The Ancient Indus and Dravidian Cultural Relationship

The Ancient Indus and Dravidian Cultural Relationship

Q: How do you conceive of the relationship between the Indus culture that existed five thousand years ago and contemporary Dravidian culture here in South India? Prof. Dani, for example, says that doesn't believe that the Indus language was Dravidian because there is just not enough cultural continuity between what is today in South India and what was then in the Indus Valley.

A: I think any direct relationship between the Indus Valley and the deep Dravidian south is unlikely because of the vast gap in space and time. Something like 2,000 years and 2,000 miles. But linguistically, if the Indus script is deciphered, we may hopefully find that the proto-Dravidian roots of the Harappan language and South Indian Dravidian languages are similar. This is a hypothesis.

If you ask what similarity is likely to emerge, the first and most important similarity is linguistic. Culturally, there is a problem. The modern speakers of Dravidian languages are the result of millennia long intermixture of races. There are no Aryans in India, nor are there any Dravidians. Those who talk about Dravidians in the political sense, I do not agree with them at all.

There are no Dravidian people or Aryan people - just like both Pakistanis and Indians are racially very similar. We are both the product of a very long period of intermarriage, there have been migrations. You cannot now racially segregate any element of the Indian population. Thus there is no sense in saying that the people in Tamil Nadu are the inheritors of the Indus Valley culture. You could very well say that people living in Harappa or Mohenjo-daro today are even more likely to be the inheritors of that civilization.

In fact, I plow a somewhat lonely furrow in this. I often say that if the key to the Indus script linguistically is Dravidian, then culturally the key to the Indus script is Vedic. What I mean is that the cultural traits of the Indus Valley civilization are likely to have been absorbed by the successor Indo-Aryan civilization in Punjab and Sindh, and that the civilization in the far south would have changed out of recognition. In any case, the present South Indian civilization is already the product of both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian cultures, and the language itself is completely mixed up with both elements. Tamil alone retains most of the earlier Dravidian linguistic structure. Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada have become Indo-Aryanized much more, and culturally, the Hindu religion is a complete combination of all these elements. Therefore while it is legitimate to look for survivals, those survivals are as likely to be found in the RgVeda as in Purananuru, a Tamil work, as likely to be found in Punjab and Sindh as in India and Sri Lanka. So we have to separate our approach of a linguistic connection where it is permissible to construct proto-languages and try to decipher a language, but if you are looking at the survival of cultural and social traits of Harappan civilization they are likely to be all over the subcontinent, overlaid with centuries of transformation in culture and of language. Some of the myths may survive but may become unrecognizable. It is not a very easy or straightforward relationship that you can trace, it is a tangle.

Q: What about the man and bull festival we were discussing, the seal impressions, where you have a man mounting a bull and then yes, here we have [ancient] traditions in the neighborhood.

A: One of the cultural traits in the Indus Valley is that they had the bull fight. Some famous sealing show a man running towards a bull, catching hold of its horns, doing a somersault over the back of the bull, and landing at the other end. Even today in the Dravidian south bull fighting and bull chasing are very common sports. Yesterday, Tamil Nadu had this year's bull festivals where young men in the villages chase bulls and get hurt in the process. This is an assertion of their manhood and they can claim the hands of the fair maiden only after they are able to get hold of the horns of the bull and prove their heroism. This is very likely to be one of the traits which connect the Dravidian south with the Indus Valley. But such traditions are also known, for example, in Spain and in Portugal and the Iberian peninsula. There may well be a pre-historic connection between these very similar cults.