DD Kosambi’s Contributions 1

July 2007 – June 2008 was celebrated as the birth centenary of Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi. DD was a multi-disciplinary scholar who made original contributions in the fields of mathematics, statistics, indology, ancient Indian history, Sanskrit literature, numismatics and archeology. Though he was a mathematician by training and profession he is best known for his contributions to Indology.

DD studied history as a product of the socio-economic and cultural influences of times past rather than merely looking at it as a chronological ordering of ‘events’. Although DD used Marxism as his basic historic framework he didn’t follow it blindly, or blandly. His disdain for the ‘official Marxists’ (OM) is well known. According to DD ‘Marxism is not a substitute for thinking but a tool for analysis’. DD’s scathing review of Dange’s (CPI general secretary) ‘painfully disappointing book’, India from Primitive Communism to Slavery, based on ‘facile pseudo Marxism’ shows his rejection of mechanical application of Marxism.

I will highlight a few of DD’s most though provoking contributions.

Indra and Vritra

DD argued that the tools of violence were curiously absent in the prosperous Indus Valley civilization. The weapons were flimsy and nothing like the sword was found. In the absence of police or an army the unequal distribution of surplus was maintained by deploying religion. According to DD the Mohenjodaro citadel was identical in its function to the Mesopotamian ziggurats while the great bath was a sacred bathing tank dedicated to a mother goddess. Consorting with the temple slaves may have been part of a fertility cult. The picture that emerges is of a fixed class of traders worshipping a feminine deity. The monopoly of the ruling class of traders was secured by the deployment of religion.

This static tradition was broken by the coming of the Aryans. The Rig Veda’s chief war-god is Indra who looted the stored treasures of the godless. DD believed that this was a reference to the Indus Valley people who were defeated by the invading Aryans. The Aryans also destroyed their agricultural system which was the basis of their food production which might explain why the cities went into decline soon after the Aryans arrived. The pre-Aryan system of agriculture depended on damming small rivers and flooding their banks so that silt was deposited which could be ploughed. The Rig Veda mentions that Indra freed the rivers from a demon called Vritra. DD interprets the term Vritra as ‘obstacle’ or ‘barrage’. The Rig Veda says that Vritra lay across slopes like a dark snake obstructing the flow of rivers. When he was struck by Indra’s thunderbolt the ground buckled and the stones rolled away, a good description of breaking up dams.

Flooding would have made the land too marshy for the Aryan’s cattle herds thus leading to conflict between the two groups.