Varanasi enjoys reputation of being one of the oldest living cities of the world. Recent archaeological findings, for instance, take the antiquity of this city contemporary to the Later Vedic period (about 1800 BCE). The cultural history of this city is woven with multi-layered composition of myths and folklores. Each important locality of the city has some mythology in its background, which seems to convey significant happening of the past. Myths have deep roots in our society, and sprout over the fertile cultural canvas of the past. The study of beliefs and socio-cultural messages inherent in these, thus is a promising line, capable of revealing roots of our civilization. Such a venture can be well tested on an old culturally-rich city like Varanasi.
A critical scrutiny of myths with a view to separating these from the other narratives, maybe possible when questions like—what is a myth? How is it different from a historical event? Through which process actual events get converted into myths?—are addressed. Also, whether there had been some scientific reason behind the prevalence of a belief, which has come to us since time immemorial? Is possible to dwell upon the utility of this mine of cultural information by the aid of scientific methods? Results of the interdisciplinary studies carried out recently, in Varanasi region, by application of archaeology, geology and remote-sensing methods, were supplemented by the views of renowned Indologists—Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and Prof. K.D. Tripathi, and scientists—Profs. T.R.V Murty, l3.D. Singh, P. Krishan and S.C. Lakhotia, in a seminar held at the Banaras Hindu University, in the year 2010. The present volume brings into print the proceedings of this seminar. The volume will be useful to historians, archaeologists, scientists and all who are interested in Indian culture and roots of civilization of South Asia.
An archaeologist and a teacher of repute, Professor Vidula Jayaswal, after superannuation from the Banaras Hindu University, where she served for more than four decades, is presently occupying the prestigious Prof. R.C. Sharma Chair of Archaeology and Art History, at Jãnna-Pravaha, Centre for Cultural Studies & Research, Varanasi. She has also sewed Archaeological Survey of India as Deputy Superintending Archaeologist for a short period. Recipient of various scholarships and fellowships, she received specialized training in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Berkeley.
Professor Jayaswal has not only carried out a number of archaeological and ethnological field studies, but has also been prompt in publishing the results. Author of over a dozen and a half books and research monographs, and about 70 research articles, Professor Jayaswal is known for her original contribution in Indian prehistory, ethnoarchaeology and interpretation of archaeological remains of the Historical period of the Middle Ganga Plain. Besides, she could also infuse scientific temper to the study of archaeology, through some major projects financed by the Ford Foundation (USA), and the Department of Science & Technology (Government of India), of which she has been the Principal Investigator and Coordinator. Her important publications include—The Palaeohistory of India; Paisra: The Stone Age Settlement of Bihar; The Kushan Clay Art; An Ethno-archaeological View of Indian Terracottas; Royal Temples of Gupta Period and Ancient Varanasi: An Archaeological Perspective. She has also edited the volumes—Glory of the Kushans: Recent Discoveries & Interpretations; Ancient Ceramic: Historical Inquiries and Scientific Approaches and Status of Prehistoric Studies in the Twenty-first Century in India.
It is for quite some years, that the focus of research of some of us, at the Banaras Hindu University, has been Varanasi, which enjoys reputation of being one of the oldest living cities of the world. Recent archaeological findings, for instance, take the antiquity of this city contemporary to the Later Vedic period (about 1800 BCE). While the geological and the remote sensing studies have demarcated palaeo-channels and ancient water bodies of the region, which are still older in time, and have governed the successive human settlements. While exchanging notes, we reached the conscientious that an interdisciplinary study of Varanasi is imperative for unfolding facets of the multi-layered format of this cultural centre of our country. A joint investigative programme, at small scale, was also initiated at Ramnagar, which was of mutual benefit. The inferences drawn in this venture directed us towards their similarities with the event narrated in some of the popular folklore and mythological stories. The possibility for examining the myths through scientific studies appeared a challenging, but useful line of investigation.
The story of ‘Ganga-avatarana in Varanasi’ is one such story which caught our attention. According to this story, which is told by Kevata (boat-men), while giving boatride to tourists “Ganga was not flowing here (Varanasi) in remote past. Anand-kanan was situated here, which was the abode of Lord Siva and his concert Parvati”. It is further, elaborated that... ‘in order to help men of Varanasi, the Lord blessed them by directing the river to flow from this very region’. This story, which is also recorded in the ancient texts, like the Kashi-khandah, suggests that there was a time when the river Ganga 14’as not flowing where it flows today. Recently conducted archaeo-geological investigations in Varanasi region appear to corroborate it. For, not only was there a time when the river was non-existent in this region, but, there had been geological events in the remote past, which framed the river Ganga to flow where it flows now. The enquiry which needs to be addressed, therefore, is whether the mythology of Ganga-avatarana is a remembrance of a very old geological incident? Or whether the two are absolutely unconnected with each other? If the geological event was at the base of the Ganga-avatarana mythology, then the other enquiry would be, how did this happening was converted into a myth or folk tale? In fact, all the facets, such as ‘nature, process of formulation, moderation, elaboration, and even at times distortions’ of myths need to be understood, before a meaningful study could be designed.
One realises that myths have deep roots in our society, and appear to sprout over the fertile culture canvas of the past. As a result, the beliefs and socio-cultural messages which are inherent in these, are mostly interwoven in our cultural behaviour. It is also obvious that through these stories, are conveyed social and cultural values, as well as scientific messages to the masses. Content and mode of narration and adaptability of myths, thus could be a promising line to be explored for understanding the roots of our culture. But, the question is whether there had been some scientific reason behind the prevalence of a belief, which has come to us since time immemorial? Also, is it possible to dwell upon the utility of this mine of culture information by the aid of scientific methods?
The core content of a myth is usually in the form of a narrative event which, may or may not, had happened, but are narrated as an important event of the remote past. The former situation brings it close to historical happenings. A critical scrutiny of myths with a view to separating them from the other narratives, may be possible when questions like, “what is a Myth? How is it different from a historical event? How does one ascertain that the origin of a myth is based on a factual happening? Through which process actual events get converted into myths”, are addressed. Discourses by senior Indologists on these issues were deemed necessary. Application of scientific methods for the study was another major thrust of this venture. Thus, scientists’ views on the proposed theme were of equal significance.
A brainstorming workshop was, therefore, organized by me and Prof. Rajiva Raman, on November 02, 2010, under the auspices of the Banaras Hindu University. Aimed at exploring the possibilities of designing a multidisciplinary research programme on Myths and Scientific Studies, eminent Indologists, like Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, Prof. Kamlesh Datta Tripathi and Prof. Nawang Samten, and eminent scientists, Prof. P. Krishna, Prof. T.V. Ramakrishnan, Prof. S.C. Lakhotia, were invited. ‘Our archaeological, geological and satellite imagery studies of Varanasi region’, by Profs. Vidula Jayaswal, K.N. Prudhvi Raju and U.S. Shukla, and ‘the comparable deductions from some select mythological narrations’, by Dr. Meera Sharma and Ms. Prachi V. Sontakke, were the case studies which formed part of the theme of this academic meet.
It is to my satisfaction that the proposed session was felt to be a success by all the participants. And of course, it was very rewarding for us, as we were keen to receive directions and suggestions from the leading scholars and scientists on the proposed theme. Needless to mention that besides being par excellence in their respective fields, the above-mentioned eminent Indologists and scientists, have deep understanding of Indian culture in general and Indian thoughts in particular. I feel particularly blessed when at the suggestion of Dr. Vatsyayan, the proceedings of this workshop could be finalized, with encouraging response of all the contributors of this volume. I feel privileged to express my gratitude to each one of them.
The audio recording of the meeting was arranged by Profs. Sisir Basu and K.N. Prudhvi Raju, which helped the participants to finalize the scripts for this volume. I profusely thank them for this help.
I shall be failing in my duty if I do not mention the help and support received from Prof. B.D. Singh, the Rector and the Chairperson of the Task Force of the University, who not only suggested organization of this brainstorming meeting, but was also a constant source for obtaining administrative and financial support of the university. Moreover, his presence in person at the workshop, and presidential comments were of immense value.
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