Pre-Islamic Pakistan

A brief narrative about the pre-Islamic history of the regions that now constitute Pakistan. Since other than the presence of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, most Pakistanis know very little about this history, I thought it necessary to include narratives of all major civilizations and cultures who either settled into this religion or ruled over it as hegemonic foreigners. Therefore, this could only be the first post of a series, pausing at the rule of the Achaemenid Persians over a land that they named Hind. (My original intention was for a much briefer post, but then I couldn’t leave out details, interesting tidbits, that I felt are integral to the story of the region.):
1 – Riwat (1.9 million years ago): The earliest hand-made stone tools to have been found in South Asia were found in Rawat, a town close to modern Rawalpindi, in 1983. These tools were found not with fossils of humans, but with the fossils of another hominid species, the Homo erectus.
2 – Saonian Culture (500,000-150,000 BP): This Lower Paleolithic culture of the Homo erectus continued for almost 2 million years, and it gradually spread over a vast region from Northern Afghanistan to Nepal.
3 – Adivasis (75,000-50,000 BP): The earliest migrations of modern humans into South Asia. These are considered to be the ancestors of modern forest dwellers in India, and speakers of most of India’s 1600 languages. They gradually moved further eastwards into Southeast Asia, and around 40,000 years ago, reached Australia. An analysis of Y chromosome haplogroups actually found one man in a village West of Madurai to be a direct descendant of these migrators.
4 – Mehrgarh, Western Balochistan (7000-2000 BCE): Earliest human settlements in South Asia. For about 4000 years, these folks in Western Balochistan were the only ones in South Asia to engage in farming, cattle herding, pottery-making, and metallurgy. Presence of a large number of female figurines with large breasts suggests that they worshiped a mother/fertility goddess, (which is consistent with the religious culture of the time from Çatalhöyük (in modern Turkey) to Polynesia). They traded with their neighbors Elams in Eastern Iran and whoever mined lapis lazuli in Badakhshan in modern Tajikistan. Several stone axes have also been found in their settlements. They also practiced dentistry. In 2006, the scientific journal Nature announced that the oldest evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e. in a living person) have been found in Mehrgarh.
5 – Harappan/Indus Valley Civilization (2700-1300 BCE): They were the first ones in South Asia to use writing (probably borrowed from Mesopotamia), though we still haven’t deciphered their script. They manufactured bricks to the ratio of 4:2:1, used rulers divided into ten precise parts, and invented a mathematical system based on decimals. They seem to have been perfectly egalitarian: no signs of temples, palaces, weapons, or social hierarchy in their towns. Though judging from their astonishingly well-planned cities, we assume that there must have been some form of government. They were obsessed with cleaning, had large public baths, running water, bathrooms with flush toilets, and an underground drainage system (earliest and only such system in the world until the Roman times 1500 years later). They seem to have continued with the worship of mother/fertility goddess. And they created some astonishing art (these two strange avant-garde pieces are my favorites:……). Harappan towns have been excavated from Sindh to Gujarat in the East and Afghanistan in the Northwest. They were expert seafarers, and their trading network extended as far as Southern Turkmenistan and the coasts of Yemen. (Signs of possible settlement even in Australia.) We’re still not sure how and why this civilization ended; the two obvious culprits seem to be climate change and/or Indo-Aryans. As of now, the scholarly consensus is that they moved further East and are the ancestors of Dravidian civilizations of Southern India.
6 – Indo-Aryans (1500 BCE): The famous nomadic ancestors of most contemporary civilizations from Europe to Iran to India. They’re believed to have gradually migrated East from the Pontic-Caspian region to Central Asian steppes around 3000 BCE, and then into Northern Iran around 2000 BCE. Then they split into two groups: one of which moved East through the Western Himalayan mountains into Northern India (modern Pakistan) around 1500 BCE, and the other one South into Iran around 800 BCE. These are the authors of ancient Hindu Vedas, which are brilliant speculative treatises on the nature of god (and which makes Hinduism the oldest extant religion in the world). Rigvedas (1500 BCE), earliest of the 4 collections of Vedas, mention Sapta Sindhu (Sapta in Vedic Sanskrit means seven, and Sindhu means rivers), i.e. a land of 7 rivers, presumably Punjab (earliest mention of the word Sindhu, which in Avestan, i.e. ancient Persian, is pronounced Hapta Hindu, and later Persian scribes under Darius recorded the name of the land as Hind and its inhabitants Hindu). Though Hinduism, as it’s practiced now, developed during the next 1000 years with the gradual synthesis of Vedic and the native belief systems of Adivasis and Harappans/Dravidians. It is still argued if Indo-Aryan movements into India were acts of gradual migration or conquests. No signs of conquests have been found, though, curiously, the Harappan settlements did end around the same time these people came onto the scene, and moreover, their Vedas glorify weapons and warriors to an absurdly high degree, along with their warrior god Indra (Indra with his mace and lightening rods was an earlier prototype of Zeus), horses, chariots (they were the first ones to domesticate and ride horses, and invented horse-drawn chariots around 2000 BCE), and a curious intoxicating beverage called Soma (Avestan: Homa). In order to maintain their hegemony over the region, they rearranged the previously tripartite Indo-Aryan caste system to include a fourth lowest one for the indigenous population of India: Shudras. All of the major languages spoken in modern Pakistan and Northern India belong to the Indo-Aryan families of languages.
4 – Achaemenid Persians (550-330 BCE): Persians were Indo-Aryans who had moved into Central and Southern Iran around 8th century BCE. Up till then Elams had been the natives of the region, the native language of the region was Elamite, and along with Sumerians and Egyptians, Elams were the first ones to develop a writing system. Elams had a pantheon of gods headed by Kiririsha, which in Elamite means “the great goddess.” Susa and Anshan were the two major cities of the region. And both cities had been ruled by the native Elams since at least 2700 BCE (with periodic conquests by Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians). Persians introduced Zoroastrianism into the region. They somehow managed to take over the city of Anshan from the Elams in the 7th century BCE. Kūrosh (Cyrus) the Great became the Achaemenid king in 559 BCE, and moved onto create the grandest empire the world had yet seen. According to Herodotus, Cyrus first overthrew the Median kingdom (though no evidence of a Median empire has yet been found through archeology), then moved on to conquer the Lydian kingdom in Anatolia (modern Turkey) from the richest man in the world Croesus (possible source of Qarun in Qur’an and the fables of Qarun’s treasure: Qarun ka khazana). Also, Lydians had recently invented this thing called coins. Then Cyrus took over Susa from the Elams, followed by the grandest city in the world, Babylon. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus anointed himself “the ruler of the 4 corners of the world,” and famously liberated Jews to move back from Babylon to Levant. Cyrus died fighting Sakas (Scythians) in Central Asia, and at least according to Herodotus, their warrior empress Tomyris made a drinking vessel out of Cyrus’ head. Cyrus’ son, the mad king Kambūjiya (Cambyses II), conquered Egypt. It was Cambyses II’s successor and nephew, Darius, who conquered the modern regions of Afghanistan, Punjab, and Sindh. Darius then appointed a Greek geographer, Scylax of Caryanda, to explore the coastline of his vast Persian empire: from the mouth of the Indus to Suez in Egypt.

Leave a Comment

Log in