In “A battle about history” (Mint, 23 May), T.R. Ramaswami said certain dates for the Mahabharat war were suppressed and the Pandavs and Kauravs were outsiders, and even suggested that the Mahabharat and Ramayan took place outside India.
The article, highly supportive of the invasion theory, which historians such as Romila Thapar reject, asked that the DNA of north Indians be compared with that of those living in West Asia and Europe. In fact, we should also consider the genetic difference between caste and tribal groups in India and between Indo-European (IE) speakers and Dravidian speakers because that, besides clearing doubts about our ancestry, will also indicate whether Ram was a Cossack or Valmiki was a Russian.
We are in luck — there are studies doing precisely this. Genetic studies involving both paternal and maternal lineages have compared a large number of Indian samples against data from West/East/South-East/Central Asia, Europe and the Near East for genetic distance. Two studies disclose that southern castes and tribes are similar to each other and their gene pool is related to the castes of north India. It was not possible to confirm any difference between the caste and tribal pools or find a clear delineation between Dravidian and IE speakers. There was neither a north-south gradient, nor a language-based gradient.
On the ancestry of Indian populations, research says there is no need to look beyond the borders of South Asia for the paternal heritage of a majority of Indians since the time agriculture began. Also, there is no evidence of people coming through the north-west corridor in massive numbers, indicating a South Asian origin for the Indian caste communities (and not a Central Asian one). And, there is recent shared ancestry between Central Asians and Indians, but it is explained by diffusion of Indian lineages northwards, which means some Indians went to Central Asia and got lucky.
If there was no massive Central Asian incursion, how do you explain the linguistic connection between the Elamite and Dravidian populations? In fact, some Western-Eurasian maternal DNA groups were found among Indian populations providing evidence of this. Investigating when this group of Indians branched off from the Western Europeans, a date of 9300+/-3000 years before present was found — this is nowhere close to the dates (1500-1200 BC) of the massive Aryan migration/invasion suggested by proponents of that theory.
This time frame has historical significance. The earliest South Asian farming community in Mehrgarh, at the foot of the Bolan Pass in the Baluchistan region, is dated between 7000 BC and 5500 BC. Mehrgarh, which is in the company of other early settlements such as Çatalhöyük, Jarmo and Jericho, was five times larger than the site at Çatalhöyük and existed two millennia before the Sumerians settled in Babylon.
Genetic data matches the theory of continuity from the settlements of Mehrgarh in 6000 BC to the Harappan civilization. Lack of evidence for the invasion around 1500 BC suggests that IE speakers reached India much before the fictional date and were not foreigners by the time the Vedas were composed. So, vedic people were possibly native to South Asia for several millennia and derived Sanskrit from earlier IE dialects.
Ramaswami said the Ramayan and Mahabharat probably happened outside India and “their stories have come...as oral histories through the horse-people, which were...refined to suit cultural and later ethnic, social and political agendas”. Yet, no other civilization in the world of that age remembers the two epics, which suggests a massive amnesia in Central/West Asia, similar to the European plague. There could be a simpler explanation — the Ramayan and Mahabharat happened in India.
Jayakrishnan Nair writes at Varnam.org/blog and hosts the Indian History Carnival at Desipundit.com. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org