The most fascinating aspect of the evolution of the origins of our social beliefs is the way it has evolved over the last 5,000 years. For the sake of clarity we must examine the sub-continent as a whole, and as history tells us dividing lines of any type ultimately dissolve.
We know thanks to linguistic data, that the northern and western portion of the sub-continent speaks languages classified as Indo-European, or as some classify it as Indo-Aryan. The coastal languages starting from Baluchistan going toward the entire southern sub-continent is of an earlier Dravidian linguistic nature. In fact this language structure continues towards the Australian continent where the original inhabitants (sadly called Aboriginals, a racist colonial term) speak a language with a Dravidian structure. Why is this so?
In pre-historic times there were two major migrations from humanity’s initial melting pot, that being Africa. The first was along the coast eastwards, while much later another major migration headed to the north, spilling over to the west and upper east. These migrations were not a rush of people, but a slow trickle, very much like the very recent Afghan migration into Pakistan, or the much earlier gypsy migrations to the west after every major invasion of the sub-continent.
As we focus on the linguistic structure of the land that is today Pakistan, we see only one enclave where people who still speak a language with a Dravidian structure, they being the Brahui people of Central Baluchistan, with small Brahui communities in Iran, Afghanistan, and even one small group in Turkmenistan. A 2016 survey says that there are 3.28 million Brahui speakers in the world.
But then as we in Lahore speak an Indo-Aryan language, be it Punjabi or Urdu, we must answer the question just who are the ‘original’ inhabitants of the land that we today call Pakistan, or let us say the Western and North-Western sub-continent. A research by the United Nations on the ‘changars’, or the ‘gypsies’ (the word ‘Egypte’ corrupted by the French) of the world showed them to have both Dravidian and Aryans genes, but all confined to the Punjab river banks and to western Rajasthan. So there is genetic evidence to show that before the ‘changars’ there were two major migrations. In this piece our interest is our own origins.
The Indo-Aryan migration was massive waves, but thousands of ebbs spread over thousands of years. The origin of the Aryans, a definition of the sub-continental term ‘arya’, the very word having Greek origins, but later used in the Sanskrit language, itself meaning ‘purified.’
The probable origin of the Aryans is middle and upper Europe with people moving away from the ice-age upper portions and heading towards the warmer Caspian and Babylon. Climate change had started. Experts believe that it was never a flow, but an ebb that increased over time towards Turkey and Iran. Once they consolidated in these areas into organised groups that governed themselves over large areas, they moved further eastwards, ultimately entering the sub-continent. The final meshing of two great civilisations took place in Punjab and headed onwards to upper portions of the sub-continent.
We now focus on the very first ‘One Almighty God’ belief system that evolved in Iran that had a profound effect on our way of life. The question that was pondered was that are prophets ‘teachers’ or ‘priests’. From worship of different forces of nature, we have the old Aryan name ‘zaotar’, which in Sanskrit is ‘hotar’ meaning ‘priest’. We have the Greek historian Herodotus describing the fire-worshippers of Iran. But he came much after the Parsi prophet Zoroastrian had spent 10 years thinking and pondering in a cave.
The priestly class were introduced in the sub-continent by the Zoroastrian religion, who had continued the Euro-Aryan tradition. But in Iran they evolved as, initially, three classes being the ‘airyaman’, the ‘xaetu’ and the ‘verezena’, meaning the priests, the noblemen and husbandmen, or cattle grazers. The foundations of the caste system were there. This points to the grazing traditions of the Aryans over thousands of years, and the fact that the ‘cow’ was important and fought over. With time as Zoroastrianism meshed with local beliefs, a fourth class emerged, as the Avesta tells us, that being the priest, the charioteer, the herdsman and the artisan. In Old Persian the word for ‘colour’ is ‘pistra’, from which the word ‘caste’ evolved.
As the Zoroastrian grip on our land strengthened, they set themselves up in the Punjab. Their ruler lived in the Lahore Fort and at the highest point of the ancient walled city of Lahore was an impressive Fire Temple. Herodotus mentions this in his description of Darius III. (Read De Santis ‘At the Crossroad of Conquest’). That fire temple was destroyed by the Afghan invader Mahmud in 1021 AD. But our interest lies in how in the land of Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the caste system was entrenched, while towards the west a fairer scheme prevailed.
As the caste system further increased with colour being a major consideration, a fifth caste, the ‘untouchables’ came about. It was the birth of the Vedas in our land and the birth of Hinduism, which finally saw the Mahabharata, or the Battle of Ten Kings (Dasanrajan) being fought on the banks of the Ravi at Mahmood Booti. The ruler of Lahore, King Bharata, prevailed. So from the castes of Zoroastrians to the inherited castes of Hinduism created by the priests of the new order, a transformation took place. Zarathustra was undoubtedly a prophet and teacher who preached the One Almighty’s message of good deeds. The new religion, though still based on one Almighty, was led by priests who preached numerous manifestations of. It was this fatal change that saw the new Aryans push the new caste-led religion of priests eastwards.
In a way it would not be out of place, far-fetched as it might seem, that the very creation of Pakistan, communal in nature without doubt, was a continuation of an ancient tussle. The coming of Islam which did not propagate castes or divisions accelerated this process. In the Gandhara and Harappa lands a much more egalitarian belief systems emerged. In a way the birth of Sikhism just 26 miles from Lahore was an expression of this ancient tussle for equality.
What is happening today in Bharat (a name based on a Lahore ruler) is the caste system in full force. The struggle in a way is ancient. The Dravidians - non-Indo-Europeans - were influenced by Vedic religions, and we see that with time the Aryans started following Dravidian Gods, but in an Aryan manner. Given the ancient historic context of this struggle between prophets and priests, it might take a few more centuries to resolve, if not more. But then will this conflict ever be resolved?
Maybe if we educate – Iqra - our population to follow prophets not priests, just as Islam tells us to, we might emerge the better. At least that is the lesson we in Lahore and Pakistan must learn. Across that dividing line of hate that ancient conflict of hate between prophets and priests is, very sadly, acquiring a deadly face. Was it inevitable? More research on this issue is needed.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2019