Fellow blogger V.V.S. Sarma has researched and written the following article:
From Udyana, the Seat of Rig-Veda, to the Present Swat Valley in Pakistan under Taliban Control
By V. V. S. Sarma
Sadguru Sri Sivananda Murty, an eminent scholar and a well known spiritual leader in Andhra Pradesh hosted the tenth annual Vedic conference at Bheemunipatnam, Vizag District on 12th April 2009. For ten successive years, he has been hosting/sponsoring this important event, wherein not only the Vedic Pandits are honoured but young students of Vedas are also honoured and given certificates.
The Sabha witnessed crisp group chanting of portions from all the four Vedas. Guruji explained that Vedas are important for the unity of the country and stressed the important role played by Andhra in preserving that tradition. He shook everyone when he mentioned that the present land of Taliban (SWAT valley) was called the Brahmin Vatika!
Later, when asked for the reason for such a downfall, he answered, “Brahmins can only dedicate themselves to Vedas. Theirs is a life of total commitment to a singular cause. They cannot protect themselves. They have to be protected. When kshatra dharma left us, things collapsed.” This input prompted me to explore the history of the place.
The Hindu Kush Mountain Range
The name ‘Hindu Kush’ of the mountain range in Eastern Afghanistan means in Persian ‘Hindu Slaughter’ or ‘Hindu Killer’. History also reveals that until 1000 A.D. the area of Hindu Kush was a full part of the Hindu cradle. More likely, the mountain range was deliberately named as ‘Hindu Slaughter’ by the Moslem conquerors, as a lesson to the future generations of Indians. However Indians in general and Hindus in particular are completely oblivious to this tragic genocide.
The Hindu Kush is a mountain system nearly 1000 miles long and 200 miles wide, running northeast to southwest, and dividing the Amu Darya River Valley and Indus River Valley. It stretches from the Pamir Plateau near Gilgit, to Iran. The Hindu Kush ranges mainly run through Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has over two dozen summits of more than 23,000 ft in height. Below the snowy peaks the mountains of Hindu Kush appear bare, stony and poor in vegetation.
Historically, the passes across the Hindu Kush have been of great military significance, providing access to the northern plains of India. The Khyber Pass constitutes an important strategic gateway and offers a comparatively easy route to the plains of Punjab. Most foreign invaders, starting from Alexander in 327 BC, to Timur Lane in 1398 AD, and from Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1001 AD, to Nader Shah in 1739 AD attacked Hindustan via the Khyber Pass and other passes in the Hindu Kush. The Hindu name of the Hindu Kush Mountains was ‘Paariyaatra Parvat’.
History of the Swat Valley
Swat is a valley and an administrative district in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) located 160 km/100 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It is present in the Hindukush range, in the Pakistan area. The Swat River originates in the Hindu Kush and is a tributary of the Kabul River in the Peshawar valley. Swat Valley is located between POK and Afghanistan to the North of Pakistan’s Punjab province. In December 2008 most of the area was captured by the Taliban insurgency and is now considered too dangerous for tourism.
The Swat River is mentioned in the Rig Veda 8.19.37 as the Suvāstu River. Suvāstu, literally means that the river is an ideal location on which human settlements can be made. This opinion is expressed by Kumkum Roy, professor of ancient Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the author of “Historical Dictionary of Ancient India”. Centuries later, the scenic river, which flows from the majestic Hindu Kush Mountains, is a magnet for Pakistani tourists who love to flaunt the Swat valley as the Switzerland of Pakistan.
Swat has been inhabited for over two thousand years and was known in ancient times as the Udyana. It is fair to assume that the people of Swat are of Vedic Aryans. The first inhabitants were settled in well-planned towns. In 327 BC, Alexander fought his way to Udegram and Barikot. In Greek accounts these towns have been identified as Ora and Bazira. By 305 BC, the region became a part of the Mauryan Empire (or it may be Gupta Empire as per the more recent understanding).
Rig Vedic Heritage of Swat
Western Historians generally give a date of 2000 – 300 BCE to the Vedic age. Indians cannot accept this date based on several reasons. If Prophet Mohammed (570-663 CE) was before 1400 years, Jesus Christ was before 2000 years and Gautama Buddha (566 – 486 BCE) was before 2500 years, Vedas should be much before that as the Buddha had condemned Vedic rituals involving animal sacrifice prevalent in his time.
The Mahabharata war was dated to be at about 3100 BCE based on astronomical data in the epic itself and the date of classification of Vedas by Vyasa also coincides with it as also the traditional count of Kali era.
Burjor Avari in his 2007 book on the History of ancient India starts with the following axioms on Vedic era
• There was no Aryan invasion of India, the invasion theory has been thoroughly discredited.
• There were migrations of nomadic people speaking Indo-European language from Iran and Afghanistan, who called themselves Arya or noble.
• The Indo-Aryan Vedic culture undoubtedly developed uniquely in India itself over the last four millennia
• Rigveda is the oldest and key text and with the other three Vedas and complementary texts tell us about the Vedic Hindu religion.
• Indo-Aryans expanded to the Ganga basin and the whole area may have been called Aryavarta
• The political entities are called the sixteen mahajanapadas
These are somewhat better assumptions than the older ones but the timescale and the unidirectional movements of Aryans from the West to the East are still debatable issues. We present the narration of Burjor Avari.
In the Rig-Vedic period, there are two major Aryan areas: one was from Kabul towards the east stretching up to Peshawar. From this area migrations after crossing several rivers towards Swat valley and Punjab might have taken place in around 1700 BCE (?) or much earlier. (Dates up to 6000 BCE have been suggested for the Rig-Veda.) The area Sapta-Sindhava mentioned in Rigveda might be this area.
The other important area was from Kandahar to Quetta via the Bolan Pass. Verses in Rig-Veda only vaguely suggest the pre-Indian past, if any, stretching up to Iran. Swat valley is considered by most scholars as the seat of Rig Vedic civilization. Natural features and scenes depicted in Rig-Vedic hymns most closely match geographical reality of the Swat valley. Archeologists also observe the cremation remains in urns only after 1700 BC in this area as distinct from only burials in other areas and the style of pottery also has changed.
Among Yadu, Turvasa, Anu, Druhyu and Puru dynasties or clans, Purus dominated and Bharata belonged to this clan. From 900 BC onward the Aryan world shifted to Madhyadesa from the Saraswati to the Ganga and this was considered the Ramayana and the Mahabharata periods. The wars with Dasyus described in Rig-Veda cannot be with Harappans. This view is true because Rig-Veda must be much older than Harappa. (Comment: The Western view corresponding to 1700 BC for Rig-Veda may be grossly incorrect)
Rig-Veda describes the glory of the Sarasvati in many hymns. It sustained the Vedic civilization. The river must have irrigated 7000 square miles of what is now a desert in Rajasthan (Murthy, 1980) The “Sapta-Sindhu” denotes a group of seven chief rivers of uncertain or fluctuating identification (See Fig. 1). There are several rivers in the area.
Identification of Rig-Vedic Rivers is the single most important way of establishing the geography of the early Vedic civilization. Rivers with certain identifications stretch from eastern Afghanistan to the western Gangetic plain, clustering in the Punjab. A number of names can be shown to have been re-applied to other rivers as the center of Rig Vedic culture moved. It is only possible to establish a clear picture for the latest phase of the Rig-Veda, thanks to the Nadistuti sukta, which contains a geographically ordered list of rivers.
The most prominent river of the early Rig-Veda is the Sarasvati losing its prominence to the Indus in the late Rigveda. The reason for this is mostly ascribed to the movement of Vedic Aryans from out of their early seats in Gandhara and eastern Afghanistan into the Indus valley. It is disputed whether the loss of prominence of the Sarasvati is due to the drying up of the Ghaggar-Hakra.
But in the earlier Rig Vedic hymns, the Saraswati is the most prominent river of all and if one subscribes to the Saraswati as the Ghagghar-Hakra system which might have earlier included the Yamuna and some major present-day feeders of the Indus, one could not be very much off the mark in considering the Saraswati as the most prominent river-system at that time.
Rivers have been known to have changed their courses in the Indian subcontinent and satellite photos have proved that. This would also negate the theory that the centre of Rig Vedic culture moved from the west to the east and it would also mean that the Rig Vedic culture encompassed a much larger area.
Northwestern Rivers (western tributaries of the Indus): Trstama (Gilgit), Susartu, Anitabha, Rasa, Sveti, Kubha (Kabul River), Kruma (Kurrum), Gomati (Gomal), Sarayu, Mehatnu, Svetyavari, Prayiyu (Bara), Vayiyu, Suvastu (Swat), Ghandari (hapax legomenon in RV 8.19.37) Gauri (Panjkora), Kusava (Kunar) (Note: A hapax legomenon is a word, which occurs only once in either the written record of a language, the works of an author, or in a single text.)
The Indus and its minor eastern tributaries: Sindhu (Indus; in the earlier hymns, sindhu means “stream” generically), Susoma (Sohan) and Arjikiya (Haro)
Central Rivers (rivers of the Punjab): Vitasta (Jhelum), Asikni (Chenab). Parusni (Ravi), Vipasa (Beas). Satadru (Sutlej) and Marudvrdha
East-central Rivers (rivers of Haryana): late Sarasvati (Ghaggar), the early Sarasvati is more often identified with the Helamand , or classified as of unknown identification; late and post-Rig-Vedic Sarasvati is both a mystical and invisible river), Drsadvati, Apaya (both hepax legomenon in RV 3.23.4)
Around the 2nd century BC, the area was ruled by the Kushans, who became Buddhists. They were attracted by the peace and serenity of the land. Swat is thought to be the probable birthplace of Vajrayana Buddhism. There are many archaeological sites in the district, and Buddhist relics are common bearing testimony to their skills as sculptors and architects.
Padmasambhava (flourished eighth century AD), also called Guru Rimpoche, Tibetan teacher, was a legendary Indian Buddhistic Mystic, who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet and was credited with establishing the first Buddhist Monastery there. According to tradition, Padmasambhava was native to Udyana (now Swat in Pakistan). Padmasambhava was the son of Indrabhuti, king of Swat in the early eighth century AD.
One of the original Siddhas, Indrabhuti flourished in the early eighth century AD and was the king of Udyana in North Western India (identified with the Swat valley). His son Padmasambhava is revered as the second Buddha in Tibet. Indrabhuti’s sister Lakshminkaradevi, was also an accomplished siddha of the 9th century AD
Ancient Gandhara, the valley of Peshawar, with the adjacent hilly regions of Swat and Buner, Dir and Bajaur was one of the earliest centers of Buddhism following the reign of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, in the third century BCE. The name Gandhara first occurs in the Rigveda which is identified with the region. The Swat museum has acquired footprints of the Buddha, which were originally placed for worship in the sacred Swat valley. When the Buddha ascended, relics (personal items, body parts, ashes etc.) were distributed to seven kings, who built stupas over them for veneration.
The Harmarajika stupa (Takshasila now called Taxila) and Butkarha (Swat) stupa at Jamal Garha were among the earliest Gandhara stupas. These were said to be erected on the orders of King Ashoka and contained the genuine relics of the historic Buddha. The Gandhara School is credited with the first representations of the Buddha in human form, rather symbolically as the wheel of the law, the tree, etc.
Takshasila is near the birth place of the Sanskrit Grammarian Panini. Sadguru Sivananda Murty states that “the Swat region played very vital role in shaping our Vedic tradition and literature. Panini and Patanjali are more recent phenomena as against the period of the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads which have come before the Sastras. This literature can be considered as extensive commentaries on Vedic Rks.
The region from Mesopotamia to Punjab was a very rich Aryan region extending to the Gangetic plains up to Ayodhya which we roughly call Aryavarta. You may trace the history of Sanskrit literature from the Vedas to the Sastras and Puranas in this Aryavarta. The Vedic land towards North West of India is totally Talibanised and extending its devastation to the east to capture the centre of the Aryaavarta.”
Hindu Shahi Rulers and Sanskrit
After the decline of Buddhism, Hinduism reasserted itself and Swat was wholly Hindu till the 11th century attacks of Muhammad of Ghazni. Swat was ruled by the Hindu Shahi dynasty prior to that who has built an extensive array of temples and other architectural buildings now in ruins. Then Sanskrit was the language of the Swat people. They were using the Sarda script for Sanskrit, which was also commonly used in Kashmir. The inscriptions of the days of Jay Pal Dev, found from the archaeological remains at Barikot, find a mention in book “The Pathans”. The inscriptions are in Sarda alphabet, written in Sanskrit”.
Ram Takht (Ram’s throne)
Ram Takht in Swat is one of the sacred places of Hinduism. It is only second to the Amarnath Cave regarding its sacredness and sanctity. Ram Takht is situated on the top of Mount Elum at an altitude of 9200 feet above sea level. This point is called Jogyano Sar (yogi peak). The dune of Barikot which is also famous for its sacred ruins is visible from here towards the North-West.
The Hindus believe that Ram Chandraji Maharajah spent three years of his Vanavasa (jungle life) here. The Hindu pilgrims visit this place once a year in first day of Sawan, to pray, worship and seek unity with Almighty. A holy spring flows near Ram Takht where most of the yogis came to seek union with the divine entity.
The ruins at Jogyano Sar clearly manifest that it was a hub of religious activities in the past where yogis resided in monasteries with austerity to meditate and contemplate on nature and its Creator. The vagaries of time have taken its toll and destroyed the places of worship today but some people say that all the monasteries were razed to the ground by the first Muslim ruler of Swat.
Ram Takht has also been demolished by treasure hunters in the hope of acquiring ancient treasures. Toorda Pacha whose family has resided here since time immemorial says that one of the yogis was killed by a nomad in the hope acquiring wealth. Later the nomad lost his sanity and his whole family disappeared mysteriously from the place. Ram Takht can be accessed through different routes of Karakar, Char, Dokada, Bezo Sar, Amlokdara and Murghazar. One can reach the place in five hours from Murghazar easily. Several cool streams adore the way while most of the dense forest has been chopped down by timber mafia. The way is well treaded and there is no fear of straying away. The exotic valley of Swat and the holy district of Buner are the spectacular panoramas visible from Ram Takht.
Political Development in 2009
In a stated attempt at bringing peace to this region, the Pakistani Government on 16th February 2009, signed a peace accord with the Taliban and agreed to the imposition of Sharia law in Swat and suspension of military offensives against the Taliban. Celebrated in the Hindu scriptures as ‘Udyan’ (garden), it’s a stunningly picturesque place where the Buddha once walked, cultures intersected, poets sang and mystics came in search of peace.
But, sadly, Swat valley in northwest Pakistan has now become synonymous with unrest, bloodshed and Talibanisation. Not many know that the Swat valley, which is in the news now for the local government’s much-criticized peace deal that allows the Taliban to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in return for surrendering arms, has an unbroken history of over 2,000 years that has seen many religions and civilizations come and go.
From Vedic Rishis through Padma Sambhava in the foot steps of the Buddha, then Muhammad of Ghazni to Jinnah and now to the likes of Osama Bin Laden, what a fall it has been from the point of view a Hindu in the last one thousand years. I cannot even dare to imagine what the complementary view of an Islamist would be.
Indian security analysts give dire warnings to us on the recent developments in the vicinity of Hindukush. Security analyst Upadhyay warns “Hindu Kush is still displaying the legacy of its Persian name. Against the backdrop of the complex situation, the need arises for India to evolve its independent strategy to calibrate the geopolitical alignments and shore up its political and strategic assets in the war torn Hindu Kush and defend itself from the on going civilization onslaught from the Arabian ideology of jihad.
There is a need to check the substantial funding from oil earned Arabian fund earmarked for jakat for propagation of radical Islam in India which provides a congenial atmosphere for the growth of home grown terrorists.” Another security expert B. Raman says “Like the Neo-Taliban of Afghanistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has evolved in less than a year from a bunch of suicide bombers to a conventional army capable of set-piece, stand and fight battles with the Pakistani Army and Para-military forces.
This conversion has been facilitated by the recruitment of a large number of retired Pashtun ex-servicemen living in the Pashtun tribal belt in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Swat Valley and the Buner District, less than a hundred km from Islamabad, which was occupied by the TTP without any resistance from the local security forces, form part of the Malakand Division.”
Burjor Avari, 2007, India: The Ancient Past, Routledge, A division of Taylor & Francis, London.
Kak, Subhash, The Mahabharata and the Sindhu-Saraswati Tradition, in URL http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/MahabharataII.pdf
Upadhyay R., THE JIHADI STATE OF HINDU KUSH – A challenge to India’s security, SAAG – SOUTH ASIA ANALYSIS GROUP, Paper 3018 – Date 19-Jan-2009
Murthy, S. R. N., 1980, The Vedic River Saraswati, A Myth or Fact – A Geological Approach, Indian Journal of History of Science, 15 (2), November pp. 189-192
Raman, B. K. Taliban: From A Bunch Of Suicide Bombers To A Conventional Army — International Terrorism Monitor — Paper No 3161 SAAG – SOUTH ASIA ANALYSIS GROUP, Paper 3018 – Date 24-Apr-2009