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Pageant of India's Past


S.R. Rao

A CULTURAL HISTORY OF INDIA
Edited by A.L. Basham
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 115.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 4 July-August 1977

A Cultural History of India is a series of articles by some well-known historians, archaeologists and linguists. In this volume they have made a critical appre­ciation of India's cultural life from the earliest times to the present day and packed it with information on a variety of subjects ranging from religion and philosophy to political and economic conditions in ancient and modern India. The book is divided in to four parts, namely, the Ancient Heritage, The Age of Muslim Dominance, Challenge and Response—The Coming of the West, and India and the World Outside. In his introduction, Basham has rightly emphasized the cultural contin­uity of India which is due to its vitality and the universal values it upholds. The only discordant note in his article is the overstress on the differences between the Aryan North and the Tamil South. If the Aryan-speaking invaders are Alpine, Armenoid and Caucasoid in their ethnic features as reported by anthropo­logists and endorsed by Basham, it should be noted that the Harappan population, too, comprised these ethnic groups and they observed religious rites such as fire worship and animal sacrifice which the Vedic Aryans also observed. B.B. Lal gives a vivid description of the Harappans in the Indus valley and Gujarat. The important contributions of Lothal and Kalibangan are highlighted. He has however not taken into account the unique contribution of the Indus Civilisation to world culture in disciplin­ing a semi-pictorial writing into an alphabetic system wherein the vowel­-value of consonantal signs was· indicated long before the Ancient Greeks. The peculiar feature of Indian scripts, namely the formation of conjunct consonants (samyukta aksharas) by combining two or more signs, noticed in Brahmi also, can be traced back to the Indus script. These findings have now been accepted by Indian and foreign epigraphists and linguists including D. Diringer, W.W. de Grummond, Barry Fell, P.B. Desai and B.Ch. Chhabra. Burrow's article on the Early Aryans repeats the discredited theory of the destruction of Indus cities by invading Aryans, although he himself admits that ‘the Aryan invasion of India is recorded in no written document and it cannot yet be traced archaeologically.’ He relies solely on comparative philology, but recent researches show that the Rigveda does not refer to destruction of cities. Wilhelm Rau observes: ‘The evidence to be gleaned from the foregoing passages concerning the meaning of purjpura, ...


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