization.
The Vedic civilization, far more ancient than the Greek, spread from India to Europe,
via Anatolia, Thrace, and Greece, and from there into Western Europe. The direction of
the flow was from India into Arabia and then to Europe. Evidence shows that the Vedic
tradition entered into Europe sometime before the early fourteenth century BC.
The Rig Vedic tradition and its literature almost certainly came into existence
sometime long before the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, Sumeria, and Egypt.
These were relatively late events in the history of civilization and probably owe their
existence to the earlier civilization of Vedic India.
It is necessary to reiterate that the origins of the Vedic tradition are still obscured in
the fog of time, but it is necessary to shift it much further back than Muller’s
contingent of scholars put it. A more balanced view of the Vedic tradition might place
it as follows:
34 India and the West
1. Before 6,500 to around 3,000 BC—early Rig Veda to Itihasa period38
2. 2600-1900 BC, Mature Harappa civilization
3. 1900-1000 BC, late Vedic and Brahmana period
4. 500 BC, Shankara’s revival
Because we don’t know yet how ancient the earliest verses of the Rig Veda are, we
have to abstain from any dogmatic pronouncements, but we have seen reason to think
that they are far more ancient than Europeans scholars previously estimated. The
ancient Vedic tradition was indigenous to the land of India, possibly overlapping the
Indus and Saraswati valley civilizations and extending into the Himalayas, where the
tradition continued unbroken for perhaps tens of thousands of years.
The Rig Veda extols the Indus rivers in the oft repeated refrain, “Flow Indus to
Indra”—a metaphor for the flow of individual awareness into unbounded universal
awareness. The whole tradition, as we see in the following chapters, is about the
experience of awakened consciousness, or enlightenment.
The refrain, “flow Indus to Indra” is also a reference to the Indus civilization that
lived along the banks of the Indus river since 6,500 BC. It was this awakening of
consciousness that cradled the ancient Vedic civilization of Vedic India—long before
civilization emerged in Europe. As the river of civilization flowed from India
westward, one of its main tributaries was the civilization of ancient Greece and Asia
Minor.39 Greek civilization possibly resulted from the spread of techniques that passed
on the enlightenment tradition from India into the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
38 Mesopotamian, Sumerian, and Egyptian civilizations cannot, according to traditional archeology, extend
much past 3,300 BC. Recent research has suggested that the pyramids were constructed as early as
39 One of the great puzzles of early history is to understand why sometime around 500 BC a great
awakening of knowledge occurred simultaneously in India, China, and Greece. Lao Tzu and Confucius in
China, Buddha in India, and Heraclitus and Parmenides in Greece all flourished around that time. Lao
Tzu as well as several early Greeks, according to legend, made a journey to India. The possibility exists
that the awakening came from India, where for thousands years before, the Vedic tradition flourished.
This was also the time of a great re-awakening of the Vedic tradition in India. Shankara’s teaching of
transcendental meditation in India began, according to ancient records, contrary to what is currently
taught in Western scholarship, sometime in the late sixth century BC. Shankara did not live in the ninth
century where he was misplaced by modern scholars unfamiliar with the Vedic tradition.
Modern scholars have traditionally placed Shankara in the ninth century AD. This results from a
confusion of an illustrious successor of Shankara with the original Shankara who lived about 500 BC.
“Shankara” had become a title, so in the long succession of Shankaracharyas, or masters of the Shankara
tradition, there were many Shankaras. It was a natural confusion but the first Shankara lived in the mid to
early sixth century BC. (See Maharishi’s discussion of this in his Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation and
Commentary, Livingston Manor, NY: MIU Press, 1967, p. 186.) There are historical records of the
Shankarcharya tradition that link it back to the original Shankara in the sixth century BC, mentioning
each of the Shankaracharayas in the long succession.
According to recent archeological and anthropological research, the Vedic tradition began probably
sometime well before 3,500 BC. This would put the origin of the Vedic tradition at least 2,400 years
35 India and the West
The Vedic tradition gives a much deeper meaning to the word “tradition” than has
been known before. Nothing in the West approximates it. For thousands of years, the
Vedic tradition expanded, and grew richer in detail, commenting on itself and
expanding by knowledge of itself. Each contributor built on what the previous had
done, cumulating in a systematic exposition of the structure of pure consciousness.
Techniques to gain enlightenment were developed, cultivated, and passed on generation
after generation. The techniques sustained the tradition and gave it substance through
making the experience available.
Vedic civilization centered around the discovery of pure consciousness and the
delineation of its structure. The Rig Veda and the Vedic literature gave a monumental
depiction of this structure of eternal consciousness. These remarkable works give a
prior to the battle of Troy, the event that marks the mythological beginning of the early Greek literary
tradition, and 3,000 years before the earliest Pre-Socratic philosophers.
For a fuller discussion of this new wave of scholarship, see David Frawley and N.S. Rajaram Vedic
“Aryans” and the Origins of Civilization: A Literary and Scientific Perspective, 1995. See also George
Feuresein, Subhash Kak, and David Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on
Ancient India, 1995. Also, David Frawley, Gods, Sages Kings, (Morson Publishing, 1991). See also, N.S.
Rajaram The Hindustan Times (Nov. 28, 1993). Rajaram writes, “It is now recognized by scholars that
the Aryan invasion theory of India is a myth that owes more to European politics than anything in Indian
records or archaeology.” Frawley writes. “the rationale behind the late date for the Vedic culture given by
Muller was totally speculative. Max Muller, like many of the Christian scholars of his era, believed in
Biblical chronology. This placed the beginning of the world at 400 BC and the flood around 2500 BC.
Assuming to those two dates, it became difficult to get the Aryans in India before 1500 BC.” See also
Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archeology at Cambridge University, in his famous work, Archeology and
Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988). See also
Mark Kenoyer, “Indus Valley: Secrets of a Civilization” in Wisconsin, Fall 1998 and Kenneth Kennedy,
“Have Aryans Been Identified in the Prehistoric Skeletal Record from South Asia” appearing in The
Indo-Aryans of South Asia (Walter de Gruyter, 1995) Kennedy writes, “Assumptions that blondism,
blue-grey eyes and light skin pigmentation are physical hallmarks of either ancient Aryans or of members
of Brahmin and other social groups in modern south Asia, find their origins in the improper marriage of
excerpts from Vedic texts with nineteenth century Germanic nationalistic writings.” Also N.S. Rajaram,
Hindustan Times. N.S. Rajaram, Aryan Invasion of India: The Myth and the Truth. Also, Maurice
Winternitz, A History of Vedic Literature, Vol. 1, (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), pp. 270-288.
Winternitz writes, in 1981, that it is imprudent to try to fix the dates of the Vedic civilization any earlier
than 2,000 or 2,500 BC. Max Muller had argued in 1859 in his History of Ancient Sancrit Literature, that
the Rig Veda could not have been written before 1,200 or 1,000 BC. Later scholars often took this as the
date of the Rig Veda and attributed this date to Muller. However, Muller did not attempt to fix the date at
1,200 or 1,000 BC, but only held that it must be earlier than that. Winternitz gives compelling reasons to
think that the date of the Rig Veda cannot be before 2,000 or 2,500 BC. Even this is not, as he says, a
legitimate attempt to set a date, but only to set the latest possible beginning of the Rig Veda. There is no
reason whatever, as he points out, to think that it began in 2,000 to 2,500 BC—only that this is the latest
date at which the hymns of the Rig Veda can reasonably be supposed to have begun. One must be very
careful not to take these as dates of the Rig Veda, only as the lower limits of a date, before which the Rig
Veda must have been written.
Many put the Rig Vedic tradition at 6,000 BC or before. See A. Ludwign, Der RigVeda, III, Prag, 1878,
pp. 183 ff. and B.G. Tilak, The Orion or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas, Bombay, 1893. Also
see Abinas Chandra Das, Rig-Vedic India, I, Calcutta, 1922; discussed in Maurice Winternitz, A History
of Vedic Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 275 and 287 and following.
For further reading, see also A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India, Calcutta: Rupa & Co., 1967.
36 India and the West
complete science of the structure of pure knowledge that exists within the self of
everyone. It was from this cognition of the structure of Veda and the Vedic literature
that the civilization was born.
In the West, by comparison, there was no sustained theme of enlightenment remotely
comparable to the Vedic tradition. There was no sustained tradition of knowledge based
on the experience of consciousness. The early history of western Europe, including the
glory of ancient Greece, are sparks, brilliant though they be, from the great fire of
knowledge of Vedic India.
Preview of More to Come:
What is the Veda and
the Vedic Literature?
THE NEXT QUESTION IS, what is the Veda and the Vedic tradition? Since the
Veda and the Vedic tradition have extremely ancient roots going back at least to the
third millennium BC and probably much further, we now want to ask, what is this Rig
Veda and the Vedic literature? What is the Vedic tradition really about?
It is as if we have been on an archeological dig on an ancient site in the Indus valley
and we find a treasure room of vast extent, filled with books that are about an ancient
science. As we decipher these ancient codes, we discover an ancient body of knowledge
more advanced than any science known today. This is the excitement of the rediscovery
of the Veda.
If the European scholars got the dates of the Vedic tradition and the invasion theory
entirely wrong, neither did they understand anything of what was going on in the Vedic
tradition. Again, we cannot expect that they can give an penetrating answers to the
question of what the Veda is. The answer must come from those who know the Veda
from direct experience.
The Veda itself is said to be knowledge. Veda means knowledge. It refers to the kind
of knowledge that comes from transcending activity to experience the knowledge
structured within the inner silence of consciousness itself. Veda is the self-knowledge
consciousness of itself, consciousness knowing its own nature. This knowledge exists
deep within everyone, deep within our own consciousness, but we are out of touch with
it because we have lost the ancient knowledge of how to go within. By diving deep
within the self, and beyond our own individual consciousness, to the universal allpervading
consciousness, when consciousness is still and deeply silent, we too can
experience the Veda. It is this experience from which all Vedic knowledge comes. On
the basis of this experience, we can know the structure of the Veda that exists eternally
38 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
The Veda is the expression of the knowledge gained during transcending, or going
beyond active mind and finite mind, to experience the infinite consciousness that lies at
the basis of all created things. This experience gives knowledge of the eternal
consciousness that pervades all creation. It is not localized to individual awareness. It is
universal all-pervading consciousness. Anyone can gain access to this consciousness by
transcending activity to experience the infinite, unbounded silence at the basis of
The infinite silence is not seen, as one sees an object separate from the self. Infinite
silence is what the seer becomes when he or she is deeply silent. The Vedic seers
discovered that when the mind is deeply silent and still, it expands from individual
mind to infinite mind. One becomes infinite mind and the structure of this infinite mind
is what one experiences when one sees the Veda.
The greatest Vedic scholar and seer of all ages is undoubtedly Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi. Maharishi is a great genius who has brought to light the deeper meaning of the
Veda on the basis of the direct experience of the Veda itself. Since the Veda is
structured in consciousness, the consciousness which is not individual but universal and
all-pervading, it exists within everyone. Every individual consciousness grows out of
the vast ocean of universal consciousness which is the Veda. By diving within our
individual consciousness, and beyond, to the infinite sea of universal consciousness, we
can experience the eternal, all-pervading sea of consciousness and its self-interacting
dynamics by which the world is created within the eternal sea of consciousness. This is
to witness the mechanics of creation. Veda is this mechanics of creation.
The Vedic tradition grew out of a discovery of a way to go within consciousness and
directly experience the Veda which exists deep within consciousness. It is only through
this experience that there can be genuine knowledge of the Veda at all. It is for this
reason that Maharishi brought out a technique to directly experience the silent level of
consciousness within everyone. This technique makes the eternal Veda accessible to
everyone on the basis of personal experience. It is the foundation of the knowledge of
the Veda. The name of the techniques is the Transcendental Meditation technique. It is
the method that opens the direct experience of universal consciousness and the Veda to
anyone. It is thus the method of knowledge that makes universal knowledge of the
eternal field of pure consciousness accessible to everyone. It is the method of
exploration of consciousness by which anyone can gain access to the silent,
unconditioned, universal consciousness that underlies and pervades all manifest objects
in the physical world.
39 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
Thus, the only solid foundation for knowledge and understanding the Veda is the
exploration of the fundamental level of inner silence, the inner silence of pure
consciousness itself, where the Veda is structured. Only through experience of this
level of reality—the silent foundation of universal consciousness—can anyone be
prepared to know and understand the Veda. The Veda is the reality of consciousness
and the knowledge of consciousness that is accessible through this experience; the
Vedic tradition is the tradition that carries that knowledge over time; and Vedic
civilization is the civilization that was built on this knowledge that existed in India at
least three thousand years and probably more before the Christian era began.
As we will see, the Rig Veda and the Vedic literature are a systematic expression of
consciousness and the knowledge of consciousness. The Veda tells us something about
our own consciousness, about our human potential to be in and to experience a
universal field of consciousness that underlies all created things. The essential meaning
of the Veda escaped Western scholars for two centuries, but we now are rediscovering
its meaning and coming to directly experience and know the Veda through direct
experience through the guidance of Maharishi. This method brings knowledge more
advanced than any other approach available in the world today, and as we will see, it
has practical applications far greater than any other method of knowledge. In this and
the following chapters, we will see that the Veda is a lasting expression of deep
knowledge that has survived over many thousands of years in virtually perfect
condition, and that it holds the secret to unlocking new knowledge and a new approach
to knowledge that will enhance our own civilization more than any other discovery in
What is Vedic Cognition and How is it Passed On?
The Rig Veda was not “created” out the human imagination, as works of poetry or
literature are created. Unlike poetry or literature, the Veda is experienced and then the
experience of the Veda is recited in hymns that directly express the experience of the
Veda. This is called Vedic cognition.
Cognition means that the Vedic rishis or seers heard what is there in the universal
field of consciousness and they sang out the sounds that they heard. They were not
making up poems, hymns, theories, or world-views, but they heard the sounds in the
field of pure consciousness and saw the flow pure knowledge within it. Their
experience came from being established in the deepest level of the mind.
This experience is what the recited sounds of the Veda express. But the hymns of the
Rig Veda are not about the Veda, as if the expression were something different from
40 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
the Veda itself, which they were describing. The rishis heard the Veda and saw its
structure, and this sound itself is expressed in the hymns of the Rig Veda. The
experience of the Rig Veda flowed through the rishis into the hymns of the Rig Veda.
The hymns of the Rig Veda sought out those rishis who were fully awake and made
themselves known to them, and the rishis passed on these hymns in a long unbroken
tradition that endures to the present.
The Rig Veda, the most ancient hymns of the Vedic tradition, has been preserved
over time by a method of memorization and recitation passed these hymns on from
father to son in an unbroken sequence over vast stretches of time. By two pundits
chanting the hymns (and by chanting them forwards and backwards) a method of
ensuring their purity was established that allowed these hymns to be passed on over
thousands of years without loss. The Veda we possess today, unbelievable as it may
seem, is thus an expression of the sounds heard many thousands of years ago.
It was only in relatively recent times, probably around 3000 BC, that the Veda and
Vedic literature, were committed to writing. Before that Veda was an oral tradition.
The Vastness of the Veda and The Vedic Literature
Maharishi identifies 40 distinct branches of the Veda and the Vedic literature. These
forty branches include, first and foremost, the Rig Veda samhita, and of equal
importance, the Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. These four bodies of
sound are what is meant by the Veda.
In addition to the Veda, the Vedic literature includes 36 branches, all based on the
Veda itself. These include the six branches of Vedanga, six branches of Upanga, and
six branches of Ayur-Veda, for example. All branches of Vedic literature are
considered, like the Veda itself, uncreated or eternal structures of knowledge.
The extent of the Veda and the entire Vedic literature is vast, huge—much larger, for
example, than the remaining body of literature of all of ancient Greece and Rome.
There are ten volumes of the Rig Veda alone in one of the best editions available in
English (the Wilson translation). There are 54 books of Kalpa, just one of six branches
of the Vedangas. There are 18 books of Puranas. The Itihasa includes the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata, the later of which is printed in an English edition which has 20
volumes. There are thus, for example, over a hundred volumes in just these four
branches of the Veda and the Vedic literature.
Maharishi sees this vast body of the Veda and the Vedic literature as a systematic
body of literature that has a detailed, intricate structure in every part, and all
systematically related in a whole. It is systematic in the sense that is not a random
41 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
collection of books that were written over vast stretches of time, but it forms a complete
whole, with a comprehensive organization and structure. Each of the books of Vedic
literature relates in a systematic way to all the others and each forms an essential part of
the whole of Vedic literature.
Where is the Veda and How is it Known?
The Veda is expressed in sounds that are recited and heard, but the Veda itself exists
in the unmanifest field of unbounded pure consciousness, called parame vyoman. This
is a universal silent field of consciousness that pervades everything in the universe.
Since it is all-pervading, it pervades the body and mind of every individual. It exists on
the most subtle, or fine scale, of activity. It is smaller than the smallest particle of the
atomic nucleus. It is on a scale smaller than the smallest quark and lepton. It is the field
of consciousness in its least excited state. Everything in nature is an excitation of this
field. All particles of matter and force are excited states of this one all-pervading field.
To know the Veda, which is everywhere at the most subtle foundation of the world,
we have only to take our awareness from the excited states of consciousness to the least
excited state of consciousness. By taking our awareness from the active, gross level of
activity to the silent field of pure consciousness, we allow our individual mind to
become settled and stilled and in that state of wakeful silence, and in that state, the
mind spreads out to identify with the all-pervading field of consciousness. On that level
of awareness, the entire Veda and Vedic literature can be directly experienced as the
fabrics of our own consciousness. We simply dive from the surface level of activity to
the silent all-pervading depth where consciousness is eternally awake within itself. On
that level of all-pervading nature, consciousness is eternally interacting within itself.
This self-interaction of consciousness as its flows from unity into diversity is the Veda.
It is the eternal reality at the foundation of everything that exists in the observable
Structure of the Veda
The Veda has a structure. It is structured in the form of mandalas, or circles. The
structure of the Veda and the Vedic literature is a flow of knowledge, not a static,
frozen structure. As the eternal consciousness flowing within itself and knowing itself,
it flow, and creates within itself a structure that is dynamic and flowing. This flowing
structure of Veda is an eternal flow of pure knowledge of the self as it unfolds
knowledge of itself. It is the flow of consciousness as it knows itself and flows from
unity to diversity. It is the flow of self-knowledge within consciousness, giving rise to
the entire diversity of creation. It is the flow of the oneness of eternal pure
42 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
consciousness into the many formed unity of the Veda, and from there to the forms and
phenomena of the manifest universe, the visible material world.
The first flow of knowledge of the Veda is the flow from the One into the many. The
eternal oneness of pure Being or pure consciousness knows itself. And in knowing
itself, it breaks itself into many. The infinite One collapses into a point, and into
infinitely many points. These points of consciousness are finite, separate, isolated
points of individual consciousness. But they are all ultimately points of the one infinite
whole of consciousness. Each is a collapsed point of the infinite whole, and in the
process of returning to wholeness, the finite points of consciousness expand back into
the infinite One from which they began. This is the fundamental process of creation that
is expressed in the Rig Veda and in the Vedic literature.
The Rig Veda expresses this process in sound. The Rig Veda is essentially this
sequence of vibrations that manifest as the process of consciousness knowing itself. It
unfolds out of the process of consciousness knowing itself. This entire process is a
necessary sequence of sounds that unfold the pure knowledge of consciousness to itself.
It is the eternal murmuring of consciousness to itself.
The Rig Veda does not describe the process in articulate language, using descriptive
terms, the way a scientist might describe an object of nature. The vibrations of
consciousness as it moves within itself create unmanifest sounds in the unmanifest field
of pure consciousness, which manifest as the sound of the Veda, and these sounds
within the infinite field of pure consciousness become the vibrations that manifest in
the forms and phenomena of physical creation.
Collapse of Infinity to a Point:
The Apaurusheya Bhashya Structure of the Veda
The basic process of consciousness knowing itself takes the form of a collapse of the
infinite whole of pure consciousness into infinitely many finite points of consciousness.
This process of infinity collapsing to a point, and the points expanding into infinity, is
the basic process that structures the Veda. It is the process by which the eternal Oneness
of pure consciousness knows itself. Infinite wholeness collapses to a point and the point
expands to infinity. Out of this process all creation comes.
Maharishi has discovered that this process and its structure is expressed in the first
syllable of the Rig Veda, in the first line, in the first verse, and in the first mandala,
each expression being a more elaborate commentary on the collapse of infinity than the
previous. This structure Maharishi calls the Aparasheya Bhasha structure of the Rig
Veda. Maharishi was the first to discover and bring it to light.
43 What is the Veda and the Vedic Literature?
Maharishi discovered that the Rig Veda has a marvelous structure in which each of
the parts reflects the structure of the whole. Thus, for example, the First Mandala of the
Rig Veda, which gives the meaning of the Veda as a whole, has 192 suktas. The Tenth
Mandala has the same number of suktas, mirroring the gaps between the suktas of the
First Mandala. This is not an accidental structural parallel, but an indication of the
intricately interlocked structure of the Veda as a whole. This kind of structural identity
is reiterated in many places throughout Vedic literature.
Maharishi sees the first syllable of the Rig Veda, Ak,40 as containing the whole Rig
Veda within itself. It represents the collapse of the continuum of flow of infinite
wholeness to its own point. The “A” sound represents flow or continuum, and the “k”
sound represents the stop, or collapse of the flow. This sound is actually the process of
the infinite whole of consciousness collapsing to its point values.
This first syllable of the Rig Veda is elaborated and commented on in the first 24
richas (verses), which are further elaborated in the corresponding 24 padas (phrases) of
the next eight richas, giving 192 of the meaning of the syllable Ak. These all emerge
from the 24 sandhi (gaps) of the first richa. From the 192 gaps between the 192 akshara
(syllables) of richa 2-9, emerge the 192 suktas of the First Mandala of the Rig Veda.
The 192 sandhi between the 192 suktas of the first Mandala give rise to the 192
suktas of the Tenth Mandala, a circular structure that precisely fills the gaps of the First
Mandala. Similarly, the gaps between the nine richas of the first sukta are elaborated in
Mandala 2-9 of Rig Veda, unfolding the total Rig Veda with all its ten Mandalas.41
The whole of the Rig Veda has a marvelous and intricately interwoven structure that
is beyond the capacity of the human mind to create. It was not created, but cognized by
the seers of ancient India. This is part of the reason that Maharishi recognizes the
tradition that the Veda and the Vedic literature “eternal” or uncreated.
The Three-in-One Structure of Pure Knowledge:
The flow of Rishi, Devata, and Chhandas in the Structure of the Veda
There is one other structure of the Veda that is basic to understanding the Veda. In the
process of knowing itself, the infinite pure consciousness, which is eternal knows itself.
In knowing itself, pure consciousness creates a division within itself of knower, known,
and process of knowing. This is necessary for it to know itself. It is both eternally one,
and yet it is eternally three—knower, knowing, and known—making a three-in-one
structure of self-knowing consciousness.
Full credits go to the original author.