History of The Punjab (From Pre-Historic Times to The Age of Asoka)

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Item Code: NAJ588
Author: L. M. Joshi
Publisher: Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala
Language: English
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8173803366
Pages: 370
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 720 gm
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Book Description

The Project of producing a comprehensive history of Punjab in several volumes has covered yet another milestone with the publication of this volume spanning the earliest period in Punjab’s historical development. A cursory look at its table of contents should be enough to convince the reader of the great importance of the period covered herein. This may well be regarded as the formative years in the growth of Punjab’s cultural personality.

Before the Aryans entered India from the north-west, Punjab had registered a unique success in the evolution of the Harappan civilization. What led to the growth of this wonderful urban civilization, or to its ultimate decline is still a closed book to historians, but regarding the high level of its attainments, there is hardly any doubt. When subsequently Aryans settled down in this area, a new civilization was born called after the name of the Rgveda. Then came the period of the great republics followed by their absorption in the vast Mauryan Empire. All these and many other important aspects have left an indelible imprint upon Punjabis. It greatly adds to the value of the book that the writers of various chapters of the book are all eminent scholars who have specialized in their respective areas. I do hope that many obscure corners in our knowledge of this remotest part of our history will illumined by this scholarly work.

I can well imagine the amount of perseverance and labour which are involved in the production such a work of quality. I offer my sincerest congratulation to the Editor, Dr. L.M. Joshi, and the General Editor, Dr Fauja Singh on their sustained and devoted hard work. However, for a person no satisfaction is greater than to see that work. However, for a person no satisfaction is greater than to see that his or her efforts have succeeded in achieving the cherished final aim.



The present volume, the first in the series of volumes, covering the entire history of the Punjab region, has been conceived, planned and executed by the Department of Punjab University. This Department had drawn up its table of chapters, distributed the materials, appointed contributors and received most of the chapters long before I was called upon to be the editor of the volume It is worthy of remark that except in the case of the author of the eleventh chapter, I had no opportunity of discussing either the approach or the contents of the volume with the contributors. However, it is gratifying that most of the contributors are distinguished historians. It is very unfortunate that one of our eminent contributors, Dr Buddha Prakash, Passed away before the publication of this volume.

Some editorial changes have been made in a few chapters with a view to avoid repetition or curtailing prolixity and also to rationalize the system of transliteration. The contributors are responsible for their opinions. The editor has added his notes wherever disagreement with a contributor’s opinion seemed unavoidable or important.

There are perhaps still several gaps in the picture presented in this volume. For example, there are no sections dealing with the geological background of the history of the ancient Punjab. A detailed treatment of this Stone Age Cultures of the region is also a desideratum; no attempt has been made to present an outline of the traditional or pseudo-history of tribal ‘dynasties’ of the Punjab during the Vedic period; one would have welcomed a chapter on the arts and crafts of the period, and another or races and racial inter-mixture I pre-historic Punjab and so on. It was not possible for the Editor to fill up all these gaps for a variety of reasons which need no mention here. If he were to await perfection, this volume would never be published.

Modern historiography perhaps seeks to meet the demand of Voltaire: “I want to know what were the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilization.” In order to meet this demand a history book must treat the subject in an integral fashion. The different steps in mankind’s march towards civilization are economic, social, political, religious, philosophical, scientific, literary and artistic. A complete history, therefore, must be an integral history, comprehending the totality of patterns of life and thought in a community. Unfortunately, however, the tremendous growth of knowledge has divided history into many isolated specialities. The result is that the average individual historian has to refrain from taking a synthetic view of the whole. It is extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, for a single historian to successfully write an integral history of a country or a region even of a given period. The task calls for a coordinated team work of experts in different areas.

It can be said that the idea of regional history is beset with difficulties and in some measure runs counter to the idea of an integral history. The history of the Punjab has always been influenced by events taking place in the Ganga Valley or the Madhyadesa. On the other hand, the political and cultural developments taking place in the Punjab frequently shaped the course of events in the Ganga Velley. The Political ad cultural history of the Punjab is thus deeply connected with that of the whole of northern part of the sub-containent. In recent years historians of India seem to have favoured the writing of regional histories possibly with a view to high-lighting the achievements and contributions of each region to the mighty stream of Indian civilization. The tendency of writing regional history may perhaps be traced to the Greek historians. In India, Kalhana, the first great historian and author of the Rajatarangini, may be said to have set the example of regional history. It cannot be denied that early history of Kashmir is better known than that of any other region of the country and the credit goes of Kalhana. The present volume of the History of the Punjab can justify its existence on the ground that most of the important facets of its ancient culture and civilization have received a detailed treatment at the hand of various scholars and they have been put together in an orderly fashion in a single volume. It is our earnest hope that, in spite of its shortcomings, this work will prove a useful reference source to both the advance students and the general readers.

The Editor’s thanks are due to Sardarni Inderjit Kaur Sandhu, Vice-Chancellor, Punjab University Patiala, and to Dr Fauja Singh, Professor and Head of the Department of History, Punjabi University, Patiala, for their valuable help and encouragement.



The geographical horizon of ancient Punjab for the purpose of this volume includes the area of land covered by three words found in ancient literature. They are: the Rgvedic Saptasindhu, the land watered by the sevenfold Indus; the epic Pancanada; and the Uttarapatha of Buddhist and Brahmanical texts. The Pancanada of the Mahabharata may be taken as the nearest equivalent of the Punjab of Persian sources, while the word Uttarapatha denotes the great North-Western Division of Bharatavarsa, This region occupies a most important, almost unique, position in the early history and culture of the sub-continent.

Man-made lithic implements belonging to Pleistocene epoch have been found in the Punjab. The flake and pebble industries, discovered in the valley of the Sohan river (District Rawalpindi), present us with the earliest traces of human culture in India. Stone tools, similar to those found in the Sohan valley, have also been discovered near Kangra in the valley of the Banganga, a tributary of the Beas. Besides, Old Stone Age tools have been reported from Pahalgam in Kashmir and microlithic implements have been found in District Peshawar. Celts of pointed-butt variety, assignable to the New Stone Age, have been recently reported from Dholbaha in District Hoshiarpur; these are some of the remarkable finds that establish, unmistakably, the age-old culture-sequence in the Punjab.

The Punjab was also the cradle of Chalcolithic cultures of India. Several sites in Sindh and Baluchistan have revealed the existence of what the archaeologists call the Bronze Age Culture. These are small townships and village settlements dating from pre-Harappan period. Ceramic finds from Quetta sites may even be of a much earlier age than Harappa, Pre-Harappan cultures are represented in Sindh at Amri and in Baluchistan at Kulli, Mehi, Quetta, Rana Ghundai and Togau. In several respects the village communities of Baluchistan seem to have been the precursors of the culture of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

The unique grandeur of ancient Punjab was the Harappan Culture. The Indus Valley Civilization or the Harappa Culture, that flowered out of the mud of the Indus system, placed the Punjab prominently on the map of the most ancient civilized world. In several respects the antiquities found at the ruined city-sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are unparalleled in other contemporary civilizations of West Asia. Recent discoveries have shown that the Harappa culture was not an isolated phenomenon; its Saurastrian extension seems to connect it with the historic forms of Indian civilization, while Harappan types of antiquities found at Kalibangan (Hanumangarh), Chandigarh, Rupar and Alamgirpur (Meerut) suggest that a large part of North India was associated with Harappan ideas and techniques. Indus material which has come to light in recent years from more than one hundred sites spread over an area of more than six hundred miles from north to south and east to west, shows the vast extent of a uniform urban culture-complex.

Harappa had eight periods of occupation while Mohenjo-daro had seven. Archaeologists have suggested so far three dates for this civilization. The earlier view placed the mature phase of Mahenjo-daro between B.C. 3250-2750. Subsequently, the Department of Archaeology in India placed it between B.C. 2500-1500. In recent years B.C. 2300- 1750 has been suggested as most credible for mature Harappa Culture.

The appearance of the Aryan speaking people on the soil of the Punjab in about B.C. 1500 seems to have coincided with the destruction of great Indus cities. Hordes of these invaders seem to have descended into the Punjab plains from the north-west in several successive waves between B.C. 1500 and 800. The Punjab in turmoil witnessed, perhaps for the first time, a state of fierce and constant warfare for several centuries. The wars between the invading Aryans and the placid pre- Aryans of the land ended in the victory of the "barbarians" over the "civilized". The rich merchants of the protohistoric Punjab, who lived in luxurious houses in Harappa (Hariyupiya) and Mohenjo-daro, seem to have been defensively weak. Radha Kumud Mookerji remarks that "Judging from the paucity of finds of offensive and defensive weapons, it may be held that the people of Mohenjo-daro were not very military or much troubled by fears of invasion". (Hindu Civilization, Part I, Bombay, 1957, p. 21). On the contrary, the Aryans were swift horse-men armed with "broad axes" as recorded in the Rgveda.

The Punjabis of the Harappan epoch were not a martial people like their medieval and modern counterparts. Although they lived in magnificent mansions and enjoyed considerable comfort and prosperity and sailed to Sumeria and Babylonia for commercial exchanges, they fell an easy prey to the violent Aryan forces advancing under the banner of Indra. The skeletons of these city-dwellers found lying in a disorderly and unburied manner in groups in the streets of Mohenjo-daro indicate that they had been killed while running for their life, and left unburned. Indra, the symbol of Aryan force, is said to have sent "in swift death to sleep the Dasyus" (Rgveda, VII. 19-4). This text thus supports the archaeological evidence of sudden and swift death of the Harappans at the hands of Indra-worshipers, who, then, are said to have "enjoyed the plenteous food of the Dasas", (ibid, VII. 6.31). The text mentions at several places the fact of destruction of "nine-and-ninety castles" of the natives by the armies of the 'Thunder-wielder' i.e., Indra, (~gveda, VII, 19.5; VII. 100.5). The Dasas or Dasyus were probably the pre-Aryan Punjabis, the builders of the Indus Valley Civilization.

As the wars gradually gave way to peace, the Aryan marauders settled down on the Punjab plains but they did not live in castles and mansions or in cities. Having destroyed the beautiful cities they proceeded to raise their huts and thatches, and established themselves in village settlements as was customary with them. Although they had "enjoyed the plenteous food of the Dasas" and seen the fortified cities with large castles of the Dasyus, yet they did not feel easy in cities and well-planned brick-houses. Here one may quote Buddhaghosa (circa 5th century A.D.) who, in his commentary on the Dighanikiiya in a different context makes the following observation: 'A village pig, even if you bathe it in scented water, and anoint it in perfumes and deck it with garlands, and lay it to rest on the best bed, will not feel happy there, but will go straight back to the dung-heap to take its ease'. It cannot thus be denied that the Aryan conquest of the Punjab resulted in a set-back to city-life and a reversal to village culture. We hear of well-guarded cities of the Punjab after many centuries in the time of Persian and Macedonian invasions.

In the village settlements the priests, the brahmanas or worshipers of brahman, "the sacred power", composed the earliest Vedic hymns and began to develop that socio-religious ideology which is called Vedism or Brahmanism and which became one of the strongest foundations of Indianism. The Punjab was thus the earliest part of India to be aryanised or brahmanised, never completely though. And yet the Punjab which produced the earliest form of Vedic culture, does not seem to have remained a centre of orthodox Brahmanism after the Rgvedic period.

It is regrettable that hardly any indisputable material remains attributable to Vedic Aryans have been discovered in the excavated sites in the Punjab. As to their architectural remains it is obvious that the Vedic Aryans did not learn any lesson from the Harappan Nisadas, Vedic literary documents are the only surviving monuments of early Indo-Aryans, Some archaeologists have associated a kind of ceramic industry, called Painted Gray Ware, with the Aryans. This ware has been found in some places in North India including the Punjab and Haryana which were occupied by Aryan tribes towards the beginning of the first millennium B.C. It should be noted that contemporary sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been explored from this view-point, and besides no Painted Gray Ware has been found there. It is to be hoped that Indian and Pakistani archaeologists will be able to help the future students of Ancient Punjab by new discoveries and by filling the gaps in the story of civilization between B.C. 1500 and 800.

The Mahabharata otherwise perhaps so helpful, historically speaking, is not a very trustworthy source of information in this connection. It refers to Nakula's conquest of the Pancanada, but it is extremely difficult to refer this event to any precise period in the history of the Punjab. The major war narrated in the great epic may be a coloured or revised version of a real historical conflict between the Aryan and non-Aryan races and cultures. But the events narrated in it are mixed with myths and legends, and the great drama of the struggle is woven in a complex fabric of comparatively recent Vaisnavaite mythology. The Punjab chiefs and tribes figure prominently in the stories and semi-historical episodes recorded in it but no archaeological remains assignable to the imagined 'epic period' have come to light either in the Punjab or in Haryana. There is, no doubt, however, about the contribution of the Kambojas, Daradas, Kekayas, Madras, Pauravas, Malavas, Saindhavas and Kurus to the heroic tradition and composite culture of ancient Punjab.

Some important questions arise in connection with the fall of Indus cities and the Aryan occupation of the Punjab. These questions are regarding the survival of the culture of the vanquished and enslaved non-Aryans of the Punjab. The archaeologists have yet to bring to light the cultural remains, if there be any buried under the soil, of these people and of the Harappan refugees. A large number of copper implements found in association with a crude pottery, the so called ochre-coloured ware. are believed by some scholars to be the legacy of non-Aryan people of the Gangetic heartland. It is to be suspected that some cultural traditions of non-Aryan and non-Harappan autochthonous tribes must have continued to exist during the Vedic period. The Gangetic hoard of copper tools mayor may not be associated with the Nisadas,

It is also a paradox that the Harappan refugees completely forgot the tradition of their script after they were absorbed into aryanised population; while many elements of the literary heritage of the Indus people may have gone into the making of numerous complex myths and legends preserved in the Mahabharata and the Puranas, the knowledge of Indus script seems to have been lost, perhaps, for ever. This, indeed, was and is a tremendous loss.

Indian historians hitherto fore have based their writings on early history and culture of India mostly or entirely on Brahmanical sources. In principle also they have followed the opinions expressed in these sources. These sources for the early period include the Vedic literature, Puranas and the Mahabharata. One might say that these sources reveal the history and culture of ancient India only through Brahmanical perspective and the reports contained in them are obviously 'Brahmanical'. However, the evidence of Brahmanical sources has rarely been examined in the light of Buddhist literature and Jaina literature. The Mahabharata and the Puranas seem to propagate that Brahmanical religion and culture were the only dominant and worthwhile things in the early history of the country. The existence of non-Brahmanical religions, cultural patterns and thought- currents is generally sought to be ignored or only occasionally alluded to as something undesirable. For example, the spread of Buddhist culture and philosophy in India is resented in the Puranas as a sign of the 'dark age' {kaliyuga). While the authors of these texts often describe the reign of petty Brahmanical kings and local chiefs among the dynasties of the Kali Age, they seem to be silent about Emperor Asoka, one of the greatest rulers in the annals of the world. We are not arguing that the authors of the Puranas, should have recorded the existence of all the dynasties, kings and religious systems known to them. They recorded only those facts and phenomena in which they were interested, which directly concerned them, and for which they were paid by their royal patrons. What we are saying is simply that we cannot write a reliable, complete and sober history of ancient India merely on the basis 0 f the myths and legends related in the Mahabharata and the Puranas.

The acceptance of the 'Brahmanical' or 'traditional' approach in the writing of history, especially of ancient India, such as is found, for example in some chapters of the History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. I, The Vedic Age, (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1951) "prepared under the directions of Dr. K.M. Munshi", is, in our opinion, a serious defect. An historian will not be discharging his professional scholarly duty properly if he allowed himself to be influenced by the standpoint of a particular section of a community, whatever its antiquity and sanctity. We cannot, therefore, reconstruct dynastic histories for the protohistoric period in the history of India on the basis of the repeatedly revised and thoroughly brahmanised myths and stories narrated in the Purdnas compiled during the Brahmanical rule of the Gupta dynasty. Most of these legends and myths seek to glorify either a cult of obscure origin recently adopted by Brahmanism or to furnish a noble pedigree, decorated with folklore, to Aryan tribal chiefs and their priests. The historical value of the Puranaic literature can be realized in modern works on history only when it is studied in the light of archaeological finds and the reports of Jaina and Buddhist literature. The "Traditional History from the Earliest Time to the Accession of Parikshit" published in The Vedic Age (pp. 271-322), based as it is, on the traditional, i.e. Brahmanical, account of the Purii1)as, is not a trustworthy history of pre-Buddhist India. A work which invents such incredible chronology, as for example, "Yayati Period (C. 3000-2750)", "Mandhatri Period (C. 2750-2-550 B.C.)", "Parasurama Period (C.2550-2350 B.C.)", "Ramachandra Period (C. 2350-1950 B.C.)", and which places the Bharata battle in "C. 1400 B.C." (The Vedic Age, p. 16), can only be said to have set its back against the concrete evidence of Harappan archaeology. Most of the Indian historians are still living under the shadow of the sacred tradition of brahmana chroniclers of early medieval India.

The fact that extremely little is said in the Brahmanical sources about non-Brahmanical people and cultures makes our task difficult. Certain races and tribes are repeatedly mentioned in Brahmanical sources, from the Rgveda onwards, as enemies of the Aryan gods and men. They were certainly non-Aryan people ethnically, culturally and linguistically. The Rgveda refers to them as Dasas and Dasyus of krsnatvac, 'black skin', and of mrdhravac, 'hostile speech'. The view that they were mythical beings does not carry conviction. There is no good ground to believe that the 'demons', 'goblins' and 'devils' of traditional literature were non-human and fanciful creatures. F.E. Pargiter's statement deserves reproduction in this context. "There are", states he, "abundant indications that India contained many folk of rude culture or aboriginal stock, such as Nisadas, Dasas and Pulindas. Powerful races of hostile character are often mentioned, such as Danavas, Daityas, Raksasas, Nagas and Dasyus. Some of these were partially civilized, while others were rude and savage and were sometimes cannibals. Those races were reduced to subjection and their barbarous practices were repressed; and, as they came under the influence of Aryan civilization, those names became opporobrious, until at length they ceased to possess any ethnological force and turned into purely evil appellations, just like the word asura, and all became synonymous with the meaning 'demon'. This process had gone on continuously; thus Pisaca was originally the name of a tribe and ultimately turned to mean an impish goblin" (Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, 1922, reprinted, Delhi, 1962, p. 290).

It is to be noted that Pargiter wrote these lines at a time when almost nothing was known about the Harappan Culture and when the Aryans were considered a civilizing people. It is now acknowledged that the Dasas, Dasyus and Nisadas had a civilization and culture superior to that of the Aryans. The meaning 'demon' seems to have been rooted in the Aryans's disapproval of or hatred for the non-Aryan's speech and culture. Let us not forget that the brahmanas did not hesitate to refer to Buddhists and Jainas as asuras or 'demons'. But unlike the Buddhists, the Nisadas left no literary documents which would have testified to their civilization.

The historical period begins to shed its light in the sixth century B.C. At this time we hear of the Achaemenian invasion in the Punjab under the leadership of Cyrus. While in the north-east Sakyamuni and Mahavira were preaching the message of peace and non-violence, in the north-west the Aryans of Persia or the Iranians under Darius were spreading terror and slaughter in Gandhara and Sindh. About the same time the people of Northern India began to manufacture a fine variety of Pottery; the archaeologists have given it the name of Northern Black Polished Ware. A Few sherds of it have been found from Takasila. Also in the sixth century B.C. we find Taksasila University emerging as a great seat of secular learning and education. Not only this university attracted scholars from Madhyadesa but the kings of Gandhar also maintained regular friendly contacts with east Indian monarchs.




  Foreword v
  Generall Editor's Note vii
  Preface ix
Ancient Punjab, 1: The Harappan Culture, 2: The Tradition of The Aryans, 9: Pre-Aryan and Non-Aryan Legacy,12.
I Ancient Geography of the Punjab 25
II Pre-historic and Proto-Historic Punjab 46
III The Coming of Aryans and their Expansion 61
IV Religion and Society in the Rgvedic Age 78
V Religion and Philosophy in the Later Vedic Age 94
VI Social and Economic Conditions in the Later Vedic Age 108
VII Monarchies and Oligarchies in the Latter Vedic Age 120
VIII Political and Legal Institutions in the Later Vedic Age 128
IX Vedic Language and Literature 140
X The Institution of Four Stages (Asramas) 158
XI The Punjab as Reflected in the Epics 167
XII Buddhism in the Punjab 188
XIII The Persian Invasion 204
XIV The Mecedonian Invasion 222
XV The Punjab Under Candragupta maurya 255
XVI The Punjab Under Emperor Asoka 282
Appendix A Sanghol and Dholbaha 300
Appendix B The Republican Tradition of Ancient Punjab 309
Appendix C The Takasila Centre of Education 314
  Our Contributors 319
  Bibilography 321
  Index 329

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