A very interesting debate concerning the birthplace of Lava, after whom Lahore is named, and more importantly about the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram and his sons threatens to introduce myth to fact. All this is an attempt to deny where the original civilisation of the sub-continent really sprang from.

As Lava and Lahore are involved, it makes sense that a column dedicated to the ancient city of Lahore discusses the issue and sees where it is headed. In a way the land that today is Pakistan is, metaphorically only, the mother of modern secular India. Sadly, faith-inspired Hindu scholars are rejecting the notion that the land of today’s Pakistan is not where the Hindu faith originated. Naturally, this flies in the face of accepted archaeological history. It probably is troubling for them that the very word ‘Bharat’ as also the word ‘Hindustan’ have their origin in the land of Pakistan.

The epic ‘Mahabharata’, from where almost all the deities of the Hindu faith spring, are connected to the Battle of the Ten Kings (Dasarajna) in which the ruler of Lahore, namely the Trtsu-Bharata (scientifically called Indo-Aryans), overwhelmed the much larger confederation of ten kings from all over the sub-continent. This battle was fought on the banks of the River Ravi near Lahore. Bharat was Lava’s step brother and he led the Lahore army to victory. This is the time period in which Hindu tradition claims the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ was written, and as the ‘Mahabharata’ is mentioned in the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, it is a ‘smitri’ (bardic tradition) text, and hence not older than 200 BC.

Next comes the word Sindhu, the original name of the River Indus, mispronounced ‘Hindu’ by the first Arabs with no nasal ‘se’ in their alphabet, hence the people of the sub-continent were henceforth called ‘Hindus’, therefore emerged the word Hindustan. All very secular research which no longer is accepted theory in ‘Hinduvata’ India. Sadly, in Islamic Pakistan our history starts with the Arab Muslim invasion into Sindh allegedly cemented by the 1021 AD invasion by the Afghan Mahmud. These voids in recognising our common history is what hinders scientific research into historical fact. The same people looking at the telescope of life from opposite ends. The result is darkness for both.

This interesting debate came to my attention while being privy to an internet exchange between scholar-journalist Khalid Ahmed and the Russian scholar Anna Suvorova. The issue at stake was where the Hindu deity Ram was born, as also were his two sons Lava and Kusha.

Let me put forth a few facts. The great grandfather of Ram was the king Rajuram and his kingdom stretched from the eastern edge of Afghanistan to Kashmir in the north, Multan in the south onto the western edge of present-day Haryana. That he ruled from Peshawar or Lahore, or even from Dera Ghazi Khan, is most probable. We know that almost 997 years ago the last of the Hindushahi rulers had two capitals: Peshawar and Lahore. This is when the Afghans destroyed and looted Lahore in the year 1021 AD. Earlier rulers, the descendants of the Aryans who were pushing the caste-ridden Brahmins eastwards to found the Gangetic civilisation, then ruled the land of Pakistan as it is today.

We also know with varying certainty, based on local folklore and also archaeological diggings, that Ram’s father also ruled over this very kingdom, and that Ram was born in his ancestral village of Ram Dheri, now renamed Rehman Dheri in Dera Ismail Khan. These are events from the year 2,500 BC when the Harappan civilisation was at its peak. That Lava was born in Lahore and Kusha in Kasur is, therefore, a fact not difficult to fathom, let alone accept as most probable. Within the Lahore Fort the temple of Lava exists as it has for centuries. Even by traditional Hindu standards this is proof enough. What was shocking was that a well-known Indian priest has the people convinced that his astrological calculation has Ram walking earth 18 million years ago. Ironically, the species homo sapiens were not around then.

Now what about Ayodhya where Hindu mythology claims Ram was born? Researchers, Indians all of them, claim that it was not even in existence then, hence it being the village of the king is just not possible. The first mention of Ayodhya was by a French traveller in the 18th century, after the Nawab of Awadh, Sa’adat Khan, built the oldest standing temple Hanumangarhi in 1729 AD. For this, and other ‘factual’ reasons, the famous Indian historian R.S. Sharma states that Ayodhya as a place of pilgrimage is “very recent”. He quoted chapter 85 of the Vishnu Smriti as listing 52 places of pilgrimage allowed to Hindus and Ayodhya is not even in this list.

A book written much later in 1574 AD by the famous Tulsi Das - the ‘Ramcharitmanas - though written in Ayodhya does not mention it as a place of any significance in the Hindu religion. It was, without doubt, identified in Buddhist texts as ‘Saketa’, a river stopping point. India’s most renowned historian Romila Thapar states that the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang used Ayodhya as a river site where he stopped. Ayodhya has no other mention in any sacred text.

But serious research in India has reached the ‘interesting’ conclusion that Ram, the so-called 7th avatar of Veshnu, was born at Ram Dheri (now called Rehman Dheri) in Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan. We know that Ram’s two sons, namely Lava was born in Lahore and Kusha in Kasur and the cities were named after them. A growing number of serious scholars within India have concluded that the belief that Ram was from Ayodhya is ‘faith-driven’ myth.

Ram Dheri (now called Rahman Dheri) is a pre-Harappan archaeological discovery in D.I. Khan. It is a world heritage site. Carbon dating places it at least 6,000 years old. As any archaeologist worth his salt will tell you, no site in the entire Gangetic region is older. It is accepted archaeological knowledge that the Ganges civilisation followed the demise of the Harappa Age. Just for the record the lower Indus city of Mehrgarh has been carbon dated at 14,500 years, making it the oldest planned city in the world.

Ram Dehri has evidence of different periods which include the period from 3300-2850 BC, then from 2850-2500 BC, and lastly, 2500-1900 BC. Ram’s birth can safely be said to have been in the last period slot. This is in the middle of the mature Indus phase, henceforth Ram Dheri as a city was abandoned, and with time became a ‘dheri’, a mound, just as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were.

While researching for this piece I went over the research notes of the D.I. Khan archaeological dig, and the name Ram Dheri is what was told by local people to the archaeological team. My instinct was to ring up a researcher friend from the area and he, ironically, was from a nearby village. “In our youth our elders always told us that their villages were once all owned by Raja Ram thousands of years ago”, he said. “It was typical local gossip which all of us lapped up and pass on now to our children”. No wonder the name has stuck.

But my interest for this piece is in Lahore, and in Prince Lava and his temple that forms the basis of the name of my city. For me the history of Lahore stretches to a period much before our ‘moon-faced’ prince with blue eyes was born here. Such a description suits a D.I. Khan man not a middle of India person. On the mound that is today the Lahore Fort an amazing past is there to be explored, excavated and researched. Faith, fiction and myths are best left alone. Let Pakistanis reclaim their true heritage and enjoy a shared and happy past with our neighbours. Maybe only then will we be at peace with ourselves.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2016