In contemporary India, we are immensely engrossed in wrangling about feminism, gender equality, women empowerment in every field of our society. Lately, the Supreme Court of India while pronouncing a judgment on granting permanent commission to women in the Indian army remarked “the structures of our society have been created by males and for males”. In the 21st century, when we call ourselves a modern civilization, that the world has never seen before, our women are still substantiating their ability to fight alongside men.
Was this always the same for women when we look back at the past civilizations in our country? History speaks quite contrary to the banal notion of women’s fragility. Would you believe if I said four thousand years ago women used to be warriors alongside men? Would you believe it if I said they drove chariots? Would you believe it if I said they were seasoned archers and swordspersons? No, I am not talking about the island of Themyscira where women worriers used to be created by the Olympian gods. I am talking about women, who played their role of being warriors in reality.
In the 2100-1900 BCE, there was a class of warrior women in the Ganga-Yamuna doab region, who were no less equivalent to men of the clan that they belonged. They used to be given equal respect and importance as men as warriors. At least archaeological evidence concluded the very existence of a class of warrior women in the region.
Sinauli, a small village in western Uttar Pradesh, 66 km away from Delhi, is the witness of the process of discovering a new civilization in the heart of the Ganga-Yamuna doab region. In the year 2005, the first excavation was conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) when numerous farmers unearthed many artefacts while tilling their land, 116 burials were found, but the excavation process was abandoned the next year due to unknown reason. In 2018, 12 years later, a team of ASI, headed by Dr. Sanjay Manjul, started the excavation process once again, but this time in a small area. Ten burial sites were discovered, of which three burials belonged to women.
This discovery altered many prejudiced notions about ancient Indian civilizations. The most important discovery of this excavation was three chariots, all of them were found from two burials. It was the first time that chariots were found in India. Previously the conception was that chariots came much later in India when a group of Central Asians or Europeans invaded the land. The famous Aryan invasion theory could not be established in this case as no Central Asian or European component was found in the skeletal remains of the burials, and these skeletons had major similarities with current-day Indian ancestry.
Several artefacts like potteries, beads, jewellery, pots, utensils, and other personal belongings were common in these burials. Antenna swords made of copper were discovered in large numbers. Weaponries like shields and swords were found in the burials belonged to women. In one of the female burials, an imprint of a bow and four arrowheads were discovered. All these indicate the point that women of that civilization were also skilled at using swords and performing archery.
The coffins in the burials were in a good condition even after 4000 years, this made the archaeologists wonder about the construction of these coffins. Copper plating was used along with woods in most of the objects they used, be it coffins, chariots, or shields; the use of copper in large amount helped archaeologists to discover this site of great antiquity, otherwise, we might have never known about a civilization so advanced when compared with contemporary civilizations.
The copper decoration was used predominantly for male burials, whereas steatite inlay was prominent for female burials. Shields found in the burials were also different for men and women. Shields used by the men were having copper inlay, whereas shields of women were meticulously designed by steatite.
Premium quality bangles made of gold and ornaments were also found with the female skeletal remains which point to the fact that they belonged to an elite clan of that civilization. One more astonishing observation was that the women’s skeletal remains were not in full, their legs were removed from ankles before they were buried, unlike men. The reason is still unknown. In the future with archaeological advancement, we might be able to uncover the reason behind this.
The potteries used in the Harappan civilization were quite similar to the potteries found in Sinauli, yet the manufacturing quality and structural effectiveness of the potteries found in Sinauli were particularly superior to the potteries found in Harappan civilization. This led many to think about this civilization to be a part of the late Harappan civilization. However, the majority of the Indian archaeologists don’t want to associate this civilization with the Harappan civilization as seals, excellent town planning and other prominent features of the Harappan civilization were missing in Sinauli. Also, the architecture and size of bricks used in Harappa and Sinauli were different.
Many Archaeologists find similarities of this civilization with ancient Vedic civilization as well. Along with human burials, symbolic burials were also found on the site. It seems there were different customs practiced in Sinauli as part of the disposal of a dead person. People were not only buried, they used to be cremated as well as it was mentioned in the Rig-Veda. Some rituals were performed by the people of Sinauli as the last rite like offering Ghee, Card, and Somras to the departed person also mentioned in the Rig-Veda. The structural description of chariots in the Vedas is quite similar to that of the chariots found in Sinauli.
Indian history has always been marred by western domination and imported theories. After the discovery of chariots in Sinauli, we have seen similar kinds of efforts by the western Indologists to impose their idea on us. They tried their level best to prove that the chariots found in Sinauli were actually “carts” and were drawn by Bullocks, and rightly so, how can one accept that Indians invented chariots way before Aryans, the imaginary invaders, had invaded India. However, Indian archaeologists are quite convinced that those were chariots and drawn by horses, at least the structure of the vehicle points toward that direction. The chariots found aren’t so spacious, they can carry a maximum of two people at a time, on the flip side, and a “cart” should be spacious enough to carry goods. Besides, it is quite strange to discover a “cart” inside a burial where customarily the personal belongings of a warrior are kept.
All of us read about Ghosha, Lopamudra, Maitreyi, and Gargi, they were the epitome of intellectual and spiritual knowledge in the Vedic era. Similarly, Sinauli has given us some women warriors who were the epitome of bravery. Ancient history has revealed, only a fraction of what we should be knowing.
I am positive that in the coming years we will be exposed to many such wonder women by going into the past. Indians should take pride and inspiration from such a rich cultural past that we have; it is time that we reclaim our glorious past from the clutches of outsiders by looking into it only after removing our western spectacles.
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