harking back : Myths and facts of the beginnings of Lahore

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, June 8, 2014


An abiding question about the history of Lahore is just when did the first man come here. That the city was named after ‘Loh’ or ‘Lava’, son of Rama and Sita, the rulers of Ayodha and the central characters of Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’ is before us. What existed before them?

In this piece it is my intention to put forth, briefly, both the scientific and the folklore. This brings forth the basic question: “When and where were the first traces of human habitation found in the Indian sub-continent?” According to leading anthropologists, the very first ‘homo erectus’ (erect man) has been carbon dated as living between the Indus and the Ravi over 500,000 years ago. This is a scientifically verifiable fact.

These findings, by numerous researchers, were made in the Soan Valley, east of the River Indus and west of the River Ravi. The largest cache of ‘bone-flakes’ were found in the Chakwal foothills, with smaller samples running all the way in the foothills of Poonch and Jammu.

Similar samples have also been found in central India, more so in the coastal areas, but then their carbon dating shows them of a much later period. This means that in the land now called Pakistan, or in the Indus Valley, the first ‘homo sapiens’(wise man) appear almost 12,000 years ago to start living in planned colonies.

From this basic ‘accepted verifiable truth’, at least so far, let us move back to the story over the ‘Ages’ of how the ices melted, allowing humans to live in a planned fashion.The First Ice Age saw humans migrate, and it seems they moved from South India. This was ‘early man’ just half a million years ago. The 2nd and 3rd Ice Ages show us these ‘homo sapiens’ using stone, pebble and coral tools, with the last type indicating a coastal people.

By the time the 4th Ice Age was on we enter the ‘Paleolithic age’ where flint tools mean fire was known. In the Neolithic Age humans were domesticating animals, using pottery, making skillful use of fire, and developing cultivation. Man as we know them today had arrived.

In all the excavation in Pakistan, the Baluchistan excavations at various places show the earliest planned cities existing over 9,000-11,000 years ago. This is the southern-most point of Pakistan and they evolved as ‘planned city dwellers’ first. With the arrival of the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age, and with the ices melting rapidly northwards, the Indus Valley opened up, including Mohenjo-Daro, then Harappa, then Taxila and further up the Swat Valleys.

The very first civilisation of the sub-continent, from Baluchistan to Swat, was in place. Beliefs aside, this is the true foundation of modern Pakistan.

The Ganges Civilisation came much later, and in between, surely, came up Lahore, almost 8,500 years ago. On the sacred mounds of Indra along the Iravati, from where the word ‘Ravi’ comes, the first mud houses surely came up, safe from the annual floods. The excavation in 1952 inside the Lahore Fort, now kept secret, point in that direction.

Mind you in South India where the Ices had melted fast, ‘homo sapiens’ set up their own towns. This is when the Dravidians moved westward along the coast. Evidence of this can be seen even today in the Brahni language of Baluchistan which has Dravidian origins as opposed to other Indus Valley languages with Aryan origins.

At this point we must dwell, in this very short piece, on the racial origin of our people. Mind you today no people exist in their pure racial form.

The very first people to appear were of ‘negrito’ origin. The language structure of the Makran clearly shows this. They were followed by what is known as the ‘proto-Australoid’ people, coming up the east to the mountains of Assam and then Kashmir.

The Kashmiri language, as is the Khmer language, is remarkably similar to the aboriginal Australian language in structure. New research shows these people splitting into two groups, one moving westward to Australia and the other northward.

By this time the ‘Mongoloids’ were moving southwards along the mountains of Tibet and Bhutan. But the major inflow was of what is scientifically called the ‘Mediterranean’ people who came from the west and they formed the Dravidian language.

In terms of language structures, the Alpine-Armenian people came to Gujarat and Orissa, while the last wave of Nordic people came from the north-west to the Indus Valley. Their language is what is captured in the ‘Vedas’, and we the people of Lahore are off-shoots of a mix of all these, depending on how our ancestors interacted.

Now to myth and belief. The very first mention of Rama and Sita was made by the poetic epic by the Punjabi poet Valmiki in his ‘Ramayana’. Hindus believe that he was Sanskrit’s ‘adi kavi’ - the first poet. Historically he lived between 500 BC to 100 BC.

Many Hindus believe Rama and Sita lived 1.25 million years ago, and was a Hindu deity not a human. They also, amazingly, believe Valmiki was his friend.

Inside the Lahore Fort is the temple of ‘Loh’ or ‘Lava’, after whom Lahore has been named. It is believed that some ashes of the prince once lay here. There is no evidence, verbal or printed, of this ever happening.

That is a separate story worth narrating. Valmiki belonged to Punjab and wrote this great epic on the banks of the River Ravi almost 2,250 years ago. Since then the epic has evolved in various forms, in the shape of ‘Vars’, changing all the time in terms of languages, characters and religions. It is almost like the endless story of Lahore.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2014




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