Fall of Saraswati or Harappa Civilization is still a mystery : Role of Aravalli Mountains

From being guinea pigs of Aryans to Tectonic shifts, fall of saraswati or harappa civilization as its known has come long way in last 100 yrs. It is only a mystery that dots to connect its fall are not converging together yet.

Various theories of fall of saraswati / harappa civilizations. 

First, a foreign invasion theory has been summarily discarded by few decades now and hence unworthy of its discussion. (Hitler must be wondering in his grave about the Aryan theory for which he wanted to establish a Aryan world and started World War II)

Second, shift in river systems feeding saraswati dried it out, wiping the civilization. Theory does have credibility as river routes keep changing even today, however, it cant certainly account for 100 yr fast wipe out of civilization of such a large scale, much beyond their reach and influence.

Similarly, a drought due to monsoon changes or flood due to extra rains are all seasonal and often adjustable through migration. Gangetic plains are wide open and easily accessible through all harappa sites. If monsoon indeed shifted towards east, why did settlers not move along with the wind? If saraswati system was drying out, why did settlers not move towards narmada system in south or ganga / yamuna system in east? More so, sindhu was still a thriving river system, although it may have grown bigger after change in its feeder rivers. Even then, it only warranties shift of people to more upward regions, which has also been found by excavators that people kept shifting their towns as per river course dictation.

Third, an undated tectonic shift which caused dryness in middle east is often extended to fall of harappa civilization as well. It claims to change the course of monsoon, as well as river systems drastically. Though evidences do suggest the effects, it is uncertain that such a shift should cause wiping out of civilizations altogether.

Mysteries over fall of Saraswati / Harappa civilization

First, usually civilizations don't wipe out completely. In a severe drought, a flood, an avalanche, a severe earthquake, a tsunami: none of it can really wipe out harappa settlements which are so wide (ranging from gujarat till haryana and till pakistan north areas around sindhu). It is observed that most settlements were abandoned within 100yrs, a steep fall for a stable civilization.

Second, It is wonder that archeologists have found settlements 2500BC to 1800BC much more than 1800BC to 1000BC. Usually the recent excavations are found more in abundance.

Third, Vedic civilizations were more organised in Raja-Praja system than Harappa, which were  more city based managed through councils. Vedic artifacts are more advanced. Vedas dated 1000BC are far more profound than what is found in Harappa excavations. Usually it takes several centuries for a civilization to gather such large wisdom. It is only a mystery that settlements matching the level of advancement of vedas have not been much yet.

Fourth, another mystery around Harappa is its disconnect with following Vedic civilization. Vedic systems are usually around Gangetic plains, while Harappa systems are around Saraswati plains, both adjacent to each other. A credible explanation is yet awaited to know why two civilizations so close to each other find little commonality between them. The idea that Vedic system came from west has already been discarded, therefore it does not explain the disconnect either.

Fifth, latest excavations of civilized settlements around Gangetic plains date only till 1200BC. This is indeed an anamoly. Saraswati system is right next to Ganga as of today. It is virtually impossible for people to not settle in more stable Ganga system, unless a rigid divide between the two existed. This rigid divide has hardly been discussed or looked for.

Alternative theory of Fall of Saraswati / Harappa civilization


Saraswati as Non-Himalayan River

Saraswati river is still not well understood although its river course is believed to be along ghaggar system of rivers. It is certain that the thar and kutch regions were indeed inhabited, which later turned into lifeless and dry desert. If tectonic shifts did take place and it caused change in river course, it must be traced till himalayas. This is because most rivers originate nearby regions of gangotri, yamunotari etc. and if yamuna and sindhu river system must change its course altogether, it must have happend at the glacier level. Unfortunately, not much research has been carried out in this regard. Although evidences suggest that yamuna may have deserted the saraswati system as far as 10000 yrs back, much before harappa civilization grew and prospered.

Even if the above is true, the origin of saraswati river is still a mystery. Feeder rivers may come and go, where did the origin of saraswati river get lost? As himalayan systems have hardly changed in time and are more stable (the big ones do not disappear altogether), it is imperative to assume that the source of saraswati river was not Himalayas but somewhere else.

Source of saraswati is although a mystery, it is an important dot required to solve the mystery of fall of saraswati civilization. In a severe event, if this source gets lost causing severe devastation in the process, it can well explain the death of the river and more importantly sudden death of civilization (Mystery 1 and 2).

This source of Saraswati can also explain the rigid divide of Ganga and Saraswati civilizations (Mystery 3, 4 and 5). Although current excavations suggest both lived in different times, it is only matter of time that early stages of ganga system are excavated and put before the world. What separated the two great cultures and why they failed to merge in due course can well be explained by this source.

Aravallis as source of Saraswati

As we suggest, the source of Saraswati may well be in the western india, known as Aravallis. Role of aravallis in harappa system is not well understood. These are old mountain system different from younger himalayan system. When at its peak, it is quite possible that these aravallis were the source of saraswati river from time immemorial. It could also be possible that because of this difference of old and new source, Saraswati is considered older than Ganga, which was destined to die as Ganga flourished later.

Separation of Ganges in East and Saraswati in West

It is only matter of coincidence that most settlements of Harappan civilization have been found west of Aravallis and along its range (see Indus Civilization Sites). As aravallis were high and mighty, it separated the two worlds of east and west just like Himalayas have separated chinese world from indian and Vindhayachal from north india to south india. This explains the mystery that vedic systems hardly interacted with harappa systems and therefore have much less commonality between them. It also explains that whereas Vedic system grew much advanced in technology, knowledge and politics, harappa was stagnated and died out at a difficult time.

Disappearance of Aravallis and its aftermath

Aravallis are today not of much importance to India's geo-polity, except tourism and beautiful migratory siberian birds. What could have caused such a fall of aravallis? It could possibly be a severe earthquake, engulfing major portions of aravallis. Ice caps may have melted, causing severe floods not just in Rajasthan but at a massive scale, with its effects as far as mohen jodaro. Whereas a severe earthquake may have destroyed kiln based harappa towns instantly, an ensuing flood could have made the situation worse. Because the flood was not due to seasonal overflowing of river but simply excessive water presence, a long period of water logging may have caused total disappearance of any root of civilization to be left. It was only later when the situation got better and Vedic settlers took notice of the area, they further settled and inhabited the area.

Alternatively, as aravallis were growing old, a massive rain followed by heavy landslides destroyed most of settlements in an instant, while severely affecting other left out settlements. Towns were built at high grounds close to mountains to avoid regular floods. These also inhabited engineers and administrators who built and managed towns. They must have perished in the landslides first. Peasants  lived at lower plains closer to rivers and must have suffered due to incessant rains and floods. Repetitive incidents must have pushed the peasants out of settlements to further west, as east was still jungles or witnessing even worse floods due to larger rivers. It must be these peasants who would have interacted with westerners and influenced their civilization.

Interestingly, thar desert is also blamed on lack of height of Aravalis to contain western monsoon. Given that harappan sites were flourishing those times, it is possible that Aravalis were indeed capable of producing rains and rivers those times, in thar desert area.

As per Mahabharat, India was indeed connected to far western regions of middle east. The war is dated around 3000BC. It is possible that due to severe destruction following the war, the region was totally discarded by vedic settlers, till the aravalli event happened.

For more educative discussion, please see related facebook post https://www.facebook.com/sbharti/posts/10152452229846663

UPDATE : 29 May 2016
Found this brilliant article by Anindiya Sircar and team, IIT Kharagpur. Do have a read.
original article - Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization
pdf print - alternative link

Swaraj Bharti
Shaurabh Bharti


  1. I saw the title and was inclined to ask you whether you've considered floods? But that's your whole point...
    That's an awesome conclusion mate... And you might have added one important dot there

    1. Thanks KV. Just jotting down ramblings of the mind :-P found it interesting and thought of sharing it with folks. quite interesting thread on fb page if u'd like to see https://www.facebook.com/sbharti/posts/10152452229846663

  2. Good analysis. Very nteresting.