Sunday, September 27, 2009

Indus motif found at Edakkal throws a little light on Kerala’s past

The Mathrubhumi, in its editions dated September 22, reported that signs and characters which point to links with the Indus Valley Civilization have been found in the Edakkal Cave in the Wayanad district.

The reporter, Vimal Kottakkal, said they were found during excavations by the Kerala government’s department of archaeology. Similar signs had been found in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka earlier, but this was the first time they had been found in Kerala.

He also said Dr. M. R. Raghava Varier, who had studied the Edakkal find, had confirmed the presence of Indus motif

Evidently the find is important because it throws a little light on our past, which has been obliterated with cock-and-bull stories built around mythological characters like Parasurama and Vamana. But it does not seem to have evoked much interest in the State.

The Hindu followed up the Mathrubhumi story. “Sign akin to Indus Valley found in Kerala”, said a Malappuram report in the paper yesterday. To day it carried a report from T.S. Subramaniam in Chenna under the headline “Edakkal engraving a unique find”.

Subramaniam, who talked to Iravatham Mahadevan, a scholar on the Indus seals and the ancient Tamil Brahmi script, said he had congratulated Dr. Varier and his colleagues on this ‘major discovery’.

The Edakkal Cave has been attracting tourists in recent years. A write-up in the Bloggerbase website says the cave was discovered by Fred Fawcett, a police superintendent, who was a pre-history enthusiast.

According to Vimal Kottakkal, Faucett studied the cave drawings in 1901. With all his enthusiasm for pre-history, he could not have linked them to the Indus Valley Civilization, for that glorious chapter of the subcontinent’s past was unknown at the time. Englishmen, recreating India’s past with the help of followers of the Vedic tradition, had decided that there was nothing worthwhile outside the Rig Veda.

Since the middle of the 19th century Englishmen had been pulling down ancient structures to find material for laying rail tracks without bothering about history or archaeology. A British army officer, Alexander Cunningham, who was interested in archaeology, found a Harappan seal. He assessed rightly that it belonged to an ancient period but presumed wrongly that it was Brahmi writing. The discovery of more Harappan seals in the early part of the 20th century led the authorities to undertake extensive excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. It was not until 1930 that John Marshall unveiled the picture of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Fawcett suggested the Edakkal carvings might be the handiwork of the Kurumbar tribe of Wayanad. He wrote, "The curious reluctance of the Kurumbars to approach the Cave, combined with the simultaneous want of reverence for it both on the part of the Paniyas and the local Hindus, who are very small in numbers and not long resident in the Wayanad, might tempt one to hazard the theory as to the carvings being the handiwork of Kurumbars of a bygone day".

Some of the tribes of Kerala are among the oldest inhabitants of the subcontinent. The Paniyas find mention in the Rig Veda as one of the prosperous communities whose cows the Vedic tribes coveted. The Hindu establishment, dominated by followers of the Vedic tradition, is now trying to convince us that the hostile tribes quietly surrendered to the Vedic community and voluntarily accepted bondage.

Genome studies going on in India and abroad are yielding valuable information about the movement of people from the African continent to the far corners of the world over tens of thousands of years. They may not reveal much about the ancient tribes of Kerala, who appear to be part of a chain extending from Africa to Australia and the Pacific Islands because they do not figure much in them. The studies appear to cover only one tribe, the Kurichiyars.

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