Our Father Who Art Sindhu

Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow. […] Like floods of rain that fall in thunder from the cloud, so Sindhu rushes on bellowing like a bull. Rigveda 10.75

When Aryans first arrived in the Indian Subcontinent, they must have been left dumbfounded by the vast expanse of the Indus River. In their awe, they named it Sindhu, a Sanskrit term meaning “sea” or “ocean”. After the split of Indo-Iranian culture into Iranian and Indo-Aryan in around 2000 BCE, Sindhu gradually became Hindu in Old Persian and the floodplains it flowed through came to be known as ”Hindu Astan“.

It was later called Indos or Indus by the ancient Greeks during the time of the Achaemenid Empire. Consequently, the term India was used by Greek historians like Herodotus and Megasthenes to describe the lands, people, and culture of the region that lay east of the Indus.

I think it’s safe to say that there haven’t been many instances in history where a land and its inhabitants came to be identified by the name of a river. This is a testament to the cultural and spiritual influence of Sindhu in shaping Indian society throughout history.

One of the earliest foreign historical records that we have of India comes from a royal inscription on a statue from ancient Sumer, which reads:

Ships from Meluhha, Magan and Dilmun made fast at the docks of Akkad.

The inscription dates to the 24th century BCE and is attributed to Sargon of Akkad, founder of the Akkadian Empire and the first known emperor in recorded history. The land of Meluhha or Melukham, which is hinted as a trading partner of ancient Mesopotamia, is widely identified as the Indus Valley Civilization by modern scholars.

This was indeed around the same time when the Indus Valley Civilization was flourishing in the nurturing embrace of Sindhu. During this period, it developed sophisticated urban planning, architecture, a standardized system of weights and measures, and a complex writing system that remains undeciphered, all feats considered ahead of their time.

By 1500 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization had declined, possibly exacerbated by a century-long global drought that disrupted and caused the collapse of many contemporary civilizations. Fueled by the migrations and assimilation of Indo-Aryans into local populations, it gradually transformed into the Vedic culture.

Civilizations have risen and fallen, cities have emerged and vanished, kings have ascended and been deposed. Even the gods have fallen in and out of favour. Yet, through it all, our father Sindhu has persistently flowed as the only constant.