the Floods in Mohenjo-Daro
By Ram Nath Kak and
State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901, USA
Pandit Ram Nath Kak
to the Nilamata Purana the valley of Kashmir was
originally a lake. Geological facts also suggest
that the valley was originally a lake, although it
is not clear that the entire valley was submerged.
Drew, in his book  on the geography of Jammu
and Kashmir which appeared in 1875, suggested that
the legend of the lake in the Nilamata Purana
should not be considered to be an independent
support ot the theory of the lake. He argued that
the legend may have arisen out of an attempt to
explain tho striking geographical features of the
valley. A similar legend exists regarding the
draining of the Kathmandu valley in Nepal .
Bhargava argues that the Rgvedic name Vitasta
(meaning 'span') for the river coming out of the
Kashmir valley means that "the gorge through
which it comes out was shallower and narrower in
those days and allowed a comparatively small
quantity of water to flow out of the valley at a
time. The so-called bursting and draining of the
lake would really be due to some seismic
disturbances, which resulted in the widening and
deepening of the gorge through which the Vitasta
came out, thus allowing a much larger quantity of
water to drain away, increasing the size of the
river and decreasing that of the lake." 
This suggests that before this seismic event, the
waters of the Kashmir valley would have had more
than one point of egress.
There exists other
indirect evidence that Kashmir valley was not
settled in comparatively recent times since there
is no mention of it in the early Vedic texts as
well as the epics. So it is likely that the legend
codes a genuine historical tradition.
We consider these facts
in juxtaposition with recent archaeological
discoveries that indicate that a major seismic
event around 1900 B.C. was responsible for the
changes in the courses of several rivers,
including Satluj and Yamuna. We suggest that this
was the same seismic event that caused the
draining of the Satisara lake. This draining led
to such an increase in the waters of the Indus
river that catastrophic floods were caused in
Mohenjo-Daro and other Harappan cities on tbe
banks ol this river.
2. The Mahabharata
Nilamata Purana says that
upon a request by the sage Kasyapa, Visnu asked
Balabhadra (Krsna's brother) to pierce the
mountains of the valley. When the lake was drained
the valley became inhabitable.
The significance of this
legend has not been properly appreciated by
historians. The reference to Krsna's era links the
draining of Satisara to the era of the Mahabharata
battle. The question of the dating of this battle
has not been resolved yet. Three diverging eras
for this battle that have been widely examined
are: 1424 B C. as given by the Puranic evidence;
2449 B C. as claimed by Kalhana in his
Rajatarangini and also before him by the
astronomer Varahamihira; and 3137 B.C. as given by
the tradition of the Kaliyuga calendar which is
supposed to mark the death of Krsna, 35 years
after the battle.
Recent research on the
Puranic king lists, as well as analysis of the
Vedic texts, indicates that the first date of 1424
B.C. is impossible; being too late. This leaves us
with two candidates: 2449 B.C. and 3137 B.C. (This
assumes that the astronomical markers associated
with the battle were well remembered). Current
archaeological evidence favours the first of these
two dates. This is because new theories equate the
Aryans with the Harappans and since the period
following the Bharata battle was a golden period
as far as Sanskrit literature was concerned, one
would expect to find a period of material
prosperity. The centuries in the period 2600-l900
B.C. were the most prosperous of ancient India and
so, on current evidence, we pick Kalhana's date of
2449 B C. for the battle. 
The Mahabharata appears
to remember events that are prior to l900 B.C. as
in the legend that when Vasistha threw himself
into the Satudri or Sutudri (Satluj) it broke into
a hundred streams. Hydrological evidence has
revealed that Satluj connected thus to the
Sarasvati in the 3rd millennium B.C. 
The Bharata battle epoch
of 2449 B.C. will be the earliest when Satisara
drained if we accept the .Nilamata Purana
reference to Balabhadra. This is supported by the
fact that the accounts of the Mahabharata battle
do not speak of the participation by any king of
The actual draining
occurred after 2449 B.C. but the events were
transferred to this famous epoch.
3. The Sarasvati
discoveries of the past two decades have added a
wealth of information to our understanding of the
decline of the Harappan civilization that covered
most of North and West India. This civilization is
now seen as a part of the Indus-Sarasvati cultural
tradition, with its focus in the region around the
Sarasvati river, that has been traced back to at
least 7000 B.C. It is generally accepted that the
tradition met a catastrophe around 1900 B.C. when
the Sarasvati river dried up in the sands of the
Rajasthan river.  Tectonic upheavels are
believed to have led to the capture of the Yamuna
and the Satluj, which drained earlier into the
Sarasvati system, by the Ganga and the Indus
systems respectively. After this event the
material condition of the region went through a
phase of decline.
While the reasons for
this decline are bound to have been complex, a
primary cause of the abandonment of the cities was
the drying up of the Sarasvati river which
disrupted the entire economy of the region and the
communities started shifting eastward. But at the
same time there is evidence of flooding at
Mohenjo-Daro which was one of the largest cities
in the third millennium B.C. in ancient India.
Apparently floods occurred at several times during
the history of the city. This is evidenced by the
accumulation of 30 feet of silt at that site.
However there is not further such accumulation
after the abandonment of the site.
Whatever the causes for
the recurring floods, we speculate that a major
flood at the end of the life of the city was
caused by a catastrophic event. While the
additional waters in the Indus owing to tho Satluj
are likely to have led to flooding, it seems
unlikely that this would have been the
catastrophic event that would explain thc severe
We propose that the
breaking up of the Satisara lake in the same
tectonic event released immense amounts of water
that devastated the cities on the banks of the
Indus. This seems more plausible than the theory
that the shifting of the population centers around
Sarasvati due to its drying up led to the gateway
or trading cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro to
lose their commercial importance. This other
theory cannot explain tbe abandonment of these
cities altogether as appears to have happened.
Although the Satisara
draining occurred at the same time as the
rechanneling of the Satluj and the Yamuna, later
tradition associated the event with the
Mahabharata battle, which to the generations who
populated the valley must have been the most
prominent ancient historical event.
4. Kalhana's King Lists
Basing his earliest accounts
of the kings of Kashmir on the Nilamata Purana,
Kalhana begins with Gonanda the First and assigns
1266 years to the first fifty two kings out of
whom thirty five names are taken to be lost.
Kalhana begins with this list at 2449 B.C. and
before the Karkota dynasty began 600 A.D. the list
is not very reliable; one king, Ranaditya, is
assigned as many as 300 years.  As we said
before astronomical references fixed the date of
the Bharata battle correctly, but the accounts of
individual kings were muddled since they were
forced by a wrong tradition to begin with the time
of the Pandavas.
Now if we use the
archaeological evidence regarding the devastating
floods in Mohenjo-Daro in 1900 B.C. and assume
they were caused by a catastrophic tectonic event
at the same time, then Kashmir became habitable
only after 1900 B C. and its king lists should be
started perhaps a couple of centuries later. This
makes it possible to fit the pre-Karkota king
lists of Kalhana into a plausible chronology where
historical names such as that of Asoka and
Mihirakula provide synchronisms with kings outside
In view of the majer
tectonic events of India's ancient past, the
geographical references in the Rgveda can be used
to provide chronological clues. The draining of
the Satisara lake is post-Rgvedic and current
hydrological evidence indicates that it occurred
in c. 1900 B.C. The draining of the Nepal valley
has been ascribed to 5000 years ago,  and
considering the inherent uncertainty in such
estimates it is quite possible that the draining
of the two valleys might have occurred around the
same time due to related tectonic events.
Bhargava also suggests
that the account of the flood in the Satapatha
Brahmana might refer to the draining of the
Satisara. If that is so then Satapatha Brahmana
should be dated to early second millennium B.C.
The reference to the Krittika not swerving from
the east (SB 2.l.2.3), eta (krittika) ha vai
pracyai diso na cyavante, sarvani ha vai anyani
naksatrani pracyai disas cyavante, which was true
for the third millennium B C., then represents an
older tradition that was written down later.
 Drew, F. 1875. The
Jummoo and Kashmir Territories. London.
Reprinted Graz, l976.
 Brinkhaus, H. 1987.
The Pradyumna-Prabhavati Legend in Nepal,
Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.
 Bhargava, M L.
1964. The Geography of Rgvedic India. Lucknow
Upper India Publishing.
 Kak, S. C. 1994.
Astronomical Code of the Rgveda. New Delhi:
 Agrawal, D. P. and
Sood. R. K. 1982. "Ecological factors and
the Harappan Civilization." In Harappan
Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective.
 Kak, S. C. 1992.
"The Indus Tradition and the
Indo-Aryans" Mankind Quarterly. 32,
195-213. Misra, V. N. l992. "Research on
the Indus civilization: a brief review."
Eastern Anthropologist. 45, l-l9.
 Stein, M. A. l900.
Kalhana's Rajatarangini London; rep. Delhi,
 Boesch, Hans I974.
"Untersuchungen zur morphogenese in
Katmandu valley." Geographica Helvetica.
No. l, 15-26, quoted in Brinkhaus (1987).
- Journal of the
- Tilak Road, Opp.
- Vadodara - 390 002
- Gujarat, India
Vol. 43, Nos. 1-2,
September-December, 1993 Issue, pp. 1-5