Indian Diversity

India-The mixing bowl of nature1[/font]

(MKV Narayan)


Indian subcontinent is an enigma with its multiplicity of ethnic populations, multiplicity of living cultures with their moorings with the hoary past, diversity of languages, multiple religions and sub-religions (cults) with very much Godhead all coexisting in peace and tranquillity. How did all these come about? There is no simple answer to this question. But if we sift through the deep time into the prehistory of the world, we can notice a pattern wherein geography and climate of the old world played an important role in human evolution and in populating India. I want to venture some speculations and postulations to give an idea of what that role was. To do that, I consider it necessary to go into the past happenings and changes in the geological, climatic and environmental conditions from time to time and relating them to the human evolution.


A century back, Henry Fairfield Osborn, head of the American Museum of Natural History, New York wrote that rising of Himalayas could have triggered human evolution. He was not wrong it appears. Science indicates that geological and ecological changes on earth had not only caused catastrophes and mass extinctions but also guided evolution of the human species. The fluctuating climatic change was perhaps the engine of evolution. The mighty Himalayas had its own indirect role. Let us briefly see some major happenings in prehistory. Periods indicated are in million years ago, or thousand years ago. 2 Our story starts with the dinosaurs.

235 MA to 70 MA

Earlier periods before 250 million years, geological catastrophes had caused 96% of life go extinct.3 The 4% survivors were mostly in the sea. From the remaining few life forms on the land, new orders of reptiles started evolving rapidly and dinosaurs came to rule the earth. Dinosaurs dominated for about 140 million years. It was the time when the last phase of Continental Drift was on. South America, Africa, Arabia, India and Australia were drifting towards their present positions. Floating on the molten magma the Indian landmass was inching northwards from Antarctica. A sub-marine volcanic sprout poured lava on the peninsular India to form the Deccan highlands and southwestern mountains. At the end of this period Indian land mass careened into the Eurasian Plate to raise the central Himalayan Fold Mountains.

70 MA to 35 MA

Around this time (65 MA), catastrophic showers of asteroids caused huge dust storms, shutting out sun’s rays for months. Consequently, photosynthesis ceased. Eco-systems and food chains collapsed. All big dinosaurs died out. Small winged dinosaurs slowly evolved into birds. When dust cleared, small scurrying mammals gained ground and started evolving into many new mammalian species. This included “Euprimates” (Ancestor of prosimians, monkeys, apes and humans) which is said to have evolved somewhere in the tropical forests of South East Asia [Ciochon, Russell 1990, noting]. 4

35 MA to 10 MA

Global climate had warmed up in this period. Rich tropical forests filled up Africa, Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia. Southern Himalayas rose to form the Shivalik slopes (second phase of Himalayan uplifting) 5. This facilitated the formation of many Himalayan river systems, which in turn aided forestation.

Prosimians (Loris, lemur etc.) had branched off from Euprimates, leaving the rest to evolve into “Amphipithacus” (Ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans) somewhere in China [Ciochon, Russell 1990, noting]. Then monkeys branched off, diversified and spread all over the world. Monkeys dominated the treetops. Heavier primates, “Euhominoids” (ancestor of apes and man) occupied lower tree branches. Himalayan slopes had some of these advanced primates. Living on trees helped primates acquire depth vision, gripping hands with opposing thumb, and hand-eye coordination. Their brains enlarged and advanced.

10 MA to 3 MA

Global climate was warmer than now. One group of Euhominoids migrated to South East Asia to evolve into Gibbon (on treetops) and Orang-utan (at lower levels) apes. Another group moved to Africa, as by this time the intervening Tethys Sea between Africa, India and the southern ridge of Eurasia had shrunk into Mediterranean Sea connecting the adjoining landmasses. These primates in Africa evolved into Chimpanzee (on treetops) and Gorilla (at lower levels). The remaining Euhominoids in East Africa advanced in evolution as “Australopithecines” (ancestor of Humans), as they started to compete with carnivores on the ground for meat.

As these primates were basically fruit/insect eaters, they had to develop tools for meat eating and for self-defense. They started using stones and sticks. Their brains further enlarged to about a third of man’s to accommodate better thinking. They had to carry food and walk to safety. Thus, they developed bipedal walking. (Fossil of ‘Lucy’ is of this stage) 6

3 MA to one MA

This period marked dramatic changes in ecology. Global climate considerably cooled down, with more frequent and pronounced glaciations (ice ages). Three reasons are quoted for this change (Asimov, Isaac)

1. A slight wobble in the earth’s orbit around the sun had introduced cyclic “Great Winter” effect for 10000 years every 40000 years.

2. A shift in the North Pole had taken in more landmass, which collected more snow during glaciations.

3. In the third phase of Himalayan uplift the mountains had raised much taller causing wind deflection effect, which froze Siberia/Central Asia during glaciations

Because of these frequent ecological changes sea levels dropped and rose, islands were often connected to the main lands, and forest cover retreated and advanced as the ice sheets advanced or retreated. These fluctuations in habitat gave little time to the advancing HOMO order for adjustment. They were forced to devise new capabilities to survive. The following sequence shows the trajectory of the human evolutionary track:

Three MA
East Africa- Australopithecines were scavenging carnivore kills for meat- Used stones and sticks - brain size increased to a third of humans.

2.5 MA
East African rift valley – “Homo habilis” evolved. Made crude stone tools for butchering and scraping small game- fully bipedal gait, half-sized human brain. - “Olduvan” culture. 7

1.8 MA
“Homo erectus” stage evolved - made better stone and bone tools - stone hand axe was invented – organized hunting – two third full brain size - moved out of Africa.

One MA
Homo erectus reached Europe, West Asia, India (Narmada Valley), South China, Vietnam and Java - Use of fire was known and cave dwelling. These pre-humans must have passed through Northern India as the land north of Himalayas was mostly frozen and sub Himalayan India had vast grasslands with big game.

500 KA
In Africa, Europe, West Asia and South Asia Homo erectus evolved into archaic “Homo sapiens” and developed “Achulian” stone culture. The brain-hand inter-action and other environmental needs developed the brain to three fourth of present size.

A parallel development had taken place in South East Asia and China, may be in Vietnam jungles which also developed human brains. This was based on perishable bamboo tools, and pebble tools.

200 KA
“Homo sapiens (Neanderthal)” evolved with full size brain and rugged body to live in icy Europe and West Asia - they developed advanced “Mousterian” culture with spears and harpoons - organized big game hunting. Other lesser-known archaic Homo sapiens were developing their own tool cultures in East and South Asia using stones, bamboo and pebbles. “Madras hand axe” culture was on in South Indian River basins. Sohan valley stone tool culture was developed in North West India.

135 KA to 10 KA
Minor fluctuations in global climate alternating between warm and cold periods brought changes in habitat. The early humans faced floods and dry spells alternately. They had to adjust to these vagaries of nature to survive. Anatomically modern humans “Homo Sapiens Sapiens” appeared in East Africa and took to worldwide migrations. By 90 KA they crossed the wet Sahara desert and reached Israel. A very severe ice age rendered Sahara dry and un-penetrable, and Europe an icy sub-continent. Another small group of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Hominids) took to the coastal route along Middle East, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia and reached Guinea. They could even cross over the islands to reach Australia by 60KA. The fluctuating sea levels caused many land bridges between islands facilitating migration.


By 75 KA, modern humans passed through India and were in Vietnam and soon in South China. Recent studies on ‘Y’ chromosome markings in populations indicate that early modern humans who left Ethiopian shores walked along the west and east coastlines of India some 60 thousand years back to reach Guinea and Australia. Some residual genes of these groups are still found in South Indian blood samples (5%).

By 40 to 30 KA, some well-developed groups of moderns perhaps spread westward to Europe. Their entering Europe from the east is widely accepted. They had better technology (clothing and tools) and weapons to fight the European cold and compete with Neanderthals. They could have had spear throwers and probably bows and arrows and could effectively replace Neanderthals by about 27 KA. They are perhaps the Cro-Magnon people. As the moderns replaced Neanderthals in Europe and West Asia, their contemporaries replaced the left over Homo erectus variants in East Asia, India and South East Asia.

The ‘Y-chromosome tracking by Dr. Spencer Wells (2002) indicates that there were perhaps three or four distinct waves of migration into India between 30 KA and 10 KA. 8 They include:

A. Groups who came through the Himalayan and Hindukush passes from the Mediterranean regions 25 thousand years back, whose DNA markings are found high (50%) in South India;

B. Groups who came from North Eastern Europe around less than 10 thousand years, whose DNA markings are found (35%) in Delhi and Punjab regions, and

C. A third wave of early agriculturists who migrated all over India and introduced organized farming. Their genetic markings are found all over India. All these waves of people brought technologies and culture, which were mixed up in India in due course of time.

3 KA and after
This period was marked by more and more migrations into India through the North Western passes, as hoards of militiamen (accompanied by fewer women) who merged with local populations by marrying local women. These trends in the proto-historic period continued in the historic periods in later years, by people of Greek, Parthian, Persian, Turkish, Hun origin and others who invaded and later settled in India to get mixed up with the earlier entrants of North India. It is said that many Central Asian tribes entered India along with Hun invasions. In South India, Arabs, South East Asians, Egyptians, Jews and Romans came as traders and left their people to settle down.


We can see from the above discussion that Indian subcontinent bounded by barriers of high mountains of Himalayas and Hindukush in the north and the seacoasts in South had only an indirect influence through Himalayan slopes, in early human biological evolution. “Euprimates” evolved in South East Asia, “Amphipithacus” evolved in South China, “Euhominoids” evolved in Himalayan regions and later migrated to Africa. Further evolution of the HOMO order took place in Africa to full-fledged modern human beings who spread all over Eurasia and Americas. We can see that after Humans acquiring capabilities to cross over barriers came into India from all directions from ancient times to be assimilated to form a composite ethnic conglomeration in which multiple tongues and multiple cultures flourished. Nature, in the form of geography, climatic changes, and physical barriers used India as a mixing bowl of humanity with ingredients from outside.


Asimov, Isaac, Frontiers & Frontiers II, New York.

Chadha, S.K.1988, Himalayas, Delhi, Mittal Publication

Ciochon, Russell, John Olsen, Jamie James 1990, Other origins, New York, Bantam

Haywood, John 1998, Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, USA, Barnes and Nobles

India 1990, Pre-historic and Proto-Historic Periods, Govt. Of India Publication

Tattersal, Ian, Becoming Human, New York

The Hindu November 2000, Are we in the middle of another mass extinction, India

Wells, Dr. Spencer 2002, Journey of Man, New Jersey, Princeton University Press


1. This essay was published in in December 2004 and seen by more than 500 viewers.

2. We will use abbreviations for “Million Years before present” as MA (Mega Anna) and for “Thousand years before present” as KA (Kilo Anna).

3. Late Permian extinction wiped out over 90% of life from earth. This was perhaps caused by an asteroid hit in Siberia.

4. The terms such as Euprimate, Euhominoid etc. are not real names for any species but used to indicate the unknown ancestors of the known groups like primates or hominoids.

5. Upliftment of Himalayan ranges occurred in three stages. 1) Oligocene lift (70 to 30 MA); 2) Miocene lift (five MA); 3) Pleistocene lift (two MA). In the first phase Greater Himalayas (Himadri) was formed; in second phase Lesser Himalayas (Himachal) was formed; in the third phase Outer Himalayas (Sivalik) was formed [Chadha 1988, Himalayas]

6. “Lucy” is the name given to the only near-complete skeleton of a pre-human anthropoid found in archaeological history. It was found in a place called Hadar in East Africa and is now preserved in an American Museum. It is a relic of a young female Australopithecus Africanis and dated as three million years old.

7. This happened in Olduvai valley of East Africa where many relics of oldest stone tools were recovered. This was the first human activity of making stone tools for preparing food (Scraping meat).

8. There were in fact four waves of pre-historic migrations in to India at about 60 KA, 30 KA, 5 KA and 3 KA. These can now be identified as Adi-Dravida tribes, Dravidians, Aryan speakers and perhaps Indus Valley people. The Munda speaking tribes could have come from the east in some reverse migrations.
**Indian subcontinent is an enigma with its multiplicity of ethnic populations, multiplicity of living cultures with their moorings with the hoary past, diversity of languages, multiple religions and sub-religions (cults) with very much Godhead all coexisting in peace and tranquillity. **

I call bullshit on the peace and tranquility.

Could not read the rest of your post which I suspect is loaded with more bullshittery.

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