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ORIGIN OF VEDAS

By K S Krishnan
March 7, 2016

Contents
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preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1 Vedic Literature
1.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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2 The Origin of the Concept of Indo-European Language Family


2.1 The Indo-European Language Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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3 Theories Regarding Origin of IndoEuropean Languages


3.1 Linguistic Evidence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2 Kurgan Hypothesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3 Anatolian Hypothesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.4 The Palaeolithic Continuity Theory (PCT) . . . . . . . . .
3.5 Out of India theory(OIT) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.5.1 Evidences for Large Migrations from Ancient India .
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Origin of Vedic Language


4.1 Archaeological Evidences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1.1 Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or BMAC
4.1.2 Evidence from Harappa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1.3 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2 Elite Dominance and Trickle in Theories . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2.1 The Mitanni Empire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2.2 George Erdosys Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.3 Anthropology and Aryan Invasion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4 Vedic Ritual Mathematics and Indo-European Chronology . .
4.5 Evidences from the Vedas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.5.1 The Dasarajna Hymns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.5.2 Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.5.3 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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CONTENTS
4.6

Rg-Veda and the Iranian Avesta . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


4.6.1 History of Avesta . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.6.2 Contents of Avesta . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.6.3 Similarity Between Vedas and Avesta . . . . . . . .
4.6.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.7 Evolution of Indic LanguagesSome Unresolved Issues . . .
4.7.1 Retroflexion in Indo Aryan Languages . . . . . . . .
4.7.2 Substitution of r for l in Indo Iranian Languages .
4.8 The Horse and Indo-Aryans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.9 Genetic Evidences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.10 The Sarasvati River . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.11 Astronomical Evidence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.11.1 Bal Gangadhar Tilaks Hypothesis . . . . . . . . . .
4.11.2 Other Astronomic Evidences From Vedic Literature
4.11.3 Evidence of Kali Yuga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.11.4 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.12 Meaning and Contents of Rig-Veda . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.12.1 Structure and Organisation of Rgveda . . . . . . . .
4.12.2 Meaning of Rig-Veda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5 Conclusion

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preface

I had started writing this as brief notes, mainly for my own reference, as I tend to
forget what I read. The materials and data for it were collected from various sources;
various internet pages as well as written texts during the past few years. In course
of time, the notes became unmanageable, as they were too many. It was then that I
began to write it in the present form. It was never meant for anybody else. This may
have resulted in some inconsistencies and repetitions that escaped my editing. As
the sources are varied, it is possible that some of the information may be outdated,
contested or even of doubtful authority. Thus, in case anybody happens to read it,
it should be treated only as a source of preliminary reading on the subject.
I am also not able to acknowledge the sources of some of the information and data
I have included here, as I did not make a note of it at the time I read it. I hope these
are not significant, as these should be mostly bits and pieces I picked up in casual
readings. In any case I have no claim of deep scholarship in the subject, or rather
subjects, I have dealt with in this book and will have no hesitation in admitting
it, if it turns out that some of these bits and pieces had appeared in some other

0.1. PREFACE

document earlier. Besides, my intention in undertaking this work is only to present


facts and data and their different interpretations, already in the public domain, in
a consolidated manner and not to attempt development of new interpretations or a
new model on my own.
Even though I have obtained the information contained in this book from various
sources, this is not a cut and paste job. The language is mostly my own, except
where I have quoted the text, and I have arrived at the final conclusion on my own.
The origin and expansion of Indo-European Languages in the pre-historic past
is a deeply mysterious and interesting subject. Indo European languages are spoken
by almost half the humanity now and the geographical spread of these languages
virtually covers the earth. This is so unlike all other known language families, as
all these, more or less, have remained within their limited geographical areas. The
circumstances and dynamics of the spread and enormous expansion of Indo-European
Languages in Eurasia in pre-historic times is not quite clear at present. We do have
many theories, but all of them have too many week points and leave too many
questions unanswered. An enormous number of scholarly works on the subject have
appeared in the past 150 years, each of which is in disagreement with others in
respect of various aspects of the problem. Almost every aspect of it is controversial.
All these theories are essentially based on linguistics. But linguistics cannot determine chronology or dates of phases of language evolution it is enquiring into; but,
at best, only a comparative order. Attempts have been made to solve this by linking
archaeological discoveries with historical linguistics. But then archaeology cannot
determine the language spoken by the people who produced the artefacts recovered
by it, unless a piece of writing from that period that we can read is also recovered
from the same stratigraphic context. There is nothing that really can connect archaeological finds, other than actual writing, to languages except subjective inferences,as
bones and pots found in archaeological digs do not talk. Here we are enquiring into
patterns of human migrations almost a millennium before writing was first invented
anywhere.
From the turn of the century we began getting results from Archaeogenetics
based on Y-DNA mutations, which can throw light on ancient migrations. Further
improvements of these methods has resulted in development of tools to extract similar
information from autosomes also and now to extract it from ancient DNA data, its
analysis and interpretation, which is revolutionising our understanding of prehistory,
as ancient population migrations can be reconstructed far more clearly than before.
Though the methods of archaeogenetics seems to be promising, it has not been able
to resolve the issue emphatically, as the pattern of the DNA mutations are found
to be extremely complex. Also data sets of ancient DNA available for study form
different locations at present is so limited that it may not be enough to arrive at an
emphatic generalised conclusion.

CONTENTS

Part of the difficulty in unravelling the mystery arises from the fact that most
of the language forms in use in the relevant period have become extinct now. The
earliest attestation of an IndoEuropean language is from the end of third millennium BCE. By then not only the original Porto IndoEuropean dialect, but also its
direct proto daughter dialects had undergone so much transformations and evolution
in their syntax, semantics and phonetics, that these original dialects had probably
become unrecognisable from their historical known forms or had become incomprehensible by speakers of the first attested forms of the language family. we now depend
on forms of these dialects, reconstructed using tools of historical linguistics. These
reconstructed forms are used to build the tree of language families and the order of
its different nodes, apart from the syntax, semantics and phonetics of the extinct
dialect forms. Thus the reliability of these reconstructed forms are of crucial importance. But it is not clear how reliable these are. Models of various related theories
involve reconstructed proto-languages. But the existence of these proto-languages is
at best conjectural, as there is no direct or even indirect empirical evidence for their
actual existence. As one author said, these conjectures will be inadmissible in any
court of law.
We could be certain about these reconstructed forms only if we have clear empirical evidence like a written text from that period, as the reconstruction of unknown
proto-languages is inherently subjective. In the absence of archaeological finds of
writing, enquiries and interpretations regarding the forms, and more important for
us, the pattern and chronology of branching of the language family, have to often relay on subjective logic and arguments. Models based on such speculative arguments
can only be a hypothesis; even good hypothesis, but not widely accepted theories;
leave alone historical facts. These differing perceptions and profusion of models point
to the distinct possibility that there are still gaps in our understanding of the actual process of Indo-European language groups origin and expansion as well as the
history of Indic Languages in pre-historic times. It will probably require far more
research in different domains like linguistics, archaeology, genetics and other related
fields to unravel the mystery and arrive at an acceptable model which can account
for all known data, without the need to ignore adverse data.
My primary focus in this book is on the Origin of Vedas and Vedic Language
and its arrival in India in pre-historic times. But since Vedic Language is clearly
an Indo-European Language, I have tried to go into various theories regarding the
origin and expansion of Indo-European Languages also.
The mainstream view now is that Vedas were composed by a group of nomadic
pastoralists who trickled into Indus Valley from Central Asia and were living in
present day Punjab and nearby areas in around 1500 BCE. Our current knowledge
about these Vedic Aryans, Vedas and the Language Vedic are mired in controversies
with arguments and counter arguments based on linguistics, archaeology, anthropol-

0.1. PREFACE

ogy, geography, geology, hydrology, astronomy, demography, genetics and evidence


from Vedas itself. None of these arguments, and models constructed based on them
can be considered conclusive as most of them seem to be hypotheses based on evidences that may have alternate explanations or based on data and techniques that
may have room for refinement. As I am not an expert who can authoritatively comment on these arguments, I only intend to list them here, taking the liberty to make
my laymans comments, where I feel one is in order.
I have quoted English translations of a number of Rgvedic verses in this book.
For all these I have used the 1896 translation of Rgveda by by Ralph T. H. Griffith,
not because I found it to be particularly good, but mostly because it was readily
available. Besides, I found that most other available translations are quite similar.
I will quote Griffiths own words on how he went about the task.
My translation, which follows the text of Max Mullers splendid sixvolume edition, is partly based on the work of the great scholiast Sayana
who was Prime Minister at the court of the King of Vijaynagar - in what
is now the Madras District of Bellary - in the fourteenth century of our
era. Sayanas Commentary has been consulted and carefully considered
for the general sense of every verse and for the meaning of every word,
and his interpretation has been followed whenever it seemed rational, and
consistent with the context, and with other passages in which the same
word or words occur.
However, in spite of his great scholarship and commendable effort in undertaking
such a difficult task, the translated verses often are disjointed, inconsistent and
incoherent. This is in fact also true of other translations available to us today. Apart
from the archaic nature of the language, this may be due to the multiple meanings
many of the words and expressions used in these hymns can have. Choosing the
correct meaning the composers intended for them is often impossible as we have
no way of knowing the context of the verses and hymns. Besides, these hymns
may have used colourfully symbolic expressions extensively and seem to contain
many metaphors, allegories and allusions. Without having access to the underlying
materials and circumstances, it may be impossible to make any clear sense of these.
Thus, the translations I have quoted in this book should be treated as tentative or
possible and not as absolute.
I would also like to make a note of the frequent tendency among those who participate in the discussion on IE homeland and related issues to arrive at conclusions
based on little or very little empirical data and unconvincing interpretation of these
often flawed data, disregarding other equally valid scenarios. Regrettably, the subject has acquired ideological underpinnings, resulting in scholarly discussions often

CONTENTS

degenerating into personal attacks. This is now a serious impediment to honest


intellectual enquiry into the issues discussed below.
It might seem that I have gone off course and discussed many unrelated issues at
different points in this book, thereby losing focus on my core theme. But I included
these as I felt these are useful as background material, and will be helpful in looking
at the issues in the correct perspective. Before concluding, I must also admit that
some of the arguments and points made by me might seem too speculative; but I
included those as I felt that they are rational, plausible and warranted; or in some
other cases, as I thought the points may be interesting even as just a possibility. In
any case, these are not crucial to my main theses, which is that the data available
at present is insufficient to arrive at a firm conclusion regarding the origin and
expansion of Indo European languages, and the Indo Aryan branch of it and thus it
will be premature to attempt one. I also believe that all the present models, without
exception, are all in need for further enquiries and confirmation.

Chapter 1

Vedic Literature
1.1

Introduction

The term, Vedic literature is not very well defined as different authors treat different
classes of texts as part of it. Assuming the term to mean only the four parts of
Vedas and the six branches of Vedangas, it constitutes the largest and possibly the
oldest body of literature inherited by mankind from pre-historic times. Many ancient
Hindu texts (Muktikopanishad 1.12-13 and Vishnu Purana 3.6.1-7) mentions that
there were 1180 (21+109+1000+50=1180) Veda Sakhas or versions or recensions;
Rgveda (21 versions), Yajus (109), Samam (1000) and Adharvaveda (50). Each of
these versions is in four parts; the Veda proper or Veda Samhita; Brahmana Texts
(Texts about conduct of rituals); Aranyakams (continuation of Brahmana Texts, but
often philosophical) and Upanisads (end of Vedas that primarily deals with Brahman;
the underlying, all pervading, ultimate reality that transcends everything). Besides,
there were said to be six Vedanga texts (limbs of Vedas) for each of the versions;
namely Kalpam (rituals), Niruktham (etymology), Siksha (phonetics), Chandas (meter), Vyakaran (grammar) and Jyothisham (astronomy/astrology). Each version of
Kalpam again consisted of four texts; namely Sroutam (conduct of rituals), Grihyam (household religious practices), Dharmam (social, political, ethical laws) and
Sulbam (meaning is measuring threads. Calculations and procedure for constructing sacrificial altars etc or treatises of mathematics in Vedic Literature); making 13
texts (4+5+4) in all for each version of Veda. By this account total number of texts
of Vedic literature would be 1180*13=15340. The number of texts available to us
today, in more or less complete form, is less than 500. Many others are available in
incomplete or corrupted form. It should be noted that many texts available today
purportedly belonging to some of the above classifications could be later compositions. Further there are indications of existence of many others in the past as there
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CHAPTER 1. VEDIC LITERATURE

are references to them in other extant texts.


The language of these texts is now usually known as Vedic, a sub branch of
Porto Indo-European Language. Vedic is believed to be the form of the language
from which Sanskrit evolved later. It also might be another branch of Porto IndoAryan language as the syntax and semantics are often very different. Vedic itself
had undergone considerable changes during the composition of these texts and is
usually differentiated as Early Vedic, Middle Vedic and Late Vedic. Michael Witzel,
Professor of Sanskrit, Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University has
another scheme of dividing Vedic into five stages. My attempt here is a review of
the evidences of origin of the verses, the language, as well as that of the people who
spoke the original form of it and the chronology of their arrival in South Asia.

Chapter 2

The Origin of the Concept of


Indo-European Language Family
2.1

The Indo-European Language Family

The discovery of the sea route from Europe to India towards the end of 15th century
brought many European visitors to India in the subsequent years. Some of them
like Thomas Stephens; an English Jesuit missionary and Filippo Sassetti; an Italian merchant noted and wrote about the similarities between Indian and European
languages and that between Sanskrit and Latin. Writing in 1585, Filippo Sassetti
noted some word similarities between Sanskrit and Italian, like deva/dio for God,
sarpa/serpe for snake, sapta/sette for seven, ashta/otto for eight. This observation is believed to have resulted in the beginning of the idea of an Indo-European
language family. Later, an Englishman named James Parsons found that words
for numerals in Bengali, Hindi, Persian and 15 European languages are very similar
and also that these are entirely different from those in Chinese, Hebrew and Turkish,
again pointing to the possibility of a common origin of these 18 languages. But this
work was largely neglected by the academic world at that time. It was probably
Sir William Jones, who rediscovered the striking similarities between some of the
oldest languages known in his time (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Old Persian, Gothic and
Celtic) and brought it to the notice of academic circles, about two decades after
the initial discovery by Parsons. The first use of the term Indo-European (IE) is
attributed to Thomas Young in 1813. It became apparent from Indo-European (IE)
language studies that hundreds of dead and living languages spoken in the vast area
from Europe, Iran, South Asia and parts of Central Asia and west Asia had a common origin. Franz Bopps Comparative Grammar which appeared in the middle
of 19th century is considered by most as the starting point of linguistics as well as
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12CHAPTER 2. THE ORIGIN OF THE CONCEPT OF INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGE FA


Indo-European language studies as an academic discipline. In this work he tries to
analyse and describe the original grammatical structure of the languages, trace their
phonetic laws, and investigate the origin of their grammatical forms. Since then
numerous paths breaking studies has lifted the status of linguistics to one of a social
science as its predictive power has been demonstrated on a number of instances.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were speculations that Indian
caste system was on account of a major invasion/migration from Egypt in pre-historic
times and Egyptian priests became Brahmins and elites became Kshatriyas in India.
The scholarly consensus that the Vedic language, Vedas and its composers were not
natives of India, but were outsiders who came to India as immigrants or invaders was
a consequence of the emergence of Indo-European Language studies as an academic
discipline in the nineteenth century. The evolution of this model may be briefly
stated as follows.
When the West encountered Sanskrit and became aware of its unusual richness in
the 18th century, the discovery brought about a fundamental change in its outlook.
Sanskrit was instrumental in the development of the IndoEuropean world-view and
its associated fields like philology, linguistics and comparative studies. It prompted
the re-imagining of Europes history, the origin of its peoples and languages independent of the Bible. The term used to denote the European languages evolved
from Japhetic signifying Christian / European-ness of white people, to Aryan referring to the distinct race and language spoken by Caucasian people thought to
have migrated to Europe in pre-historic times, to the present one of Indo-European.
Until the IE world-view gave them an alternative non-religious vision, the history of
Europe was thought of as the history of Christianity and their origin as given in the
Bible.
Thus by eighteenth century, European scholars came to conclude that their languages belonged to a large family with Sanskrit as the mother language. On February
2, 1786, Sir William Jones, a British judge in India, and a noted Orientalist of the
time and a co-founder of Royal Asiatic society in 1784, delivered a lecture in Calcutta regarding the similarities he found between Sanskrit and classical European
languages.
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more
exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger
affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, that
could not possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed,
that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them
to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing

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that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different
idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might
be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any
question concerning the antiquities of Persia, he said
.
His Discourse and other writings ignited an academic interest in the evolutionary
history of languages and Indo-European Languages in particular. Many well known
scholars of the time such as Voltaire, Immanuel Kant and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich
Schlegel were firmly of the opinion that Sanskrit was the mother of all IE Languages.
But for various reasons this conclusion was modified and a consensus emerged
that some time in the prehistoric past there was a Porto Indo-European (PIE) language, a people who spoke the language and an area where it was originally in use
or an Urheimat (home land) of Indo-European (IE) Languages, from where the IE
people spread to distant lands. The term Porto implies that the language is not
only dead with no written record or is unattested, but also that it has left no direct
trace whatsoever. By the second half of nineteenth century most European linguistic
scholars were of the view that the Urheimat of IE must have been somewhere in East
Europe, north of Black sea and Caspian Sea.
By this time linguists also began to refer to the original IE speakers as Aryans.
Origin of this term is uncertain. It often appears in the ancient texts of Hinduism
and Zoroastrianism, the Rig-Veda and the Avesta respectively. It was a term used in
these texts for the elites of the society, mistaken by early Indologists for a separate
race of Porto-IE language speakers. In Iran, variants of the original can still be
found in the name of Iran itself. But the term did not seem to refer to a particular
race either in Iran or India. It appears that in Vedic literature only members of
Puru tribe or more particularly the Bharatas, were addressed as Arya and
not the various other Aryan tribes related to Purus. According to Max Muller,
etymologically the word Arya was derived from ar-, plough, to cultivate. Therefore,
Arya means cultivator farmer, landlord (civilized, sedentary?). In the 1830s, the
term Aryan was adopted for speakers of Indo-European languages in general, in
the unsubstantiated belief that this was an ethnic self-identifier used by the PortoIndo-Europeans, i.e., the prehistoric speakers of Porto-Indo-European dialect. Max
Muller is often identified as the first writer to speak of an Aryan race though
later he himself emphatically stated that the term has nothing to do with race.
However the idea stuck and continued to be treated as the race of early IE speakers.
This development in subsequent years led to the development of the concept of a
superior, heroic, warlike, tall, white skinned, blue eyed, handsome Aryan race who
conquered most of Eurasia and imposed their culture and language in these lands
in a very short time through superior physical and technological abilities. Some

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authors went further and claimed that advance of human civilisation, from second
millennium BCE, was mostly the result of inherent superiority of Aryan race. By
the early 20th century this idea became closely linked to Nordicism and later Nazism,
which posited Northern European racial purity and superiority over all other peoples.
This also led to a racialist reinterpretation of Indian society, texts and history by
British colonialists in late19th century as a people who were always subjugated and
ruled by superior races, in a way that justified their colonial rule. Also it could
be said that the arrival of the Europeans was nothing more than a reunion of long
separated relations. It also afforded an opportunity to the elite of India to identify
themselves as racially related to the rulers. Following the end of World War II and
the discovery of the barbaric genocide that the self-styled Pure, Superior Aryans,
destined to rule the world had caused, the word Aryan ceased to have a positive
meaning in general Western understanding. Thus the concept of Aryans as a race is
mostly the product of European politics of ninetieth and early twentieth centuries
and has little factual basis. Scholarly consensus now is that the anthropological or
genetic basis of the concept of race itself is doubtful. Thus, at present, the expression
IE (Indo European) is used instead of Aryan as few now believes that there ever was
a distinct racial or ethnic group that could be identified as Aryan. Similarly, the
term Indic Languages is preferred to that of Indo-Aryan Languages for Vedic,
Sanskrit and their daughter languages in South Asia.
Porto Indo-European Language or PIE and its Immediate Porto Daughter Languages
The expression Porto implies that there now exist no textual or physical evidence of
the existence of PIE or its immediate daughter languages. These are assumed to have
existed on the basis of conclusions reached by use of tools of Historical linguistics
and is reconstructed on the basis of cognate words in the present daughter languages
or extinct, but attested daughter languages. At least ten proto daughter languages
of PIE are now recognized. These are
1. Celtic, with languages most commonly spoken on the north-western edge of
Europe, notably in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of
Man. Most of these languages are facing extinction except the Welsh Language.
During the 1st millennium BC, they were spoken widely across Europe, in
the Iberian Peninsula, from the Atlantic and North Sea coastlines, up the
Rhine valley and down the Danube valley to the Black Sea, the Upper Balkan
Peninsula, and in parts of Anatolia.
2. Germanic, with languages spoken in England, throughout Scandinavia and
central Europe to Crimea;

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3. Italic, with languages spoken throughout the Roman Empire and, later in
modern-day Italy , Portugal, Spain, France, and Romania;
4. Balto-Slavic, with Baltic languages spoken in Latvia and Lithuania, and Slavic
throughout eastern Europe, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia;
5. Balkan, with languages spoken mostly in the Balkans and far western Turkey;
6. Hellenic, spoken in Greece and the Aegean Islands and, later, in other areas
conquered by Alexander (but mostly around the Mediterranean);
7. Anatolian, a family of languages spoken in Anatolia or modern Turkey in
ancient times.
8. Armenian, spoken in Armenia and nearby areas including eastern Turkey;
9. Indo-Iranian, with languages spoken from India through Pakistan and Afghanistan
to Iran and Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey;
10. Tocharian, a group of languages spoken in Western China till about the first
millennium BCE.
Then there are language isolates1 which have no apparent relationship to any
other known language or branches of a larger family with only one surviving daughter language. For instance, Albanian, Armenian and Greek are commonly called
Indo-European isolates. While these are part of the Indo-European family, they do
not belong to any established major branches like the Italian, Celtic, Indo-Iranian,
Anatolian, Indo-Iranian, Slavic or Germanic branches, but instead form independent
branches of their own.
Of these, all known branches of Porto-Anatolian and Porto-Tocharian are extinct.
Linguists believe that Anatolian or more particularly Hittite was the first to break
off from PIE. Some linguists also talk about a distinct dialect of PIE less Hittite.
The next to break away was Tocharian, which moved east to the Tarim Basin in
Western China. The accepted chronology of the breaking off of the remaining proto
1

Isolates are those languages which have no demonstrable genetic relationship to any other
known language. Commonly cited examples include Sumerian, Basque, Korean, Ainu and Burushaski, though in each case there are authors who claim to have demonstrated a relationship
with other languages. Another example is Elamite Language. Elamite was an extinct language
spoken in the ancient Elam region in present-day South West Iran from 2800 to 550 BCE. It has
no demonstrable relatives and is usually considered a language isolate, though some authors believe
that Proto-Dravidian descented from Elamite or in some way related to it. The Kassite and Hurrian
were also probably Language Isolates. Harappan also could well be one such isolate. The absence
of an established relatives make interpretation of the language very difficult.

16CHAPTER 2. THE ORIGIN OF THE CONCEPT OF INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGE FA


languages was more or less in the order of Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Balto-Slavic,
Hellenic, Armenian and the last Indo-Iranian, which also finally split into IndoIranian and Indo-Aryan. As should be expected, there are differing opinions about
this model.
The oldest attestation of an Indo-European language is of Hittite, a branch of
Porto-Anatolian, in the Kultepe Cuneiform texts. These clay tablets were recovered from Kultepe in north eastern Turkey or ancient Anatolia. The ancient city
of Kanes or Kanish was near modern village of Kultepe and was inhabited continuously from the Chalcolithic period to Roman times flourishing as an important
Hattic/Hittite/Hurrian city. These tablets created some time around 20th century
BCE are written in Old Assyrian, which is not an Indo-European language. Hittite
loanwords and names in these texts constitute the oldest record of any Indo-European
language. Oldest known written record in an IE language is again in Hittite in the
16th century BCE Anitta text in a cuneiform script, although Hittite itself has
become extinct since. Anitta was a king of Kussara, a city somewhere in Anatolia
that is yet to be identified. He was the earliest known ruler to compose and record a
text in the Hittite or an IE language. This text seems to be a inscription that record
some of Anittas heroics.
Thus there is a gap of about two millennia or less between the time of emergence
of Porto-Indo-European language as per the currently popular model, and its first
attestation. By this time we find that Indo-European languages came to have vast
geographical spread from Atlantic coast of Europe to South Asia. There is little
actual evidence for the mechanics or dynamics of this astounding spread.

Chapter 3

Theories Regarding Origin of


IndoEuropean Languages
3.1

Linguistic Evidence

Historical linguistics has produced a mountain of literature in the last 200 years
and is full of hypotheses, supporting arguments and disagreements. Some of the
more important linguistic theories which have influenced the debate on IE origin
and expansion, and by extension that of the Vedic Language, are discussed below.
All living languages evolve over time, adding and losing vocabulary, morphological behaviour and syntactic structures and changing in the ways they are pronounced by their speakers. For example, these evolutions account for the differences
between American and British English, and for the fact that neither Americans nor
the English can understand old English texts, including the writings of Shakespeare,
without first being familiar with the basics of the older forms of the language. Similarly PIEs descendant dialects underwent natural sound change, absorbed other
languages vocabulary and assumed unique characteristics. Over time, in the absence of close interaction, they became mutually incomprehensible and over many
centuries they evolved into hundreds of modern Indo-European languages. PIE itself
could not have been an original language. It must have evolved from some earlier
forms over many centuries and millennia. As it is an unattested language one can
only say that a dialect must have been in use at some time in the past from which
all IE languages evolved. Scholarly work of the past 200 years is beginning to throw
light on this process.
The tree of hundreds of living and dead Indo European (IE) languages has been
reconstructed indicating the language families which had branched off from Porto
Indo European (PIE) dialect and its various pre historic daughter languages and
17

18CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


the chronology of their branching off. This is done by identifying and analysing
common word forms, grammatical and phonetic features of genetic origin and those
that are known as Shared innovations (acquired by borrowings as against genetic)
among various languages, suggesting a common ancestor that split off from a common
mother language. Thus Porto-Indo-Iranian was determined to be a later branch of
PIE from which Porto Iranian and Porto Indo Aryan evolved. Avestan, Old Persian,
Middle Persian and still later various present day languages of Iran, Afghanistan and
areas neighbouring these are daughter languages of Porto Iranian. Vedic, Sanskrit,
Pali and various Prakrit dialects spoken in the Gangetic Plains in the first millennium
BC, like Ardha Magadhi and Sauraseni, were daughter languages of IA. Apabhramsa
dialects (Middle Indo-Aryan languages) in use in the first millennium CE evolved
from these, and most North Indian languages of the day are daughter languages of
Middle Indo-Aryan languages. Concurrently Paninnian or Classical Sanskrit continued to be a live language as a preferred medium of scholarly and literary composition
among Sanskrit scholars from the time of Panini till recently. It was also continued
to be used for oral communication till Muslim rule was established firmly in many
parts of India and even after that among Sanskrit literate people from different parts
of the country.
Linguists have reconstructed the basics of the PIE and various cultural, life style
aspects of its pre-historic speakers. For example the presence of root words in the
reconstructed PIE for ice and for flora and fauna found in cold regions is assumed to
limit the area of the Urheimat to such regions. For similar reasons they were believed
to be nomadic pastoralists, who were fond of singing and who buried their dead in
individual pits. It is believed to have been an early Bronze Age culture centered on
animal husbandry and domesticated horse.
The Centum-Satem isogloss was usually thought of an important hypothesis in
respect of the process of evolution of the Indo-European language family, at least
in the beginning. An isogloss is the geographical boundary of certain linguistic
features, such as the pronunciation of a vowel, the meaning of a word, or use of
some syntactic feature. It was devised by von Bradke in the late 19th century and
relates to the different evolution of the dorsal consonants1 of Porto-Indo-European
(PIE). In some branches, the palatals fell together with the velars (articulated at
the back of the mouth). These branches are known as Centum branches, named
1

Dorsal consonants are articulated with the middle part of the tongue or the dorsum. They
include the palatal, velar, alveolo-palatal and uvular consonants. These, particularly the velar
consonant, is the most common consonant in human languages, though there are some exceptions.
In articulatory phonetics, the place of articulation of a consonant is the point of contact where an
obstruction of wind flow occurs in the vocal tract. It can be an active articulator, like some part of
the tongue or a passive location, like some part of the roof of the mouth. Along with the manner of
articulation, this gives the consonant its distinctive sound.

3.1. LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE

19

after the Latin pronunciation for hundred. In some other branches the labiovelars
fell together with the velars (articulated in the front of the mouth). These branches
are known as Satem branches, named after the Avestan pronunciation for hundred
or Sanskrit Satam. The centum group includes Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic
and Tocharian. Tocharian, a now dead language spoken till the first millennium
AD in parts of western China, appears to be a special case where all three PIE
dorsal series have merged into a single sound. This has led some writers to suggest
that Tocharian does not fit the CentumSatem model. The satem languages include
Baltic, Slavic, Armenian and Indo-Iranian. Palatalization is believed to be a one-way
process transforming velars into palatals but never the reverse; so that the velar or
centum forms had to be the original and the palatal or satem forms the evolved
variants. Vedic, which is a satem language, had to be a later branch of IE if this
model is correct and it must have come to India from outside since it is believed
that the origin of PIE was outside India. Another linguistic argument was that the
vowel differentiation in Latin and Greek was original, and that in Sanskrit was a
subsequent development.
Yet another somewhat controversial philological theory is the linguistic centre
of gravity principle which states that a language familys most likely point of origin
must be in the area of its greatest diversity. Only one branch of the ten major sub
branches of Porto Indo-European is found in India, whereas the remaining eight (also
excluding Tocharian) branches of Indo-European are all found in Central-Eastern
Europe and areas proximate to these. Because it requires a greater number of long
migrations from the centre to the area of each sub family, an Indian Urheimat of
IE or origin of the language family, is far less likely than one closer to the centre of
Indo-European linguistic diversity, which is East Europe. But there are a number of
scholars who are sceptical of this theory and its universal applicability.
One of the main reasons for 19th-century philologists to exclude India as a candidate for Urheimat status, apart from Centum-Satem isogloss hypothesis, was the
findings of a fledgling new method called linguistic palaeontology. The idea was that
from the reconstructed vocabulary of PIE, one could deduce which flora, fauna and
artefacts were familiar to the speakers of the proto-language, hence also their geographical area of habitation. Thus, speakers of a language that has words for snow,
sleigh, reindeer, and seal must live in a very different place from those of a language
with words for palm, coconut, rice, and elephant. Based on the consensus reconstructions of PIE, its speakers must have lived in a temperate environment, where snow,
birch trees, beech trees, and wolves were common features, but salt-water bodies
were not. Reconstructions of words for rye, barley, sickle, and to plough tell us that
PIE speakers had agriculture, while words for sheep, goat, pig, and cattle mean that
they raised animals. The reconstructed PIE also has the roots like ekwos for horse
and kwekwlo for wheel. The presence in the common vocabulary of words denot-

20CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


ing northern animals like the bear, wolf, elk, otter and beaver seemed to indicate a
northern Urheimat; likewise, the absence of terms for the lion or elephant seemed to
exclude tropical countries like India. But this kind of conclusions seem to be rather
speculative.
Based on these linguistic theories most scholars came to accept the hypotheses
that Vedic language had entered India from the North-West. The date first suggested
by Max Mller Muller was 1200 BCE, mostly based on the then accepted chronology
of Biblical events. Max Mller Mullers proposal was primarily based on his firm
belief in the Biblical date of the creation of the world on October 23, 4004 BC. The
presently accepted date of the arrival of the language in South Asia is slightly earlier
(1500-1700 BCE). As Indo-Aryan was a later branch of IE and Urheimat of PIE was
assumed to be somewhere in Eastern Europe, the obvious conclusion was that the
language entered India form that area in the time frame indicated above.
There are a number of other conjectures, hypothesizes and theories which point
to the origin of Vedic language outside India, though some of these have lost mainstream academic support. Even with regard to the Satem-Centum and vowel differentiation, there are differing views among scholars. For example the proposed
SatemCentum split was undermined by the discoveries of Hittite and Tocharian,
which were centum languages located within the hypothetical satem geographical
range. Tocharian presented particularly serious difficulties as it is isolated in the
Far East, separated from centum language areas in Europe by thousands of miles of
rugged terrain and hostile people. The finding that, Tocharian, the most eastward
Indo-European language, was a centum language, has put the concept of centumsatem division untenable and the division is thus no longer considered a real isogloss,
though the term remain useful and thus is used widely. Most authors now believe
that each branch became centum or satem independently. This division based on
a single isogloss was further weakened by continued research into additional IndoEuropean isoglosses, many of which seemed of equal or greater importance in the
development of daughter languages. Philip Baldi explains:
...an early dialect split of the type indicated by the centum-satem contrast should be expected to be reflected in other high-order dialect distinctions as well, a pattern which is not evident from an analysis of shared
features among eastern and western languages.
The division of the Indo-European languages into Satem/Centum groups is held
by many scholars now to be outdated as it is based on just one phonological feature. Thus it is doubtful if it or the current interpretation of the various linguistic
features discussed above can be treated as the primary source of evidence in the
spread of Indo-European languages in its present form. Colin Renfrew notes that

3.1. LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE

21

the satemcentum distinction is not in itself accorded much significance today as


it is considered too simplistic. Besides, many other isoglosses identified since are
inconsistent with the interpretation of centum-satem contrast.
An isogloss is an indicator of geographical proximity, rather than of genetic relationship, in respect of dialects and languages sharing that isogloss. Thus when, in
some cases, some of the dialects or languages sharing the isogloss move geographically away from each other into non-contiguous areas, and continue to retain the
linguistic feature, that linguistic feature is a testimony to their geographical proximity at some time in the past. An examination of the different extant or attested
branches of the Indo- European language family shows different linguistic features
found as isoglosses linking different branches to each other. The branches sharing
any particular isogloss are not necessarily spoken in contiguous areas at present, and
many are not on record as having been spoken in contiguous areas even in historical
times. Thus the only conclusion that can be drawn is that these branches, in the
form of some stage of the respective ancestral dialects of Porto-Indo-European, were
spoken in contiguous areas in the original Indo-European homeland or close to it,
before they separated from each other or at various points and stages during the
process of their separation.
The immediate daughter dialects of Porto-Indo-European dialect, can be divided
into three groups on the basis of their break from the main body, the Early Dialects,
the European dialects, and the Last Dialects.
1. The Early Dialects: Anatolian (Hittite), Tocharian.
2. The European dialects: Italic (south-west of Europe), Celtic(central west),
Germanic (north west), Baltic (north east), Slavic (east).
3. The Last Dialects: Albanian, Greek, Armenian/Phrygian, Iranian, Indo-Aryan.
It is significant that, while there are isoglosses shared between Early and European Dialects and those between European and late dialects, the Early Dialects
and the Last Dialects, and, more particularly, the Early Dialects and Indo-Iranian,
do not share any isoglosses with each other. One of these isoglosse, identified between Iranian, Armenian/Phrygian and Greek is difficult to explain in terms of the
currently popular Kurgan model, as this linguistic feature is not present in Indic
languages. Therefore this could have evolved only when the three dialects were in
close and contiguous areas; and yet separated from Indo-Aryan branch. The Kurgan model cannot accommodate such a situation as the split between Indo-Iranian
and Indo-Aryan is believed to have happened long after the common dialect split
from Armenian/Phrygian and Greek.

22CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


According to Victor H. Mair (MAIR 1998:847-853), for example, the Indo-Iranians
were already separated from the speakers of the Anatolian and Tocharian Dialects by
3700 BCE, from the speakers of the Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic and Albanian Dialects by 3200 BCE, from the speakers of the Greek Dialect by 2500 BCE,
and from the speakers of the Armenian Dialect by 2000 BCE. Other authors have
slightly different chronology with minor differences; but the comparative order is the
same. Thus, there could not have been a stage when Iranian, Armenian/Phrygian
and Greek were in contiguous areas and yet seperated from Indo-Aryan.
Many isoglosses identified so far are quite complex, baffling and difficult to explain within any of the proposed models of Original homeland and chronology and
sequence of IE expansion. One such particularly difficult isoglosse is the one that
includes Hittite and Phrygian (in Anatolia) in the centre south, Tocharian in the far
east, Celtic in the far west and Italic in the south-west of the purported IE homeland. Hittite, Tocharian and Italic are the dialects which are thought to be the first,
second and third respectively, to migrate from the original purported homeland in
the Steppes and they share a few isoglosses almost exclusively with each other. A
fundamental attribute of isoglosses is that every single isogloss can be mapped out
showing all the dialects which share that isogloss lying in a contiguous area, now or
at some time in the past, without any intrusions of any dialect which does not share
that particular isogloss. These need not be in contiguous area at present, but they
must have been so at some time in the past for a substantial period of time of at least
a couple of centuries or more. It would have been impossible under the steppe home
land model for the speakers of Tocharian, Hittite, Italic and Celtic to have coexisted
in close contiguity and yet apart from all other IE dialects at any time, somewhere in
the steppes, so as to have developed these features. If these four dilects had moved
together in any direction away from the others, at least two of these groups would
need to retrace their steps and move in the opposite direction later, through almost
certainly hostile territory, as the first attested geographical area of these languages
are west of the steppes in case of Celtic, south-west in case of Italic, south in case of
Hittites and, most problematically, far east in case of Tocharian. A long migration
through areas of total strangers , for thousands of miles, during a period lasting
many decades or centuries would have been devilishly difficult; if not impossible, in
ancient times. No one would have allowed complete strangers speaking unknown
languages and with unfamiliar lifestyles moving among them. Besides the strangers
also would try to satisfy their basic material needs from the often constrained local
sources; a sure recipe for conflict. They would have been annihilated or absorbed
by the people in the areas through which they might have tried to pass. Such a
movement of large groups of strangers would be unthinkable even in todays liberal
and globalised societies. On the basis of the currently popular model, it is impossible
that these dialects could have been in contiguous areas, but separated from all other

3.1. LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE

23

IE dialects, at any time in the past.


Tools of Historical Linguistics
In the course of the 19th century Indo-European studies evolved as a science in its
own right. As part of this, various techniques and methods were developed which
help the linguists to arrive at conclusions about previous stages of a language. Some
of such techniques are
1 COMPARATIVE METHOD or CM. This refers to the practice of comparing
forms in two or more languages with a view of discovering regularities of correspondence. It is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing
languages to establish their historical relatedness. comparative linguistics aims to
construct language families, to reconstruct proto-languages and specify the changes
that have resulted in the documented languages. A number of methods for carrying
out language classification have been developed, ranging from simple inspection to
computerised hypothesis testing. Such methods have gone through a long process of
development.
The fundamental technique of comparative linguistics is to compare phonological
systems, morphological systems, syntax and the lexicon of two or more languages
using techniques such as the comparative method. From them, regular sound correspondences between the languages are established, and a sequence of regular sound
changes can then be postulated, which allows the proto-language to be reconstructed.
A simple instance from English and German concerns the consonants /t/ and /s/.
Where English has /t/ German has /s/: water : Wasser, better : besser, foot : Fuss.
It is obvious here that English /t/ corresponds to German /s/ in non-initial position.
Other Germanic languages like Swedish also has retained t in vatten, betra and fot
for water, better and foot. This would imply that it is German which has changed
the original /t/ to its present /s/.
A major concern of the comparative method is validating a postulated original
form, which is not attested. By looking at a several genetically related languages
linguists can attempt to reconstruct the ancestor language from which the modern
related languages are derived. Since linguists do not have, in most cases, actual
access to written records of the proto-language, they work backwards from modern
languages or older languages for which records are avilable, to reconstruct the protolanguage. This is done by identifying cognate forms in these languages. But the
real test is that the reconstruction should match reality.
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin or
having the same linguistic derivation as another (e.g. English father, German Vater,
Latin pater). The word cognate derives from the Latin cognatus or blood relative. In linguistic research, it is generally excluds doublets and loan words, although

24CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


broader definitions are sometimes used.
After several millennia of gradual evolusion, cognates often acquire very different
phonetic shapes. For example, English hundred, French cent, and Polish sto are all
descendants of Porto-Indo-European parent. Thus cognates often become unidentifiable as such. They also do not need to have the same meaning, which may have
changed as the languages developed separately. Cognates also do not need to have
similar forms. The semantic change can be quite dramatic. For example, English
guest and Latin host (enemy) are cognates, even though their meanings are diametrically different. Similarly, the Hebrew word for impudence, and its Classical
Arabic cognate have opposite meaning. On the other hand, phonetic similarity of
semantically equivalent words can also be a matter of chance resemblance, as in
English day and Latin die. False cognates are words that are commonly thought
to be related or thought to have a common origin, but which linguistic examination
reveals to be unrelated.
linguists have developed many tools to verify if words in different languages are
cognats, some of them using highly complex algorithms. These are mostly based on
sound law and uses knowledge of systematic sound correspondences or phonological
changes that they have undergone. Cognates may often be easily recognised, but in
many cases authorities often differ in their interpretations of the evidence. Basically,
the proceedure is as follows. Words that exhibit some phonological similarity are
analyzed in order to find systematic correspondences of sounds and in turn these are
used to distinguish between genuine cognates and borrowings or chance resemblances.
It is standard to look for cognates among basic vocabulary items, e.g. body parts,
close kinship terms, low numbers, basic geographical terms, since these are more
likely to be words which are preserved from the proto-language, rather than borrowed
at a later time. The standared for such lists is The Swadesh list.2 . It is a list of
basic concepts for the purposes of historical-comparative linguistics. Translations
of the Swadesh list into a set of words of selected languages allow researchers to
quantify the interrelatedness of those languages.
Comparative method uses cognates in different languages with a common origin
to arrive at conclusions. But correct identification of cognates is often problematic.
The fundamental assumption in recognising cognates is that sound laws have no
exceptions. When it was initially proposed, critics proposed an alternate position,
summarized by the maxim each word has its own history. Several types of change
do in fact alter words in non-regular ways. Unless identified, they may hide or
distort laws and cause false perceptions of relationship. Sporadic changes, such
as irregular inflections, compounding, and abbreviation, do not follow any laws.
2
The Swadesh list is named after the U.S. linguist Morris Swadesh, who created the first such
lists. After many alterations and corrections, he published his final 100-word list in 1971.

3.1. LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE

25

For example, the Spanish words palabra (word), peligro (danger) and milagro
(miracle) should have been parabla, periglo, miraglo by regular sound changes
from the Latin parabola, periculum and miraculum, but the r and l changed places
by sporadic metathesis. All languages borrow words from other languages in various
contexts. They are likely to have followed the laws of the languages from which they
were borrowed rather than the laws of the borrowing language. These uncertainties
make the Comparative method as well as the identification of cognates in different
languages a hard task and error prone. Some scholars observe that even a systematic
sound change is at first applied in an unsystematic fashion, with the percentage
of its occurrence in a persons speech dependent on various social factors. The
sound change gradually spreads, a process known as lexical diffusion. Thus they do
not always apply to all lexical items at the same time. Such exceptions leave the
neogrammarians axiom that sound laws have no exceptions often doubtful.
2 INTERNAL RECONSTRUCTION This is the second major technique in reconstructing previous stages of languages. The basic principle is that one uses evidence from within a single language to gain knowledge of an earlier stage. Such
evidence is usually available as unproductive or unused forms, which are taken as
remnants of those which were formerly active.
These techniques are based on a number of assumptions and principles. Perhaps
the most important of these is The Uniformitarian Principle or UP, sometimes also
referred to as the Principle of Uniformity. It very simply claims that the processes
which we observe in the present can help us to gain knowledge about processes in
the past. The reasoning behind this is that we must assume that whatever happens
today, must also have been possible in the past; whatever is impossible today, must
have been impossible in the past. If we observe today that water boils at around
100 degrees Celsius, we can logically assume that it also did so at any given point
in the past. This principle, which originated in the natural sciences, has also been
applied in the humanities and in linguistics, when looking at historical developments.
In linguistics, however, the Uniformitarian Principle may have to be taken with a
pinch of salt, since there is no clear and simple correlate to the laws of nature. The
Uniformity we observe in nature is on account of The laws of nature. But it is
uncertain if there are any equivalent laws of human phonetics. From what we can
observe, phonetic changes appear to be random.
General knowledge of linguistic processes often helps to formulate useful laws of
linguistics. One such is the assumption that palatalisation is a process that always
result in a forward movement, from the velum to the palate. The shifting of an
articulation from a velar position to a palatal one is a very common phenomenon. 3
3
Velars are produced by raising the back part of the tongue to the soft palate or the velum,
whereas palatals are produced by raising the front part of the tongue to the palate.

26CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


Examples of velar consonants in English are k and g and for palatals is t. Again,
an instance of a knowledge about some aspect of the nature, that is of a general
nature, leading to validation of an individual case would be with morphology. If a
language has fewer inflections than another, then it is probably right to assume that
the latter is older or at least more conservative, as inherited inflections tend to be
lost by phonetic attrition. Applying general knowledge in particular cases assumes
that linguists have an accurate conception of what constitutes a typical and what
an unusual change, but it is difficult to quantify typical and unusual. This is hardly
ever self evident and thus there is often disagreement among scholars on this point
. Besides it is a sort of inductive reasoning, where a few specific instances are used
to formulate a general rule. Such logic can be valid in many cases, but is apt to be
widely off the mark in others. Thus the validity of this type of conclusions may be
probable and not definite. Another fundamental assumption is that rate of retention
of items is relatively constant for all languages throughout time: about 80% of the
basic vocabulary of 200 items (86% of the 100 item list) is retained over 1000 years
and 20% (14% for 100 item list) lost/shifted during this time. But the validity of
such an assumption should be considered suspect. During times of hugely destructive
invasions and wars, large migrations, climate changes etc., the pace of evolution of
dialects also can change. In ancient/medieval times instances of such disturbances
were probably common. The assumption of uniformity in a proto-language, implicit
in the comparative method, is also problematic. Even in small language communities
there are always dialect differences, whether based on area, gender, class, or other
factors.
Reconstruction of proto languages and and the language trees with its nodes,
using such assumptions and principles can be a distinct possibility, but cannot be
considered unassailable. However many linguists appear to have unshakable faith
in such models. Quoted below is what David W. Anthony and Don Ringe have
to say in their article titled The Indo-European Homeland from Linguistic and
Archaeological Perspectives that appeared in Annu. Rev. Linguist. 2015.linguistics.annualreviews.org.
It is true that we can recover only part of any prehistoric language: a
larger or smaller portion of its lexicon and a larger or smaller fragment
of its grammar, depending on how much inherited material is preserved
by the actually attested daughter languages. Some details may remain
unrecoverable, and our reconstructions are sometimes temporally out of
focus, including slightly older and slightly less old details in the same
reconstruction. However, each protolanguage that we reconstruct must
be an approximation of some real language spoken by a real community,
for two different reasons. One basis of our confidence is the nature of the

3.1. LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE

27

comparative method by which we reconstruct protolanguages: It exploits


the observed regularity of sound change by means of simple mathematics,
yielding categorical results that can be replicated by other researchers
and checked both for internal consistency and against information from
other sources.
The other reason for our confidence is the Uniformitarian Principle (UP),
familiar from other historical sciences such as paleontology. As usually
applied in linguistics, the UP holds that unless external conditions can
be shown to have changed in some way that can be proved to have an
impact on human language, we must assume that the structures of past
languages, the way they were acquired by children, the changes they
underwent, the distribution of linguistic variation in their speech communities, and so on fell within the same ranges as those of languages that
can still be observed and studied. Thus, the UP is usually invoked to
flesh out the impoverished language data that survive from the past and
our necessarily limited reconstructions of protolanguages. But it can also
be used to make a different argument: If straightforward mathematical
reconstruction yields a grammar fragment that falls within the observed
range for modern native languages, we can reasonably infer that it corresponds to some real language of the past spoken by some real speech
community, because experience shows that living languages do not exist
apart from native speech communities. Because the grammar fragment,
phonological system, and lexemes that are reconstructible for PIE reveal
a coherent, unremarkable human language, the UP suggests that the
PIE-speaking community might, given the correct integrative methods,
be correlated with the reality recovered by archaeology
In spite of the confident assertion of such reputed scholars, one will have to note
the many uncertainties inherent in practices and processes of historical linguistics.
Conclusions reached by such methods can only be probable and not certain.
All attempts to identify an actual pre historic people with an unattested language
depend on sound reconstruction of that language for reliable identification of cultural
aspects and environmental factors which may be associated with a particular time
and culture (such as the use of metals, agriculture vs. pastoralism, geographically
distinctive plants and animals, etc). A powerful tool that linguists make use of for
the purpose is the so called Linguistic Archaeology or Linguistic Palaeontology which
attempts to put a firm date to the linguistic record using archaeological data. One
such tool is known as lexical periodisation or lexical self-dating. According to this
method, names of datable notions (i.e. tools, techniques, social institutions and the
like) can be assumed to have been created at the moment of the given innovation. In

28CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


other words, the lexicalisation of datable referents can be assumed to have the same
date as that of the referent. As a consequence, lexical self-dating, applied with the
due care, is a useful tool to produce a lexical periodisation system. For example
agriculture related words could only have entered the lexicon at roughly the period
when agriculture was first invented. Similarly words related to horse riding and
chariots might be assumed to have been created when these innovations came into
use or words related to metals like copper and bronze might be from the beginning
of Bronze Age or Chalcolithic (copper) Age.
But such lexical periodisation can be error prone. Linguistic reconstruction
makes it possible to identify particular words which are taken to have formed part of
the vocabulary of the Porto-Indo-European language. But these are reconstructed
on the basis of sound laws, which are not properly supported in many instances by
parallel meaning laws. Thus one cannot be certain exactly what these terms may
have referred to at the PIE stage. It is possible words might have been adapted
for new uses when they came into use. For example the Porto IE sound for to
shine or glow was later used to denote gold. The technique of inferring culture from
such reconstructions is therefore open to criticism, and the same word is open to
different interpretations. This is what Paul Heggarty of Max Planck Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig has to say about such methods

Cultural reconstruction is no hard science. It is open to a great deal of


subjective interpretation and interminable arguments, and not probative
at all. For while linguists can reconstruct sounds reliably, by near exceptionless sound laws, we have no equivalent meaning laws to be able to
reconstruct *exact* meanings, especially not where referents themselves
are necessarily changing, in processes of domestication or technological
development. The supposed wheel words actually go back to more general words for turn, rotate and walk, formed into words that look literally
like turn-turn (thing), for example.

Another uncertain element is that some of these similar words in different languages
may be loan words, although linguists use widely accepted procedures to differentiate
genetically inherited words and loan words.
Linguistic reconstruction is fraught with significant uncertainties and offer room
for subjective speculation. Often other scenarios could also account for the data.
The reconstruction of unknown proto-languages is inherently subjective. Thus all
current models of Indo-European origin or expansion are open to possible substantial
modification in future.

3.2. KURGAN HYPOTHESIS

29

Origin of Porto Indo-European Language


There are many theories regarding the location of the Urheimat of PIE and the
model of its expansion. Some of the hypotheses regarding the origin of PIE are
1. 4th millennium BC in Armenia, according to the Armenian hypothesis
2. 4th or 5th millennium BC to the east of the Caspian Sea, in the area of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana known as Sogdiana hypothesis. Johanna Nichols (1997)
holds that the dispersal of the Indo-European languages commenced from a
region somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana. She revived the
forgotten 18 century model with some new linguistic arguments.
3. 5th millennium BC in the Ponting-Caspian steppe, according to the Kurgan
hypothesis.
4. 6th millennium BC in India, according to Out of India model
5. The 7th millennium BCE in Anatolia.
6. Before 10th millennium BC according to the Palaeolithic Continuity Theory.
Other such suggestions like North-Western Europe and the Arctic Circle have
little following now. All these models are still based on theories that cannot claim
finality as there is no direct evidence of the nature of Porto-Indo-European language
or society. All interpretations of whatever aspects this society or the language
might have had are therefore only inferences. Interpretations based on archaeology
makes the assumption that one particular homeland hypotheses is in fact correct as
there is nothing that really connects the archaeological finds to the language except
inferences based on various artefacts unearthed by archaeology. Linguistics by itself
cannot determine the actual chronology of the evolution of a language, but at most
only a comparative order. It can date the events only with the help of some other
branch of knowledge. Thus IE linguistics will remain a dependent variable, unless
some kind of writing of an IE language from third millennium BC is unearthed.
Among the above models Kurgan hypothesis has emerged as the front runner at
present. Anatolian Hypothesis by Colin Renfrew, Palaeolithic Continuity Theory by
Mario Alinei and Out of India model are the other serious contenders, but have only
limited academic support. Essentials of these models is stated briefly as follws.

3.2

Kurgan Hypothesis

A Kurgan is a circular burial mound constructed over a pit grave, which is a


common feature all over the Pontic Steppes. The term is now widely used for such

30CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


structures of Eastern European and Central Asian archaeology and is a Turkic loan
word in Russian. The distribution of such tumuli in Eastern Europe corresponds
closely to the area of the Pit Grave and The Yamna cultures dating to the 36th23rd centuries BC which are identified with the late Porto-Indo-Europeans (PIE).
Geographically the area in Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea and the Caspian
Sea coincide with the land of the ancient Scythians. Characteristic of the Kurgan
culture include inhumations in pit graves with a kurgan structure over the pits and
the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered
in red ochre. Multiple graves have been found in successive layers in these kurgans
as later insertions. Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep,
goats and horse), a feature associated with Porto-Indo-Europeans. These Kurgans
are mounds of earth and stones raised over a grave, with features like the presence
of an entryway into the chamber, into the tomb, into the fence, or into the kurgan,
funeral chambers, the presence of an altar in the chamber and a wooden roof over
or under the kurgan, at the top of the kurgan, or around the kurgan. Depending
on a combination of elements, each historical and cultural nomadic zone had its
architectural peculiarities.
Some of these Kurgans are complex and large structures like Ipatovo kurgan located near Ipatovo, some 120 km north-east of Stavropol, Russia. This is particularly
special not only because of its sheer size with a height of 7 meters, but also because of
the complexity of the architectural evidence which covers at least thirteen phases of
construction and use, from the 4th millennium BC to the 18th century AD. The first
grave may have been a burial of the Maykop culture, which was destroyed by later
graves. The earliest extant grave contained two young people, buried in a sitting
position, dating to the late 4th millennium. On top was a Sarmatian grave of the
3rd century BC. A woman had been buried here in extended position on the back,
together with an exceptionally rich treasure of grave-goods like gold ornaments. In
the final phase, more than 100 simple graves were dug into the slope of the barrow,
probably 18th century burials of the Turkic Islamic nomads who later moved into
the area. The early phases include a wagon burial, with the skeleton deposited in
an extended position; the complete wagon had been deposited next to the body, and
wooden parts such as the wheels were substantially preserved. The latter gave a
radio carbon date of 2615-2337 BC. In addition, the grave had a large number of
bronze artefacts, including a hook, a knife and a medallion.
In 1956 Lithuanian-born American archaeologist Marina Gimbals first proposed her Kurgan hypothesis combining archaeology with linguistics to locate
the origins of the Porto-Indo-European (PIE) speaking people in the Pontic Steppe
towards the end of Neolithic during the Chalcolithic period or copper age or
early Bronze Age. Her technique of thus combining archaeology with linguistics
was considered by many as quite revolutionary at the time. The concept of Cul-

3.2. KURGAN HYPOTHESIS

31

tural horizon proposed by by Marina Gimbals, included several cultures in what


she termed as Kurgan Culture that coexisted in the steppes during the period,
including the Samara culture and the Yamna culture. The Yamna culture (36th
to 23rd centuries BCE), also called Pit Grave Culture, may have been the nucleus of the proto-Indo-European language. By the 1970s consensus had emerged
among Indo-Europeanists in favour of this model and it had a significant impact on
Indo-European research.
According to this theory early Bronze Age Ponting-Caspian steppe people spread
westward as well as eastward on horseback and chariots carrying Porto Indo-European
language with them. The presence of Indo-European languages everywhere from
England to India was assumed to have been a product of the invention of horsechariot technology shortly before 2000 BC and their original speakers were assumed
as particularly powerful and ruthless warlords. The original Indo-Europeans were
imagined as a horde of aristocratic Bronze Age warriors who came hurtling out of
the steppes, overwhelming the simple peasant cultures of Europe and even toppling
the civilization of the Indus Valley which was far ahead of the nomads in many other
technologies. The history of Indo-European was seen as the key to a remote romantic
era, a time of great migrations and heroic conquests. It was taken for granted that
the prehistoric past could best be understood in terms of warfare and colonization.
This point of view had a sort of romantic appeal and came to have wide acceptance.
This model thus is more or less a modern variation on the traditional invasion theory.
The model proposes that the proto-Indo-Europeans gradually split into several
dialect groups, which eventually evolved into the proto Indo-European daughter
languages. One of the groups moved eastward and established the the Sintashta
culture (2100-1800 BCE), from which developed the Andronovo and Yaz cultures
(1800-1400 BCE). This culture interacted with the Bactria-Margiana Culture (23001700 BCE). Earlier it was thought that Bactria-Margiana Culture was created by
the incoming proto Indo-Aryans. But few hold that view now and the consensus
is that Bactria-Margiana Culture was not Indo-European. Out of this interaction
developed the Indo-Iranians, which split in around 1800 BCE into the Indo-Aryans
and the Iranians. One group of Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant and became the
Mitannians. A second wave moved towards northern India and became Vedic Aryans.
The Andronovo, Bactria-Margiana and Yaz cultures have been associated with IndoIranian migrations, with separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Porto-Indo-Iranians
dated to roughly 2000-1800 BC. The Gandhara Grave, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard
and Painted Grey Ware cultures are thought to be archaeological attestations of
Indo-Aryan movements; their arrival in the Indian subcontinent being dated to the
Late Harappan period.
This theory is based on a combination of linguistic theories and archaeological
data. The evidence for this model comes from linguistic palaeontology: in particular,

32CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


certain words to do with the technology of wheeled vehicles are present across all
the branches of the Indo-European family, though not everyone agrees with this. So
Porto Indo-European itself could not have fragmented into those daughter languages
before the invention of chariots and wagons. Further we have archaeological evidence
of wheeled vehicles by 4000 BCE in the steppes. Most estimates based on this
model date PIE between 4500 and 2500 BC, with the most probable date falling
around 3700 BC. Many scholars are of the opinion that early PIE could not pre-date
4500 BC, because the reconstructed vocabulary strongly suggests a culture of the
terminal phase of the Neolithic bordering the early Bronze Age. The main strengths
of the model are the archaeological evidence of an early Bronze Age culture with
remains of chariots and horses from third millennium BC in the steppes combined
with linguistic evidence for root words in the reconstructed Porto IE language for
technologies mastered by the steppe people like domestication of horses and chariots.
When the Kurgan burial sites, with the horse and chariot remains found there, were
securely dated to a period close enough to the assumed time of Porto IE language,
it was natural to connect these two. I see the wheeled-vehicle evidence as a trump
card over any evolutionary tree, says David W Anthony, well known archaeologist
in his scholarly work The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, though he disapproves
the use of the term Kurgan Hypothesis as he believes that there never was a single
homogeneous culture that could be identified as Kurgan Culture. What the Pontic
Steppes had were many essentially heterogeneous social groups with differing racial
backgrounds and cultural traits.
But the model has been challenged on account of a number of weaknesses. These
include.
In the last three decades, archaeological research has made quite a few revolutionary advances, among which the most well-known is the much higher
chronologies of European prehistory, obtained by radiocarbon and other innovative dating techniques. These studies have indisputably established that
there is absolutely no trace of any large scale invasion and that a language
substitution of the imagined scale would be quite unlikely. There is probably
some indication of a migration event from the steppes towards Easten Europe
and the Balkans some time in the third millennium BCE. But this evidence is
not apparent in other parts of Europe. The evidence collected by archaeology
in the last thirty years points to the uninterrupted continuity of most Copper and Bronze Age cultures of Southern, Western and Northern Europe from
Neolithic. This is also true of the areas south of Oxus River; Iran and South
Asia.
Reconstructed Porto IE language also has many words related to agriculture in
its core vocabulary. Thus it could also be argued that Porto-Indo-Europeans

3.2. KURGAN HYPOTHESIS

33

were agriculturalists whereas the Kurgan people were not. Many terms found
in the reconstructed proto Indo-European language are not compatible with
the cultural level of the Kurgans. Kathrin Krell (1998) holds that the IndoEuropeans were primarily agriculturalists whereas the Kurgan people were
just at a pastoral stage and hence might not have had sedentary agricultural
terms in their language. Krell has compiled lists of items of flora and fauna;
economy and technology that archaeology has unearthed from the Kurgan sites
and compared these with lists of the corresponding words in the reconstructed
proto IE vocabulary. Krell found major discrepancies between the two.
IE language spread was mainly in areas where agriculture flourished. Thus either Porto Indo-European Language and people spread with agriculture before
6000 BCE, or it later spread into regions already agricultural. The later scenario will need to explain the reason for the selective spread of IE people, into
regions already agricultural, 2000 to 3000 years after the event. Why would
nomadic pastoralists migrate in many separate waves almost exclusively into
agricultural land?
Kurgan hypothesis places the proto-Indo-European language in the 4th millennium BCE, the process of transformation from Porto-IE to separate Porto
language groups in the 3rd and evolution of the separate language groups into
the major attested languages in the II and first millennium BCE in the Bronze
and Iron Age. Many scholars are uncomfortable with the unprecedented pace
of these transformations. Evolution of most other language groups such as
Australian, American Indian, African, Chinese and Uralic happened from prehistory over many millennia. The earliest known Indo-European languages like
Mycenaean Greek, Hittite and Sanskrit were already far more divergent in the
second millennium BC than the languages derived from Latin such as French
and Italian are today. Divergence between Latin as spoken in the Roman Empire on one hand and modern French and Italian happened over two millennia
during a period of far more cultural exchanges, migrations and invasions unlike
the times of divergence of IE languages. This suggests that the common ancestor of IE Languages must have been spoken not around 3000 BC, as assumed,
but well back in time. Evolution of languages must have been far slower in prehistoric times compared to historic times because of the constraints of means
and technology and rarer cultural contacts with outsiders.
Bronze Age is sometimes divided into early Bronze Age, middle Bronze Age and
late Bronze Age. The technology during early Bronze Age was probably crude
and so chariot and spoked wheel making techniques might have been perfected
only in the second half of third millennium BCE, when most estimates of middle

34CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


Bronze Age place its development in the area. Spoked and hence light, yet
sturdy, wheels for chariots and wagons might not have been possible without
middle Bronze Age technology and without sturdy chariots and wagons the
unprecedented IE expansion would not have been possible. Thus separate
Porto language groups might have evolved only after this time as linguistics
tells us that words related to these technologies evolved at the stage of PIE.
We have first attestation of an IE language (Hittite) by around 20 century
BC. Thus we are faced with the improbable conclusion that PIE evolved into
separate Porto language groups and further into attested languages like Hittite
within a couple of centuries.
If the Pontic Steppes is the Urheimat of IE, one would expect some early branch
of IE Languages still to be in use in the area. No such language now survives
in the area of ancient Yamna culture, the heartland of Kurgan Culture. The
area is dominated by some very old language families unrelated to IE like
Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian, North-east Caucasian and Turkic. These
languages, except Turkic, appear to have been spoken in the area for a very long
time. Russian and Ukraine spoken in the areas to the North-West belong to
Balto-Slavic branch of IE which appears to have originated in Central Europe
and spread into the area in historic times. No linguist has ever claimed that
these two IE languages trace back to the original Porto-IE. Armenian spoken
in a small pocket south of the Caspian and Black Sea is the only other IE
language in the area. Besides Balto-Slavic and Armenian are satem languages
and not the original Centum variant. If the IE dialects were violently displaced
from the area, possibly by Turkic intrusions in the later periods, why and how
did the Caucasian languages survive in the area?
Similarly Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1, which many believe to be that of the Proto
IE speakers, has only minor presence in the area. Its greatest concentration is
in South Asia and Central Europe.
According to this hypothesis, the bearers of these cultures were nomadic pastoralists, who, by the 3rd millennium BC expanded throughout the PontingCaspian steppe and into Eastern Europe. But further Indo-Europeanization
of Central and Western Europe and Central Asia during the Bronze Age is far
more uncertain. There is no indication of spread of Kurgan culture east of the
Caspian. There are no kurgan burials at all south of the Amu Darya.
The importance of horse and chariot to the Kurgan Hypotheses is that these
help explain the spread of IE Languages throughout the vast Eurasia in a comparatively short time. We also have the analogy of nomadic horse riding warriors from the steppes time and again conquering the surrounding civilizations

3.2. KURGAN HYPOTHESIS

35

later. These warriors used their horses to significantly increase their military
effectiveness. It may seem straightforward to simply assume something similar
happened in the third millennium BC. But the steppe nomads only became
such fearsome warriors from around 1000 BC when they adopted more effective
riding gear and developed new breeds of horses. In fact, it is only from this
time onwards that we find extensive evidence of horseback warriors. Though
archaeological evidence of domestication of horses in third millennium BCE is
available, it is unlikely that cavalry or chariot warfare could have been feasible before well into second millennium BCE, as an effective cavalry requires
far more technological invocations than what is apparent in the archaeological
records of third millennium steppes. The full domestication of the horse might
have been a long drawn out process that not only involved the development of
horse harness and handling techniques but also the physical and behavioural
transformation of a generally untameable wild animal through many generations of selective breeding. Similarly there are claims of evidence of early riding
gear but this evidence seems far from conclusive. Even if the Proto IE people had mastered the technique of horse riding, their horsemanship might not
have been very effective, useful or common. Certainly horses were sometimes
used for riding and transportation before but its effectiveness, particularly as
a cavalry force is doubtful. The extensive and very effective use of chariots
for warfare in Persia, The Fertile Crescent, Anatolia as well as the steppes till
about 500 BCE may be an indication that cavalry were not in use till about
that time. This is because the comparatively clumsy chariots might have had
little chance against a fast, flexible cavalry. It is significant that chariots ceased
to be used as a war machine at about the time horse riding steppe tribes began
to ravage Eurasia.
Also chariots could not have been used for invasions beyond the steppes as the
terrain was not very suitable; nor is war chariots associated with nomads. Large
cavalry needs open terrain for their mobility and grasslands for the horses. It
seems very unlikely that horses or chariots were used in any significant scale
for warfare in third millennium BCE, particularly beyond the steppes. At best
small groups of riders might have used horses for fighting minor battles. It
might have been more useful as a means of transportation.
Around 2500 BCE, Central Europe witnessed an enormous upheaval caused
by an invasion from the east, clearly apparent in the archaeological record,
along with a possible population or language displacement, now traceable in
the ancient genetic records. If these people had gone in other directions as
well, as the Kurgan model suggests, this is what an invasion by the steppe
nomads of mid third millennium BCE should look like. And that precisely is

36CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


what is totally missing in the archaeological record in India.
Something happened in the steppes in the 3rd millennium BC according to this
model that caused the IE languages to start spreading over most of Europe
and much of Asia, eventually to spawn the languages spoken by almost half of
mankind. Whatever it was, it must have been quite unusual, spectacular and
historically important. There is no parallel for such an expansion in recorded
history except may be the spread of English language. But IE spread was
at least 4000 years before English, over land with very difficult terrain and
hostile people. Besides we know fairly well why or how English spread as it
did. It is this insight that we lack in case of Kurgan Hypothesis. Archaeological records and their interpretation to this date give no indication of any
such spectacular circumstances. The incredible wanderlust of the pre-historic
Indo-European tribes who spread thousands of kilometres westward, eastward,
northward, southward and even remote corners of the vast Eurasian landmass
in a remarkably short time is quite unprecedented or even unlikely. Incidentally neither Rgveda or Iranian Avesta describe the composers as people with
a particular liking for wandering in unknown lands. On the contrary, these
texts often express contempt for people with nomadic life style.
There are many other language families in the world. List of the top ten
language families of the world in terms of numbers of speakers as a proportion
of world population, listed below with their geographic areas.
1. Indo-European languages 48% (Europe, South west to South Asia, North
Asia, North America, South America, Oceania, South Africa)
2. Sino-Tibetan languages 20% (East Asia)
3. NigerCongo languages 6% (Sub-Saharan Africa)
4. Afro-Asiatic languages 6% (North Africa to Horn of Africa, West Asia)
5. Austronesian languages 6% (Oceania, Madagascar, maritime South-east
Asia)
6. Dravidian languages 4% (South Asia)
7. Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic families. Whether these
belong to a single group is disputed) 2.5% (Central Asia, Northern Asia,
Anatolia, Siberia)
8. Japonic languages (sometimes included in an expanded Altaic family) 2%
(Japan)

3.2. KURGAN HYPOTHESIS

37

9. Austro-Asiatic languages 2% (mainland South-east Asia)4


10. TaiKadai languages 1.2% (South-east Asia)
The Uralic languages constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. Most native speakers of
these languages are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and a few others. The named
three are official languages of the respective nation-states. More than 50% of
the speakers are Hungarians. Evidence suggests that their ancestors had migrated from areas around Ural Mountains at some time in the pre-historic past;
hence the name Uralic languages. Some scholars believe that this movement
might have been along with that of Indo European language speakers at about
the same time.
Since the birth of comparative linguistics in the 19th century, the riddle of the
apparently isolated Caucasian language families has attracted the attention of
many scholars. Three of these families have no current members outside the
Caucasus, and are considered indigenous to the area. Intriguingly, this is the
core area of Kurgan culture. The term Caucasian languages are generally restricted to these families, which are spoken by about 11.2 million people. These
languages are Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian and North-east Caucasian language families.
The long presence of these isolated Caucasian language in the core Kurgan
area also points to an unlikely contradiction. These languages, which were
present during the purported time of expansion of IE dialects from the same
location, did not spread with the IE dialects; but the IE dialects, which are
not present in the area now spread all over Eurasia from the area.
As can be seen from the above, all other language families except IE have more
or less stayed in their own natural areas. IE expansion happened over very difficult and different terrain and climatic conditions. The factors that motivated
these people to undertake such an expansion in spite of the risks and hardships
is not clear. Similarly the other language families apparently evolved into the
present forms over many thousands of years unlike Porto IE, which according
4

Austro- means south in Greek, hence the name Austro-Asiatic. Most of the languages that
belong to this family are spoken in South-east Asia, in countries located between China and Indonesia. A few are spoken to the west in the Nicobar Islands and in India. The Austro-Asiatic
family includes 168 languages. It is usually divided into two main branches: Mon-Khmer with 147
languages, and Munda with 21 languages. Khmer of Cambodia and Vietnamese together constitute
almost 90% of speakers of Mon-Khmer. Speakers of Munda branches are scattered in the three Indian states of Orrisa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as well as some other places in India and Nepal.
Khasi language of North East India also belong to this group.

38CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


to the model, expanded all over Eurasia and evolved into unconnected daughter languages within a period of about a thousand years or less. Any successful
model of IE expansion should have a satisfactory explanation for the means as
well as the cause of the process. The Kurgan hypothesis does not have such
an explanation at present.
A further difficulty with this theory, or its related arrival of IE language in
South Asia, is that by this time North West India was a densely populated
region with widespread agriculture, so the number of IE migrants would need
to be extraordinarily large to explain the fact that today about half the ancestry
in India derives from genetic types known as the Ancestral North Indian. (More
on this later)
As new evidences emerge the model is facing new challenges on many fronts.
Doubts are being raised about its chronology. For example Mycenaean Greeks
who had been previously considered a prime example of invading Indo-European
chariot-warriors are now suspected as a purely local development, as it appears
that they were already living in Greece by 3000 BC, more than a millennium
before their estimated time of arrival in Greece and even before the putative
invention of the horse-chariot in Pontic Steppes. Excavations at Mycenae and
other sites has resulted in revision of the early history of Mycenaean civilization
to 3200 to 2000 BCE (Early Helladic Period).5
The prevailing chronology seem to be in conflict with emerging evidences regarding earliest history of many of the Indo European Language groups like
Celtic, Greek, Armenian apart from Indo Aryan. It is now becoming increasingly evident that the speakers of Celtic Language were already in the Atlantic
Coast of Western Europe in Neolithic times just as Indo-Aryans in South Asia
during that period. The presence of two later branches of Indo-European languages in the western and eastern extremities of Eurasia in the Neolithic times,
would involve significant collateral damage to the prevailing dogma.
5

The Early Helladic Period started in about 3200 BC. A number of nomadic tribes, probably
Indo-European, appeared in central and southern Greece from this time and took up agriculture and
animal husbandry as their main occupations. They could have been living in the area from an earlier
period. The Helladic or Mycenaean civilization, is divided into the Early Helladic (c.3200-2000 BC),
Middle Helladic (c.2000-1500 BC), and Late Helladic (c.1500-1100 BC) periods. If the steppe home
land model is correct, the IE speaking nomads would have reached Greece by around the time of
beggining of Middle Helladic period. But archaeology do not show any significant disruption or
change in the cultural and life style practices in the area. The civilisation is named Mycenaean,
as Mycenae was the most important city-state among many that dotted Greece in this period.
These chronological periods are approximately parallel to the Minoan civilization which was centred
around the island of Crete.

3.3. ANATOLIAN HYPOTHESIS

39

Kurgan hypothesis stands on two separate pillars. First the archaeological


finds from the steppes have clearly established a Bronze Age culture of nomadic
pastoralists who had domesticated horses and knew the use of wheels. This
part of the evidence stands on firm ground. The second is based on various
linguistic theories concluding that PIE people were early Bronze Age nomadic
pastoralists who had domesticated horses and knew the use of wheels. This
conclusion is based on a large amount of scholarly work and is not easy to
challenge at present. But this part cannot be said to be as strong as the
archaeological evidence. But the weakest aspect of the model is that there is
little that connects these two pillars. It requires a leap of faith to link the
archaeological finds in the Kurgans and the PIE.
Many academics are now uncomfortable with the model in view of its many
weaknesses. Even so Kurgan Model has more support among academics than other
models and is considered as the leading model that answers the question of IndoEuropean origins.

3.3

Anatolian Hypothesis

Anatolian hypothesis claims that the Porto-IE language spread from Anatolia or
Asia Minor as the Greeks called the area (present day Turkey) with the expansion
of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago, possibly shortly after the origin of agriculture in
the Fertile Crescent. The original author of this model of Indo-European expansion
was Colin Renfrew. It posits that the language family was able to spread due to
the population expansion of agriculturalists. It is based on the observation that the
only moment in European prehistory which might coincide with a large scale change
such as the presumed indo-Europeanization of Europe is the beginning of farming in
the 7th millennium B.C. Moreover, since farming originated in the Middle East, and
archaeology does detect in southern Europe a modest migratory contribution from
that direction, associated with the introduction of farming, Renfrew has concluded
that these early farmers were the Porto-Indo-Europeans, responsible for the introduction of IE in southern and central Europe, and that the subsequent IE dispersal
started from these two areas, along with the dispersal of farming techniques. An
intrusive contribution is especially evident in the two earliest Neolithic cultures of
southern Europe, both dated to the 7th millennium BCE, namely the Balkan complex and in Western and Central Mediterranean. These cultures would represent the
first introduction of IE into Europe. The philosophy behind this theory is that the
Porto-Indo-Europeans, far from being warriors who invaded and conquered Europe
by sheer military force, were instead the inventors of farming, who conquered Europe
by cultural and intellectual superiority. The main strength of the farming hypothesis

40CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


lies in its linking of the spread of Indo-European languages with an archaeologically
known event (the spread of farming in Europe) that may have resulted in significant
population shifts.
An extremely complex Mathematical/statistical tool developed recently, and
since successively refined, make use of concepts and methods of phylogenetic analysis. The model analyses lexical and philological data, to arrive at the chronological
order of branching of different nodes of a language tree and the approximate time of
such branching. A 2003 analysis of 87 languages with 2,449 lexical items found an
age range for the initial Indo-European divergence of 7,800-9,800 years, which was
found to be consistent with the Anatolian hypothesis. Successive studies, using ever
more improved methods taking into account conceptual and methodical problems
that were noticed in earlier studies, consistently agree with the Anatolian hypothesis
of spread of IE languages from Anatolia with the spread of agriculture, in around
8500 YBP. One of the latest such study is by Robin J. Ryder and Geoff K. Nicholls
published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Volume 60, Issue 1, pages
71-92, January 2011. After systematically examining potential impact of various
factors that might impact their results, Ryder and Nicholls conclude that the only
factor which could make a major difference to their results would be a major change
in the rate of word diversification in a coordinated manner, across all IE branches
in existence, between 3000 and 5000 years ago. Such coordinated change across the
vast land mass from India to Western Europe seems very unlikely. Their conclusion
is as follows.
Our main result is a unimodal posterior distribution for the age of PortoIndo-European centred at 8400 years before Present with 95% highest
posterior density interval equal to 7100-9800 years before Present. all
our results agree with the Anatolian hypothesis that the spread of the
Indo-European family started around 8000 BP. None of our analyses
agree with the Kurgan theory that the spread started between 6000 and
6500 BP.
They also specifically analyse and reject various objections raised against their methods by other authors; particularly linguists and historians. Some of these are
1. One weakness pointed out for computational models is that it take into account
only one possible mechanism of language spread; known as demic diffusion,
a slow and random population movement in all directions, impeded only by
water. Such models cannot handle quick migrations, and hence necessarily
postulate a much slower spread of Indo-European languages and, as a result,
a much earlier date for PIE.

3.3. ANATOLIAN HYPOTHESIS

41

2. Besides, lexical data alone cannot tell the whole story and sometimes can be
highly misleading. For example, models that rely on lexical data often show
Romani, the language of the Gypsies, as far more diverged from Indo-Aryan
languages than it actually is, indicating a time of divergence of 2,500-3,500
years. In reality, Romani gained a distinctive lexicon, not because it diverged
from its other Indo-Aryan languages a long time ago, but rather because it
was in contact with, and picked numerous words from, other languages on
its way from northern India to Europe; words from Persian, Armenian and
Greek. A look at its structural properties, such as its gender and case systems,
indicates that Romani must have split off from the other Indo-Aryan languages
only about 1,000 years ago. This more recent date of the Roma exodus from
northern India is now confirmed by genetic studies.
A computerized study published in 2012 in Science, using methods drawn from
the modelling of the spatial diffusion of infectious diseases, also offer support the
Anatolian hypothesis.
These recent finding, by use of some very recently developed advanced techniques
in different domains, along with recent archaeological finds and their interpretations,
have begun to give Anatolian hypothesis the status of a front runner among various
models of IE origin and expansion.
An argument against the Anatolian hypothesis is that PIE contains words for
technologies that make their first appearance in the archaeological record in the Late
Neolithic, in some cases bordering on the early Bronze Age, and that some of these
words belong to the oldest layers of PIE. There is strong support at the moment for
the close relation of early Bronze Age and PIE, though it appears to equate absence
of evidence to evidence of absence; a frequently used method, but of doubtful logical
validity.
A new Model of Anatolian Hypothesis Based on Genetics
Spectacular advances in the tools to extract ancient DNA data, its analysis and
interpretation is revolutionising our understanding of prehistory. One of the early
result from it is the confirmation that there was a massive genetic transfer from
the Kurgan areas to the Eastern and North-Eastern Europe at around 4500 years
BP. Though the data set was rather limited, the fact of the genetic transfer seems
to be on quite firm ground. But further interpretation of its significance may be
problematic. To clarify the issues, parts from an article titled Ancient DNA and the
Indo-European Question by Paul Heggarty of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology, Leipzig is quoted below.
Ancient DNA and the Indo-European Question Posted on 2015/06/11 by

42CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


Paul Heggarty, Ancient DNA and the Indo-European Question
An ancient DNA revolution is now sweeping through genetics. Suddenly,
ancient population migrations can be recovered far more clearly than
before. For linguists, this holds out the prospect of closure, at last, on the
Indo-European question. And that is quite some prospect, for agreement
on the origins of Indo-European has eluded us ever since linguistic science
began, when Sir William Jones first posed this very question in 1786.
Todays issue of Nature (11th June 2015) publishes two major papers
based on Bronze Age ancient DNA from the Eurasian Steppe one of the
two leading candidates for the original homeland of the Indo-European
family.

Haak, W. et al. [David Reichs group, Harvard] 2015. (online since 201503-01) Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European
languages in Europe. Nature 522 (7555): p.207211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature143
Allentoft, M.E. et al. [Eske Willerslevs group, Copenhagen] 2015. Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia. Nature 522 (7555): p.167172.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14507
Spectacular advances in ancient DNA data, as published in papers such as
these, are enriching and revolutionising our understanding of prehistory
at a bewildering pace. They are advancing us in great strides towards an
eventual resolution of the Indo-European question.
Both papers interpret their results as leaning towards the Steppe hypothesis, albeit rather tentatively and superficially in places. On closer
inspection, indeed, all is by no means so clear cut. The new data actually turn out to be equally compatible, if not more so, with the Steppe
as the immediate origin of just a few branches of Indo-European (notably BaltoSlavic and perhaps Tocharian). These Bronze Age movements would thus be only secondary to an original Neolithic expansion
of the Indo-European family as a whole, with farming, out of the northern
arc of the Fertile Crescent (i.e. the Anatolian hypothesis). The ancient
DNA data also reconfirm the spread of farming as the dominant shaper of
the genetic make-up of Indo-European-speaking southern, Mediterranean
Europe, with relatively little Steppe impact. The mistaken impression
that the results support the Steppe hypothesis comes from what seems
to be a failure to grasp the scope and scale of the Indo-European question. And from the an apparent assumption that if one can detect some
population movements originating in the steppe, then that means they
must support the steppe hypothesis.

3.3. ANATOLIAN HYPOTHESIS


The new papers rather misleadingly talk of the hypothesis of steppe origins, and the Indo-European languages, as if referring by default to the
entire family, and to what explains that family as a whole. But they go
on to refer mostly to regions that host but a small proportion of the subbranches of Indo-European, which is all that their new data really bear
on. This is also why their results actually fit also with a secondary sub
expansion (out of the Steppe) of just those few parts of Indo-European.
This Bronze Age movement would have been a second stage, long after the primary stage in the Neolithic which had already seen the much
wider expansion of most of the family, with farming, out of an original
homeland in the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent.
A YamnayaCorded Ware population movement is in fact entirely compatible with the farming hypothesis, as a later, secondary movement
within the overall spread and intensification of food-production. The
main first phase saw farming (both crops and livestock) spreading originally out of the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent: westwards into
Europe; and eastwards through the Middle East, to the Indus and eventually the Ganges. Colin Renfrews (1987) original hypothesis A for IndoEuropean had both of these movements spreading the Indo-European
family too, both eastwards and westwards.
But farming also spread out of Anatolia northwards onto the Steppe.
Whether this spread to the Steppe was predominantly through the Balkans
and/or Caucasus remains debated.
Once on the steppe, farming eventually specialised there into pastoralism, in this highly suitable grasslands environment (although some cropfarming continued in more western regions). Several millennia after the
first spread of farming, this new and predominantly pastoralist package
on the Steppe made for an intensification of food production, most viable
and competitive in environments where farming was not yet especially
productive, including temperate north-eastern Europe. It seems no surprise that pastoralists spread successfully there in the early Bronze Age,
then.
Traditionally, the Steppe hypothesis has proposed a time-frame for IndoEuropean expansion of c. six millennia. For the Yamnaya  Corded
Ware movement, however, Brandt et al. (2013) and Haak et al. (2015)
give a date of just 4500 BP. But is a time-span of just 4500 years or so
sufficient to allow for all the divergence between all European branches
of Indo-European: Slavic vs. Baltic vs. Germanic vs. Celtic vs. Italic

43

44CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


vs. Greek vs. Albanian, and so on? That is, we are left with little more
than two millennia to take us, for example, from the early Latin of the
last few centuries bc back to Porto-Italic, then further back to PortoItalo-Celtic (if one accepts that clade), and then back again to allow
for a sufficiently deep split from other branches such as Greek. Early
Latin and Greek texts document what were, already by 2500 years ago,
sub-lineages far diverged from each other, into fully-fledged, mutually
unintelligible languages. And even amongst Greek dialects, their own
divergence within their single clade already takes us back to at least 3000
bp, on standard thinking. That leaves just 1500 years for divergence visa-vis all other branches of Indo-European in Europe. As an informal but
informative yardstick, consider how similar modern Italian and Spanish
remain, some 2200 years after Roman expansion to Iberia. From that
perspective, an expansion at barely double that time-depth, 4500 bp,
looks suspiciously shallow for the entire, far greater diversity of IndoEuropean within Europe.
Both above studies indicate that todays Europeans descend from three groups
who moved into Europe at different stages of history. The first were hunter-gatherers
who arrived some 45,000 years ago in Europe. Then came farmers who arrived from
the Near East about 8,000 years ago. Finally, a group of nomadic sheep herders from
western Russia called the Yamnaya arrived about 4,500 years ago. Some researchers
suspect that there is also a forth element. The issue is, which of these groups brought
the Indo-European languages to Europe; the second group or the third or even the
first; or is an altogether different mechanism involved?
Dr. Heggarty believes that early European farmers, the second wave of immigrants, may have brought Indo-European languages to Europe from the Near East.
Then, thousands of years later, the Yamnaya brought the language again to Central
and East Europe. The genetic profile of present European population also points to
a pattern consistent with such a scenario. While in Central and East Europe, R1a
is the dominant Y-DNA haplogroup, it is R1b in west, north and south Europe.
What Paul Heggarty proposes is a new model of IE origin and expansion or more
correctly, a model that is basically Anatolian Hypothesis with some elements of
Kurgan Hypothesis to account for certain ancient migration patterns that ancient
DNA data has confirmed. The migration of the Yamnaya or Yamna horse riding
pastoralists, possibly along with proto Uralic elements, which probably evolved into
the Corded Ware culture in Eastern Europe, was a secondary movement within the
overall spread of Indo-European dialects. He believes that the large scale genetic
transfer from the Kurgan areas to East Europe was on account of just one branch
of proto Indo-European dialect; the Balto-Slavic branch. Porto Indo-European lan-

3.4. THE PALAEOLITHIC CONTINUITY THEORY (PCT)

45

guage evolved in the Anatolia some two thousand years before that and its daughter
dialects spread west to southern and western Europe, and south to parts of West Asia,
Iran, South Asia as also to the steppe areas, were it evolved as Yamna and Kurgan
cultures. His conclusion is based on two accounts. first, as the Yamna genetic markers have not been found in significant numbers in other places where IE languages
spread. The ancient DNA data also reconfirm the spread of farming as the dominant
shaper of the genetic make-up of Indo-European-speaking southern, Mediterranean
Europe, with relatively little Steppe impact. Secondly, the traditional model would
require the evolution and expansion of the Indo-European languages in a quite unlikely or suspiciously shallow time frame. This model, if it could be confirmed, can
be a possible winner, as it can explain almost all the uncertainties and defects of the
popular model.

3.4

The Palaeolithic Continuity Theory (PCT)

The Palaeolithic Continuity Theory (PCT) is a hypothesis suggesting that the PortoIndo-European language might have originated in the Upper Palaeolithic or around
25000 YBP or before, several millennia earlier than the Bronze Age as in Kurgan
model or at the most Neolithic estimates in Anatolian Hypothesis. Its main proponent is Mario Alinei, who advanced the theory in his Origini delle Lingue dEuropa,
published in two volumes in 1996 and 2000.
The Continuity Theory proposes that Indo-European speakers arrived in Europe
tens of millennia ago, and that by the end of the Ice Age, had already differentiated
into Celtic/Italic/Germanic/etc. speakers occupying territories within or close to
their traditional homelands. The PCT posits that the advent of Indo-European
languages should be linked to the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia from
Africa in the Upper Palaeolithic. It also suggests that the glaciers and pre-glacial
basins that compartmentalized Europe during the Ice Age may actually have been the
mechanisms for the process of differentiation of Indo-European into its component
families.
It is based on a synthesis of linguistic studies, the archaeogenetical studies of
Brian Sykes indicating that some 80% of the genetic stock of Europeans goes back
to the Palaeolithic, as well as on archaeological data indicating European cultural
continuity. The Continuity Theory also draws radically different conclusions about
the rate of linguistic change from those of the traditional theories of Colin Renfrew
and Gimbals. Clearly, if a homogeneous proto-Indo-European people appeared in
Europe 6,000 years ago, then firstly, all subsequent language evolution will necessarily
be compressed into the 6,000 years between then and the present, and secondly, the
projection of this rapid rate of linguistic change back into the Palaeolithic will lead

46CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


to the evident conclusion that no useful inferences can be drawn about languages
spoken at that time, since it will be impossible to distinguish genuine cognates
in extant languages from chance similarities. This indeed is a serious argument
that other models, particularly The Kurgan Hypothesis will have to account for.
Compression of evolution of the language family into such a short period has no
parallel. Proponents point to a lack of archaeological evidence for an Indo-European
invasion in the Bronze Age; to the lack of substantial genetic change in Europe
since the Palaeolithic; and to analogy with a theory of a Palaeolithic origin of Uralic
peoples and languages in Eurasia.
The framework of PCT is laid out by Alinei in four main assumptions:
Continuity is the basic pattern of European prehistory and the basic working
hypothesis on the origins of IE languages.
Stability and antiquity are general features of languages.
The lexicon of natural languages must be periodized along the entire course
of human evolution.
Archaeological frontiers coincide with linguistic frontiers.
The continuity theory draws on a Continuity Model (CM), positing the presence of
IE and non-IE peoples and languages in Europe from Upper Palaeolithic times and
allowing for minor invasions and infiltrations of local scope, mainly during the last
three millennia. This model has only limited support at present as it obliges us to
deal with words traditionally reconstructed for Indo-European referring to notions
that did not exist in the Palaeolithic as loan words. If the IE lexicon of this class is
satisfactorily explained to conform to PCD, it will seriously destabilize the massive
knowledge base created by linguists over the past two hundred years.

3.5

Out of India theory(OIT)

The Out of India theory (OIT), also known as the Indian Urheimat Theory, is the
proposition that the Indo-European language family originated in the Indian subcontinent and spread to the remainder of the Indo-European region through a series
of migrations. It was originally proposed in the late 18th century to explain similarities between Sanskrit and European languages. The finding of similarities between
languages from India to Europe led to the beginning of Indo-European studies in
the late 18th century. Most scholars at the time were certain that the Porto-IndoEuropean language must be Sanskrit, or something very close to it. A few early
Indo-Europeanists, such as Voltaire, Immanuel Kant and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich

3.5. OUT OF INDIA THEORY(OIT)

47

Schlegel had a firm belief in this and essentially created the idea that India was the
Urheimat of all Indo-European languages. In a 1775 letter, Voltaire expressed his
belief that I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of
the Ganges and the dynasty of the Brahmins. Kant wrote Mankind together with
all science must have originated on the roof of the world, the Himalayas.
The development of historical linguistics in the ninetieth century resulted in
doubts about Sanskrits status as the mother of all languages. Particularly it was
determined that reconstructed PIE lexicon related to climate, flora and fauna etc
seemed inconsistent with those available in India. Also Sanskrit as a satem language
was found to be a later branch of PIE. Again the Linguistic centre of gravity theory
increased the distance between Sanskrit and PIE.
The hypothesis however was revived recently by Koenraad Elst (1999), Shrikant
Talageri (1993, 2000, 2008) and others. It is based on the idea that Aryans are
indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. These recent OIT scenarios posit that the
Indus Valley Civilization was Indo-Aryan. The Indian Urheimat proposal holds that
during the 6th millennium BC, the Porto-Indo-Europeans were living in the Punjab
region of northern India. As the result of demographic expansion, they migrated in a
number of waves to different parts of Eurasia in the next two thousand years. By the
end of this migration, India was left with the Porto-Indo-Aryans. Those remained
in North-West India composed the Vedas during the fourth millennium BCE before
the Early Harappan period (3300 to 2700 BCE). Adharv Veda, Brahmanas etc were
composed during the mature Harappan phase (2700 to 1900 BCE). At the end of the
Mature Harappan period, the Sarasvati River began drying up and the remainder
of Indo-Aryans split into separate categories. Some travelled westwards and their
descendents later established themselves as rulers of the Hurrian Mitanni kingdom
and possibly as Kassites by around 1600 BCE. Others travelled eastwards and inhabited the Gangetic basin while others travelled southwards and interacted with
the Dravidian people. But this chronology has minor variations in case of different
authors.
Elst argues that it is altogether more likely that the Urheimat was in satem territory. OIT holds that India originally had the centum form, that the dialects which
first emigrated (Hittite, Italo-Celtic, Germanic, Tokharic) retained the centum form
and took it to the geographical borderlands of the IE expanse (Europe, Anatolia,
China), while the dialects which emigrated later (Baltic, Thracian, Phrygian) were
at a halfway stage and the last-emigrated dialects (Slavic, Armenian, Iranian) plus
the stay behind Indo-Aryan languages had evolved into the satem form. This would
satisfy the claim of the so-called Lateral Theory that the most conservative forms
are to be found at the outskirts rather than in the metropolis. Today Hindi, Bengali,
Punjabi and Hindi/Urdu speakers of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan together have
almost a billion native speakers, making Indo-Aryan family easily the largest of any

48CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


of the Indo-European language family. Thus the majority stayed back as would be
normal in such a scenario.

3.5.1

Evidences for Large Migrations from Ancient India

Exodus of the Vedic Tribe; Druhyus


It is now generally accepted that there were a number of waves of emigrations out
of South Asia from ancient times. One reason for such movements was that South
Asia always had demographic surplus.
One possible case of such a migration event, in the pre-historic past, was that of
Druhyus. References to the Vedic tribe Druhyus in the Rigveda are found in the
Dasarajna battle hymns RV VII.18, 33 and 83, as also a few other Rgvedic hymns.
These three hymns by Rshi Vasista, describes a battle fought by Purus allied with
some other Vedic Aryan tribes against the Bharata King Sudas. In VII.18.14, the
reference is to the two tribal conglomerates (Anu and Druhyu), in VII.18.12, the
reference is to the kings or leaders of these tribes in the battle (Kavasa and the
Druhyu), and in VII.18.6, the reference is to the priests (Bhrgu and Druhyu) of
the two tribal conglomerates, who are said to live far away or as distant people.
Thus, the Druhyus are an interesting case with the tribe, the king and the priest
are all named as Druhyu. One plausible reason for this might be that, by this time
Druhyus were beginning to fade away from the memories of Vedic Aryans who had
little knowledge about the culture, lifestyle and even names of these distant relatives.
Another interesting bit of information about Druhyus come from the Puranas.
Many Puranas like Vishnu Purana 4.10.17,18 says King Yayati gave the southeastern part of his Kingdom to his son Turvasa, South to Yadu, north to Anu,
north-west, probably Gandhara to Druhyu, and the central and most important
portion to Puru, his youngest son. Gandhara in Afghanistan is said to be named
after one of the Druhyu chieftains. Vishnu Purana later in the same chapter says that
the last Druhyu King became the leader of Mlecha tribes; people with unacceptable
life styles and religious practices or just unfamilier people. Intriguingly, it then says
that Druhyus just disappeared from the far away land where they were known to
live earlier.
The Iranian Avesta makes it clear that Druhyu (Druj) was an appellation for a
class of rival or enemy priests. The priests of the Iranians were the Athravans or
Bhrgus and Magi, and the terms Angra (Angiras) and Druj (Druhyu) are regularly
used in the Avesta in reference to the demon enemies of Ahura Mazda, the supreme
god of Zoroastrians, and Zarathustra or Zoroaster. In Vendidad 19, it is stated that
an Angra and a Druj tried to tempt Zoroaster away from the path of Ahura Mazda.
An interesting related detail is that, while the word Druhyu and its cognates

3.5. OUT OF INDIA THEORY(OIT)

49

(Druh, Drugh, drogha, droha, drohy) in the Rigveda and derived words in Indic
languages, as well as the word Druj in the Avesta, refer to demons or enemies;
cognate forms in the European languages have the opposite meaning : while Drui
is the name for the priests of the Celts, the word means friend in some Baltic
and Slavic languages. Also, there is now a Druze community spread mostly in the
Levant. The Druze faith is one of the major religious groups in the Levant, with
about 1.5 million adherents who are found primarily in Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
Interestingly they believe in cycle of rebirth and the ultimate union of the soul with
the Cosmic Consciousness, though most of them follow Christian faith now. This
is not a known part of any Semitic or West-Asian religious beliefs and is distinctly
South-Asian.
Thus, Druhyus were part of vedic tribes at some time before Rigveda began to be
composed, moved to the north-west of Saptasindhu as part of a political settlement,
again before Rigveda began to be composed, 6 moved far away further north or
west by the time of battle of ten kings of early Rigvedic period, later became
enemies of Zoroastrians also and still later became Mlechas and then gradually just
disappeared or moved further away and lost all contacts with their former kins. If
these accounts in Rigveda, Avesta and Puranas have at least some elements of truth
in them, this was a migration of whole tribes out of South Asia in pre-historic times;
not just in one quick movement, but a slow process of many stages, that took many
generations or even many centuries.
This account of the gradual alienation of part of a society and their eventual
disappearance from some far away land, might be an actual record of history; albeit
in a form in which the ancient Indians chose to record their history. It do not appear
to be a hugely exaggerated and embellished story designed to retain the audience
attention as many stories in Purana-Itihasas appear to be. The story of a hated
and despised clan who migrated out of the country and just disappeared in distant,
forgotten past has little glamour or ability to hold audience attendance.
The above movement of Druhyu tribes can also neatly solve the problem of the
linguistic isoglosse that unites Hittite, Tocharian and some European Languages that
Kurgan Hypothesis finds difficult to reconcile. If the Druhyus had moved NorthWest and passed through the Bottleneck Khyber Pass, into Northern Afghanistan
and Central Asia, They would have lost all contacts with South Asia. Later some of
them could have moved west along the southern coast of Caspian Sea and reached
Northern Mesopotamia as Hittites. Another branch moving east would have reached
Tarim Basin or modern Xinjiang, China, as Tocharians. Yet another group moving
6

According to Puranas, Puru was the tenth king in the Chandra vamsi line and Bharata was
the twenty second. All references to Bharata in Rigveda are as a distant ancestor, who was the
progenitor of Bharata clan. Or in other words, on the basis of Rgvedic evidence, Bharata was a
pre-Rgvedic figure.

50CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


north-west would have ultimately reached Western Europe. All these people could
have carried with them the linguistic markers picked up while living together in
Central Asia or even north-western India.
Witzel denies the possibility of such a scenario as the present physical characteristics of Nordic people and those in the North-west India are very different. But the
Druhyus could have interbred with many races during their long process of migration
and acquired these characteristics in the process. It may be necessary to look closely
at the genetic pattern of these people to arrive at a conclusion. Besides such an
objection would make any IE homeland model untenable, as IE language speaking
people come in all shapes, sizes and colours. At least two of the now extinct groups;
Hittites and Tocharians were believed to have had Mongolian features. That there
are so many very different ethnic groups, with very different physical characteristics,
within the speakers of Indo-European Languages now, may point to the need for far
older chronology for origin and expansion of the language group. Also, it is possible that the Indo-European language speakers could have changed races, as modern
Turks seem to have done. They were originally Mongols, but looks like Europeans
now, even though their ancestors in Western Mongolia were, and still are, Mongoloid.
Other Migrations from Ancient India
The Romani people, also known as Roma, Sinti or Sindhi or Kale are an IndoAryan ethnic group, who live primarily in Europe, Turkey, US and Brazil. There
are substantial number of Romas in most European countries as ethnic minorities.
They are unique among such ethnic minorities anywhere in the world, as they do
not identify themselves with a country; nor do they claim the right to national
sovereignty in any of the lands where they reside. Romas belief system do not favour
celebrating the past as is done by most other cultures. They also have no tradition
of an ancient and distant homeland. Thus they are now a people without a past.
Linguistically the Romani language is a New Indo-Aryan or Middle Indo-Aryan
language. It may be related to the Sinhalese language. Their genetic relation with
people of South Asia is clear from the fact that 47.3% of Romani men carry Y DNA
haplogroup H-M82, which is rare outside the South Asia.
Evidences suggest that they originated in Northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent, in the area comprising of the present states of Rajastan, Gujarat, Punjab
and Sind; and left sometime in the early second millennium CE, first to West Asia,
where they were probably living in the Byzantine Empire for several hundred years
and later to Europe after the Muslim conquest of Byzantine Empire. Turkey still
has a substantial Roma population.
The reason for their migration from South Asia is not known. One suggested
reason is that they were a lower caste and migrated because of caste oppression. It

3.5. OUT OF INDIA THEORY(OIT)

51

could also be due to the frequent famines in South Asia or frequent wars and political
uncertainity in the area where they lived.
Another intriguing case is that of genetic evidence of spread of South Asian cattle
to Middle East and Central Europe. There are mainly two matrilineal populations of
domesticated cows in Eurasia. One is of Indian ancestry called Zebu or Bos Indicus,
the other is probably of African or West Asian origin called Bos Taurus. The
humped cattle breed known as zebu (Bos Indicus) is very common in North-West
India. Today hybrids of zebu with local breeds are very common in Central Asia,
parts of West Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, China and Africa. Origin of bos
indicus is clearly in South Asia and this is now confirmed by recent genetic studies.
Some studies have indicated that Zebu genes are present in most of the taurine (Bos
Taurus) cow lineages of Europe, West Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
Even those European and West Asian cows which are taurine in all other respects,
have zebuine milk protein gene. Zebu cows have a prominent presence in China and
Africa. Bos indicus might have been introduced into Africa by sea route and not
through Suez as it was thought initially, as it has been found in Madagascar, which
is accessible only by sea. The time or circumstances of this movement is still unclear.
It is probable that it was domesticated in India, before it started moving out and
thus it is reasonable to assume that this might have happened as part of a human
migration. Wild cattle could not have spread to such far flung areas and crossed the
sea on their own. But our knowledge of this process is very sketchy at the moment.
Another aspect of spread of Bos indicus cattle breed might offer further support
to out of India model. Mitochondrial DNA data indicates the presence of Bos
indicus in northern Mesopotamia, in the area of Mitanni, in the 2nd millennium BC.
Mitannians ruling class were believed to be related to Indo-Aryans as they appear
to have had many shared linguistic, cultural and religious traits with Indo-Aryans.
The majority position now is that the language of Mitannians was a proto IndoAryan form and thus their presence in northern Mesopotamia in the middle of 2nd
millennium BC constitutes an evidence of west to east movement of proto IndoAryan tribes. But the spread of the cattle breed from North India to Mitannian
kingdom seems to point to just the opposite.
An argument newly introduced by Bernard Sergent, though it was in another context, is that the Iranian name Hindu for Indus, hence also for India, indicates
that the Iranians had lived near the Indus before moving to the present location. If
they had not, then Sindhu would have been a foreign term which they would have
left intact, just as they kept the Elamite city name Susa intact rather than evolving
it to Huha or something appropriate to the phonetics of the language; but because
Sindhu was part of their own vocabulary, it followed the evolution of Iranian phonetics to become Hindu. This implies east to west movement of Indo-Iranians from
the banks of Sindhu River in pre historic times and also that their original dialect

52CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


was closer to Indo-Aryan which evolved into the present form later.
Yet another interesting related information comes from the stories about India
recorded by Megastenes 7 . In his work known as Indica he states
For the Indians stand alone in nations in never having migrated from
their own country. From the days of father Bacchus (presumably the first
Indian king; Manu?) to Alexander the Great, their kings are reckoned at
154, whose reigns extend over 6451 years and three month.
It says that there was no invasion of the country for the past 6451 from the time of
the first king to the time of Alexander and they had lists of an unbroken line of 154
kings who ruled the land. This shows that Indians had no recollection of any large
migration or invasion from outside and believed their society had not undergone a
major change for a very long time. Megastenes says that from what he learned there
was no migration from India for a very long time. Assuming the account is reliable,
smaller scale migration that did not seriously affect the demography might still have
occurred.
Other Evidences
Sarasvati is an exact cognate with Avestan Haraxavati (as Sanskrit s has become
h in Avestan and Pahlavi). Perhaps originally the word might have referred to
Ardwisur Anahid, the Zoroastrian mythological world river, quite similar to Vedic
Sarasvati which is often described as a celestial river. In the younger Avesta, Haraxavati is Arachosia, a region described to be rich in rivers. Thus the references to
Haraxavati in the older part of Avesta seem to be some vague recollection of a distant past. This name, Haraxvaiti, appears in the first chapter of the Videvdad along
with place names like Haetumant , Mauru or Margu probably Margiana, Baxoi and
Haptahindu (saptasindhu). Haraxvaiti means simply one who has harah-. But
Harah or Harax is a stem entirely isolated in Avestan. It has no derivative in the
language or in various derivative dialects or the stem went out of use at some time in
the past, whereas the Vedic or Sanskrit equivalent Sar has innumerable derivative
words in derived languages as also present day Indian languages. Interestingly it has
cognates in many IE languages. Words get lost in migrating dialects, but rarely in
the original language. All these appear to point to a society of migrants remembering a very important river in their original home and a related word or morpheme in
the initial stages, but losing the morpheme in their language (as part of the natural
evolution of their dialect) as well as the memory of the river over time.
7

The stories are believed to cover the period 350290 BCE. Megastenes was a Greek ethnographer
and explorer in the Hellenistic period. He became an ambassador of Seleucus I, the Greek king who
ruled Northwest India, possibly to Pataliputra during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya

3.5. OUT OF INDIA THEORY(OIT)

53

Similarly references to geography of the area where the hymns were composed
also point to the expansion of Vedic Aryans from places east of Sarasvati towards
River Indus and beyond. Mandala 6, the earlist book of Rgveda, knows only the
Sarasvati and rivers to the east of it; Mandala 3, the next, first mentions the first
two easternmost rivers of Punjab, the Sutudri and the Vipas, in the context of a
historical military crossing; Mandala 7, the next, mentions the next two from the
east, the Parusni and the Asikni, in the context of a battle being fought on the third
river, Parusni. Mandala 4 finally takes the geographical horizon of the Rigveda to
the Indus and beyond. Mandala 5 is as ignorant, as the earlier Books, of the Western
place names, mountain names, lake names and animal names, so well known to the
later Books, and is, for all practical purposes, acquainted only with the three Western
rivers known to the earlier Mandala 4. But familiarity with geography of north-west
India is clear in later books. This suggests that the Vedic Aryans were moving from
east to west during the composition of Rgveda.
The climate and topography of the Rigveda is apparently that of a monsoon
land lying to the east of the Punjab. River Yamuna is frequently mentioned, even
in Mandala 3, an early book, and references to apparently River Ganga occur twice.
There are references to heavy rain, cloudy skies and lighting, features rarely found
in north-west India. A most significant indicator of the insularity of the Rigvedic
Aryans within India, and strong evidence of their original unfamiliarity with the
north-western and western areas, is the fact that Vedic traditional attitude towards
these areas has always been one of suspicion, disdain or even mild hostility. They
are referred to as Mlechas country and people of the area regarded as a suspicious
sort of people, whose religious practices, far from being authoritative, are considered
deviant and is censured. Such an attitude is quite unlikely if vedic Aryans themselves
had entered India from the North-West direction a few centuries earlier.
One objection to the OIT model is that other Indo-European branches do not
show traces of Vedic. Witzel argues that if the other Indo-European branches had
their origins in India, they should have preserved traces of the local words for specifically Indian plants and animals not found outside India. But, again, when even
the Gypsies have not preserved local names of Indian plants and animals not found
outside India, although they originally migrated from areas inside India where those
plants and animals were common, and spoke Indo-Aryan dialects of the late 1st
millennium CE which are known to have had words for these plants and animals,
why should the Indo-European dialects, which developed their earliest isoglosses,
thousands of years earlier, in areas outside the north-western borders of India, have
preserved traces of such names? There is nothing unusual in migrating people failing
to preserve local words for plants and animals in their dialects, after a few centuries,
if these are not found in their new place of residence.
Porto IndoEuropeans can no longer be considered as exclusively pastoral. More-

54CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES


over it is wrong to assume that pastoral and agricultural life styles are mutually
exclusive. Renfrew (1990) pointed out that pastoral life is a part of agricultural
society. He wrote:
The pastoral economy is usually symbiotic with the agricultural one as
it has been shown that a major component of the diet of these pastoralists
was bread. The practice of agriculture is thus a precondition of a pastoral
economy.
thus recent linguistic evidence points to the distinct possibility that the proto IndoEuropeans were farmers from the very beginning.
Dorian Fuller, in his recent paper Agricultural Origins and Frontiers in South
Asia: A Working Synthesis point out that the Indo- European languages evolved
at a place which had developed agriculture. This conclusion is drawn by presence
of agriculture related cognate words in the languages of this family. This would
exclude the steppes as IE home land. Some of these ancient agricultural words
of Indo-European family are possibly shared by Munda (Austro-Asiatic) as well as
Dravidian families, two other ancient language groups in South Asia. If this finding
is true, a South Asian home land of Indo-European languages, cannot be dismissed
as impossible. Hans Hock, pointed out (1999) that several dialects spoken in NW India travelled north-westward at different times in the Common Era, the most
notable one being that of the Gypsies in the early centuries CE . Hock stated that
Indo Aryan indigenism and even the Out of India Theory could theoretically be
possible, provided the distribution of the IE isoglosses so far identified are accepted.
Finnish language, specifically the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic languages,
contains borrowings from all stages of Indo-Iranian; that is from Pre- and PortoIndo-Aryan (precursor of Old Indic and Sanskrit), from Pre- and Porto-Iranian,
from Pre and Porto- Balto-Slavic, from Swedish and from all stages of Pre- and
Porto-Germanic. Very strangely, all of these seem to be borrowings in one direction
only. The Uralic languages seem, in each case, to have been recipients only. These
borrowings must have taken place close to the homeland of the Uralic languages.
But various different viewpoints have been put forward and hotly debated, about
the location of the Uralic homeland, and about the exact dating of various chronological levels of the borrowings. Although most linguists would agree that there is
a considerable amount of vocabulary shared by Uralic and various Indo-European
languages, there is not really any consensus as to why this is the case. One explanation is that Finnish may have acted as a freezer, since borrowed words have often
changed much less than its original in other languages.
Shrikant Talageri proposes that, if Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic has so many
Indo-Aryan and Iranian words, logically there must have been equally large numbers
of Uralic words borrowed by the Indo-Aryan and Iranian speakers. The total absence

3.5. OUT OF INDIA THEORY(OIT)

55

of such borrowings is significant. Talageri proposes that the Indo-Aryan and Iranian
speakers, whose speech contained all these Uralic borrowings, were emigrants moving
out and away from the main body of Indo-Aryan and Iranian speakers in the south,
never to come into contact with them again, so these Uralic words never reached
the Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages of South Asia and Iran, but Uralic languages
absorbed many words from Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages.
It may not be difficult to explain Finnish borrowings from Porto- Balto-Slavic,
Swedish or Porto-Germanic languages. But the borrowings from Indo-Iranian and
Indo-Aryan is very difficult to explain in the prevailing models. The best explanation
seems to be the one of OIT model.
There are about 445 Indo-European languages and dialects and over two-thirds
(313) of them belong to the Indo-Iranian branch alone. Thus one could argue, using
the Centre of Gravity principle differently, that the Indo-Iranian branch or even a
proto Indo-Aryan dialect must be the original form.
OIT hypothesis has only limited support from archaeology at present. Besides
most linguistic Theories, as they are formulated now, are inconsistent with it. Genetics at present is consistent with it. The information that the Sarasvati River was
a full flowing river before 3000 BCE, if true, can offer major support to it. Same is
the case with astronomical references in Vedas to the extent these can be accepted
as evidence.
Anatolian hypothesis, PCT and OIT have many weak points and thus Kurgan
Hypothesis has the largest following at present.

56CHAPTER 3. THEORIES REGARDING ORIGIN OF INDOEUROPEAN LANGUAGES

Chapter 4

Origin of Vedic Language


4.1

Archaeological Evidences

Findings by archaeology is regarded as hard evidence meaning that it is supported


by empirical data and its methods are fully compliant with required discipline of
modern scientific research. In the last 150 years researchers have developed many
tools to ensure this, including those for dating the finds. Dating material drawn
from the archaeological record can be absolute or relative. Those made by a direct
study of an artefact is absolute and those deduced by association, with materials
found in the context the item is drawn from or inferred by its point of discovery
in the sequence relative to datable contexts, is relative method. Absolute methods
include Radiocarbon dating - for dating organic materials, Dendrochronology - for
dating trees and objects made from wood and Thermoluminescence dating - for dating inorganic material including ceramics. Relative or indirect methods tend to use
associations built from the archaeological body of knowledge. In practice several
different dating techniques must be applied in most circumstances for the conclusions to have acceptability. Thus dating evidence, unearthed and recorded during
excavation, requires matching information from known absolute or some associated
source. Dating of metallic articles at present can be done only from impurities of
organic material contained in it or using indirect methods, and thus may not be fully
reliable by itself.
When it was first proposed that the IE language, Indo-Aryan, entered India in
the second millennium BC, the theory was that the Aryan speakers of the language
entered North West India and subjugated the aboriginal barbarians living in IndoGangetic plains at the time. Basics of the theory are that a white race who called
themselves Aryans invaded India from Caspian steppes and Central Asia in the
second millennium BC and subjugated the locals known to the IE people as Dasas
57

58

CHAPTER 4.

ORIGIN OF VEDIC LANGUAGE

and this was the basis of Indian caste system. The three upper castes originated from
different sections of the invaders and Dasas became the low caste Sudras. This system
of racial identity or segregation was preserved for a very long time with a rigid ban
on inter-caste marriages. Those dasas who refused to acknowledge the superiority
of Aryas became the aboriginals or tribals and others withdrew to the south of
the sub-continent. It was claimed that Vedic and Hindu civilization, including the
Sanskrit language, was solely the contribution of these invading Aryans. Further it
was concluded that history of India began with the arrival of the Aryans.
At the time of its formulation it was a hypothesis based on a number of linguistic
theories. The chronology proposed for it was at best a speculative interpretation of
available data. In the beginning of 20th century, with the archaeological discovery
of Indus Valley Civilization, the above theory was somewhat modified as invasion
instead of migration or Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) to account for the decline of
the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) in the first half of second millennium BC. The
new version was that when the Aryan tribes entered India, they encountered a highly
advanced civilization. They conquered the fertile valley as their opponents, though
far more civilized and technologically advanced, were more mercantile than warlike.
The invaders were able to conquer Indus people as their horses and chariots proved
to be a tremendous force multiplier. The proofs for these invasions were discovered
in Rig-Veda on the basis of uncritical, erroneous and tendentious interpretations of
a number of references in the texts to conclude that these describe the subjugation
by a white skinned, tall race of IE speaking invaders of dark natives of India. The
frequent description in Rg Veda of battles, war booties and invocation of various
gods for help in winning wars, were taken as confirmation of the theory. Another
aspect of IVC ruins that was claimed to support AIT was the absence of horse
remains at these sites whereas various references to horses in Vedas suggested that
the animal was very important to Vedic people. The find seemed to support AIT
at least in three respects. Firstly the apparent destruction of IVC settlements at
about the time of the assumed entry of Aryans into Indus valley seemed to support
the invasion hypothesis. Secondly once the archaeological evidence was interpreted
in this way, the many references in Vedas to battles, Dasyus, and Asuras were seen
in a new light and were determined as supporting evidence for AIT. Lastly it helped
to fix the time frame of AIT on the basis of hard archaeological evidences. These
led to the famous words of Sir Mortimer Wheeler that Indra stands accused of
destroying the Harappan civilization. This then became the accepted wisdom for
the next 100 years among scholars and common people alike and was stated as a fact
in academic curricula, popular writings and school text books all over the world.
Such a conclusion needed to be supported by archaeological evidence of the migration from north of Black Sea and Caspian Sea right up to South Asia. This was
provided by the archaeological finds such as Kurgan culture of the steppes north of

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

59

Black Sea-Caspian Sea, Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or BMAC (Porto


Indo-Iranian) and Petrovka-Sintashta (Porto Indo-Aryan) among others. There are
a number of other archaeological finds in the Urals, Volga, Central Asia, Iran, Swat
Valley (Ancient Gandhara) and Baluchistan which were taken as remains of IndoAryan migration. By the middle of the last century this model came to have the
further support of the most widely accepted model of IE origin and expansion; The
Kurgan Hypothesis.
But later closer examination of the available evidence at IVC showed the conclusion to be too hasty as no tell-tale signs of large-scale destruction of Harappan cities
have been found. Contrast this with the IE expansion in the Balkans. From linguistic evidence, we understand that the Hellenes (Greeks) along with the Illyrians and
Thracians supplanted or absorbed a highly civilized non-IE native population, whose
culture is known as the Vinca culture. These natives, who had used what might have
been a writing system reportedly going back to 5300 BC,1 disappeared along with
the Old European culture some time before 2500 BC. According to Marina Gimbals, the Vinca culture was part of Old Europe; a relatively homogeneous, peaceful
culture that occupied Europe during the Neolithic and its period of decline was followed by an invasion of warlike, horse-riding Porto-Indo-European tribes from the
Ponting-Caspian steppe. Here was an advanced civilization being overrun by barbarian invaders who largely destroyed it (though the time frame does not seem to
fit the theory), a model that was thought to be applicable to Vedic-Harappan history: a literate urban and agricultural civilization being overrun by semi-nomadic
horsemen. But the crucial difference is that in the Balkans, this violent scenario
was attested by archaeological findings: The existence of archaeologically attested
burnt layers at many settlements may be evidence for military confrontations between the native farmers of South-east Europe and the cattle-breeding horse riding
nomads from South Russia. This testimony of many settlements having been burnt
down is absent at the Harappan sites. Besides the conclusion drawn from the archaeological data of violent destruction of Vinca culture or old Europe by horse
1

The Tartaria tablets and those found in the town of Kardzhali in South Bulgaria, dated to
around 5,300 BC, bear incised symbols and these probably represent the earliest known form of
writing in the world. It seems quite certain that these symbols or patterns represent distinct ideas,
even if it had not developed into a full-fledged script to represent the underlying language fully.
Subsequent radiocarbon dating on these finds pushed the date of the tablets, and therefore of the
whole Vinca culture, further back to 5,500 BC. This was the time of the early Eridu phase of the
Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. Some authors now believe that the Sumerians learned of
the technique of writing from the Vinca, probably following the collapse of the Vinca homeland
3,500 BC. Kardzhali script also appear to have close similarity with Linear A script or the ancient
script of the Cretan (Minoan) civilization. Interestingly, Vincas built some of the earliest known
urban centres with a system of streets and with houses on either side. These also had metallurgical
workshops and places to manufacture various artefacts, which were traded extensively.

60

CHAPTER 4.

ORIGIN OF VEDIC LANGUAGE

riding steppe people is also now disputed. The evidence collected by archaeology
in the last thirty years in fact point to the absence of any large scale invasion in
Southern, Western and Northern Europe before historical period. Vincas, Minoans,
Mycenaean and Hellenes all flourished in areas which are in geographic proximity
to each other; they had similar genetic profile; there were cultural similarity; and
they seem to have used closely related script. It is thus distinctly possible they were
also linguistically, ethnically and culturally related. There is no credible evidence at
present that is inconsistent with such a possibility, except that it will be in conflict
with the chronology of the popular steppe home land hypotheses.
As early as 1964, U.S. archaeologist George F. Dales, who excavated at several
Harappan sites, questioned the theory of a violent attack on Indus cities by
invading Aryans: Where are the burned fortresses, the arrow heads, weapons,
pieces of armour, the smashed chariots and bodies of the invaders and defenders?... Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there
is not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as unconditional proof
of an armed conquest and the destruction on the supposed scale of the Aryan
invasion.
Jim G. Shaffer, another U.S. archaeologist with first-hand experience of Harappan sites, wrote in 1984 an article entitled Indo-Aryan Invasions: Myth or
Reality?, in which he refuted the invasionist framework. His conclusion as
regards the archaeological record was: Current archaeological data do not
support the existence of an Indo-Aryan or European invasion into South Asia
any time in the pre or proto-historic periods.. Jim Shaffer says that the demographic eastward shift of the Harappan population during the decline of their
cities, i.e. an intra-Indian movement from Indus and Saraswati to Ganga, is
the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium BC, while
the archaeological record shows no significant discontinuities for the period
when the Aryan invasion should have made its mark.
Shaffer in another article, discussed the Painted Grey Ware Pottery, which
some archaeologists identified as the work of Aryans, when they said rapid
changes in pottery suggest a series of sudden waves of migrants into the region. Shaffer pointed out this potterys absence along the supposed route
the Aryans would have taken, to reach the Ganga-Yamuna region, where this
pottery was found. In addition he noted that the Painted Grey Ware pottery
was a continuation of earlier styles native to that area.
In a major book on the Indus civilization, another U.S. archaeologist, Jonathan

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

61

Mark Kenoyer, one of the excavators at Harappa, rejected the entire concept
of AIT:
There is no archaeological or biological evidence for invasions or
mass migrations into the Indus Valley between the end of the Harappan Phase, about 1900 BC and the beginning of the Early Historic
period around 600 BC Although the overall socio-economic organization changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices,
settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the
indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of IndoAryan speaking people. For a long time the invasions or migrations
of Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes was believed to explain
the decline of the Indus civilization and the sudden rise of urbanization in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. This was based on simplistic
models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts...
Colin Renfrew, another archaeologist, criticized historical linguistics, saying
that while it could be useful in establishing relationships between languages,
its precision in determining the homeland of the original speakers of the IndoEuropean language family is questionable. Thus the identification of Southern
Russia, Anatolia, or any other place as the original homeland of the Aryans
based only on historical linguistics is largely speculative. He does not see any
evidence in the Rig Veda that the Aryans were invaders in India or that they
were nomads.
He adds: Indeed the chariot is not a vehicle especially associated
with nomads. He further says that we should, in other words, seriously consider the possibility that the new religious and cultural
synthesis which is represented by the Rig Veda was essentially a
product of the soil of India and Pakistan, and that it was not imported, ready-made, on the backs of the steeds of the Indo-Aryans.
Many well known archaeologists like Allchins, Kenoyer, Possehl, Shaffer and many
others emphasize the unbroken continuity of the native culture in North-Western
India from 7000 BCE to the last centuries before Common Era.
The most cited evidence of Aryans in India is usually a culture based in areas
around Punjab towards the end of second millennium BC and first half of first
millennium BC that used ceramics known as Painted Grey Wares (PGW).
It was archaeologist B.B. Lal who, as a young archaeologist in the 1950s, made
his name by digging up the long-awaited proof of an Aryan invasion into South
Asia. He had identified a pottery style, the Painted Grey Ware dated to 1200800

62

CHAPTER 4.

ORIGIN OF VEDIC LANGUAGE

BCE, as typifying the Aryans penetrating deeper into India. At that time it was
considered as a sensational discovery that seemed to confirm the Aryan Invasion
Theory. However Lal changed his stance since as he found that PGW could have
been an adaptation of the earlier Harappan style. Also PGW type pottery is not
found anywhere outside Punjab. If Vedic Aryans had brought this new technology
with them similar pottery should be seen in the many sites on the likely route taken
by them while moving towards India.
He also could not find any sign of a foreign origin of either the Harappan civilization or the Vedic Aryans. He felt that there are many indications of continuity
of cultural and life style practices in the area. Lal claims that the fire pits he excavated in the Harappan sites were remains of fire altars of the kind Vedic priests
used for rituals. This finding was rubbished by many authors in the West, asserting
that these were just kitchen hearths. Lal explains in detail why these cannot be
kitchen hearths. As part of it, he highlights a finding of fire-altars where a cooking
hearth stood close by, demonstrating the difference. The continuity of the Harappan civilization is clear from many artefacts dug up from Harappan sites. Several
Shiva-like figures are depicted in Harappan seals and other items, where the posture
is well known in Yogic practices. There is also a depiction of a Hindu fable: The
Thirsty Crow. Statuettes show the Namaste salute with folded hands. Married
women are shown wearing red powder in the parting of their hair, like their modern
counterparts. A prominent Hindu religious symbol known as Swastika is frequently
found on Harappan seals. The weights and measures mentioned in Koutilyas Ardhasastra are the same as those used in Harappan centres. All these could not have
been accidental and clearly shows that there was no discontinuity.
There is very little similarity between the Kurgan and Vedic cultures. The Kurgan people buried their dead in pits with the corpse placed in a fetal position and
covered with red ochre. There is no evidence of such burials among the PGW culture and neither do such practices jibe with Vedic cremation rituals. Burial customs
apparent in the RV Death hymn in Mandala 10.10 to 10.18 has little similarity with
those of the Kurgan culture as the folowing verses from RV 10.16 indicates.
RV 10.16.1,2 Devata Agni.
1. Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or
his skin be scattered.
O Jatavedas, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way
unto the Fathers.
2 When thou hast made him ready, Jatavedas, then do thou give him
over to the Fathers.
When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become the Deities

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

63

controller.

Jatavedas is another name of vedic god Agni or fire. This seems to clearly
idicate that the funeral method of vedic people was cremation, and not inhumation
or burial. There is no indication of the defining feature of Kurgan burials, like
animal grave offerings, anywhere in North-West India from that period.
It also has little similarity with funeral rites of Margiana as they were revealed
at the Gonur necropolis. 2 Nothing similar to the Kurgan or Andronovo material
culture have been recovered from Punjab. Besides, there is no archaeological evidence
for the presence of PGW anywhere outside Punjab and nearby areas towards north
west. Its absence anywhere in the supposed route taken by Indo-Aryans from the
steppes goes against any connection between PWG and any migrants/invaders from
the steppes. Based on this, one could actually argue that there was no migration
in either direction in the period from 1500 BC onwards. But this evidence remains
compatible with an Indo-European emigration from India in another time bracket,
anytime between 6000 and 2000 BC.
Bernard Sergent believes that the strategic key to the Aryan invasion puzzle
has been provided by the discovery, by a French team in 1968, of the post-Harappan
town of Pirak, near the Bolan pass and near Mehrgarh in Baluchistan. Pirak was a
settlement dating back to the 18th century BCE, just about the time the Harappan
civilisation was breaking up. In fact, other civilisations like Sumerian Third Dynasty
of Ur and Bactria-Margiana were also breaking up at this time. Culturally it was
closely related to the societies to its north and west, especially Bactria. Sergent
sums up a long list of precise material items which Pirak had in common with those
non-Indian regions. He also says in Pirak the horse makes its appearance (for the
first time) in India, both through bones and in figurines.
If the Bactrian culture and those to its west were Iranian-speaking, which is
likely, then Pirak is simply an Iranian settlement in an Indian border region, a
southward extension of the Bactrian culture, possibly due to severe draught in the
Oxus region. But Pirak can be significant only if it can be shown that the innovations
are repeated in many North-Indian sites in the subsequent centuries, where we know
that the dominant culture was Indo-Aryan. But so far we have no such evidence.
It appears that whoever established themselves in and around the border town of
Pirak never crossed the Indus River and moved further east.
2

Gonur is one of the important archaeological site of Oxus civilisation. Here a large burial site
has been found, which is known as Gonur necropolis. The necropolis was situated to the west of
the Gonur. It occupied an area of over ten hectares and included 6,000-7,000 dead.

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4.1.1

ORIGIN OF VEDIC LANGUAGE

Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or BMAC

Evidence for Aryan migration through Central Asia, provided by BMAC finds, once
thought to to be a given, is also now doubtful. The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological
Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, dated to 23001700
BCE, located in present day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centred on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus
River is the Greek name for it)). Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi in 1976. Sarianidi declares it as the 5th oldest
civilization on earth; not just a culture but a lost civilization. 3 Some major sites
of Oxus Civilization are centred in the Murghab Oasis, Turkmenistan. These have
unique architecture and had an exceptionally rich material culture. With their impressive material culture, including monumental architecture, bronze tools, ceramics,
and jewellery of semiprecious stones, the complex exhibits many of the hallmarks
of civilization. The complex can be compared to other contemporary proto-urban
settlements in Iran or the Indus Valley. Its achievement in craft manufacture was of
the highest standred, and it was equal to anything produced in the Bronze Age Near
East in terms of aesthetics. The richness, both with regard to technological achievement and aesthetic quality is abundantly demonstrated in the ten Royal burials in
Gonur. Materials used include gold, silver, bronze, lapis lazuli or carnelian. Foreign
contacts, whether as gift exchange or attesting to commercial relations are evident in
the recovery of an Indus seal and an Akkadian seal with inscriptions. The signature
of the Oxus Civilization rests in its impressive architecture. More specifically, in the
monumentality of the fortification systems that surround each settlement. The sites
of Gonur, Togolok, Adji Kui 1 and 9 serve as exemplary models of the extent to
which the community was fortified. One, two, even three perimeter walls, most 2-4
meters in width, enclose an area in excess of 20,000 square meters. The palace of
North Gonur measures 150 metres by 140 metres, the temple at Togolok 140 metres
by 100 metres, the fort at Kelleli 3 125 metres by 125 metres, and the house of a local
ruler at Adji Kui 25 metres by 25 metres. They are circular or rectangular and have
up to three encircling walls. Each of these formidable structures has been extensively
excavated. Within this area at Gonur, Sarianidi identifies temples, palaces, areas of
3

It was originally named as a Complex (BMAC), but has since been accepted as a full fledged
civilization, as many authors consider it as an archaeological complex fully worthy of civilizational
status, rather than a complex that is essentially part of another civilization. Bactria was the Greek
name for the area of Bactra (modern Balkh province), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and
Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv,
in modern-day south-eastern Turkmenistan. Bactria was historically central to the Iranian culture,
where Zarathushtra probably lived (in the city of Balkh). Margiana was to the west, in eastern
Turkmenistan. Both these are to the east of Caspian Sea and north east of Iranian heart land.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

65

craft production, and ritual activities. Its fortification systems are more impressive
than any other contemporary Bronze Age cities of the Near East. At the moment
one can only speculate on the reasons for such elaborate defences of the BMAC cities
or whom they were defending against. The enemy or enemies must have been very,
very powerful and technologically advanced, if there was need to build such defences
against them. Beyond this fortified area, the community extended its walled settlement to 20+ hectares. Contemporary communities, i.e. Adji Kui 1 and Adji Kui
9, are less than 3 kilometres distant from each other and are both well fortified,
suggesting that even nearest neighbours, likely subject to a common authority, were
fortified. Presence of a dense settlement regime within the Murghab delta during
the Bronze and Iron Ages is hinted at in some recent archaeological surveys. The
inhabitants of the BMAC were sedentary people who practised irrigation farming
of wheat and barley. By 1700 B.C. virtually all of the fortified settlements of the
BMAC were abandoned. The reason is not clear, but could be owing to drying up
of sources of water.
However, even after more than thirty years of research and excavation, the
chronology and stratigraphy of the BMAC remains rather uncertain. The principle
sites excavated; Gonur, Togolok and Sapeli, to mention just three, did not attend
to stratigraphic distinctions, nor are the limited number of radiocarbon dates associated with specific stratigraphic levels or material inventory. The C-14 dates are
often derived from unspecified contexts. Many authors consider Sarainidis methods
rather crude, even alleging that he used bulldozers, where modern archaeologists
would have used fine tooth-combs. Sarianidi regards Gonur as the capital of the
complex in Margiana throughout the Bronze Age. While they all have impressive
fortification walls, gates, and buttresses, it is not always clear why one structure is
identified as a temple and another as a palace. Sarainidis evidence for the presence
of Soma-Haoma in some of these temples is speculative at best. In 1995, Sarianidi
claimed to have found ephedra twigs, a plant asserted to be the Vedic Soma plant,
in a vessel uncovered at Gonur. In 1998 a second discovery of ephedra was reported.
Analysis of both finds of ephedra could not confirm its identification. The Temple of
Soma-Haoma and the identification of numerous other temples, rest mostly on his
assertion rather than empirical evidences. His narrative is often wildly imaginative
in which allegation trumps rigorous demonstration.
BMAC seem to have had contacts with Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and the
Iranian Plateau. Toward the last centuries of the third millennium some of BMAC
artefacts appear on a number of sites on the Iranian Plateau and in the Indus Valley
and the Persian Gulf.4
4

Shortugai in Bactria, about 250 KM east of Mazar-i-Sharif and 350 KM north of Kabul, close
to the junction of boarders of present day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and North Afghanistan, was a
settlement completely Harappan in character on a tributary of the Amu Darya on the foot of the

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All the archaeological sites of third millennium BC in the area, except Shortugai,
appear to be related in material culture to the prototypical Bactrian settlement of
Dashli; the principal Bactrian site. Whether these were Porto Indo-Aryan settlements on their way to South-Asia as proposed by those supporting IE origin in the
steppes model or Porto Indo-Iranian, as declared by Sarianidi or of local origin as
many authors suspect, is an unresolved issue.
The architectural style of the structures are clearly un-Indic and is possibly
Iranian . Roundness in buildings is highly unusual in Hindu culture, which has a
strong preference for square plans (even vertically, as in windows, where rectangular
shapes are preferred over arches), in evidence already in the Harappan cities.
Sarianidi believes the origin of BMAC is to be sought in Anatolia. Central
to Sarianidis imagination is his belief that the migrants were Aryans, specifically
Indo-Iranians, who followed proto-Zoroastrian beliefs and rituals. Sarianidi also
believes that there are close similarities between the archaeological styles in Anatolia,
Mesopotamia, Greece, The Mitannian Kingdom and Iranian plateau and BMAC. He
considers BMAC as a trans-Elamite Culture. His model would imply IE origin in
Anatolia which would be unacceptable to many.
Present-day Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan were regions
with Iranian culture and language at the time they made their appearance in written
history, mostly in the last millennium BC. While the position need not have been
the same in the pre historic past, this visible Iranian influence in the area shifts
the burden of proof to those who insist that BMAC was Indo-Aryan at some earlier
period and that these Indo-Aryans later made way for Iranians. Many of the artefacts
recovered from Dashli sites cannot be labelled clearly as either Indo Iranian or IndoAryan. These include fire altars, many cultural aspects and even the burned remains
of a plant in the altar which is thought to be the Soma plant. Shape of buildings
ore-rich Badakshan range which had large deposits of lapis lazuli, gold, silver, copper and lead ores.
According to Bernard Sergent,Not one of the standard characteristics of the Harappan cultural
complex is missing from it.. Replacement of Harappan with Bactrian culture in Shortugai may
have occurred around 1800 BC. Nobody knows why such a Harappan settlement came up in the
middle of Bactrian settlements except some wild guesses. It was not just a few Harappan traders
and miners living among Bactrians, but a complete Harappan city which seem to have had armed
defendants, as pieces of weapons and armour has been recovered. This is quite unlike the Harappan
cities proper, which were believed to have been thinly defended. The Harappan must have had
very good relations with the Bactrians to be allowed such facilities in the area. It is possible that
there may have been other such Harappan settlement nearby. Besides, Shortugai may not have been
very far from the Harappan areas as these might have had presence in many areas of South and
east Afghanistan up to Hindukhush Mountains, though archaeological evidence for such presence
is not available at present. But these areas had close cultural, political and linguistic relations
with North-West India in later times. Gandhara, for example, was always thought of as part of
Saptasindhu. The greatest Sanskrit grammarian, Panini, was believed to have been a native of
Kandahar or ancient Gandhara.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

67

were clearly un Indo Aryan. The issue is further complicated as North-West India
and Iran had a common heritage, and many religious practices, mythical motifs and
various other cultural traits, were the same or closely similar.
Other artefacts from BMAC have the same Iranian/Indo-Aryan ambiguity . A
vase in Dashli shows a scene with men wearing a kind of shirt leaving one shoulder
uncovered. In this, Sergent recognizes the upanayana ceremony, in which a youngster is invested with the sacred shirt or thread. This he believes is evidence that
BMAC was Indo-Aryan. But this is both a Vedic and a Zoroastrian ritual, with
the latter resembling the depicted scene more closely: in India the boy wears only a
thread, but among Zoroastrians, it is a shirt-like garment.
Asko Parpola has tried to identify the Togolok temple as Indo-Iranian coming
from the steppes and possibly proto-Vedic, citing the Soma sacrifice there as evidence: in The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic
identity of the Dasas, he identifies the former with Soma-using nomadic Scythians
(who were believed to be Porto Indo-Aryans), mentioned in Zoroastrian texts. However, every testimony we have of the Scythians, in whose sites traces of the Soma
ceremony have been found, is as an Iranian-speaking people. The use of Soma was
a bone of contention within Mazdeism, with Zarathushtra apparently opposing it,
while others, who were equally Iranian, suppoting its use. Thus there is nothing
against characterizing the Togolok fire temple as Iranian, even if the remains of
the shrub recovered is soma. Parpola also recognized a tripura as described in
the Vedic literature as the strongholds of the Dasas or Asuras, in the BMAC fortifications with three circular concentric walls. This would confirm the Indo-Aryan
conquest of BMAC, before their further migration to North-West India. But such
an argument is at best speculative, and has little empirical, textual or archaeological
support. Besides he himself later says that the term tripura was unknown to the
Rg-Veda and only appears later, in the Brahmana texts.
But other evidences point to the local origin of BMAC. The residents of BMAC
were not the first to settle in the area. Recent excavations at Adji Kui 1, directed
by Gabriele Rossi Osmida (2008; 2011), indicate the presence of a distinctive earlier
settlement, radiocarbon dated to ca.2700 B.C. Stratified above that settlement are
several fully fortified BMAC communities. These point to local development of the
BMAC.
Mes Aynak in Afghanistan is not very far from BMAC sites. It is located in
Logar Province. The site contains Afghanistans largest copper deposit, as well as
the remains of an ancient settlement with a 40 ha Buddhist monastery complex.
Archaeologists have now found the remnants of an older 5,000-year-old Bronze Age
site beneath the Buddhist level, including an ancient copper smelter and a mint.
Historians expect to learn more about the early science of metallurgy and mining by
exploring this site. It is known to contain coins, glass, and the tools for making these,

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going back thousands of years. This may well have been an extension of BMAC. This
points to the existence of many well developed urban centres in the area long before
the putative arrival of Indo Iranians or Indo Aryans in the area.
An alternate scenario suggested is that, the Indo-Iranians stayed in or close to the
Andronovo Cultural sites in the Pontic-Caspian area, in the Afanasevo Culture to the
north of Central Asia, the BMAC (Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, also
called the Oxus Civilization) in Central Asia on their way towards Iran and SouthAsia. But there are scanty evidence for such a speculation. Most archaeologists who
were involved, point out that these identifications by linguists and historians are not
based on intrinsic evidence, but on forced attempts to substantiate their linguistic
and historical theories.
Passages from the Avesta and the Rigveda are quoted by different
authors to support the Indo-Iranian identity of both the BMAC and
the Andronovo. The passages are sufficiently general to permit the
Plains Indians of North America an Indo-Iranian identity (LAMBERGKARLOVSKY 2005:168).
In fact, as archaeologists point out, the cultural features of the BMAC archaeological
sites are actually distinctly non-Indo-European, and could actually be more compatible with a Uralo-Altaic culture than an Indo-European one. It becomes clear that
the only logic behind identifying these archaeological cultures as Indo-Iranian or
Indo-Aryan is that they fit in with the time- space expectations of the linguists and
historians as to where the Indo-Iranians/Indo-Aryans must have been at a particular
period of time. These time-space predictions and expectations are based on purely
hypothetical estimates of the chronological dates of the Rigveda and the Avesta.
Linguists and historians appear to have realised the weakness in their model and
most of them now say that BMAC might not have been Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan,
but these migrating tribes might have stayed in or close to these sites for some time
resulting in considerable cultural diffusion and linguistic borrowings.
If one wishes to argue for Indo-Iranian migrations from the steppe lands, south
into the historical seats of the Iranians and Indo-Aryans, it will have to be assumed
that these steppe cultures were transformed as they passed through the border lands
of BMAC. With the archaeological evidence presented by Sarianidi, which makes it
clear that steppe penetration from north-west into the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex was a minimum and that it only extended to the borderlands between
the northern regions of the complex and the southern steppe belt. In short, the
material culture of BMAC was quite different from that of the proposed Indo-Aryan
pasturalist migrants from the steppes. Contact is indicated by some presence of
Andronovo materials, but this could be indicative of peaceful trade as opposed to
population displacement, especially since the complex reveals no signs of systematic

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

69

destruction. Not a single artefact of Andronovo type has been identified in Iran or
in northern India, but there is ample evidence for the presence of Bactrian Margiana materials on the Iranian Plateau and in Baluchistan. Since there is a minimal
effect on the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex by the Andronovo culture,
and a non-existent effect on either the Indian subcontinent and the Iranian plateau,
the only way to conform the linguistic hypotheses of Indo-Iranian expansion with
the archaeological evidence is to assume the model of a Kulturkegel. This model
would have the migrants coming from the steppe completely discard their Andronovo
cultural associations and extensively adopt both Bactrian material and religious culture, while retaining their language with minimal substratum influence. This will,
of course, make the model very messy to say the least and will test ones credibility.
Besides, if the Porto Indo-Iranians or Porto Indo-Aryans from the steppe, reformed and civilised by contacts with BMAC, had invaded or migrated or otherwise
dominated North-West India, in the middle of second millennium BCE, one would
expect many BMAC like structures and urbanisation in the area from that time.
But what we find is that after the collapse of Harappan urban centres towards the
beginning of second millennium BCE, till the urbanisation of the Gangetic planes
in the first millennium BCE, hardly any new urban centres were built in the area,
leave alone monumental structures like those in BMAC.
Thus, the conclusion will have to be that any model based on the possible ethnic
or linguistic origin or character of Oxus Civilisation will have to be considered as
speculative, without firm empirical foundation, which can neither be confirmed nor
rejected at present. We simply do not know the ethnic or the linguistic identity of
its ancient inhabitants, but it is very unlikely that they were Indo Iranians or Indo
Aryans. In short, BMAC is of little help at present on resolving the issue of IE origin
and expansion or its chronology.
Besides there is now extensive textual as well as archaeological evidence for close
contacts between South Asia and Central Asia from prehistoric times, as the following will demonstrate.
Textual Evidences for Contacts Between South Asia and Central Asia
from Prehistoric Times
Central Asia and Ancient India had long traditions of social-cultural, religious, political and economic contacts since remote antiquity, resulting in almost continuous
flow of people, material and the ideas between the two. In ancient Indian tradition,
barbarian tribes of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Paradas etc... are attested to have been coming as invaders from Central Asia to India in pre-Christian
times. They were all appear to have been finally absorbed into the Indian society as
different castes. The Kambojas and Pahlavas, often mentioned in Itihasa/Puranas,

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are known to have their original settlements in the east Iranian regions in Central
Asia. The historically attested 2nd century BCE Saka invasion of western India probably involved the tribes or groups of Sakas, Pahlavas, Kambojas, Paradas, Rishikas
and other allied tribes from Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia.
There are many references to Central Asia in texts like Atharvaveda, various
Brahmanas, Itihasa/Puranas, Manusmiriti, Kalidasas Raghuvamsa, Katha-Saritsagara,
Rajaratrangini, Mudra-rakshasa and other old Sanskrit texts. Aitareya Brahmana
refers to some ancient nations lying beyond Himalayas. Two names that often recur
in these accounts are of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra. These names seems to
suggest some kind of relation to the kingdoms of Kuru, and Madra within the
Saptasindhu area. Kuru was the most important kingdom during the vedic times.
The vast area north of the Himalayas and Hindukush from Pamirs up to Arctic (Somagiri) is stated by some texts to form ancient Uttara Kuru. The exact location
of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra is uncertain. Uttara Madra is often identified
as the ancient Media Region of North West Iran. If the references are to actual
places, these should be in North Afghanistan or Central Asia and possibly places to
further north and west, as large scale access to India from the north was possible
only through the Khyber Pass in Hindukhush Mountains. Other references are to
the janapadas of Parama Kambojas, Rshikas and the Lohas. These were also located
north of Himalayas, which should mean in Central Asia.
The Valmiki Ramayana describes the topography of the whole of Central Asia
in detail and in some cases, very picturesquely. It gives very vivid account of Uttarapatha and several countries located in the north of Himalayas. It mentions the
lands and towns of the Kambojas, Shakas, Yavanas, Varadas along with Himavanta.
Somagiri, probably Arctic, is described as without the sun, but the area is still said
to have day light. Ramayana also refers to the famed horses imported by princes
of Ayodhya from Kamboja and Bahlika (Bactria or Balkh). Mahabharata says the
kings of the Kambojas and the Tusharas were present in the Rajasuya conducted
by Yudhisthira. They had later participated in Mahabharata war on the side of
Kauravas. But the people of the area are looked down upon as mlechas or barbarians. The Kambojas are mentioned in the works of Panini. Manusmriti states
that the Kambojas, Sakas, Yavanas, Paradas, Pahlavas etc... were originally Kshatriyas of good birth but were gradually degraded themselves to become mlechas
or barbarians as they failed to follow the Brahmanical way of life. This reminds us
about the story of Druhyus mentioned elsewhere in this book. Poet Kalidasa drew
graphic picture of northern mountainous region of India. He also refers to the Uttara Kuru. Raghuvamsha describes a war expedition of king Raghu against the
Parasikas (Sassanians), Hunas and the Kambojas located in Uttarapatha or lands to
the north. The encounters with the Hunas and the Kambojas had occurred around
the Vankshu river, probably river Oxus. The ancient Kambojas were probably of

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

71

Indo-Iranian origin, but are sometimes described as Indo-Aryans or as having both


Indian and Iranian cultural and linguistic affinities. The Bhuvanakosha states that
Bahlika or Bactria was the northern most Janapada of ancient India and was located
in Uttarapatha of Bharata. They might have been ethnically close to the Sakas.
The Kambojas were famous in ancient times for their excellent breed of horses and
as remarkable horsemen who lived in the Uttarapatha or north-west. It is possible
that the Kambojas and Kushans5 were closely related or even the same. Thus it
appears that the people of Central Asia were considered as an extension of greater
India from prehistoric times. Besides such close interaction should be difficult, unless these people spoke a language or dialect which was mutually comprehensible
with that in use in North West India at that time. Such close interaction between
North West India and Central Asia and Tarim Basin point to the possibility that
the ancient tribes who populated these areas were migrants from North West India
at some point in pre historic times.
Archaeological excavations in Southern Uzbekistan, north-eastern Samarkand
and other places in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have
now unearthed corroborating evidence of links between ancient India and Central
Asia since remote antiquity. Further,it appears that India and eastern Central Asian
region of Xinjiang were also in extensive political, cultural and religious intercourse
with each other. The discovery of manuscripts in Xinjiang (China) and many other
finds points to these interactions. Thus evidences for contacts between South Asia
and Central Asia, if any, cannot prove movement of IndoAryans from Central Asia
to South Asia or can be proof of any model other than just that there were such
contacts from prehistoric times.

4.1.2

Evidence from Harappa

The Harappan archaeological finds and their interpretations have now assumed crucial, make or break importance, not only for various models of hypothetical arrival
5

Kushan Empire was an empire originally formed in the early 1st century CE under Kujula
Kadphises in the territories of the former Greco-Bactrian Kingdom around the Oxus River (Amu
Darya), and later based near Kabul, Afghanistan and todays Peshawar, Pakistan. The Kushans
spread from the Kabul River Valley to also encompass much of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, from which
they took their first official language (Greek), Bactrian alphabet, Greco-Buddhist religion, coinage
system, and art. They were one of five branches of the Yuezhi confederation, a possibly Iranian
or Tocharian, Indo-European nomadic people who had migrated from the Tarim Basin and settled
in ancient Bactria. Their official language, the Indo-European Bactrian language, is closely related
to the modern Afghan languages. They absorbed the Central Asian tribes that had previously
conquered parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians, and reached
their peak under the Buddhist emperor Kanishka , whose realm stretched from Turfan in the Tarim
Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic Plain. Kanishka was always considered as an Indian emperor;
and not as an intruder or invader.

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of Indo Aryans in the sub-continent in the second millennium BCE, but also for the
prevailing chronology of the origin and expansion of Indo-European language family. If it turns out that the Harappans and the Vedic Aryans belonged to the same
ethnic and linguistic groups, the prevailing model will face almost certain failure. As
evidences mount, this seems to become more and more a distinct possibility.
The ruins of Harappa were first described in 1842 by Charley Masson in hisNarrative
of Various Journeys in Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and the Punjab, which talks about
how locals told him of a nearby large ruined ancient city that extended over 25 miles.
In fact locals in the area, including in the arid parts of Sind, Cholistan, Rajasthan
and South-Western Haryana were telling all those who were interested, old myths
about ancient abandoned cities, and a very prosperous past when these desertified
areas were well watered and thickly populated. There were (and still are) sand
mounds all over the area, many of which may be hiding ruins buried under them.
But no archaeological investigation was undertaken to verify these places for nearly
a century.
In 1856, GeneralAlexander Cunningham, later director general of the archeological survey of northern India, visited Harappa, where the British engineers were
laying the railway line connecting the cities of Karachi and Lahore. They were finding it difficult to get ballast for the line. When the nearby villagers were questioned,
they were told of an ancient ruined city called Brahminabad near the lines. Visiting
the ruins, they found it full of hard well-burnt bricks. Soon the ruins of the city of
Brahminabad were reduced to a heap of dust. A few months later, further north,
another British engineer found that a section of the line ran near another ruined
city, bricks from which had been used by nearby villagers for generations. Such
bricks now provide ballast along 150km of the railroad track running from Karachi
to Lahore.
In 1872-75 Alexander Cunningham announced the discovery of the first Harappan
seal. But it was in 1912 that more Harappan seals were discovered by J.Fleet,
prompting an excavation under Sir John Hubert Marshall in 1921-22. This resulted
in the discovery of what came to be called Indus Valley civilization or IVC for
short, at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. By 1931, much of Mohenjo-Daro had been
excavated, but excavations continued, such as that in 1944, led by Sir Mortimer
Wheeler, director of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Since then outposts of the Indus Valley civilization were excavated as far west as
Mehrgarh and Sutkagan Dorr in Baluchistan, as far north as at Shortugai, in northern
Afghanistan, probably a trading colony established in around 2000 BC on the Oxus
river to collect semi precious stones from the nearby lapis mines,6 as far east as at
6
lapis is a relatively rare semi-precious stone that has been highly prized since antiquity for its
intense blue color.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

73

Alamgirpur and Mandi in Uttar Pradesh and as far south as Malwan, Surat Dist. Till
now more than 3000 Harappan sites have been discovered or identified. Though some
cultural and architectural differences have been observed, there is little doubt that
they all together belong to one single cultural horizon. The true story of Harappa is
still very hazy as only about 5% of the sites have been adequately investigated so far.
Many are under thickly populated villages and towns and others close to the tense
militarized border between India and Pakistan and thus are unlikely to be seriously
investigated in the near future. Many of the most promising unexcavated sites lie
in the Pakistani desert region of Cholistan near the tense border with India. One
such is the city of Ganweriwala, discovered in the 1970s and apparently comparable
in size with Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.
Chronologically IVC is often divided into three phases with some variation by
different estimates.
Early Harappan From 3300 BCE to 2800 BCE
Mature Harappan from 2800 BCE to 1900 BCE
Late Harappan from 1900 BCE to 1300 BCE
The term Harappan civilisation or HP usually referes to the Mature Harappan
phase. Some of the discovered sites, like Mehrgarh in Baluchistan and Bhirrana in
Haryana, are older than even Early Harappan. These were occupied continually from
6000 BCE to well into Late Harappan period. These two places are more than 1000
km apart.
Most of these identified sites are on the banks of either the Indus River or its
tributaries or on the banks of the paleo canal of an ancient river which flowed from the
Himalayan Ranges up to the Gujarat coast. According to some archaeologists, over
2000 Harappan sites have been discovered along the dried up beds of the GhaggarHakra River, out of the more than 3500 sites identified so far. Thus the centre of
Harappan Culture was the area between Indus River and the paleo canal or GhaggarHakra River system, which many people believe to be the ancient Vedic Sarasvati.
The course of the river is clearly discernible from satellite imageries and it more or
less follows the same course as the Ghaggar-Hakra River system. It is now evident
that this ancient river had dried up by the beginning of the second millennium
BCE, probably resulting in the collapse of the civilization. It was a mighty river
before 3000 BCE and had more or less dried up by 2000 BCE. The banks of this
ancient river was probably more important for the ancient civilisation than Indus
River. More than half of the mature Harappan sites were on the banks of the
paleo canal/ Ghaggar-Hakra. Also, of the nine major centres identified so far, three
(Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Mehrgarh) were on or close to the banks of Indus while
six (Banawali, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Ganweriwala, Dholavira and Lothal) were
on or close to the banks of the paleo canal which may be the old course of Sarasvati.
The last two are in Kutch and Sourastra where the river is believed to have drained

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into the Arabian Sea. Rakhigarhi in Hisar district of Haryana is now believed to
have been the biggest of them all; bigger even than Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
The size of the lost city was at least 350 hectares, making it the largest Indus Valley
Civilization site in India, Pakistan or Afghanistan. It is spread over nine mounds
named RGR-1 to RGR-9. But major portion of this site has not been excavated
yet, as part of it is under two large villages. Just for comparison, Mohenjedaro and
Harappa sites in Pakistan and Dholavira in Indias Gujarat, three of the biggest
sites uncovered so far, have dimensions of 200, 150 and 100 hectares respectively.
The Assyrian imperial capital city,Nimrod on the banks of Tigris River, close to
Mozul and capital of Second Assyrian Empire during ninth and eighth centuries
BCE, was also about the same size. This empire, often known as neo Assyrian
Empire, which ruled the vast landmass from the shores of Mediterranean to present
day Iran, Egypt, Arabian Peninsula and many areas around these for three hundred
years, had the military muscle as well as technological superiority to overcome all
its neighbours. Nimrod was the archaeological remains that was in news recently,
as it was damaged by Islamic State followers saying that the ruins were un-Islamic.
It is possible that Rakhigarhi was the biggest city anywhere in the world in ancient
prehistoric past. In size, dimensions, strategic location and unique significance of
the settlement, Rakhigarhi exceeds Harappa and Mohenjodaro at every level. Three
layers of Early, Mature and Late phases of Indus Valley civilization have been found
at Rakhigarhi or Rakhi Garh. Similarly Bhirrana on the banks of Ghaggar River
in Haryana is now believed to have been a major centre from 6500 BC, making it
one of the oldest sites of Harappan civilization. Based on recent C 14 radio-dating,
the remains in Bhirrana date back to 7570-6200 BC. Again, just for comparison,
it may be pointed out that, Mehrgarh site in Pakistan is believed to belong to the
time bracket of 7000-6400 BC. Mehrgarh is located near the Bolan Pass, to the west
of the Indus River valley and between the Pakistani cities of Quetta, Kalat and
Sibi. It was believed to be the oldest HC site until now. In fact recent excavations
have established that a cluster of at least five Harappan sites in the Ghaggar Basin
in Haryana, namely Kunal, Farmana, Girawad, Mitathal along with Bhirrana are
among the oldest Harappan settlements dating back to 4000 BCE or earlier, pointing
to the possibility that this part of Ghaggar Basin might be the original areas of the
civilization that later spread to the Indus sites which are normally thought of as the
core and origin of it. Incidently, this was also the area of ancient Kuru kingdom
where Rgveda was composed. This could also mean that early Harappan civilization
flourished more on the banks of Sarasvati and less so along Indus River. For this
reason, some scholars say that the name Indus Valley Civilization is inappropriate
and a more appropriate term may be Indus Ghaggar-Hakra Civilization or IndusSaraswati or just Saraswati Civilization, as some argue that the dry bed visible in
the area is that of the Vedic Saraswati River. Since the majority of the sites are not

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

75

on banks of Indus River, it may be better to call it Harappan Civilization as Harappa


was the first IVC site discovered. I have opted for the term Harappan Civilization
or HC for short here, as it seems to be the least controversial.
Geographically HC covered the sea coast from Baluchistan to Cambay in Gujarat and inland along the banks of Indus and its tributaries up to the foothills of
Himalayas. At its peak HC covered an area of about 1.25 million square kilometre
which is larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia put together or a third of the
area of present day India. At its height it might have been home to more than 10
% of world population of that time. From available evidence, it appears that of the
four known major civilizations before 4000 YBP, (Egypt, Sumer, China Yellow River
Valley and HC) HC was superior in terms of not only area, but also technology, economic development, organization, population and urbanization. The well planned
cities, paved roads, extensive drainage systems, docks, granaries and depiction of
coiffured, bejewelled people on clay seals, bronze etc points to a civilization that was
prosperous and far ahead of its times. The cities were well planned and were constructed in grids, with exquisite plumbing, the like of which was not seen anywhere
in the world again until Rome was in its heyday two millennium later.
A notable difference between Harappan sites and other contemporary cultures
like those in Egypt or Mesopotamia is the absence of large palaces, lavish burials of
the nobles or huge temple structures in the former. It is not clear if this points to the
absence of autocratic kings or emperors or a powerful centralized rule. The similarity,
though not complete uniformity, of the cultural and life style aspects of urban centers,
often more than 1000 KM apart, that remained more or less unchanged for almost
a millennium, would not have been possible, if not impossible, without some kind of
central authority. Houses and civic facilities in the lower towns, where apparently the
lower class people of the society lived, were comparatively well served, unlike in Egypt
or Mesopotamia. Thus, they seem to have been a more democratic society, with
better wealth distribution, than Mesopotamia or Egypt. What this means is unclear.
Another conspicuous detail is the absence of signs of the presence of a powerful
army. On the basis of this, some early commentators concluded that Harappans
were a peaceful, mercantile society. But absence of indications of a powerful army
may be misleading, as prosperous areas like Harappan towns were likely to have
enemies waiting for opportunities for attack and must definitely have been a very
good target for invaders and looters. It seems certain that such a society could not
have survived long without a well organized powerful army and adequate defences
and security support. The Harappan towns prospered and flourished, without any
apparent major disturbance or break, for more than one millennium.
Ancient Mesopotamian texts speak of trading with at least two seafaring civilizations - Magan and Meluhha - in the neighborhood of South Asia in the third
millennium B.C. These speak of Meluhha, a term which is believed to refer to Harap-

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pan Cities, as a land of exotic commodities. Such textual references include Sargons
(Sargon of Akkad; the best known ruler from third millennium BC from any part
of the world) inscription referring to Meluhhan ships docked at Akkad.7 Other texts
refer to Meluhhan ship-holders and a Meluhhan interpreter. Gudea of Lagash inscriptions states that the Meluhhans came up from their country to supply wood
and other raw materials for the construction of the main temple of Gudeas capital.
The Gudea cylinders are a pair of terracotta cylinders dating to circa 2125 BC, on
which a Sumerian myth called the Building of Ningursus temple is inscribed.The
cylinders were found in 1877 during excavations at Telloh(ancient Girsu), Iraq and
is an inscription describing construction at Gudea, within Eninnu, during the Second Dynasty of Lagash. It is stated that materials for the construction were brought
from a wide area including Susa, Elam, Magan and Meluhha. Susa was the capital
of the Elam Kingdom, located South West of present day Iran. The names of three
places, Magan, Dilmun, and Meluhha are usually mentioned together and goods imported from these three places were also similar and known to have been available
or made in South Asia. The description imply that they were in close proximity to
each other. These sources also mention that Meluhha was to the east of Sumer and
very far off. There are scholars today who confidently identify Meluhha with the
Harappan Civilization, on the basis of the extensive evidence of trading contacts between Sumer and this region. Maganis also often identified with Oman. But there
is another view that Magan is the ancient Magadha and king Manium of Magan is
Manu of Hindu Puranas. There are other references to luxury items being imported
from Meluhha. Another curious reference is to the presence of a Meluhhan workers
village in Sumer and of Meluhhan traders maintaining their own distinct village in
7

Akkadian is an extinct east Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. It is the
earliest attested Semitic language. Linguists named the language Akkadian after the city of Akkad,
a major center of Semitic Mesopotamian civilization during the Akkadian Empire (2334-2154 BC),
although the language itself might have existed many centuries before the founding of Akkad.
Akkadian names were first attested in Sumerian texts from the late 29th century BC. From the
second half of the third millennium BC, texts fully written in Akkadian begin to appear. It used a
cuneiform script, which was very similar to the one used to write ancient Sumerian, an unrelated
language. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments in Akkadian have been excavated to
date, covering a vast textual tradition of mythological narrative, legal texts, political and military
events. By the second millennium BC, two variant forms of the language were in use in Assyria and
Babylonia, known as Assyrian and Babylonian respectively.
Akkadian had been for centuries the native language in Mesopotamian nations such as Assyria
and Babylonia, and indeed became the lingua franca of much of the Ancient Near East due to
the might of various Mesopotamian empires such as the Akkadian Empire, and later Old Assyrian
Empire, Babylonian Empire and Middle Assyrian Empire. However, it began to decline during the
Neo Assyrian Empire around the 8th century BC, as it was gradually replaced by Aramaic. By
the Hellenistic period, the language was largely confined to scholars and priests working in temples
in Assyria and Babylonia, but a number of Akkadian loan words, together with the Akkadian
grammatical structure, survive in some local dialects.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

77

the city of Ur in Sumerian Empire over a considerable span of time in the third millennium BCE. What was the nature of the expertise that Harappans had mastered
which the Sumerians valued so much?
A wide variety of objects and seals produced in the Indus region have been found
at sites in Mesopotamia and Bahrain in particular as well as to the north in places
like Bactria and Margiana.The trade between these distant lands was apparently
conducted with considerable sophistication. It is interesting in this regard that there
is a reference in Rig Veda to a hundred oared ship, which, if it really refers to an
actual ship, must have been unusually large in ancient times. But this reference
is usually rubbished by most western scholars. An intriguing aspect of this trade
was that it seems to have been one sided. Harappan artifacts have been recovered
from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Bahrain, Iran, Bactria and Margiana. But similar goods
from these areas have not been found in Harappan sites. The reason is unclear; but
one suggestion is that the trade was largely controlled by Harappan merchants. It
is also possible that the imports were mostly perishable goods and precious stones
and metals. This suggests that IVC had a sea-faring merchant class engaged in
extensive trading. But in the absence of reliable evidence/data these conclusions are
speculative at best.
It is now apparent that there was another equally impressive civilization that
flourished in the vast area covering Eastern Iran during this period. Shahdad and
Shahr-i-Sokhta are two of the more important archaeological sites among the many
ancient settlements in the Eastern Iran. These are dated from about 3200 BCE
to around 2000 BCE, when these settlements were more or less abandoned, as was
the case with the three contemporary civilizations around it; Mesopotamia to the
west, BMAC to the north east and Harappan Civilization to the east. More recent
surveys, excavations, and remote sensing work reveal that all of eastern Iran, from
near the Persian Gulf in the south to the northern edge of the Iranian plateau,
was peppered with hundreds and possibly thousands of small to large settlements.
These people built large cities with palaces, used one of the first writing systems,
and created sophisticated metal, pottery, and textile industries. They also appear to
have shared both administrative and religious ideas as they did business with distant
lands. They connected the great corridors between Mesopotamia and the east,
says Maurizio Tosi, a University of Bologna archaeologist who did pioneering work
at Shahr-i-Sokhta. They were the world in between. The artefacts uncovered show
the breadth of Shahr-i-Sokhtas connections. Some excavated red-and-black ceramics
share traits with those found in the hills and steppes of distant Turkmenistan to
the north, while others are similar to pots made in Harappan centres to the east.
Shahr-i-Sokhta was a metropolis rivalling those of the first great urban centres in
Mesopotamia and the Indus. Radiocarbon data showed that the site was founded
around 3200 B.C., just as the first substantial cities in Mesopotamia were being built,

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and flourished for more than a thousand years. During its heyday in the middle of
the third millennium B.C., the city covered more than 150 hectares and may have
been home to more than 20,000 people, perhaps as populous as the large cities of
Umma in Mesopotamia and Mohenjo-Daro on the Indus River. The city boasted a
large palace, separate neighbourhoods for pottery-making, metalworking, and other
industrial activities, and distinct areas for the production of local goods. A vast
shallow lake and wells likely provided the necessary water, allowing for cultivated
fields and grazing for animals. By 2000 BCE these settlements were abandoned. The
reasons for this remain unclear.
Thus it is not necessory that the trade between Mesopotamia and Harappan
cities was trasacted over sea. It could well have been over land.
Burnt bricks of same measurement appear to have been used in the construction
of buildings in cities that were as much as 1000 KM apart. The bricks and the
constructions were all in definite proportions. Same type of constructions had bricks
of the same size all over the vast Harappan area of all stages. All bricks were
in the strict 1:2:4 proportions all over the area for almost one millennium. It is
clear that they had mastered the technology and chemistry of brick making from
the fact that those bricks were so strong and durable that they were reused, not
only for house building in the area, but also for construction of rail lines 5000 years
later. Technology employed in making various artifacts using metals, pearls, clay and
other materials point to technological excellence of a high order. The people of the
Harappan Civilization achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time.
They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures
and the same was used all over the cultural horizon with only minor variations
for almost thousand years. The planning and organization this calls for at a time
when communication and travel must have been extremely hazardous, slow and
difficult is amazing. Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale
found in Lothal, was approximately 1.704mm, the smallest division ever recorded
on a scale of the Bronze Age. Harappan engineers followed the decimal division
of measurement for all practical purposes, including the measurement of mass as
revealed by their hexahedron weights. These weights were in a ratio of 5:2:1 with
weights of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 units, with each unit
weighing approximately 28grams, similar to the English Imperial ounce and smaller
objects were weighed in similar ratios. The weights and measures later described in
Kautilyas Arthashastra were the same as those used in Lothal. Harappans evolved
some new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin. The
engineering skill of the Harappans was remarkable, especially in building docks.
The Indus Valley people, though largely urban, domesticated animals, and harvested various crops, such as sesame, peas, barley, and cotton.
In spite of uncovering these details, mystery surrounds HC, as we know little else

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

79

unlike the other three major civilizations mentioned above. We know nothing about
the political organization, rulers, religious practices and cultural aspects, except
what we can infer from the artifacts dug up. We do not even know who these people
were; their ethnical and linguistic identity. The reason for this is that we have not
been able to decipher their writing, if the seals (seals are used to make impressions
on malleable material like clay.) represent writing, nor have we got any other written
records, unlike the other three civilizations. Many scholars now say that IVC did
not have a script or writing system as the few thousand seals discovered in Indus
Valley cities show some 400 symbols: too few in number for the language to have
been logographic, and too many for the language to have been phonetic (but the
number is just right for a logo phonetic script). The difficulty in deciphering the
signs is also due to the fact that we know nothing about the language; whether it
was Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, or Munda or related to Sumerian or Semitic languages.
Similarly scholars have not reached an agreement whether the script is logographic,
logo phonetic, syllabic or what are known as abjad. It is most probably logo phonetic
or a form of Cuneiform script. Nor have we yet found bilingual texts like a Rosetta
stone,8 discovery of which helped decipher the ancient Egyptian language, after
efforts for at least two hundred years had failed.
Since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in Egypt in 1799, and the consequent
decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, epigraphers have learnt how to read a
8

The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian stele inscribed with a decree issued in around 200 BC
on behalf of King Ptolemy V. It was discovered by French army engineers at a place called Rosetta;
and hence the name Rosetta Stone. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient
Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowestAncient Greek. Because it
presents essentially the same text in all three scripts, with some minor differences between them, it
provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The decipherment of the
Egyptian hieroglyphic texts was announced in 1822; but it took longer still, before scholars were
able to read other Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently.
The Rosetta Stone is now 114.4 centimeters (45in) high at its highest point and 72.3cm (28.5in)
wide. Parts of it seem to have broken off at some time in the past. But no additional fragments
were found in later searches of the Rosetta site. Owing to its damaged state, none of the three texts
is complete. The importance the discoverers of the stone attached to it is clear from the fact that
Napoleon himself inspected what had already begun to be called la Pierre de Rosette, the Rosetta
Stone, shortly before his return to France in August 1799.
Prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and its eventual decipherment, the Ancient Egyptian
language and script was a complete mystery. This was so at least since the fall of the Roman
Empire. There were many attempts to decipher the writings by Arab historians in medieval Egypt
during the 9th and 10th centuries. The study of hieroglyphs continued with fruitless attempts at
decipherment by European scholars. Hieroglyphs have a pictorial appearance in contrast to the
Greek and Roman alphabets. This led many people, including ancient / medieval scholars to think
that they were just works of art, and not meaningful writing. It is interesting to note the parallels
with Harappan script.
The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 provided critical missing information, that eventually
allowed Jean-Franois Champollion to determine the nature of this mysterious script.

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number of ancient scripts. The Brahmi script from India was cracked in the 1830s
and cuneiform scripts from Mesopotamia some time later in the nineteenth century.
Some other scripts that were deciphered in the twentieth century include the Linear B
script from Greece and the Mayan glyphs from Central America. Several important
scripts still have not been deciphered. Some of these include Linear A,9 the Cretan
hieroglyphic from the Greek island of Crete, writing in an unknown script found in
Easter Island, and the Indus script. It is not even certain if some of these represent
human languages or are just artistic designs as the Egyptian hieroglyphs were once
thought to be.
The Harappan civilization seems to have adopted standardized writing style over
the entire area of influence by around 2600 BC and it remained in use till about
1900 BC. Harappan writing can also be found in West Asia, as far away as Sumer
in the present day Iraq. About five thousand samples of inscribed objects have been
discovered from several sites of the civilization. These include steatite or terracotta
seals and sealings (impressions of seals), copper tablets, pottery and other material.
The inscribed objects, in general, have a wide variety of designs and contents. Apart
from the yet undeciphered script of the Indus Valley civilization, these objects often have images of animals, mythical figures, composite and multi-headed animals,
scenes with people (perhaps mythical), and other types of geometric and abstract
motifs. The most common animal motif depicted on a majority of these objects is
the Unicorn. Harappan seals provide the earliest known depiction of Unicorn. It is
depicted as a legendary animal later in many other cultures. The purpose of these
inscribed objects is not clear. Some of them are suggested to be used for stamping
clay tags attached to bales of goods. However, they may have had other uses as well.
A large fraction of these inscribed objects with the Indus script are in the form
of seals largely between 2 to 5 square centimeters in size. Only two samples of Indus
script on larger objects have been discovered so far from the site of Dholavira in
Gujarat. One of them is a large wooden board (about three meters in length) with
9

Linear A is one of two currently undeciphered writing systems used in ancient Greece. The
other is Cretan hieroglyphic. The earliest writing found on Crete is the Cretan hieroglyphs. It
is not certain if the two scripts record the same language or whether the undelying language is
Minoan. The Cretan hieroglyphs are often associated with the Egyptians, but they also show
relation to several other writings from the region of Mesopotamia.
Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization.
It is probably the origin of the Linear B script, which was later used by the Mycenaean civilization.
Linear A has been unearthed chiefly on Crete, but also at other sites in Greece, as well as Turkey and
Israel. In the 1950s, Linear B was largely deciphered and found to encode an early form of Greek.
Although the two systems share many symbols, this did not lead to a subsequent decipherment
of Linear A. Using the values associated with Linear B in Linear A mainly produces unintelligible
words. If it uses the same or similar syllabic values as Linear B, then its underlying language could
be unrelated to any known language.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

81

ten Indus signs. The other sample is a stone slab with four Indus signs which was
discovered in an underground chamber at Dholavira.
Geometric and abstract patterns, in particular, are interesting due to their extensive usage of symmetry and select number of divisions. Interestingly, a geometric
design, that is referred to as Swastika in later literature, is also found on Harappan seals. There are some very complex concentric circular patterns on objects no
more than a few square centimeters in size, suggesting a strong commitment to precision. Some of their complex geometric patterns reveal remarkable understanding
of geometric space in the art of its creators.
There are differing Views on how many signs there are in the Indus script. Parpola puts the number at about 425; an estimate more or less supported by the Indus
script researcher, Iravatham Mahadevan. There are some other estimates that puts
the number below 100. At the other extreme is the high estimate of 958 signs by
Bryan Wells. The reason for this differing estimate is that many of these signs may
have variations or the style of creating the same sign might have differed in different
artefacts and over differnt periods.
The number of signs in a script generally defines the type of the script. Logographic scripts, such as Chinese, have thousands of signs with each sign corresponding to a word. In contrast, in case of alphabetic scripts consisting of single sound
signs, the number of signs often does not exceed forty. Another class of scripts lying in between these two extremes consists of about 400 to 900 signs and they are
known as logo-syllabic scripts. The scripts such as ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
and Mesopotamian Cuneiform texts belong to logo-syllabic category. It is probably
significant that these three contemporary civilizations, which had close trade and
commercial relations, also used conceptually similar scripts for writing, which was
mainly used for trade and commerce in the beginning. In logo-syllabic scripts, each
sign is used both for its pictorial as well as for its phonetic value. Based on the
count of the total number of signs in the signary of the Indus script, it is likely
that it is logo-syllabic, like Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphs or Mayan
glyphs; that is, a mixture of hundreds of logographic signs representing words and
concepts, such as & and % and even for many frequently used words, and a much
smaller subset representing syllables.
The language or languages spoken by the Indus people spoke, remain unknown.
Sumerian, Egyptian, Elamite, Munda, Indo-Aryan and Dravidian are but a few
of the languages, which have been proposed as the language underlying the Indus
script. The Dravidian hypothesis would appear to have gained the greatest number of
backers. There are strong reasons to believe that speakers of Indo-Aryan languages
were living in the Indian subcontinent, earlier than has commonly been assumed.
This claim has led many scholars to the conclusion that the Indus inscriptions could
possibly record an early form of Indo-Aryan. It also seems plausible that the Indus

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language family died out altogether and left no traces, which would allow linguists
to reconstruct it. This last suggestion would make a decipherment of the Indus
script almost impossible, as an unknown script, which encodes an unknown language,
cannot be successfully decoded.
Besides, it appears that the Indus symbols were not adopted from any other
contemporary literate societies, for the signs bear no resemblance to any known
script, although it contains simplified anthropomorphic and zoomorphic signs, in
addition to geometric forms, such as circles, squares and triangles, as do many other
scripts. These may be accidental similarities that are bound to occur.
The first known script found in India, which we can read, is Brahmi. Asokan
inscriptions were written in Brahmi and so was early Tamil. Many of the Asian
scripts such as Burmese, Tibetan, Cham, Malayan, Javanese, Sumatran and the
Tagalog were all derived from Brahmi. Even the so called Arab numerals, which
are actually Indic numerals, are derived from Brahmi. There are different theories
regarding the origins of Brahmi. One theory suggests that it was derived from
an earlier Indian script, while others suggests it was derived from Phoenician or
South Semitic scripts. On first impulse, one is tempted to consider the possibility of
Brahmi10 being a script derived from the Harappan. But all efforts to connect these
have failed so far. Besides Harappan was probably a logo-syllabic script, whereas
Brahmi was abugida script.
Now a 30 cm tall varaha found under the foundation of a home in Haryana is
providing an interesting clue into the later usage of the Indus-Saraswati script. This
2 kg, copper figure went on display for the first time in Brussels. According to the
description which appeared in The Art Newspaper, the figure has a cast relief on its
chest of a unicorn-like animal, similar to motifs found on seals of the Harappa culture.
But the most interesting part is the inscription above this creature. It appear to
represent a combination of Harappan signs and Brahmi letters, suggesting that it
comes from period of overlap between the Harappan and subsequent cultures. The
figure has some similarity with that of the Hindu god Varaha. The Uttar Pradesh
archaeological department has accepted this as an antique piece and dates it to the
second to the first millennium BCE. If this find is confirmed, it could point to possible
connection between Harappan and Brahmi scripts.
Another recent possible breakthrough is an artefact that was found in a museum
10

Brahmi was an abugida script, meaning that each letter represents a consonant. Alphabets in
use today can be differentiated into three types. Abugida scripts are those in which vowels are
modifiers of the basic consonant sign, except at the beginning of a word. Most present day Indian
languages use abugida scripts. This contrasts with a full alphabet, in which vowels have status
equal to consonants like English (phoneme - consonant or vowel), and with an abjad, in which vowel
marking is absent or optional like Arabic (phoneme - consonant). In less formal contexts, all three
types of script may be termed alphabets.

4.1. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES

83

collection in Afghanistan. The artefact in question consists of a strip of several thin


layers of bark, with seven lines of symbols running across it. A cursory perusal of
the approximately 200 symbols, could lead one with some knowledge of the Indus
script, to propose that the text at hand might have been composed using the Indus
script, as some of the most common and well-known Indus signs seem to be present
on the bark manuscript.
However on closer examination, it is seen that the symbols defer from Harappan
ones in many specific details. Thus it can be a script derived from Harappan script.
It is also possible that a derivative of Harappan script was used to prepare a text
in another language. The most frequent Indus sign is also the most common Kabul
grapheme and ten of the top 11 most common Kabul graphemes appear in the list
of the 60 most frequent Indus signs. This might be a pointer that the text might
be in Harappan language or a later variant of it. The manuscript might represent a
later simplified stage of the Indus script. If confirmed, this would finally disprove the
argument that Harappans were illiterate and confirm that the Indus symbols belong
to a speech-encoding writing system
But establishing the date of the strip of birch bark is necessary to confirm that
the Kabul manuscript is not a forgery, as some authors have expressed doubts about
its authenticity.
The nature and content of the Indus script have been extensively debated in
the literature. The hurdles in deciphering the script include extreme brevity of the
texts, absence of information on their content and usage, absence of bilingual or
multilingual texts, lack of knowledge about the nature of the language or the script
and apparent discontinuity in the cultural and literary traditions after the decline of
the Indus Valley civilization.
There are three serious problems standing in the way of deciphering the Indus
script. These are - First, no firm information is available about its underlying language. Was this an ancestor of Sanskrit or Dravidian, or of some other Indian
language family, such as Munda, or was it a language that has disappeared? Linear
B was deciphered because the tablets turned out to be in an archaic form of Greek;
Mayan glyphs because Mayan languages are still spoken.
Second, no names of Indus rulers or personages are known from myths or historical records: no equivalents of Rameses or Ptolemy, who were known to hieroglyphic
decipherers from records of ancient Egypt available in Greek.
Third, there is, as yet, no Indus bilingual inscription comparable to the Rosetta
Stone. It is conceivable that such a text may exist somewhere like in Mesopotamia,
given its trade links with the Indus civilization. The Mayan decipherment started
in 1876 using a sixteenth-century Spanish manuscript that recorded a discussion
in colonial Yucatan between a Spanish priest and a Yucatec Mayan-speaking elder
about ancient Mayan writing.

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More than one hundred attempts have been made to assign meaning to various
signs and sign combinations of the Indus script, relating it to Porto-Dravidian language on one hand to Indo Aryan language on the other. It has even been suggested
that the script is entirely numeric or even that it is a collection of symbols. Most
of the interpretations are at variance with each other and at times even internally
inconsistent. None of these interpretations are satisfactory. Hence, the problem
of the Indus script remains unresolved with no universal consensus on any of the
interpretations.
In a 2004 article, Farmer and Witzel presented a number of arguments in support
of their thesis that the Indus script is nonlinguistic, principal among them being the
extreme brevity of the inscriptions, the existence of too many rare signs increasing
over the 700-year period of the Mature Harappan civilization, and the lack of randomlooking sign repetition typical for representations of actual spoken language (whether
syllabic-based or letter-based), as seen, for example, in Egyptiancartouches. In
short, they argued that HC was illiterate.
Asko Parpola, reviewing the Farmer and Witzel thesis in 2005, states that their
arguments can be easily controverted. He cites the presence of a large number of
rare signs in Chinese, and emphasizes that there is little reason for sign repetition
in short seal texts written in an early logo-syllabic script. Revisiting the question
in a 2007 lecture,Parpola takes on each of the 10 main arguments of Farmer et al.,
presenting counterarguments for each. He states that even short noun phrases and
incomplete sentences qualify as full writing if the script uses the rebus principle
to phonetize some of its signs. One of these sign, found over 1000 instances, is
a U with two horns protruding from either side. It constitutes ten percent of all
script data and, as a rule, it appears at the end of inscriptions rather than at the
beginning. It also transpires that certain combinations of signs recur with a higher
frequency than others and appear in a particular order too, making it seem that
the inscriptions follow certain rules and also that the signs constitute a script. The
sequencing of signs also follows definite rules. Very few signs are used as text enders
while relatively large number of signs occur as text beginners, a usual characteristic
of a natural language.
It is hard to believe that Harappan Civilization (HC) was illiterate even when it
was apparently more advanced compared to Egypt or Mesopotamia in many respects,
where writing was developed before third millennium BCE. If the identification of
Meluhha as Harappan cities is indeed correct, it is clear that Harappa and Akkad
had very close relations and Harappans surely would have learned writing skills
from them. Even if they had failed to develop a script on their own, they would
surely have learned the skill from these lands with which they had close trade and
commercial relation, particularly as writing would have been of tremendous help in
their extensive manufacturing, trade and administration of the vast lands over which

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the civilization flourished. In fact it is inconceivable that they could have achieved
what they did, without some form of writing. One similarity between Harappan seals
and Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite and Hittite writing recovered so far, is that they
are all impressions made on clay. Also most clay tablets from Mesopotamia and
Anatolia relate to trade and commerce.
Thus, the suggestion that Harappans were illiterate cannot be considered very
sound. On the contrary all available evidences point to the distinct possibility that
the markings on the different artifacts are part of a very well designed script. But
deciphering it might require a Harappan Rosetta Stone or some other credible
breakthroughs. Till then the relation, if any, between Vedic Aryans and the Harappans will remain an enigma. But indirect and circumstantial evidences point to the
distinct possibility that Vedic Aryans also built the Harappan Civilization, though
any such conclusion may have to await deciphering the Harappan script
When the Aryan Invasion Theory, or the model that hypothesized the arrival of
Indo Aryans in North West India in the second millennium BCE, was proposed by
European Indologists in the nineteenth century, it was simple guess work, and was
not supported by any empirical evidence or even credible, consistent logic. However
as there was little opposition to it at the time, it was soon accepted as a fact of history
even in academic circles. Later, though many scholars found various inconsistencies
in it, they tended to support the prevailing wisdom, as there were no emphatic
evidences to oppose it or to support it. But in the last few decades, as evidences
from multiple fields began to be available, it is becoming increasingly clear that
there was no large migration into North West India for the last 7000 to 8000 years at
least. Most genetic studies conducted so far have come to the conclusion that there
had been no major genetic input into the sub-continent for the last 10000 years.
Skeletons unearthed from the Harappan sites are anthropologically similar to those
of present day population of the area. There is not a single archaeological find that
can be emphatically identified as those of incoming Indo Aryans, either in North
West India or anywhere else. There is no sudden change in cultural or life style
practices or demographic structure in North West India for at least the past 5000
years. There is no unambiguous myth about a migration event, from the north or
North West, in any Vedic Literature texts.
Thus, not only that there is absolutely no evidence for a large scale arrival of Indo
Aryans in the North West India in the second millennium BCE, there are multiple
evidences to show that such an event could not have occurred. Most linguists and
historians now accept that such is the case. This has prompted some of them,
who are firm believers of the prevailing chronology, to suggest a Trickling in and
elite dominance model, which is discussed in detail elsewhere in this book. The
key element of this model is that the Indo Aryans arrived in a number of small
groups, who were able to impose their language on the locals, because of some special

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circumstances. David Anthony, in his revised Steppe hypothesis suggests that the
spread of the Indo-European languages in South Asia did not happen through large
scale migrations, but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political
elites, which were adopted by large groups of local people, a process which he calls
elite recruitment. According to this revised model, the migration into northern
India was by small groups of elite males who were genetically diverse. Dominance by
these small groups led to a complete language shift in northern India in the second
millennium BCE.
The locals also adopted the culture, life style and religious practices of the new
comers and also promptly forgot their past; their ancestors and lot else. Names of
places, rivers, mountains and even their own personal names were changed to Indo
Aryan ones. Remember that while the new comers were only few in numbers, the
locals might have been in tens of millions and this happened all over a geographical
area covering millions of square kilometers. Also bear in mind that the Harappans
would have considered the new comers as barbarians. Such a scenario seems to be
completely irrational, implausible and tests ones credibility. The special circumstances that are usually suggested as reason for this very unlikely change is that, the
Harappans were desperate at that time because of the collapse of their urban centers
and so were ready to accept the barbarians as their rulers. But according to the
usual chronology, the Indo Aryans would have arrived at least a couple of centuries
after migration of the locals from their abandoned towns, believed to have occurred
due climate change and drying up of water sources. No doubt that the Harappans
would have been greatly distressed; but it would have been a slow process and the
immediate effects would have been spread out over many decades and centuries, time
enough to adapt to a changed life style, suitable for the new circumstances. This
would have softened the impact somewhat. Far harsher conditions and mass sufferings have occurred all over the world regularly. It is doubtful if such conditions will
drive a once proud, prosperous people to accept a few barbarians as their saviours
and accept changes as mentioned above like own names and religious beliefs and
practices, apart from total switching of language. Besides, there is no evidence that
such a process had occurred.
There is one probable clue that show that we are missing something here. The
Harappan civilization was clearly an advanced civilization and yet these people have
left absolutely no literary records in spite of having long close contact with civilizations that had attested literary traditions and developed well advanced writing
systems. Remember that archaeological and anthropological evidences are now emphatic that there was no cultural or demographic change in the area from the third
to first millennium BC and yet nothing of their literary traditions or even myths
have survived. The Vedic Aryans on the other hand have left us a literature that is
probably the largest and most profound in the world from that period. But there is

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87

absolutely no archaeological record that they ever existed either on the Indian soil
or outside its boundaries. So we have archaeology of a vast civilization lasting thousands of years that left no literature and a huge literature by the Vedic Aryans who
left no archaeological records. To get over these difficulties some scholars, like Frits
Staal, now suggest that Vedic Culture was a mixture of Harappan and Indo-Aryan
Cultures. Staal believes that Vedas were composed in India in the language brought
into India with some inputs from the local myths, incidents and cults like Soma and
Agni. Wendy Doniger, Professor, History of Religions at the University of Chicago,
in her now controversial book The Hindus: An Alternative History goes further
and says that Indo-Aryan contribution to Hindu religion and ancient literature is
limited to Vedas alone. She says
Though the Vedic people told the story of their early life in India, and
their descendants controlled the narrative for a very long time, most of
what Hindus have written about and talked about and done, from the
Mahabharata on, has not come from the Veda. The non-Veda is the fons
et origo of Hinduism.
Thus her conclusion is that every custom, practices, myths and imageries associated
with Hindu Religion at present, except Vedas, have come from non-Vedic sources,
most of which presumably from Harappa, but also with contributions from other
cultures which were present in the sub-continent and also those which entered the
area later.
Assuming that the Puranas and Epics are also mostly made up of local myths
and incidents, we are still faced with inconsistencies. Some of these are
If the local myths and incidents were restated in the language of the intruders,
one would expect some references to that process in the innumerable stories in
the Puranas and Epics. To date nobody has pointed out any such references.
Also one would expect many words of Harappan origin in the Vedas. There
may be some Dravidian and Munda loan words in the Vedic, the two other
major language families in South Asia. But not everyone agrees to this.11
Besides, these supposed loan words in Vedic are too few to account for the
admixture of the language of a few trickled in intruders and the vast majority.
If the Harappans spoke a language belonging to Dravidian family as some
believe, one would expect some traces of the myths about their ancestors life
11

Such imaginary discovery of foreign words in a language is not uncommon. In the 18th century
when a version of Pahlavi Avesta was first published in Europe by Anquetil Duperron, there were
many critics who found many Arabic words in it. Later it became clear that this was based on
superficial reading or Anquetil papers. The Arabic words were all from the later portion of the
texts, created well after the Arabs became the masters of the entire area.

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in the Saptasindhu area and the migration from there to the south in the
ancient Tamil literature. Again nobody has suggested anything of that nature.
If Harappan Language was not Dravidian, one would expect the language of the
vast majority to survive at least in some pockets. Nowhere had the language
of the majority completely displaced by that of a limited number of intruders
who were otherwise completely assimilated by the local population with little
impact on the anthropological features, culture, lifestyle and genetic make-up
of the locals.
According to the prevailing wisdom, the incoming small groups of Vedic Aryans
completely displaced the languages spoken in the comparatively thickly populated, vast, Indo-Gangetic planes, with little impact on the material culture,
life styles or genetic make-up of the locals. Yet when they moved further into
peninsular India, the effect was just the opposite. There was little impact on
the languages, except Sanskrit loan words in these languages, but the intruders impact on local material culture, life style and religious customs was quite
substantial.
According to the AIT/AMT narrative, the transformation that happened in the
Harappan areas after the arrival of Vedic Aryans, was absolutely total. It left almost
no traces of the original beliefs, mythology and language, or of the original complex
of material and spiritual culture. The local people not only adopted Indo-European
systems of ancestor worship, they completely abandoned and forgot their own actual
ancestors and their own actual ancestral history, and adopted the ancestors and
ancestral history of the Indo-Aryans as their own. All these commenced some time
after 1500 BCE, and was more or less completed within a period of 200 to 400
years; a suspiciously short time for such complete transformation. This scale of
transformation caused by a few trickled in outsiders is incredible and without parallel.
The Harappans had many well planned large cities. If their language was not IE,
it is surprising that few pre- Indo-Aryan place-names as well as river names survive
in the North India. Contrast this with what happened in the Americas; the precolonial place-names of the native American Indians of the USA have survived in
large numbers to this day, in spite of the fact that American Indians had few towns
and cities. Also the European migrants almost annihilated the the local Red Indian
population and established a completely Europeanised nation, with little indication
of the Red Indian past. Yet they did not attempt to change the Indian place names,
which they could have easily done without any resistance from the Indians. This
is also the case in England. A non-Indo-Aryan substratum in the river-names and
place-names of the Rigvedic homeland would support an external origin of the Indo-

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89

Aryans. However, most place-names in the Rigveda and the vast majority of the
river-names in the north-west of South Asia are Indo-Aryan. Witzel writes:
A better case for the early linguistic and ethnic history of India can
be made by investigating the names of rivers. In Europe, river names
were found to reflect the languages spoken before the influx of IndoEuropean speaking populations. in northern India rivers in general have
early Sanskrit names from the Vedic period, and names derived from the
daughter languages of Sanskrit later on. This is especially surprising in
the area once occupied by the Indus Civilisation where one would have
expected the survival of older names, as has been the case in Europe and
the Near East.
The examination of 300 skeletons from the Indus Valley sites and comparison of
those skeletons with modern-day Indians by Kenneth Kennedy has concluded that
the Harappan IVC inhabitants were no different from the inhabitants of India in the
following millennia or the present population of the area. Kennedy, a physical anthropologist and archaeologist studied most of the skeletons recovered from different
Harappan sites, including those of the victims of the alleged massacre of locals by
invading Aryans at Mohenjodaro. He found that only two skulls showed signs of
injury, and that even those two individuals did not die immediately from these injuries, but rather several months later, possibly from other causes. Kennedy further
states that after examining the skeletons of the Harappans, he recognizes a biological continuum of many of their morphometric variables in the modern populations of
Punjab and Sindh.. This clearly negates the Aryan invasion theory, because the
tall, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aryans were supposed to be so unlike the short, black,
noseless natives that they defeated. The invasion of the Aryans should have resulted
in a significant change between the Harappans and the present-day people. George
Erdosy asserts that Physical anthropologys failure to demonstrate a racial divide
in South Asia in the second millennium BC is quite conclusive, even considering the
limitation of available data.
The work of U.S anthropologists Kenneth Kennedy, John Lukacs and Brian
Hemphill now firmly concludes that there is no trace of demographic disruption
in the North-West of the subcontinent between 4500 and 800 BCE, thus ruling out
a large scale influx of an alien race into the area for the last 4000 years or more and
also the hypotheses that todays South Indians are the descendants of the defeated
people and present day North Indians that of the invaders. Kenneth Kennedy says
If vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from
Timargarha (near Peshawar, Pakistan), then their biological features of
cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to to a marked degree from
what we encountered in ancient Harappa

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Another implication of this finding is that the Harappans and Vedic Aryans were
anthropologically and ethnically similar, if the present day inhabitants of the area
are decedents of Vedic Aryans.
Thus there is clearly a biological continuum of many of Harappan morphometric
variables in the modern populations of Punjab and Sindh. This is further confirmed
by the fact that depictions of human faces recovered, including the one Sir Mortimer
Wheeler described as priest-king, have thick beard, long nose and long broad face
and look very much like the present day natives of the area. The famous seated male
sculpture, made of white, low fired steatite, was recovered from Mohenjo-daro.
The main reasons why many authors favour the idea that Vedic and Indus Valley
Civilizations were completely different and my own take on these are
Vedic and Harappan cultures were completely different as there were too many
cultural and lifestyle differences between them. The more important among these are
that Rig Veda does not mention any of the artefacts or urban techniques of the Indus
Valley and none of the things the Veda describes look like the things archaeology
has dug up from the Indus sites. The Rig Veda does not mention inscribed seals or
a Great Bath. It does not mention bricks while Harappan towns are built with very
well formed bricks.
But if it could be shown that Rigveda was composed in same area, a millennium
before Early Harappan period these differences could be easily explained as later
developments. Besides Harappan Archaeology, particularly in the Ghaggar Basin is
still in the initial stages for various reasons and it is likely that a lot more will be
revealed in future.
Rigveda mentions iron, but Harappan archaeology has not found any trace of
iron so far.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is in fact evidence that
iron was in use in India in the beginning of second millennium BCE, before the
putative arrival of Aryans in India. Iron artefacts from that period were discovered
in Jhasi, near Allahabad. This contradicts the prevailing wisdom that Indians did
not know the use of iron until well into the first millennium BCE, well after the end
of the late phase of Harappan Culture. Besides Ayas, the word usually thought to
refer to iron in Rigveda might not have meant iron specifically, but only a metal,
at the time they were being composed. Also there is a serious contradiction here;
if Rgveda mention iron, the vedic Aryans must have been using it by the middle of
second millennium BCE. Still it is being said that Indians did not know the use of
iron until well into the first millennium BCE.
Rigveda mentions horses and chariots frequently, but there are not many traces
of these in Harappa.
The relevance of this argument is doubtful, as these are equally rare in the archaeological remains of second millennium BCE, when the IE speakers with their

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91

horses and chariots, were supposed to have entered Punjab. Horse remains in significant quantities only begin to appear in the area (Kuru-Pancala domains) well into
the first millennium BCE (PWG). Rigveda do not mention horse riding as such, but
only chariots and that too by Devas and kings. The awe and glamour attached to
horses and chariots may be on account of its comparative rarity. Besides horse bones
have been recovered from Harappan sites like Lothal, Surkotada and Kalibangan. A
related issue is that Rg-Veda speaks about spoked wheels, but the Harappan wheels
appear to be discoid. But this is disputed. Patterns which look like spoked wheels
have been found in mature Harappan layers at Rakhigarhi and Banawali.
It is believed that a period during fourth or fifth millennium BCE for composition
of Rigveda is not possible as it is difficult to find an archaeological counter-part
among pre-Harappan settlements in Punjab to the material culture as described in
Rg-Veda.
But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Besides such an argument
should be considered barred by its own inherent contradictions, as archaeological
counter-parts have not been found for arrival of Vedic Aryans in North-West India or
their material culture as described in Rg-Veda, in the second millennium BCE and
thus the possibility of the putative model also will have to be denied. Archaeological
investigation in the area is still in the preliminary stage. Besides the ancients, who
were mostly pastoralists, but also practised simple agriculture, and living in very
modest dwellings, might not have much archaeological visibility.

4.1.3

Conclusion

There is absolutely no evidence to support a scenario of Vedic Aryans entering North


West India in the second millennium BCE as invading forces or as a large migratory
movement or as small groups of elite warriors, except the time space expectation of
such an event in the hypothesised chronology of the Steppe home land Model of IE
origin and expansion, favoured by many linguists and historians. On the contrary,
there are now enough indications that Indo Aryan Languages were in use in many
parts of North India for a very long time, at least for the past 5000 years or more.
If it is not autochthonous to the area, it could have reached the area before 6000
BCE. If the people of Harappa and Vedic Aryans were linguistically, genetically and
anthropologically similar, it is logical to conclude that the Rgvedic hymns were the
literary output of the pre or early Harappan culture that existed in the area. However
this could inflict considerable collateral damage to the Steppe home land Models
like Kurgn hypothesis.
Archaeological evidence now offer little support for the suggestion that the civilization that existed in North West India from the middle of second millennium BC
was different from the one that existed in the same area during third millennium BC.

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Such evidences now overwhelmingly point to continuation with gradual changes in


culture, lifestyle and technologies used by the population. There is nothing to suggest
a sudden change in the area between Indus and Ganges between third and second
millennium BCE. Support of archaeology for Kurgan Hypothesis is also weakening
for areas outside the steppes north of Black Sea and Caspian Sea.
Though firm conclusions about absence of invasions and cultural continuity began
to appear in the archaeological literature from the seventies, historical linguists and
some historians have continued to assume the traditional theory as an undisputed
truth.

4.2

Elite Dominance and Trickle in Theories

As discussed earlier, current archaeological data do not support an Indo-Aryan or


Indo-European invasion into South Asia any time in the pre or proto-historic periods.
As consensus emerged against the invasion hypothesis, the model was reframed as
Aryan Migration Theory or AMT. This theory has a number of variants, but in
general it proposes that the IE migrants entered Punjab plains in around 1500 BCE
in a series of waves and merged with the local population. The IVC was in complete
decline by then and the demoralized and desperate locals accepted the newcomers
language as well as part of their culture. The Vedic civilization was a mixture of the
two.
But on the basis of data uncovered so far, the putative IE influx into South Asia
in the second millennium BC has no support from archaeological evidences. There
were no signs of sudden cultural or life style changes in the area during the relevant
period. Again archaeologists so far have not been able to uncover even one remains of
what one could emphatically claim to be IE/Indo-Aryan settlement, either in Indus
plains or Punjab. This is in fact true also of the vast area from east of Urals and
Central Asia except some disputed finds. BMAC once claimed to be Indo-Iranian
or Indo-Aryan does not seem to qualify for such a description any more. Again
all prehistoric human remains recovered thus far from the Indian subcontinent are
phenotypically identifiable as ancient South Asians.... In short, there is no evidence
of demographic disruptions in the north-western sector of the subcontinent during
and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. As detailed elsewhere in
this book, genetic evidence also now is not consistent with large scale immigration
into South Asia in the second millennium BC.
In the absence of evidence in support of large scale immigration into South Asia in
the second millennium BC, the above model was further modified as Elite dominance
and trickle in theory. According to this new model, the immigrants were few in
number, but they were elite soldiers who employed the efficient new war technology

4.2. ELITE DOMINANCE AND TRICKLE IN THEORIES

93

of mounted horses and war chariots and were able to quickly overcome the locals
who were in great distress because of the breakdown of Harappan Culture. The new
immigrants came as small bands of warriors or they trickled into North- Western
India. As they were able to dominate the locals they were also able to impose their
language on the locals.
But even this model has serious weaknesses. If the immigrants were able to
impose their language on the locals, why there was no impact on the culture and life
style of the locals? If Vedas are the literary output of immigrants into South Asia
just after their arrival, one would expect many references to the migration process
in the Veda Samhitas, other Vedic Texts, the epics or Puranas. Absence of such
references must be considered a serious weakness of the theory.
Raids by horseback nomads led by Chariot and cavalry formations, similar to
the later nomadic conquerors in Europe and other areas of Eurasia, does not really
explain language displacement. Europe had suffered numerous invasions from riders
such as the Scyths, Sarmatians, Alans, Huns, Avars, Magyars, Mongols and others.
Even though many of these invasions were quite successful, not a single one of these
peoples managed to implant their language significantly outside the steppe. Most
of these have left no linguistic evidence in Europe and only one, the Magyars, have
managed to preserve their language at all in Europe west of the steppe. This was
probably because they established the Hungarian state around a small steppe core
on the Hungarian Plain and then became a normal European nation. Neither have
the nomadic invasions from the steppes left significant linguistic marks on other
civilizations such as in China or in India. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that an
invasion of horsemen from the steppe simply was not sufficient to force the complete
displacement of languages in settled agricultural communities.
The elite dominance model is even less logical. It cannot be more effective in
replacing a language spoken by a large population when even invasions and conquests
failed to achieve such a result. The assumption is that once an IE speaking elite had
conquered the indigenous peasant population, the locals found it to their benefit
to adopt the language of their conquerors. An example sometimes mentioned of
such language displacement through elite dominance is the manner in which the
Romans implanted their language in the lands they conquered. But the Roman
example is not quite relevant when we take a closer look. The Romans did not
implant their language in the eastern half of their empire, except in some pockets
in the Balkans, probably through colonies established by veteran soldiers. Besides,
Romans probably matched the people in the conquered lands in numerical terms.
There are several other examples in European history where we find a conquering elite
speaking a different language from the indigenous population. But usually it is the
conquerors language that disappears. The Lombard invaders in Italy became Italian
speakers, the Franks in Gaul adopted the Romance languages of their subjects, and

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the Vikings in Normandy became French-speaking Normans who in turn became


English speakers after they conquered England. Centuries of Roman governance
were not enough to eradicate the indigenous language of Britain, The Celtic, which
still survives in Wales and Brittany. It seems like an obvious conclusion that if
there was both genetic continuity and cultural continuity in Europe as well as South
Asia during the period from 3000 BCE to 500 BCE, there must have been linguistic
continuity as well. It is unheard of for the language of a limited number of intruders
to supplant that of a much larger native population and that too without any cultural
impact. The changes apparently included
the transformation was total.
the people who brought about this transformation were illiterate, pastoral nomadic tribes, who trickled into the area in small groups.
The people who were transformed were the inhabitants of the most densely
populated and most advanced urban civilization of the time. It would be
extremely unlikely that such a population would have accepted replacement
of their culture and language with that of a few incoming pastoral, illiterate,
nomadic people, even under extreme duress.
the changes took place within a few hundred years or less.
it left absolutely no traces in the archaeological record, either of the conflicts
and struggles involved or the resultant changes in ethnic and material composition, cultural traits or anthropological profile of the areas after the transformation.
Consider also that later invaders like the Greeks, Huns and Sakas simply got
merged into the local populations, with minimum impact. In the case of the larger
Muslim invasions later, who also ruled over large parts of South-Asia for the next six
hundred years or more, the local populations managed to retain their original culture,
languages and religion on a major scale. This is the pattern with the the various
invaders of Europe, except where the number of new comers were substantially larger
than the locals.
To support the model of Elite dominance, the example of Mitanni Empire that
dominated Eastern Asia Minor and Northern Syria from 15th to 12th century BC,
is usually highlighted as a parallel.

4.2.1

The Mitanni Empire

Mitanni Kingdom came to be a regional power in northern Syria and south-east


Anatolia from 1500 BC 1300 BC after the Hittite destruction of Amorite Babylon

4.2. ELITE DOMINANCE AND TRICKLE IN THEORIES

95

in 1585 BC (i.e. 1531 BC per the short chronology) and a series of ineffectual
Assyrian kings created a power vacuum in Mesopotamia. The Mitanni kingdom
was referred to variously as the Maryannu, Nahrin or Mitanni by the Egyptians, the
Hurri by the Hittites, and the Hanigalbat by the Assyrians. The different names seem
to have referred to the same kingdom, but it is not certain. The capital of Mitanni
Kingdom was Washukanni, whose exact location is not known, but believed to be on
the headwaters of the Khabur River. The kingdom also had another capital called
Taite. They had the Kassite Babylonia to the south east, Hittites to the North
West and Egypt to the south west. It was believed to be a state with majority
Hurrian-speaking people ruled by an Indo-European elite. At the beginning of its
history, Mitannis major rival was Egypt. However, with the ascent of the Hittite
empire, Mitanni and Egypt made an alliance through a marrige between an Egyptian
Pharaoh and a princess of Mitanni,12 to protect their mutual interests from the threat
of Hittite domination.
No native sources for the history of Mitanni have been found so far. Thus the
Mitannian Language itself is unattested and as mentioned above, Hurrian also is
poorly attested. The account is mainly based on stray Assyrian, Hittite and Egyptian
sources, as well as some stray inscriptions from nearby places in Syria, like those from
Nuzi.13
12
Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, was queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 B.C.
and may have ruled the New Kingdom outright after her husbands death. They were possibly
cousins; being children of two different wives of the earlier Pharaoh. She was one of the most
mysterious and powerful women in ancient Egypt and a modern icon of feminine beauty and power.
Akhenaten reoriented Egypts religious and political structure around the worship of the sun god
Aten, displacing Egypts earlier chief god Amon in favour of Aten. Amenhotep IV changed his name
to Akhenaten, on account of this new faith. Nefertiti might have been the daughter of a Mitannian
princess married to the Egyptian king. An alternate theory suggests she was a princess from the
Mittani kingdom. In any case there probably was a Mitannian connection.
Nefertiti disappears from the historical record around the 12th year of Akhenatens 17-year reign.
Whether this was on account of her death or adoption of a new name; Neferneferuaten, as her
husband did earlier, is not clear. Akhenaten was followed as Pharaoh by Smenkhkare, who some
historians believe may have been another name for Nefertiti. Tutankhamun, who was the next
Pharaoh, is believed to be a son of Akhenaten by another wife. Tutankhamun, who died at the age
of 19, is in news now as it is believed that his burial chamber hides the much larger one that of
Nefertiti. Some archaeologists believe that his dead body was rushed into an outer chamber of what
was originally Nefertitis tomb.
13
Part of our information about Mitanni comes from the Nuzi tablets recovered from in northeastern Iraq at Yorghan Tepe (ancient Nuzi) and Tell al-Fakhar in the vicinity of modern Kirkuk.
It was discovered in 1925 by Edward Chiera. Nuzi was occupied from at least 3000 BCE. It was a
small town, without any particular importance. The population of the town (including suburbs) has
been estimated to be about 1,500-2,000 people. It consisted of both walled and unwalled portions
indicating economically and socially diverse housing. It had administrative and religious centres
within the walled portion. More than 6,500 cuneiform tablets and fragments have been discovered
from the excavations at Nuzi. The vast majority of finds are from the Hurrian period during the

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The history of Mitanni is further complicated as the area at the time seem to have
been home to many linguistic, ethnic and political groups without clear differentiation or geographical separation. The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to
ascertain. It may have had people with many different ethnic backgrounds, with a
probable Hurrian majority. In the 14th century BC numerous city-states in northern
Syria and Canaan were ruled by persons with Hurrian and some Indo-Aryan names.
People with Hurrian names are attested in wide areas of Syria and the northern
Levant that are outside the area of Mitanni. There is no indication that these persons owed allegiance to the political entity of Mitanni. If this can be taken to mean
that the population of these states was Hurrian as well, then it is possible that these
entities were a part of a larger polity with a shared Hurrian identity. Differences in
dialect and regionally different religious and cultural practices point to the existence
of several groups of Hurrian speakers. The term Hurrian expatriates has been
used by some authors. But evidences for all these are very sketchy.
A treatise on the training of chariot horses written in Hurrian Language by one
Kikkuli the Mitannian contains a number of Indo-Aryan expressions. The Mitanni
warriors were called marya (Hurrian: maria-nnu), the term for young man (warrior)
in Vedic as well. Names of the Mitanni aristocracy frequently are of Indo-Aryan
origin, but it is specifically the names of their deities like Indra, Mitra, Varuna and
Nasatya which show Indo-Aryan or Vedic roots. These deities are invoked in what
second millennium BC, with the remainder dating back to the earlier period. Nuzi was a city in the
kingdom of Arrapha, vassal to the larger kingdom of Mitanni.
The language in which most of the texts are written is Middle Babylonian, but many Hurrian
words, expressions and grammatical constructs seem to have been used. Hurrian language itself is
poorly attested and not well understood. It was a non-Indo-European and non-Semitic language,
probably related to languages spoken in the Caucasus region.
The Nuzi tablets allow scholars to understand the political, economic, and social structure of
second millennium BCE Near East. These documents, though they have recorded mostly mundane,
local matters, also reveal a complex social structure. The king of Arrapha was the head of the local
government. Under him were the judges, mayors, and other government officials. The middle class
consisted of property owners and professional workers. Under them were slaves. They were either
prisoners of war or indentured poor. The varied documents in these archives include those related
to commercial law involving real estate, loans, servitude, as well as family law relating to marriage,
adoption and property settlement. The law texts found at Nuzi bear striking resemblance to the
Code of Hammurabi and the laws that prevailed in the Biblical society.
Perhaps the most important contribution of Nuzi was that it proved to be a great help in Biblical
studies. This in part stems from the array of social customs attested to in these texts. Earlier
scholars were often baffled by the strange social customs apparent in many Biblical stories; practices
such as Abraham calling Sarah; his Wife as Sister. It was believed that these were either inaccurate
descriptions or that these had some secret meaning. The Nuzi texts showed that such practices were
common in the second and first millennium Near East.
Nuzi was probably destroyed by the Hurrians and later by Assyrians some time towards the end of
fourteenth century BCE, along with the Mitannian Kingdom as well as other Hurrian settlements.
The Mitannians along with the Hurians simply disappeared from all historical records after that.

4.2. ELITE DOMINANCE AND TRICKLE IN THEORIES

97

appears to be a treaty between the king of Mitanni and a nearby city. The treaty
tablet between a Khatti king, probably a Hittite chief, and Mitanni King Mattiuaza,
was signed in around 1380 BCE. Linguists are divided on the nature of the language
as some say it was derived from the still undivided Indo-Iranian language, but others
hold the view that it was Indo-Aryan while others think that they are more immediately related to the Kassite Language. Some scholars believe that it was founded
by an Indo-Aryan ruling class governing a predominately Hurrian population, a case
of elite dominance. But evidence for such a conclusion is very sketchy at the moment. Besides Indo-Europeans might not have been a small minority in Anatolia,
the Levant and Mesopotamia at the time as the Hittites, Kassites and Mitannians
apart from others like Luwians, Lycians, Lydians, Milyans, Sidetics and Pisidians
were all apparently Indo-Europeans.
Bernard Sergent has some new data about the large IE and specifically IndoAryan presence in West Asia: Indo-Aryan names were quite common in Syria and
Palestine in the 15th-13th century BC. The Palestine town of Sichem was ruled by
one Birishena, or Vira-sena, the one who has an army of heroes. Qiltu near
Jerusalem was ruled by one Suar-data, or gift of Heaven. Sergent also finds quite
a few personal names with Asura in West Asia, e.g. the Mitannian general Kartashura, the name Biry-ashura attested in Nuzi and Ugarit, in Nuzi also the names
Kalm-ashura and Sim-ashura, the Cilician king Shun-ashura, while in Alalakh
(Syria), two people were called Ashura and Ashur-atti. Thus it is not at all certain
that the Mitanni Empire was a case of Elite dominance. Besides Mitannians, there
was also the case of Kassites who ruled Babylonia practically without interruption
for almost 400years; from 1530 BC to 1155 BC the longest known rule by any
dynasty in Babylonian history. Though Kassite language has not been classified, it
is known that they worshipped horses, a typical IE characteristic and their names
were usually Indo-European. Babylonia had a majority Semitic population.
The Mittani Indo-Aryan language is considered older than Vedic or Avestan
because it has aika instead of eka. Vedic is supposed to to have merged ai to
e and hence is considered younger. But if you take the word for seven in Mittani,
satta, it is considered to be much later than Vedic. Thus this method of dating based
on selectively chosen words is of doubtful validity. It has to be noted that there is no
evidence of the actual presence of Mitanni IA language in northern Iraq/Syria during
the period 1600 to 1300 BCE. There was possibly, only the non-Indo-European
Hurrite or Hurrian language. The only fact known for certain is that the language of
the Mitanni kingdom as well as Kassite language, contained a number of loan words
from the an Indo-Aryan (IA) dialect; and the ruling class of this kingdoms bore IA
names, indicating perhaps that the ruling class was descended from Indo-Aryans or
had close cultural contacts with a branch of Indo-Aryans at some time, which could
well be centuries before the emergence of Mitanni kingdom. Mallory refers to these

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loan words and names as the residue of a dead language in Hurrian. the Indic
elements seem to be little more than the residue of a dead language in Hurrian,
and that the symbiosis that produced the Mitanni may have taken place centuries
earlier says Mallory. It is significant that, in 16 century BCE there could possibly
be the residue of a dead Indo-Aryan language in a non-Indo-Aryan language in the
Levant.
The main reason mentioned by many authors for concluding that the Mitanni
IA language is an earlier form of Vedic Language is that the vocabulary does not
yet show signs of typical South Asian influence: for example, there is no retroflexion
in its pronunciation. Retroflex sounds is typical of Vedic as we know today. But
languages and people moving out of India tend to lose retroflex sounds: The Romany
or Gypsies emigrated from India at a later point of time, when retroflex sounds were
even more an intrinsic part of the Indo-Aryan phonetic system and yet they did not
retain the retroflex sounds. Observe also the speech of many post-second generation
NRIs, when they speak their ancestral Indo-Aryan languages. According to Madhav
Deshpande: While The Mitanni documents, the Old Persian documents and the
Asokan edicts, coming from inscriptions as they do, are frozen in time, that is not
the case with the Rgveda or the Avestan texts. These have been subject to a long
oral tradition before they were codified, and the texts available to us represent a
state of affairs at the end of this long oral transmission, rather than at the starting
point of their creation and thus it is impossible to determine whether the Vedic had
or did not have retroflexion at the time RV was composed.
Besides it is impossible to know whether the Mitanni IA language had cerebral
(retroflex) sounds or not. It is possible that Mitannian and Kassite did have those
sounds, but that those sounds are not recorded in the written form in a Semitic
language text, in an unsuitable script and an alphabet without distinct representation
of dental and retroflex sounds.
Another argument usually put forward to conclude that Mitannian was an earlier
form of Indo-Aryan is that it does not have many common Vedic words. But the
available Mitanni IA word list is so limited that there is no way to know which words
were absent in the Mitanni IA language.
The Vedic personal names found among Mitannian and Kassite elites are all
those found only in middle and late Rgvedic hymns. The large presence of the
name element Asura among the names of Mitannian and Kassite elites should be
considered significant. Thus it is possible that the Late Rigveda, the Avesta, the
Mitanni and the Kassites shared a common culture. the Early and Middle Books
are distinctly different from this common culture and appear to represent a period
earlier to the period of development of this common culture. An interesting fact
about the Mitannian god list is that, the order of the list mentioned above is exactly
as in RV 10.125.1. Mandala 10 is the latest of the ten RV books. Similarly, the suffix

4.2. ELITE DOMINANCE AND TRICKLE IN THEORIES

99

Ratha in personal names is common to the four groups of the Late Rigveda, the
Avesta, the Mitanni and the Kassites. The Kassite conquerors of Mesopotamia have
a sun god Suriias, perhaps also the Marut and maybe even Bhaga (Bugas?), as
well as the personal name Abhiratha.
At least three aspects of Mitannian kingdom in northern Mesopotamia in the middle second millennium BC is considered as evidence in support of Kurgan hypothesis.
Firstly, it is considered as evidence that the Trickle in and Elite Dominance model
is valid. Secondly, it validates the chronology of the putative model. The argument
is that, as these tribes were moving towards South Asia, one branch separated at
some point on the way and moved west towards northern Mesopotamia. As the
language was an early form of Indo-Aryan, Vedic language could not be older than
the attested period of Mitannian language. If the period of an earlier version of the
language was the middle of 2nd millennium BC, Vedic language must have a later
date. Thirdly, it is argued that it is proof of the movement of the language from west
to east or from the Steppes and Central Asia and from there to Iran, Mesopotamia
and South Asia. Apart from these, the horse manual mentioned above, is also often
treated as proof of the relation between Mitannians and Vedic Aryans.
However the attested evidence of Mitannian language is not adequate to arrive at
such a conclusion, particularly as it could be the residue of a long dead language.
Whatever we know about it comes from vague, stray records in Assyrian, Hittite
and Egyptian sources and none from an independent Mitannian source, either in an
Indo Aryan or even in a Hurrian dialect. The only Mitanni IA words in the record
are the names of a handful of Vedic Gods, some numerals, some words connected
with horses (their colours, chariots, racing, etc.), a handful of other words and, a
few personal names adopted by the ruling class. Beyond this very limited word list,
nothing is known about the how the IA words entered the Mitannian language. It
is impossible to arrive at a generalised conclusion about the Indo Aryan language
which contributed these, based on this limited data, particularly as even these limited
resources are available only as loan words in a Caucasian language, appearing as stray
attestations in some Semitic and Hurrian language texts, in a cuneiform script, both
of which are unsuitable to represent Indo-Aryan languages. It is not even certain
that there ever was a Mitannian Indo Aryan Language. What we have are only a
few probable Indo Aryan loan words in a poorly attested Hurrian language, which
could well be borrowed words as a residue of a long dead language. It is interesting
to note the similarity between the presence of Indo Aryan loan words in Finnish and
Hurrian languages. The donor could well be the same Indo Aryan dialect, while the
both recipients originated in the Caucasus. But the later is a far more complex case
as the recipient is poorly attested and barely understood.
Thus this model is speculative at best and not based on very firm footing, as the
movement of the ancient speakers of the language could just as well have been from

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east to west. There is no archaeological, genetic or even clear unambiguous linguistic


evidence for either argument, except that the east to west movement scenario will
be in conflict with the favoured model. But for this conflict, an argument of east
to west movement of these pre-historic people can also be just as valid.
Besides mitochondrial DNA data indicates the presence of Bos indicus; a cattle
breed of South Asian origin in northern Mesopotamia, in the area of Mitannian
kingdom, in the2nd millennium BC. This could be asignificant clue of the Indian
origins of the Mitannian rulers, as Bos indicus is clearly a cattle breed of Indian
origin.
The credibility of the model is further weakened as the location of the Mitannian
kingdom was far away from the assumed route taken by the Indo-Iranians towards
South Asia and Iran.
Another difficulty with this model is that IA loan words in Mitannian language
could well have been from a centum language like Hittite, unlike Vedic, which
was a satem language. Many centum languages like the Hittite, Luwian, Lycian,
Lydian, Milyan, Sidetics and Pisidian, which had probably evolved from the PortoAnatolian, were in use in the area during the period. There is attested evidence
that another satem language, Median, reached North Eastern Mesopotamia only
towards the end of second millennium BCE. Thus there is a possibility that the
words in Mitannian could also have been from a centum language and not from an
early form of Indo-Aryan or Vedic satem language.

4.2.2

George Erdosys Model

George Erdosy, a Canadian archaeologist, proposes a slightly revised Trickling in


and elite dominance model, which is in many respects better than the traditional
models of arrival of Indo Aryan tribes in South Asia in the second millennium BCE.
He rejects many of the basic premises of the traditional view. He says.
Physical anthropologys failure to demonstrate a racial divide in South
Asia in the second Millennium BC is quite conclusive, even considering
the limitations of available data. We reiterate that there is no indication in the Rigveda of the Aryas memory of any ancestral home, and
by extension, of migrations. Given the pains taken to create a distinct
identity for themselves, it would be surprising if the Aryas neglected such
an obvious emotive bond in reinforcing their group cohesion. Thus their
silence on the subject of migrations is taken here to indicate that by the
time of composition of the Rigveda, any memory of migrations, should
they have taken place at all, had been erased from their consciousness.
He rejects the invasion as a misreading of RV as an account of foreign invasion.

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101

All these developments(Decline of Indus Civilisation or the rise of complex societies in the Ganga Valley) may be explained by the internal dynamism of South Asian cultures; an approach which threatens to render
the entire problem of Indo-Aryan languages and their speakers irrelevant.
By contrast, linguists, in attempting to explain the current linguistic map
of the subcontinent, continue to assume the immigration of Indo-Aryan
speakers at the very time that the transition from Indus to Gangetic
Civilisation took place
.
However Erdosy is of the view that Indo-Aryan language group is external to
South Asia, but it arrived in South Asia in an earlier time frame. He proposes the
last centuries of third millennium BC and the first centuries of second millennium
BC as the best archaeologically acceptable dates for entry of Indo Aryan languages
into the boarder lands of South Asia; thus taking the dates back by 500 years or
more; sufficient for the new comers to more or less forget the hazardous migration
undertaken by their ancestors. But he do not identify the Vedic settlements with the
Harappan. According to him, the archaeological evidence is available for this model
in the form of similarities in culture, life style, religious practices evident in places
like BMAC in Central Asia and North western India. He suggests that the majority
of early old Indo Aryan speakers might have had a Dravidian mother tongue, which
they abandoned gradually, to change over to Indo Aryan dialects.
Regarding the adoption of Indo Aryan languages by the locals in North India, he
offers a slightly revised Trickling in and elite dominance model. He writes
The second millennium BC saw, not only the collapse, but also gradual rebuilding of complex societies, in which territorial expansion took
an increasing part. A social system that could absorb newcomers in increasingly polyethnic contexts provided significant adaptive advantage
for the language in this case Old Indo Aryan in which it was expressed.
In time the language will become the property , not only of the ruling
elite, but of the general population as well
While Erdosys proposal is definitely better than most other traditional models,
it still fail to answer many troubling inconsistencies. Some of these are
By the end of third millennium BCE, the Sarasvati River was beginning to
dry up. Yet, Rgveda, which according to this model was composed in about
the middle of second millennium BCE, speaks about a very large river system,
with many lakes on its route and which sustained the Aryas.

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The astronomical references in vedic literature is incompatible with the chronology of this model. It need to explained satisfactorily.
Archaeology has not unearthed any BMAC like structures in North West India.
According to the model the incoming migrants were few in number and the
local population must have been incomparably larger. Yet the local names of
places, rivers, mountains etc. were replaced by Indo Aryan ones. This is quite
inconceivable and and unlike what had happened in many other instances all
over the world.
The model assumes that the locals abandoned not only their language, but also
their culture, life style, religious practices and even their names in favour of
Indo Aryan ones. Such a transformation is incredible, if not impossible, given
that the locals were far larger in numbers and just as civilised, if not superior
to the newcomers.

4.3

Anthropology and Aryan Invasion

Anthropology is the study of humankind on the basis of knowledge and data from
disciplines like natural, social and biological sciences, archaeology and linguistics.
Systematic study of anthropology as an academic discipline may be said to have
started in the second half of eighteenth century. 14
Along with anthropology, there was also the development of some almost comic,
semi-scientific to wholly unscientific disciplines in the nineteenth century, with profound sounding names such as anthropometry, craniometry etc. It reported many
outstanding breakthrough research in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
that might now sound hilarious, albeit with the benefit of hindsight available to
us today. Unquestioningly accepting the prevalent concept of race, some scientists
constructed facial and nasal indexes or measured the skulls volume for every race,
with the predictable result that the white races cranium was determined to be the
biggest. From this the conclusion followed that they are the most intelligent race on
earth. Others went further, insisting that amidst the white race, only the Germans
were the pure descendants of the Aryan race and hence they alone were destined
the rule the earth.
14

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (17521840) proposed one of the earliest classifications of the
races of mankind, of which he determined there to be five. His research in the measurement of
craniums led him to divide mankind into five great human families-Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan,
Ethiopian, and American. Blumenbachs work included his collection and description of sixty human
crania (skulls). This was a founding work for other scientists in the field of craniometry.

4.4. VEDIC RITUAL MATHEMATICS AND INDO-EUROPEAN CHRONOLOGY103


In the wake of World War II, the concept of race collapsed in the West. Rather
late in the day, anthropologists realized that race cannot be scientifically defined,
much less measured, thus setting at naught almost a hundred years of scholarly
researches on superior and inferior races. Fortunately these scholarly researches
were recognized as pseudo science in the last fifty years. Many distinguished researchers now argued strongly against the fallacy of race. The concept of race was
a political, sociological, emotional, attitude based or even mythical construct; and
is not based on evolutionary biology or genetics. It is only with the emergence of
more reliable techniques in biological anthropology that it got a new beginning. It
now concentrated, not on trying to categorize noses or spot races, but on tracing
the evolution of a population, on signs of continuity or disruption, and on possible
kinships between neighbouring populations.
In India, from the latter half of nineteenth century, officials with the colonial
government set about defining in all seriousness, over two thousand castes belonging
to over 40 races, all of it on the basis of a nasal index, and other such then popular
procedures. The main racial groups thus identified were Indo-Aryan, Turko-Iranian,
Scytho-Dravidian, Aryo-Dravidian, Mongoloid and Mongolo-Dravidian. Based on
such prevailing wisdom, researchers studied skeletons from Mohenjo-daro and submitted a detailed report that asserted that the remains belonged to various races
like the proto-Australoid, Mediterranean, Mongoloid and Alpine, all of whom nonAryan. Long lists of such fictitious races filled academic publications, and continue
to be found in Indian textbooks even today. But fortunately, later studies have
firmly established that these results are on account of erroneous assumptions based
on spseudo science.

4.4

Vedic Ritual Mathematics and Indo-European Chronology

In the Shulba Sutra appended to Baudhayanas Shrauta Sutra, mathematical instructions are given for the construction of Vedic altars. One of its remarkable contributions is the theorem for finding the area, first for the special case of a square,
and then for the general case of the rectangle: The diagonal of the rectangle produces the combined surface which the length and the breadth produce separately.
This is clearly the Pythagoras theorem usually ascribed to the Greeks (Pythagoras). This and other instances of advanced mathematics presented by Baudhayana
had been shown by the American mathematician A. Seidenberg to be the origin or
source of similar mathematical techniques and discoveries in Greece and Babylonia.
The later has been securely dated to 1700 BC. So Baudhayanas mathematics would
have to pre-date 1700 BC, which would reasonably be dated to the later part of the

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Harappan period which ended in 1900 BC.


However, Seidenberg was told by the some indologists, who are strong supporters
of the prevailing IE chronology, that these Sutras, or any Vedic text for that matter,
were definitely written later than 1700 BC. But mathematical data from these three
locations quite clearly point its origin as Shulba Sutra and Seidenberg remained
convinced of his case:
Whatever the difficulty there may be [concerning chronology], it is small
in comparison with the difficulty of deriving the mathematics of Vedic ritual application of the theorem from Babylonia. (The reverse derivation is
easy) the application involves geometric algebra, and there is no evidence
of geometric algebra from Babylonia. And the geometry of Babylonia is
already secondary whereas in India it is primary.
To satisfy the indologists, he said that, perhaps the Shulba Sutra might have borrowed from an older tradition, and that it might be from this same source that the
Babylonians had also had learned their mathematics. But this require too many
needlessly complex assumptions; a ritual, annex altar and mathematical theory,
which were exactly like the Vedic ritual, annex altar and mathematical theory, but
all from an unknown civilization that pre-existed Vedic culture by a thousand years
or more. It would be far more simple, credible and logical to give credit to Baudhayana for the invention well before the Babylonians or before 1700 BCE. The reason
for denying it is not any empirical argument, but a dump objection that anything
against my theory or belief must be wrong; not a particularly sound argument from
a scientist. But more to the point, this will then undermine the presently accepted
IE chronology.

4.5

Evidences from the Vedas

The Rigvedic hymns contain many references to the geography of the place of residence of its composers, their lifestyle, religious and social customs, though many of
these are too ambiguous and thus are open to different interpretations. This ambiguity is not only on account of the archaic language and the substantial differences
in the syntax and semantics between early Vedic and classical Sanskrit, but also
as one can arrive at any number of different interpretations of these verses making
use the various tools available today like Yaskas Niruktam, Sayanas Vedartha
Prakasha or Sir Monier-Williams English-Sanskrit Dictionary. Besides it is possible
that Veda Samhitas were composed in an early form of sutra style which became
popular later. Most sutras are very brief aphorisms which do not make much sense
without detailed explanations. In spite of these difficulties various Vedic Verses have

4.5. EVIDENCES FROM THE VEDAS

105

been the subject of many scholarly studies. Similarly the etymology and philology of
Vedic language has been the subject of many studies. Both AIT and OIT enthusiasts
have highlighted some of these as evidence supporting their arguments. As these are
too many, I only intend to discuss a few of them here.
According to AIT narrative, terms like Asura, Dasyu and Dasa frequently appearing in Vedas denotes the Harappan people Aryans encountered in Indus plains
whom they defeated with the help of mounted horses. These terms have been examined since then by several scholars as part of the studies of Iranian Avesta. While
the terms Dasa and Dasyu have a negative meaning in Sanskrit, their Avestan
and Pahlavi counterparts Daha and Dahyu have positive (or neutral) meaning.15
In Rigveda most references to Dasas appear to indicate that they were powerful,
wealthy, mostly respected and givers of valuable gifts to the Rigvedic poets. Only
when they fight Aryas, they are condemned. At least two early Vedic kings belonging
to the Bharata clan, had Dasa as suffix to their name. Many eminent authors are
of the view that vedic aryans and their principal opponents; Dasas, spoke mutually
intelligible dialects; possibly closely related branches of Indo Iranian or Indo-Aryan.
Rgveda refers to hostile or uncouth speech of the Dasas; not unintelligible speech,
though some early authors have rendered the term Mrdra vac as unintelligible
speech. Incidentally, all references to Aryas in Rigveda are to those from Puru
tribe and more particularly to Bharata clan within Purus. When other puru clans
fight with Bharatas, these other Purus are also called Dasyu. Dasyus also could
have been Purus, as at least one Rigvedic hymn indicates.
Griffiths transalation of RV 10.49.3
With deadly blows I smote Atka for Kavis sake; I guarded Kutsa well
with these saving helps.
As Susnas slayer I brandished the dart of death: I gave not up the Aryan
name to Dasyu foes.
The poet refuses to call the Dasyu foes Arya. The reason for the reluctance is
not clear from the verse. But it seems to imply that the Dasyu foes were actually
Aryas. If the enemy is not Arya, the issue of calling them Arya do not raise at all.
But unlike Dasas, who might have been elites of the society, almost equal to
Bharatas, Dasyus are never mentioned in respectful terms. They may have been
rivals of the Rigvedic poets and equal to them in social status. Derogatory adjectives
used for them include adevayu, akarman, avrata, ayajna and grathin.
The term Dasyus cognates with the Avestan of dahyu and means tribe, province
and district. Dah-means male, man in Avestan. The dahyu-pati (also dahyunam)
15
The Vedic s sound has become h in Avestan. Thus Sanskrit Sindhu became Hindu in that
language and its descendant dialects.

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was the head of the tribe. Similarly while Deva is a term to denote a god in Sanskrit,
it is used for a villain in Avesta. The position is exact opposite in the case of Asura
in Sanskrit and Ahura in Iranian. In fact the three main gods of Zoroastrians are
the Ahura triad of Ahura Mazda, Ahura Mitra and Ahura Burz. Ahura Mazda is
the highest deity of Zoroastrianism. Similarly Deva or Daevas represents evil in
Avestan. This aspect is discussed in more detail in the next section.
In fact Rigveda mentions many other groups or races or beings with which
the composers had adversarial, neutral or friendly contacts. These include Rakshasas and Yatudhamas (Probably Nagas) mentioned in RV 1.35.10, Gandharvas
RV 10.139.4,5 and 6 16 and pishacas. Itihasa-Puranas mentions other groups like
Yakshas, Nagas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Suparnas, Vanaras, Vidyadharas, Valakilyas and most of them as decedents of Kashyapa; the wish-born-son of Brahma or
thus half brothers of Devas and Asuras. Many of these groups are often described
as residents various parts of Saptasindhu or parts of North-west and Central India
north of Godavari River, though in other contexts some of them are described as
inhabitants of Patal-Lok or under water. Among these, at least Nagas can be considered historically attested, as Buddhist and Jain sources mentions Naga communities
and even Naga kings in many places in India. Many castes of people who now live
in different parts of South Asia are believed to be descendents of the ancient Nagas.
These Nagas were neither aborigine nor Dravidian.
Thus it seems more logical to assume that the battles described in Vedas were
fought by Vedic Aryans against their neighbors, who were racially, culturally and
linguistically related to them. There is no uncontested claim of Rigveda mentioning any of these groups as different from the composers of the hymns physically,
linguistically or racially.
In this context an interesting reference from Vedas that is sometimes quoted
as evidence of Aryans overpowering a dark race which eventually led to the caste
differentiation in India is in RV 8.96.13-15. The relevant part of the hymn in the
original (English script) and its translation by Ralph T H Griffith is reproduced
below.
ava drapso amsumatimatisthadiyanah krsno dasabhih sahasraih
avat tamindrah sacya dhamantamapa snehitirinmana adhatta
drapsamapasyam visune carantamupahvare nadyo amsumatyah
nabho na krshamavatasthivamsamisyami vo vrsano yudhyatajau
adha drapso amsumatya upasthe adharayat tanvam titvisanah
viso adevirabhyacarantir brhaspatina yujendrah sasahe
16

Rishi of RV 10.139 is one Vishvavasu Deva-Gandharva

4.5. EVIDENCES FROM THE VEDAS

107

English translation by Ralph T H Griffith


13 The Black Drop sank in Amsumatis bosom, advancing with ten thousand round about it.
Indra with might longed for it as it panted: the hero-hearted laid aside
his weapons.
14 1 saw the Drop in the far distance moving, on the slope bank of
Amsumatis river,
Like a black cloud that sank into the water. Heroes, I send you forth.
Go, fight in battle.
15 And then the Drop in Amsumatis bosom, splendid with light, assumed
its proper body;
And Indra, with Brhaspati to aid him, conquered the godless tribes that
came against him.
The word Krishna is rendered as black as is done by Sayana; black being used
purely as a metaphor for evil.17 One comes across many translations which treat
this part of the hymn as a description of a fight between Indra supported by Sage
Brhaspati and Krishnasura (demon named Krishna). This version, in which Indra,
with the help of Brhaspati, kills Krishnasura and his ten thousand followers in a
battle on the banks of Amsumati River, has a number of variants. It is often quoted
as evidence of white, tall Aryans defeating a black coloured race in battle. The
rendering by Sayana (Griffith has followed Sayana in his work) should be considered
more authentic and the story of the battle seems to be a product of some fertile
imagination. In any case, Mandala 8 is a late part of Rgveda. One would expect the
discription of a migration event, if it did occur, in an early Mandala like Mandala 6
or 7.
The difficulty in interpreting these verses can be demonstrated by a rough word
by word translation of RV 8.96.13 using Sir Monier-Williams English-Sanskrit Dictionary as follows.
[Distancing a black drop - disappeared- pervading - as darkness - in stages thousands - having
Manifested at a distances - Indra - rendering help and moving blown away - till
the end complete destruction- environment or habitat- till nothing remained]
17

Sayanacarya was a minister in the court of Bukka 1 and Harihara 2 of Vijayanagara Empire
in 14th century. Most modern translations of Rig-Veda depend on his Vedartha Prakasha, a
translation cum commentary of Vedas, as the meaning of Vedas remain opaque even for the most
erudite.

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As can be seen, the above do not make much sense directly and hence is open to
different interpretations. Similarly, as Vedic was a strongly agglutinative language,
these words again could be spit in many different ways to arrive at many completely
different interpretations. One example is of anasa given below.
In RV 5.29.10, the word anasa is used in connection with the Dasyus. In fact
it is just one of the many derogatory names used for Dasyus in Rigveda like those
mentioned above. Some scholars have translated anasa as nose less to conclude
that Dasyus belonged to a Dravidian race with small low noses compared to the
prominent high Aryan noses. But the Sayana had translated anasa as without mouth
or face (anas = an negative+ as mouth). Sayanas translation is supported by
the occurrence of the word Mrdra vac in the same verse. Sayana explains the word
mrdra vac as having defective organs of speech The description of Dasas as with
defective organs of speech could be because their speech differed from that of Aryans
or was not fully intelligible to them. We are familiar with the demonising enemies and
calling them all sorts of names even in modern times. Alternatively, the composers
of Rgveda might be expressing their disdain for the manner of articulation of their
enemies. Regrettably this kind of doubtful interpretations are used extensively in
various homeland models, particularly when the context is IE arrival in South-Asia.
Similarly two other references which were often quoted as supporting AIT hypotheses are The battle of ten kings described in RV 7.18, 7.33 and 7.83 and the
reference to movements of Ayu and Amavasu in the much later text Baudhayana
Shrauta Sutra (BSS 18. 44:397. 9)

4.5.1

The Dasarajna Hymns

The battle of ten kings described in The Dasarajna hymns RV 7.18, RV 7.33
and 7.83 is sometimes pointed out as an actual historic record of Aryan invasion
into Punjab. These hymns appear to describe a battle fought by Puru tribes, allied
with some other tribes and guided by the royal sage Vishvamitra, against the hero
of the hymn, Bharata king Sudas. The Purus were defeated in an epic battle on
the banks of River Parusni (Ravi) against all odds, with the help of theAryas
Comrade; Indra (aryasya sadhama), and the spiritual power of the sage Vasishta,
the chief priest of Bharatas and the composer of the hymns as also most of Mandala
7. The situation leading up to the battle is described in RV 7.18.6: The Turvasas and
Yaksus (Yadu), together with the Matsya tribe appear and ally themselves with the
Bhrigus and the Druhyus. Their confederation was further increased by the Pakthas,
the Bhalanas, the Alinas, the Shivas and the Visanins (7.18.7). They were led by
a king with an Iranian name Kavasa and a priest with the Iranian name Kavi son
of Cayamana. Thus the ten kings included those from the east, south-east , south,
west and north-west of Saptasindhu. The battle itself took place on the banks of the

4.5. EVIDENCES FROM THE VEDAS

109

Parusni (Ravi). The warriors of Sudas are described as white-robed (shvityanca),


wearing hair-knots on the right side of their heads (daksinataskaparda), having flying
banners (krtadhvaj) (RV 7.83.2). It appears (7.18.5) that Sudas was close to defeat
and was surrounded by the enemy, but managed to cross the Parusni safely with the
help of the spiritual power of sage Vasishta and Indra, as the river was made shallow
and easy for Sudas to cross, while his foes, trying to pursue, were scattered by a flood
and either drowned or were slaughtered by Sudas men. 7.18.12 says persons named
Druhyu, Vrdha and Syathan drowned in the water and at this point, those of their
men who praised Indra joined the ranks of Sudas. The cause of the conflict is stated
to be that the tribes opposing Sudas were godless, deviant and did not perform
Yajnas. It could have been a rebellion by petty kings (Rajnyas), as Divodasa, an
ancestor or father of Sudas as per RV 7.18.25, might have subjugated these tribes in
his time. Sudas probably faced many rebellions in his reign as RV 7.18.19 and 7.83.4
says he killed King Bheda, the leader of three tribes of Ajas, Singrus and Yaksus on
the banks of Yamuna River, presumably in another battle. Priestly rivalry might
have added spice to the conflict, as sage Vishvamitra was the priest of Bharatas
during the earlier Mandala 6 and sage Vasishta appear to have replaced him by
the time of the later Mandala 7. It is believed that the result of the war was that
Bharatas were able to settle in Kurukshetra and establish their unchallenged power
in the Kuru Kingdom, the most important Kingdom of vedic age extending from
Yamuna in the east to Sindhu in the west. Many of the ten tribes18 mentioned like
Purus, Turvasas, Yaksus, Matsyas, and also probably Bhrigus and Druhyus were
Indo Aryan tribes from Saptasindhu itself. The other hostile tribes, Panis, Pakthas,
Parshus, Prthus and Bhalanas may be Indo-Iranian tribes from present day Iran
and Afghanistan. Some scholars argue that these terms refer to Paktoons, Parsies,
Parthians and Baluchs, all of them IE language speaking and probably linguistically

18
Groups mentioned in RV and described as tribes by many authors, might be independent kingdoms. Early Indologists translated it as tribes under the assumption that they were newly arrived,
horse riding Indo-Aryan migrant groups from Central Asia. However there is nothing in these hymns
to support such a view. They might just as well have been individual kingdoms of the area. The
implication of this is that they were not nomads, but were sedentary communities settled in the area
for a lone time. For example, the Anu king, Abhyavartin Chayamana, is described in RV 6.27.8 as
a Samrat or emperor. (dvayanaghne rathino vimsatim gha vadhumato maghava mahyam samrat
abhyavarti cayamano dadati dunaseyam daksina parthavanam). Description of a nomadic tribal
chief as Samrat or emperor is quite unlikely, unless the word is used in some other sense.
Abhyavartin Chayamana is also described as a Parthav. The term is usually taken to mean a
descendant of Pruthu. But it could also mean a person from Parthia, a region of ancient Persia.
Support for this view comes from the mention in RV 7.18 describing the Battle of ten kings, that
the Anus lived far away. Parthav also cognates with Parthava, listed in the Bisitun inscription of
Achaemenid king, Darius I as a region under his rule, mentioned elsewhere in this book.

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and racially related to the Indo Aryans. 19


Griffiths translation of RV 7.18.5-9 is reproduced below
5 What though the floods spread widely, Indra made them shallow and
easy for Sudas to traverse.
He, worthy of our praises, caused the Simyu, foe of our hymn, to curse
the rivers fury.
6 Eager for spoil was Turvasa Purodas, fain to win wealth, like fishes
urged by hunger.
The Bhrgus and the Druhyus quickly listened: friend rescued friend mid
the two distant peoples.
7 Together came the Pakthas, the Bhalanas, the Alinas, the Sivas, the
Visanins.
Yet to the Trtsus came the Aryas Comrade, through love of spoil and
heroes war, to lead them.
8 Fools, in their folly fain to waste her waters, they parted inexhaustible
Parusni.
Lord of the Earth, he with his might repressed them: still lay the herd
and the affrighted herdsman.
9 As to their goal they sped to their destruction: they sought Parusni;
even the swift returned not.
Indra abandoned, to Sudas the manly, the swiftly flying foes, unmanly
babblers.
It is interesting to note that king Sudas calls his enemies Dasyu including the
Aryan tribes who opposed him. This seems to negate the AIT position that Dasyu
was a term used by invading Aryans for the inhabitants of Indus Valley. Besides,
though both Sudas and Diodasa were kings of the Bharata clan, the most important
of Vedic clans, they had names ending with Dasa. The name or name element Dasa
acquired an unfavourable connotation later and is not found in personal names in
the rest of the Rigveda or subsequent Samhitas. Diodasa and Sudas are mentioned
as currently ruling kings in Mandalas 6 and 7, two early books of Rgveda.
RV 7.6.3 says Far far away hath Agni chased those Dasytis, and, in the cast,
hath turned the godless westward.. It says that these godless men were pushed
19

The Parsus are usually identified as the Persians. This is based on the evidence of an Assyrian
inscription from 844 BC referring to the Persians as Parshu, and the an Inscription of Darius I
referring to Parsa as the home of the Persians.

4.5. EVIDENCES FROM THE VEDAS

111

westward, which should mean that they came from that direction. The later Puranas also says that King Yayati gave Druhyu the western part of his kingdom and
thus the land of Druhyus must have been in the west or north west of Saptasindhu.
Again, if the composers of Rgveda were recent migrants from the west or north-west,
it is unlikely that their enemies will be pushed out in that direction. It is far more
likely that they will be driven out in the opposite direction.
The incident narrated in these hymns hardly seems to be a description of Aryan
invasion from the north west into Indus Valley, subjugating the locals or an invasion
by horse or chariot riding elite Aryan warriors. Besides, it is not at all certain if
the meaning of the hymn we assume is what the composers had in mind.

4.5.2

Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra

Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra is clearly a much later text and the verse referred above
relates to the story of Pururavas and Urvasy repeated in many texts including Rig
Veda 10.95, Satapadha Brahmana, Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra (BSS) and Mahabharata and also by Kalidasa in Vikramorvasiyam in different forms. Ayu and
Amavasu were sons of Pururavas. BSS 18.44 rather vaguely says Ayu went east
while others stayed home. It is claimed by Michael Witzel that this is a reference
to Aryans coming from Central Asia to Indus plains. The reference is so vague you
can draw any conclusion from it. A more reasonable explanation may be that it
refers to the migration from Punjab to the Gangetic plains further east in Bihar
that probably happened at around the time of texts like BSS. The straight forward
explanation may be that this might be a reference to some unrelated minor incident
without any relevance to the west to east movement of vedic people. One would
expect to find a reference to the migration from Central Asia, if it did happen, in
the earliest Vedic texts and not in BSS which came at least a millennium later.
King Bharata was the most important ruler in the Vedas and even later texts.20
According to Puranas, it was from him that South Asia got its name. According to
Mahabharata and Puranas, he was the son of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala. But
the Rgveda knows Bharata only as an ancestor of contemporary dynasties, tribes
and clans. He is already an old memory by the time the earlist Mandala six was
composed, as the following verse indicates.
20

South Asian legends speak about at least three important King Bharatas. First is Bharata of
the Mahabharata Adi Purva and Kalidasas immortal work Sakuntalam, who is probably the one
that is frequently mentioned in Rigveda. Then there is the Bharata of the epic Ramayana, son of
Dasharadha and Kaikeyi, a princess from the clan, Kekeya, decendents of ancient Anu tribe. Then
there is the King Bharata of Jain legends, who was the son of Rishabha, the first Jain tirthankara
and the elder brother of Bahubali whose huge statue at Sravanabalagola still attracts thousands of
devotees every year. It is possible that these legends have a common origin.

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RV 6.16.4 Devata Agni


4 Thee, too, hath Bharata of old, with mighty men, implored for bliss.
And worshipped thee the worshipful.
Kings like Deodasa and Sudas were said to be his descendants. There is nothing in
the Rig Veda about Bharata the person, let alone Bharata the emperor. There is
absolutely no mention of any of his deeds or triumphs or any danastutis or hymns
glorifying his gift giving. But nevertheless he was the most important ancestor,
though he was just one among the many generations of Chandravamsi kings. The
reasons for this importance is not clear based on the references to him in Rgveda
or even later texts. Most composers of family books or Mandala II to VII, seem
eager to emphasise their association and allegiance to a descendant of the Bharatas.
There are several references to sons of Bharatas or where contemporary kings or
chiefs are referred to as a Bharata, suggestive of a virtue or praise. This means
Bharata was a mythical or actual person from days even before the earliest hymns
of Rgveda. In fact, Rigveda can be considered as texts of Bharatas or Purus, for
Bharatas, by Bharatas or by poets belonging to these clans or those dependent on
them. The name Bharata for the country was purely a local name as outsiders were
unaware of such a name for the country. Thus, on the basis of Rigvedic evidence of
Bharata, the king, it could be argued that Vedic Aryans were living in Saptasindhu
even before the first Rgvedic hymn was composed.

4.5.3

Conclusion

Assuming Max Mullers chronology to be correct, one would have expected many
references to the process of migration in Vedas, particularly in the earlier parts, as
these were assumed to have been composed during or immediately after the arrival
of IE speakers in Punjab. The route of migration across Hindukush Mountains must
have been extremely hazardous and must have taken years, if not decades, 3500 years
Before Present (BP) and as such would have been remembered for many generations
by this society which remembered their songs in oral tradition for millennia or more.
Michael Witzel is of the view that Sage Vasishta was a first generation immigrant
from Central Asia on the basis of the language style of Mandala 7. If this was so,
one would have expected many references to the migration process in the 104 hymns
in Mandala 7 of Rig Veda, all of which are attributed to Sage Vasishta and his
clan. In fact, this absence must be considered a serious weakness of Max Mullers
chronology and the migration/invasion models. Colin Renfrew, Prof. of Archaeology
at Cambridge, in his famous work, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of IndoEuropean Origins, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988, makes the following comments

4.6. RG-VEDA AND THE IRANIAN AVESTA

113

...When Wheeler speaks of the Aryan invasion of the Land of the Seven
Rivers, the Punjab, he has no warranty at all, so far as I can see. If one
checks the dozen references in the Rig-Veda to the Seven Rivers, there
is nothing in any of them which to me implies an invasion: the land of
the Seven Rivers is the land of the Rig-Veda, the scene of the action.
Nothing implies that the Aryas were strangers there. Nor is it implied
that the inhabitants of the walled cities (including the Dasyus) were any
more aboriginal than the Aryas themselves.
The basic premise of Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and Aryan Migration Theory
(AMT) is that Vedic Culture and Kurgan culture are related. Kurgan culture was
mostly a pastoral, nomadic, mobile culture. However there is little textual evidence
in RV even remotely supporting nomadic, mobile life style of the Vedic people. RV
has many references implying a settled, agriculture and domesticated cattle based
culture with no memory what so ever of a long, arduous migration. And most
academic scholars are also agreed on the fact that it really cannot be proved that
the Vedic Aryans retained any memory of their extra-Indian associations, and no
tradition, of an early home beyond the frontier, survives in India. Many other ancient
cultures do have such myths.

4.6
4.6.1

Rg-Veda and the Iranian Avesta


History of Avesta

Avesta is a large collection of texts that constitute the Sacred Books of the Zoroastrians. Avestan is the language of Avesta and Zend is their translation and commentary in Pahlavi Scripture. A version of the extinct language, Avestan, is also
sometimes called Zend. These texts, like Vedic literature, are clearly from different
periods and in its present form, the Avesta21 is a compilation from various sources,
and its different parts date from different periods and vary widely in character. In
this respect it has strong similarity with Vedic Literature, as the four Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas , Upanisads and the Sutra Texts are all from different periods,
with different content and even different language. The etymology and the exact
meaning of the term, Avesta, cannot be considered established. The word Avesta
is written in Pahlavi as apistak or apastak. If the word is avistak, then it
might have been derived from Vedic term ved (to know) as many Avestan words
seem to be. Thus Avesta might mean wisdom, knowledge. Zoroastrianism is
21

Avesta is the name the Mazdean religious tradition had given to the collection of its sacred
texts. It is believed that these texts contain laws of the Zoroastrian supreme god Ahura Mazda as
propagated by Zoroaster

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known by various names like dualism, according to its main tenet; Mazdeism,
from its supreme god; Magism, from its priestly order; Zoroastrianism, from its
founder and Fire-worship from its most apparent object of worship. The Zend was
first translated and published in the west in 1771 by the French scholar Anquetil
Duperron.
The reason for the interest in the book of Avesta, apart from its religious significance to its followers, is two fold; on the one hand, it contains the first Mazdean
speculations and, on the other hand, it contains the only evidence for Avestan, an
Old Iranian language which together with Old Persian constitutes the Iranian subdivision of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European, since both Avestan and Old
Persian are extinct now. Besides it has contributed substantially to the theoretical,
theological, ritual, moral, ethical and social underpinnings of the three Semitic religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as medieval Persia had easily the most technologically, intellectually and culturally advanced society in the vast region between
Europe and Central Asia from 6th century BCE to 7th century CE, apart from politically dominating the area during that time. Stories of Zoroaster (or Zarathushtra
Spitama the name often mentioned in Pahalvi texts), particularly about his wisdom, were part of common flock lore in most of the known lands from Atlantic coast
of Western Europe to South East Asia for almost 3000 years or more. Thus more
people in this vast area were familiar with his name than any other for almost three
millennia, remarkably so on account of his wisdom and not for his military conquests
or religious and moral teachings.
The Yaz culture of Bactria-Margiana has been regarded as a likely archaeological
remains of the early Eastern Iranian culture described in the Avesta. It is associated with north-eastern Iran, but Old Persian was language of the south west, the
cultural heartland of ancient Persia. These two together constitute what is called
Old Iranian. The Avestan language is attested in roughly two forms, known as
Old Avestan or Gathic Avestan and Younger Avestan. But intriguingly Younger
Avestan do not appear to have evolved from Old Avestan. The two differ not only
in time, but are also different dialects. Every Avestan text, regardless of whether
originally composed in Old or Younger Avestan, underwent several transformations.
The script, in which they are available today, consists of 14 (or 16) letters for vowels and 37 letters for consonants. The large number of letters used suggests that
their invention resulted from an attempt to record an orally recited text with all its
phonetic nuances. The Gathas are in verse which are extremely terse and in which
grammatical constructs are an exception. Here again there is noticeable similarity
with Rgveda. A dependency on the medieval texts for deciphering Gathas is often
discouraged as the commentaries are frequently conjectural. Some scholars argue
that an interpretation using younger texts is inadvisable owing to the risks of misinterpretation. But perhaps such dependencies might be necessary as there are no

4.6. RG-VEDA AND THE IRANIAN AVESTA

115

independent alternate sources.


The difficulties in deciphering the texts is summed up in the following word by
a leading scholar
No one who has ever read a stanza of [the Gathas] in the original will
be under any illusions as to the labour which underlies the effort [of
translating the hymns]. The most abstract and perplexing thought, veiled
further by archaic language, only half understood by later students of
the seers own race and tongue, tends to make the Gathas the hardest
problem to be attempted by those who would investigate the literary
monuments.
The indigenous history of the sacred books is told in several Pahlavi texts. In
essence the traditional history is as follows: The twenty-one nasks or books
of the Avesta were conveyed by Ahura Mazda, the supreme god of Zoroastrianism
to Zarathustra or Zoroaster. He in turn brought it to king Vistaspa, believed to
be the then king of Bactria. The latter or, according to another tradition, Dara
Darayan, had two copies of them written down in golden letters in dried ox hide,
one of which was deposited in the treasury, the other in the house of the archives.
Thus according to tradition, these texts were put in writing from very ancient times,
though whether the texts were available in written form in the beginning is not
quite certain. These collection of the texts suffered a disaster when Alexander of
Macedonia invaded Iran. The invasion in 321 BCE put an end to the Achaemenian
Empire and devastated the royal treasuries in which the Avesta was reportedly kept.
The Avesta was destroyed or dispersed by the Greeks, who translated into their own
language the scientific passages of which they could make use. But this testimony
of the Mazdean religious tradition is often incoherent and cannot be taken literally.
An effort was begun during the Parthian period, a hundred years after the invasion of Alexander, to collect what remained in priestly memories and scattered
records and this was known as Arsacid Avesta. The collection was collated, screened,
augmented, and canonized centuries later during the reign of the Sasanian King Chosroes I or Kosrow 1 in about 560 CE, nearly nine hundred years after the originals
were destroyed. These are known as Pahlavi scriptures or Pahlavi texts.
The Sasanian dynasty (224 651 CE) established by Ardashir I made, Pahlavi,
a now extinct member of the Iranian language group, descended from a dialect of
Parthian, the official language of the empire. He also declared Zoroastrianism to
be the state religion. As a result of these two events, Pahlavi became the language
of Zoroastrianism. In 652 CE the Sasanian empire was overrun by Islamic forces.
But minority communities continued to communicate in Pahlavi, which eventually
became the foundation for Modern Persian languages such as Persian and Dari.

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The collapse of the theocratic Sasanian Empire in 652 CE, left the Zoroastrian
church without its dominating royal support, and the whole system, including the
Avestan and Pahlavi scriptures, began to fall apart. Little is known about the
history of the Avestan texts from the collapse of the Sasanian Empire and the oldest
manuscripts now available. It is certain that the Muslim conquest and the dispersal
of the Mazdean communities caused a weakening of the religious tradition and a
decline of the liturgical elocution, which disrupted the preservation and transmission
of the Avesta. Portions of the Pahlavi scriptures that survived these disasters were
put in writing after 10th century CE, and also probably revised to suit the times, in
what might have been a haphazard salvage operation. It is estimated that less than
a third of the entire collection has been salvaged.
Thus the collection suffered at least two long periods of decline and destruction.
The texts available today are those that were put together, first in the first centuries
of Common Era, and again sometime after 1200 CE.
Yet another uncertain factor is the probable mismatch between the original phonetics of a language and the script used to write them down, particularly when the
script is not created to represent the language. This is because the script might not
have the special symbols to represent the phonetic peculiarities of the language. The
Arsacid Avesta, if it really existed, might have been in Aramaic or a cuneiform script
which was unsuitable for Avesta and its phonetic peculiarities. The Pahlavi texts
are in a phonetics based script. These probably might have had profound effect on
the fidelity of the texts. Once put in writing and accepted as official version, the
phonetics tent to conform to the official written version. This process makes etymological derivation of the words impossible many centuries later. There are many
scholars who suspect that Old Avesta might have suffered such distortions.
Thus we have no way of knowing if the text now available is more or less the
same as the original or there are major deviations.
Similarly the original parts of the Avesta cannot be dated accurately, nor can
their language be located geographically. Its phonetic characteristics seem to suggest
that this was not the dialect of Pars/Fars. 22 Avestan is closely related to ancient
Persian Language of Fars, as found in the cuneiform inscriptions of Achaemenid Empire, from which modern Persian has evolved. But the differences are considerable
as the phonetics, syntax and semantics differs considerably. Thus Avestan is quite
unlikely to have been a language of Persian heartland or even of the greater Persian cultural horizon. The phonetic characteristics are so uncertain that it can be
located in any neighbouring area without having to face serious counter arguments.
22

Fars, one of the thirty-one provinces of Iran, is known as the cultural capital of Iran. Its
administrative center is Shiraz. It is the original homeland of the ancient Persians. Persia and
Persian both derive from the Hellenized form of the root word Pars. Thus Fars was the heart land
of Persian culture.

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When these languages were first deciphered in the nineteenth century, scholars were
mystified by these differences. Why would Zoroaster and his followers compose the
Gathas in a foreign language? One plausible explanation might be that Gathas were
composed in some geographical area outside, but close to Persian heart land and
the followers of Zoroaster migrated to the area after his life time. Most authors now
favour Bactria as the home land of Zoroaster.
The date of Zoroaster, i.e., the date of composition of the Old Avestan Gathas,
is also unknown. Classical Greek writers such as Plutarch and Diogenes proposed
dates of 6000 BCE. Dates proposed in scholarly literature diverge widely, between the
18th and the 6th centuries BCE. Until the late 17th century, Zoroaster was generally
dated to about the 6th century BCE, which coincided with the Traditional date.
However the issue is far from settled.
The Traditional date originates in the period immediately following Alexanders
conquest of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BCE. The Seleucid kings, who gained
power following Alexanders death instituted an Age of Alexander as the new calendrical epoch. This did not appeal to the Zoroastrian priesthood, who then attempted
to establish an Age of Zoroaster. To do so, they needed to establish when Zoroaster
had lived, which they did by counting back the length of successive generations until
they concluded, rather randomly, that Zoroaster must have lived 258 years before
Alexander. This estimate then re-appeared in the 9th- to 12th-century texts of
Zoroastrian tradition, which in turn gave the date doctrinal legitimacy.
By the late 19th century, scholars such as Christian Bartholomae and Arthur
Emanuel Christensen noted problems with the Traditional date, namely in the
linguistic difficulties that it presented. The Old Avestan language of the Gathas,
which are attributed to the founder himself, is very close to the language of the
Rigveda. Therefore, it seemed implausible that the Gathas and Rigveda could be
more than a few centuries apart, suggesting a date for the oldest surviving portions
of the Avesta of roughly the 2nd millennium BCE. A date of 11th or 10th century
BCE is often assumed by many authors. Some believe that the social customs
described in the Gathas roughly coincide with what is known of other pre-historical
peoples of that period. The Gathas describe a society of priests, herdsmen/farmers
and nomadic pastoralists with tribal social structures organized at most as small
kingdoms. But this is just speculative presumption at best.
As can be seen from above, all estimates of date of Avesta are at most speculative
guesses. At best, we can tentatively consider a date close to the period of composition
of Vedas.

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Contents of Avesta

The extant Avesta is a set of six books. They are: Yasna, Vispered, Yashts, Vendidad, Herbadistan and Miscellaneous items. Out of these Yasna is the most important,
as it contains Gathas in older Avestan, hymns thought to have been composed by
Zoroaster himself. Out of its 72 chapters, Y 28 to 34, Y43 to 51 and Y53 constitute
Gathas. the major part of the Avesta is in prose, and it is mainly the very oldest
portions, the Gathas, which are in metrical verse. These Avestan texts are not only
from different periods, but the language also differs considerably within the books
and between the books.
The Yasna Haptanghaiti, Avestan for Worship in Seven Chapters, is a set of
seven hymns, Yasna 35-41, within the greater Yasna collection or within the primary
liturgical texts of the Zoroastrian Avesta. The name is from Yasna 42, a Younger
Avestan text that follows the seven chapters. While the first two verses, Y. 35.1-2,
of the Yasna Haptanghaiti are in Younger Avestan, the rest of the seven hymns are
in Gathic Avestan, the more archaic form of the Avestan language.
The religious philosophy of Avesta is considered dualistic as there are persistent
references to good represented by Ahura Mazda and evil represented by Angra
Mainyu and other evil beings created by Angra Mainyu. It is a world of cosmic
dualism, where both the earthly and heavenly worlds are gathered into conflicting
camps of Good and Evil. There is a whole universe of good and evil entities between
human beings and the transcendent God Ahura Mazda. The Attributes of lesser
Gods resembles archangels, and all the evil concepts have been personified as demons.
Influence of these Zoroastrian beliefs is clearly visible in the three Semitic religions;
Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Interestingly, this Angra (Angiras?)Mainyu or Manyu is mentioned as a godly
character in Atharvaveda 4.31 and 4.32.
Atharvaveda 4.32.1 A hymn to Manyu, as translated by Griffith
He who hath reverenced thee, Manyu, destructive bolt! breeds.
for himself forthwith all conquering energy.
Arya and Dasa will we conquer with thine aid, with thee the
conqueror, with conquest conquest-sped.
Meaning of the word Manyu in Sanskrit includes - Wrath, mind , mood , mettle
( as of horses ) ; high spirit or temper , zeal , passion ; rage , fury , wrath etc.
In the above hymn these attributes appear to have been personified. Some authors
identify this Manyu or Mainyu with Indra in his aspect of fury and passion. This
might be valid considering the extreme contempt and hostility frequently expressed
in Avestan towards Manyu as well as Indra.

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Similarity Between Vedas and Avesta

The close similarity between Vedic language and Avestan, the language of Avesta,
is well established and the similarity between Rigveda and Avesta is striking. These
are conspicuous in respect of name elements, words and meters in which the verses
are composed. The two cultures had closely similar myths about a celestial river,
about a mountain Meru in case of Hindus and Alborg in case of Parsis. There were
similarities in rituals too. Upanayana is the Vedic initiation ritual for the young.
Zoroastrians also have a similar ceremony called Navjot which is still practised
by Parsis. Similarly Zoroastrians wear a sacred thread like the twice born among
Hindus, but differently, around the waist. Agni or fire is of central importance
to Vedic religion, just as it is of central importance to Zoroastrians. The RigVeda refers to the soma. The Avesta gives physical descriptions of the plant haoma.
Zoroaster is said to have opposed the use of haoma. There are other similar words
in Avesta and Rig-Veda like daha(dasa), hepta (sapta), hindu (sindhu), hiranya
(zaranya), sena or army (haena), yajna (yasna), hotar or priest (zaotar) and many
others. Sir William Jones said
When I perused the Zend glossary, I was surprised to find that six or
seven out of ten words in them are pure Sanskrit.
Ahura Mazda of Avesta has close similarity with Vedic Varuna. Mazda is cognates to Sanskrit medha, which means intellect. Thus Ahura Mazda might stand
for divine intellect. Ahura Mazda, the supreme God of Avesta, was often invoked in
a triad, with Mitra and Burz or Apam Napat. The literal meaning of the word Ahura
is light and Mazda is wisdom. Thus He is the lord of light and wisdom. He is the
creator and upholder of Arta (truth) and is the omniscient and omnipotent god who
created the universe. Intriguingly this Apamnapat is the devata of at least one RigVedic hymn (2.35) and find mention in others (7.47.2). Mandala 2 and 7 are believed
to be among the oldest in Rig-Veda. Thus it appears that Asura or Ahura Apamnapat was a Vedic Devata in the initial stages. Rigveda 2.35 describes Apamnapat
as a fire-god who originates in water. (RV 2.35.2 apam napada-suryasya mahna
visvanyaryo bhuvana jajana). Griffith has translated the term as The friendly Son
of Waters. Similarly in Iranian Avesta the term mean grandson of waters. Thus
it is not a case of accidental similarity of the name.
The gradual evolution of the concept of Devas and Asuras in Rigveda is somewhat
as follows.
In early Vedic texts, both suras or Devas and Asuras were deities who constantly
competed with each other, some bearing both designations at the same time. In
late-Vedic and post-Vedic literature the Vedic Asuras became lesser beings.

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In general, in the earlier parts of the Rigveda, the Asuras preside over moral and
social aspects. Among the Asuras are Varuna, the guardian of Rta and Aryaman,
the patron of marriages. Conversely, the Devas presides over natural phenomena.
Among Devas are the Ushas, whose name means dawn, and Indra, the leader of
the Devas. However, by the time the Brahmana texts were written, the character of
the Asuras had become negative.
One hymn by Rshi Vasishta dedicated to Agni starts out as praise of the Asura
(RV 7:6:1), and he calls Agni again the Asura (RV 7:30:3)
RV 7.6.1
1. PRAISE of the Asura, high imperial Ruler, the Manly One in whom
the folk shall triumphI laud his deeds who is as strong as Indra, and lauding celebrate the
Fort-destroyer
RV 7.30.3
3 When fair bright days shall dawn on us, O Indra, and thou shalt bring
thy banner near in battle,
Agni the Asura shall sit as Herald, calling Gods hither for our great good
fortune.
Thus Agni, one of the most important of Vedic gods, was also an Asura.
The word, Asura, including its variants, asurya and asuratva, occurs 88 times
in the Rigveda. In most of these the word, Asura, is used as an adjective meaning
powerful or mighty. In the Rigveda, two generous kings, as well as some priests,
have been described as Asuras. One hymn prays for an Asura son. In nine hymns,
Indra is described as Asura. Five times, he is said to possess asurya, and once
he is said to possess asuratva. Agni, Varuna, Mitra and Rudra also are described
as an Asura more than once. Both Mitra and Varuna are classified as Asuras in
the Rigveda (e.g. RV 5.63.3), although they are also addressed as Devas (e.g. RV
7.60.12), possibly indicating the beginning of the negative connotations carried by
Asura in later times. The transalation of RV 5.63.3 by Ralff Griffith is reproduced
below
3 Imperial Kings, strong, Heroes, Lords of earth and heaven, Mitra and
Varuna, ye ever active Ones,
Ye wait on thunder with the many-tinted clouds, and by the Asuras
magic power cause Heaven to rain.

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According to the Vishnu Purana, during the Samudra manthan or churning


of the ocean, the daityas came to be known as Asuras because they rejected Varuni,
the goddess of sura or wine, while the Devas accepted her and came to be known
as suras. It is significant that it was not for their sins that the Asuras had to be
destroyed but because of their power, their virtue, their knowledge, which threatened
that of the gods. The Asuras are often depicted as good Brahmins (Bali, Prahlada).
Many Asura kings were devotees of Aryan Gods, particularly Brahma. Also many
of them were just rulers and men of spotless character. A particularly outstanding
example is of Maha Bali. Another is Ravana, whom Lord Ram himself at one
point described as a Maha-brahman. He had unmatched scholarship in the four
Vedas and six Vedangas; each of his ten heads representing one of these. Thus he
was a Rakshasa, Asura and a scholarly Brahmin at the same time. In order to
explain the demonization of Asuras, mythology was created to show that though the
asuras were originally just, good, and virtuous, their nature had gradually changed.
Another intriguing Puranic detail is that Indrani, the wife of Indra was the daughter
of a Daitya or Asura King. The Asuras were depicted to have become proud, vain,
to have stopped performing sacrifices, to violate sacred laws, not visit holy places,
not cleanse themselves from sin, to be envious of Devas, torturous of living beings,
creating confusion in everything and to challenge the Devas.
The rivalry between Devas and Asuras is a recurring theme Vedas, ItihasaPuranas, many other Hindu texts as well as myths. But the intensity of the conflict
seems to increase in the later Mandalas, whereas in earlier ones Asuras are even
mentioned as the Devatas of some RV hymns. According to Puranas, Devas and
Asuras were half brothers, both being descendants of Kashyapa, a Manasaputra or
wish-born-son of Brahma or as per Ramayana 1.70.20, the son of Marichi, a wishborn son of Brahma. The Puranic story is somewhat like this : Kasyapa married
13 or 23 daughters of Daksha Prajapati; another wish-born son of Brahma. Out
of these sisters Aditi was the mother of Devas, Diti the mother of Daityas, Danu
the mother of Danavas, Arishta the mother of Gandharvas, Khasa the mother of
Yakshas, Kadru the mother of Nagas and so on. Daityas and Danavas were Asuras.
Thus in Rigveda, Asuras were Deavas equals in the beginning and gradually
became bad in later mandalas. But in the Avesta, Daevas or Devas are always
evil and Ahuras or Asuras are the gods. The name, Vendidad or Videvdat, is a
corruption of Avestan ViDaevoData, Given against the Daevas or Demons.
It has elaborate enumeration of various manifestations of evil spirits, and ways to
confound them. In the texts of the Younger Avesta there is a reference to Zoroaster
wrestling with the daevas. Daeva is an Avestan language term for a particular sort
of supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics. In the Gathas, the oldest
texts of the Zoroastrian canon, the daevas are wrong gods or false gods or gods
that are (to be) rejected. In the Younger Avesta, the daevas are noxious creatures

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that promote chaos and disorder. Among Daevas, Indra is a particularly evil ogre
and is identified with fraud and treachery. This seem to agree with the character
of Indra as described in Vedas and Itihasa-Puranas, particularly from a rivals view
point and also points to the distinct possibility that the Indra of Avesta and Indra
of Veda-Itihasa-Purana had same origin. Another equally evil one is the demon of
Deceit, Druj. In the Vendidad, Druj is a hideous demon of pollution associated with
corpses. Druj cognates with druhyus, an Indo Aryan tribe. It is believed that
Devas like Varuna, Agni, Mitra, Aryaman and Apamnapat are proto IndoIranian
gods and Indra is a later one. Varuna is the keeper of Rta, an opaque term that
might mean universal order and stands for lofty spirituality, ideals and character
and Indra for heroism and more immediate physical needs. It is possible that Ahura
Mazda and Varuna might have had the same origin as they share many common
attributes. Similarly there are common deities in both Rigveda and Avesta, like
Mitra and Airyaman (Aryaman RV 10.85 marriage hymn) and common concepts
like Rta, Dharma and Manthra. It is possible that the split between Porto Iranians
and Porto IndoAryans occurred just as Indra was gaining importance among the
later group or even Indra was one of the reason for the split.
Evidences for Close Contacts Between Vedic Clans and Persians
The vedic priest clans Atharvans and Bhrgus are closely related and it is possible
that Zoroastrian priests Athravans are related to these. At least in some of the
early Rgvedic hymns, the Bhrgus are depicted as enemies of Bharatas, the most
important vedic clan, as in RV 7.18.6. But in the later parts of the Rigveda they are
accepted into the Vedic mainstream; and later on, in post-Rigvedic Hinduism, the
Bhrgus actually go on to become the single most important family of Vedic rshis.
RV 7.18.6 seems to indicate that a Bhrgu was the priest of a tribe living in a far
away land, possibly, Parsa or Persia. Incidentally, Sukracarya, the principal priest
and advisor of Asuras, was the son of Bhrgu or was a Bhargava. Some authors have
speculated on the possibility that, in the split between Devas and Asuras, Bhrgus
went with the Asuras and one branch of the Bhrgus might have returned to the ranks
of vedic priests at some later time.
Sage Jamadagni is often treated as the patriarch of Bhrgu clan. The name
Jamadagni might be a proto-Iranian name. It do not contain a name element found
the Rigveda. It could be a name which is linguistically Iranian, rather than IndoAryan. The suffix agni as a name-element occur in Avesta. The names of other
Bhrgu composers in the Rigveda shows that most of them contain name-elements
in common with the Avesta. The name of Jamadagnis son is Rama. He is called
Rama Jamadagnya or son of Jamadagni, and is the composer of RV X.110, a late
hymn. Jamadagnis son is also known as Parsu Rama or Bhargava Rama in later

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times. His image is that of a fearsome warrior, who used a battle axe as his weapon
and single handedly annihilated all Kshatriya Kings. Bhrgus or Bhargavas are often
called Kshatra-Brahmins or Warrior Priests. The word Parsu is assumed to mean
battle axe. But the word is not used in that sense anywhere in Rgveda. Also there is
no other character in Hindu mythology who uses this unusual weapon. The Parsus
are usually identified as the Persians. This is based on the evidence of an Assyrian
inscription from 844 BC referring to the Persians as Parshu, and the an Inscription
of Darius I referring to Parsa as the home of the Persians. Thus Jamadagni, and his
son Parsu Rama, may have had some Iranian connection.23
RV VII.18.14 refers to the Anus and Druhyus, while verse 6 refers to the Bhrgus
and Druhyus, thus making it clear that the terms Anus and Bhrgus are interchangeable. RV V.31 and VIII.74, and V.31.4 describes the Anus as constructing a chariot
for Indra. In IV.16.20, are Bhrgus are described as doing the same, thus again
pointing to the equivalence. In RV VIII.74.4, which refers to the sacrificial fire of
the Anus, there is a reference to an Anu king named Srutarvan Arksa (son of Rksa).
Both the prefix Sruta and the name Rksa are found in the Avesta.
In RV 6.27.8, by Rshi Bharadvaja, the Anu King Abhyavartin Chayamana is
mentioned as a Parthav. Parthav cognates with Parthava mentioned in the Bisitun inscription of Achaemenid king, Darius I.24 Abhyavartin Chayamana had fought
23
The Battle Axe culture or The Corded Ware culture is an enormous European archaeological horizon that begins in the late Neolithic (Stone Age), flourishes through the Copper Age and
culminates in the early Bronze Age (2900-2400 BCE). Because of their supposed possession of both
the horse and wheeled vehicles, apparent warlike propensities, wide area of distribution and rapid
intrusive expansion, at the assumed time of the dispersal of Indo-European languages, many linguists and historians believe that they were the steppe origin nomads who brought IE languages to
Europe. Archaeological data indicates that their main weapon was the battle axe made of bronze.
Some authors believe that they must have been fearsome warriors who conquered most of Europe
within a short time resulting in a near total language substitution in most of Europe.
It is interesting to speculate if there was any connection between the fearsome battle axe holding
Parsu Rama or Bhargave Rama and The Battle Axe culture which apparently appeared from
nowhere and terrorised old Europe in the third millennium BCE.
24
Bisitun, also spelled Bisotun, or Behistun, mentioned above, was on the old road from Ecbatana,
capital of ancient Media, to Babylon. It was here that the Achaemenid king Darius I the Great
(reigned 522-486 BCE) placed his famous trilingual inscription, the decipherment of which provided
an important key for the study of the cuneiform script. The inscription and the accompanying basrelief were carved in a difficult, though not inaccessible rock face, at the foot of the Zagros Mountains
in the Kermanshah region of Iran. Written in Babylonian, Old Persian and Elamite, the inscription
records the way in which Darius, after the death of Cambyses II (reigned 529-522 bc), killed the
usurper Gaumata, defeated the rebels, and assumed the throne. According to the narrative, after
Cambyses, son of Cyrus, ruling from Egypt, killed his brother Smerdis in secrecy, a Magi or priest
called Gaumata seized the throne in Persia. Cambyses died and Darius, taking the throne, deposed
the impostor Magi Gaumata with the help of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. Gautama is the
name of an important Rshi clan of Rgveda. The organization of the Persian territories into satrapies
or provinces is also recorded in the inscription. Parthava is mentioned in it as one of the satrapy.

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the Hariyupiya war on the side of the Bharatas. The Anus are depicted as inhabitants of the area of the Parusni river in the centre of the Punjab in the early Books
of the Rigveda. RV 7.18 mentions King Kavi Cayamana; persumably a descendant
of the earlier Abhyavartin, but by now living in a far away land as per RV 7.18.6.
In the Battle of the Ten Kings described in the Dasarajna hymns RV 7.18, 33 and
83, fought on the banks of the Parusni, the Anus form a coalition of ten kings to
fight the imperialist expansion of the Bharata King, Sudas. The land and possessions of the Anus in the area on the banks of the Parusni river, are taken over by the
Bharatas, after their victory in the battle (RV VII.18.13). Indra is said to have given
the possessions of the Anu king to the Trtsus, who fought on the side of Bharatas,
after the battle. But the area might have continued to be home to some remnants of
the Anu tribe, as they are again shown as inhabitants of the area in the Late Books.
Even in later historical times, it was the area of the Madras and the Kekayas, who
were said to be the descendent of Anus. But as their lands were taken over, majority
of Anus might have moved west to Iranian plateau, land probably inhabited by their
kins.
Usanas Kavya or Sukracarya; The Gentle Chief Priest of Asuras
The priest of the asuras or demons in later mythology is the Rigvedic Kavi Usana or
Usanas Kavya or Usanas, son of Kavi, also more popularly known as Sukracarya.
Ushanas is the name of rishi of RV 9.87, 88 and 89. All hymns of Mandala 9 are
dedicated to Soma Pavamana. Shukra is often identified as Soma Pavamana.
V M Bedekar says Ushanas Kavya or Ushanas, son of Kavya is the real name;
Sukra being an epithet, meaning soma. Sukra, the Sanskrit for clear, pure or
brightness, clearness, was the son of Sage Bhrigu, preceptor of the Daityas and
the guru of the Asuras. Sukracarya initially studied Vedas under the rishi Angiras,
but he was disturbed by Angirass constant efforts to project his own son Brihaspati.
He then went to study under rishi Gautama. The rivalry between Brihaspati and
Sukracarya continued as the former became the priest of Devas and the later the
chief priest of Asuras. He was a Brigu or Bhargava rshi of the Atharvan branch and
a descendant of sage Kavi. He is venerated as a seer in Bhagavad Gita where Krishna
tells Arjun that among Kavis he is Ushanas or that Ushanas is the best among Kavis.
Shukracharya is also mentioned as one of the mentors of Bhishma. Mahabharata has
a story of Usanas kavyas clash with Rudra or Shiva on account of Usanass fight
with Devas. He later performed penance to Lord Shiva and obtained the Sanjivani
mantra; a formula that revived the dead. Shukracharya was a teacher or adviser of
Asuras, with unmatched magic or yogic powers, but of very good nature.
It is believed that this refers to Parthia. Thus it appears that Kavi Cayamana was a king, or
priest-king combained, from Parthia.

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Kavi Ushanas or Kay Kavus is also mentioned in the Persian legend Shahnameh by Ferdowsi which tells the tragic story of the heroes Rustam and his son,
Sohrab. Kay Kavus is an ancient mythical ancestral figure in the Avesta. He is
of Kayanian dynasty. It is not clear if the Kayanian Kings are mythical characters
or historical; but many of them have name element Kavi. This dynasty also included Vistaspa, contemporary and patron of Zoroaster. In the Persian legend, King
Kay Kavus has great magical powers, including that of reviving the dead, just as
Sukracarya in Puranas. He is good and evil and is with the gods and demons alternatively. His Persian connect was also explored by Dumezil in his famous book Plight
of the Sorcerer. Many authors believe that the myths of Kavi Ushanas in India and
Kay Kavus (Kavi+Usanus) in Persia have a common origin. Kavi Ushanas, hence,
is not just important in Hindu Mythology but also has an importance in Indo-Iranian
history and myth. Interestingly the name element Kavi and Kavu or Kao have
survived in India to this day, as surnames.
Similarity Between The Vendidad and Atharveveda
The similarity between The Vendidad and Atharveveda is even more striking. Karl
Friedrich Geldner identified the Vendidad as being linguistically distinct from both
the Old Avestan language texts as well as from the Yashts of the younger Avesta.
The Vendidad consists of 22 fargards containing fragments of discussions between
Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. The writing of the Vendidad began probably before
the formation of the Median and Persian Empires, before the 8th century BCE. But
there are other estimates that place the dates much later. Its language is Avestan,
the ancient Iranian language of the Gathas and other prayers, but it is a much later
variant of Avestan. Some scholars have speculated that the Avesta of the Vendidad
seems to be a priestly usage of a language that was no longer living. This possibility
is suggested as there are many what are perceived as grammatical mistakes and
structural differences from the language of the earlier hymns composed when Avestan
was still a living language.
The Vendidad starts with a hymn somewhat as follows. Ahura Mazda spake unto
Spitama Zarathushtra, saying:
I have made every land dear (to its people), even though it had no
charms whatever in it: had I not made every land dear (to its people),
even though it had no charms whatever in it, then the whole living world
would have invaded the Airyana Vaeja.
It continues with a list of the sixteen best Aryan countries which Ahura Mazda
created. The first is Airyana Vaeja, persumably the area where Zarathushtra lived

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and the fifteenth is Hapta Hendu or Saptasindhu. Each of the sixteen verses that
define the sixteen holy lands of the Aryans end with a reference to the devil,
Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created
Winter, a work of the Daevas.
The first chapter is a dualistic creation myth, followed by the description of a
destructive winter comparable with the great floods of various other mythologies.
The second chapter recounts the legend of Yima (Jamshid). Chapter 19 relates the
temptation of Zoroaster, who, when urged by Angra Mainyu to turn from the good
religion, turns instead towards Ahura Mazda. The remaining chapters cover diverse
rules and regulations, through the adherence of which evil spirits may be confounded.
The Vendidad is mainly about social laws, mores, customs and culture. In some
instances, the description of prescribed behaviour is accompanied by a description
of the penances that have to be made to atone for violations thereof. Other chapters
deal with hygiene, disease, its origin, and spells against it, mourning for the dead, the
sanctity of, and invocations to, Atar(fire), Zam (earth), Apas (water), the dignity of
wealth and charity , of marriage and of physical effort, statutes on unacceptable social
behaviour, such as breach of contract and assault; on the worthiness of priests; praise
and care of the bull, the dog, the otter, the Sraosha bird, and the Haoma (Soma)
tree.
Fargard 22: Angra Mainyu creates 99,999 diseases; Ahura Mazda counters with
the Holy Manthra and with Airyaman. Fargards 13 and 14 deal with the treatment
and breeding of dogs. This is somewhere between civil and religious law. Dogs are
regarded as the holiest of animals, almost equal to people. This is a natural attitude
among people whose livelihood depends on herds of cattle and sheep, where herding
dogs are essential helpers. Dogs also have spiritual powers, as described in Fargard
8. The presence and gaze of a dog is said to drive away evil spirits, and a dog is
brought to a corpse and to the places the corpse has been, to purify them. The dog
is a protector in both the physical and the spiritual world.
The greatest part of the Vendidad is taken up with legal texts. Most of the
civil law of the Avesta was in the books that are lost, but a fragment of civil law
is preserved in Fargard 4. This section deals with the various types of contracts,
oaths, and property agreements, and the punishments for breaking these contracts.
It also enumerates the different degrees of assault, from verbal threats to murder,
and states the punishment for each act of violence; the penalties depend on how
grave the assault is and how many times it has been committed.
Some Atharvaveda hymns have almost exact versions in Avesta. Both have many
hymns or parts dealing with evil spirits and ways to deal with them. Some of these
in Atharvaveda are listed below.
Kanda 1

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127

Hymn 22: A charm against jaundice


Hymn 23: A charm against leprosy
Hymn 24: A charm against leprosy
Hymn 25: A charm against fever
Hymn 26: A charm to obtain invisibility
Kanda 2
Hymn2 A charm to ensure success in gambling
Kanda 3
Hymn 9: A charm against rheumatism (vishkondha)
Kanda 4
Hymn 4: A charm to restore virile power
Hymn 5: A lovers sleep-charm
Hymn 6: A charm to make a poisoned arrow harmless
Hymn 7: A charm to make a poisonous plant innocuous
I have used the term charm for these hymns, as done by Griffith and most other
Indologists. But it is not certain if these hymns were meant as charms or magic
intonations as is generally assumed. These may be just descriptions and remedies of
various human ailments and conditions, along with beliefs and customs of the time
in often very poetic language.
The Shaunakiya recension of Atharvaveda is in 20 Kandas and these can be
divided into four parts: Kandas 1-7 deal with healing and charm or magic that should
be applied in various situations as above. Kandas 8-12 constitute early speculation
on the nature of the universe and thus continue the speculative tradition of some
Rigvedic poets and might be predecessors of the Upanishads. Kandas 13-18 deal
with issues of a householders life, such as marriage, death and female rivalry. The
Atharvaveda also has hymns about warfare, weapons etc. Kanda 19 and 20 might
be later additions. The AV is the first Indic text dealing with Vedicine. It identifies
the causes of disease as living causative agents such as the yatudhana, the kimidin,
the krimi or krmi and the durnama. The Atharvans seek to kill them with a variety
of incantations or plant-based drugs in order to counter the disease.
Similarly, both have many hymns that contains the accumulated knowledge about
natural and physical phenomena. Atharvaveda was considered a depositary of knowledge about nature, deceases and Vedicine, just as Avesta was considered so by the
Parsies. Zoroastrian tradition says that the lost parts of the Avesta was a storehouse
of invaluable knowledge on multiple disciplines, which the Greeks stole and carried
with them during the invasion by Alexander. According to Nirukta (11.18)
That by which all sorts of doubts and imperfections are removed; and
expertise is achieved, is Atharva Veda.

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The term atharvan is derived from an obsolete stem athar, which means fire, but
it has been lost in later Vedic as well as Sanskrit or in the words of Monier Williams
said to be from an obsolete word ather . Atharvan, thus might literally means fire
priests and Atharva Veda is the book of hymns of the Fire Priests, the Atharvans.
In Avestan too atar means fire. Vedic Atharvan is cognate with Avestan Athravan, priest, but the etymology of the term is not yet conclusively established, both
in Vedic as well as Avestan. However when the history, evolution, geographical area
of use and original form of a language are uncertain, etymology of its words and grammatical forms are difficult to establish and likely to be controversial. Zarathushtra,
the founder of Zoroastrianism, himself is often referred to as an athravan or Fire
Priest in Zoroastrian religious texts. Thus Atharvaveda is associated with Atharvan,
while most important parts of Avesta was composed by an Athravan.
Zarathushtra is also said to be a descendant of someone called Spitama. But
the identity as well as the etymology of Spitama is uncertain, but seems to be a
cognate of the Sanskrit term svetatama, meaning brightest. Thus there could be
a strong connection between Atharvaveda and Spitama Zarathushtra and Avesta.
Athravans and magi are two classes of priests mentioned in Avesta. In any event,
Zarathushtra used fire as the central symbol of his teachings, and the athravan and
magi became Zoroastrian priests. The role of the athravan and magi developed into
that of physicians and problem solvers. In doing so they became bearers and keepers
of the Zoroastrian spiritual flame as well. They immersed themselves in the quest
for wisdom grounded in goodness.
Vedic Atharvan, who along with Angiras, is said to have authored (heard) the
Atharvaveda. He is also said to have first instituted the fire-sacrifice or yagna. He
is variously described as the father of Agni and the first to use fire. He is also
sometimes described as the first among Saptarshies and the first to teach Brahma
Vidya. According to Mundaka Upanishads and other texts, he was eldest son born
from the mind of Brahma (Manasputra). His clan is known as the Atharvanas and
his name is mentioned in a number of Rgvedic hymns like 6.15,16 and 47, always in
connection with fire. He was referred to as a member of the Bhrigu clan. According
to the tradition, the Atharvaveda was mainly composed by two groups of rishis known
as the Atharvanas and the Angirasa, hence its oldest name is Atharvangirasa. In
the Late Vedic Gopatha Brahmana, it is attributed to the Bhrgu and Angirasa.
Atharvans, Bhrigus and Angirasas are all appear to be closely connected with
fire. Some of the references in Rgveda connecting Bhrigus to fire include
RV 3.2.4 by Rshi Visvamitra Agni was was a gift of Bhrigu
RV 2.4.2 by Rshi Somahuti of Bhrigu clan Bhrgus who served him (Agni)
in the home of waters set him of old in houses of the living or The clan of
Bhrigu kept Agni among people

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129

RV 4.7.1 by Rshi Vamadeva of Goutama clan Agni was created by Bhrgu in


the beginning
RV 1.143.4 by Rshi Dirkhatamas Bhrigu created Agni with his strength
The clan of Bhrigus are very important in Rgveda. They are the Rshies of a
large number of Rgvedic hymns, including the entire Mandala 2. Other Bhrigus
or Bhargavas mentioned in Rgveda include Cyavama Bhargava, Vema Bhargava,
Grtsamada Bhargava; the Rshi of most hymns of Mandala 2, Jamadagni, Rama
Jamadagnya and Usana Kavya. There is a reference in Mahabharata to Bhrgus as a
clan of warlike Bhrahmins, who were powerful and used weapons and super natural
power or witch-craft.
Atharvans and Angirasas are often mentioned together in Itihasa-Puranas. There
are some references that mention Atarvaveda as Atarvangarasa. There are also
references to Bhrguangirasas. Thus it appears that Atharvans and Angirasas and
Bhrgus and Angirasas are closely connected, though they are not same. But Bhrgus
and Atharvans are not mentioned together in this manner. Thus it is possible that
these two are different names of the same clan. In the Avestan, Atravans and Bhrigus
are priests, but Angirasas are evil enemies.
Atharvaveda and Avestan Vendidad are very similar. These appears to be products of a common origin or at least the two cultures had very close contacts. There
are clearly strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the texts of the Avesta
and those of the Vedas. The similarities are assumed to reflect the common beliefs of
Porto-Indo-Iranian times, with the differences then assumed to reflect independent
evolution that occurred after the pre-historical split of the two cultures. The Kurgan model of I.E. expansion treats this as evidence in support of the movement of
the language from Caspian Steppe towards South Asia, as Avestan is considered an
older form of Vedic language. The model maintains that, as the Porto IE language
was expanding, it reached Central Asia towards the end of third millennium BCE
or in the beginning of second millennium BCE as Porto Indo-Iranian. Here it split
and Porto Iranian moved south-west towards Iranian Plateau, while the Porto IndoAryan branch moved south-east, across Afghanistan, towards North-West India.
But the available data and their realistic interpretation seems to suggest that
Porto Zoroastrians had split from a common Vedic religion and culture at some prehistoric past. This conclusion should follow from the following brief recap of what is
discussed above.
In the earliest Vedic Society, devas and asuras were cousins or closely related.
Gradually Asuras became powerful and this, among other differences, probably
led to conflict with Devas.

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Porto Zoroastrianism seems to have born out of a rebellion against Vedic culture, as Zoroaster is said to have opposed animal sacrifice and use of Soma or
Haoma. Similarly Asuras were opposed by Vedic religion mainly because they
opposed Yajnasand other practices of Devas. The reference to the debate
between Zoroaster and Goutama, which Zoraoter is said to have won, might
point to this conflict.
In RV 7:6:3, the enemies of Vedic Aryans are described as The foolish, faithless, rudely-speaking niggards, without belief or sacrifice or worship. They
are also accused of following different rites (RV 8:70). All these accusations
pertain to differences in belief systems and social customs. And most of them
are in the later hymns and thus points to a split on account of difference of
opinion on the correct religious practices and customs, that happened at the
time of composition of later Mandalas.
The rebellion may have been led by some important Vedic priestly clans like
Atharvans and Brigus. Zoroater himself may have been an Atharvan.
The resulting conflict ended with the defeat of Asuras. Their land and possessions may have been annexed by their victorius enimies and this may have led
to the migration of Asuras (Anus?) to the west and North-West.25
Such a migration from Northern India towards west and north-west appear quite
plausible considering the following arguments presented by Shrikant Talageri
25
the Asura or Ahura culture may have spread further west in ancient times, as asura, as a
name or name element was rather common in many parts of West Asia. We also have the Assyrian
example of the state, its main city, as well as their main god being named as Asur or Asura. The
ethnic name of the people, Assyrian, was a variant of it. Many Assyrian nobles had Asur as name
elements. But the Assyrian language itself was Semitic.
The Vedic gods may have spread still further west into Europe. One known case, that is usually
thought of as Persian in origin, but could just as well be Vedic, is that of the Mithraic cult.
The Mithraic cult was a mystery religion that was widely practised in the Roman Empire from
at least the 1st to 4th centuries AD. Modern historians refer to it as Mithraism. Numerous archaeological finds, including meeting places, monuments and artefacts, have contributed to modern
knowledge about Mithraism throughout the Roman Empire. The iconic scenes of Mithras show
him being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull, and sharing a banquet with the god Sol (the Sun).
About 420 sites have yielded materials related to the cult. Among the items found are about 1000
inscriptions, but these are not very informative of the cult and its core beliefs. No text about
the religion survive. Thus we are left with the limited information that can be derived from the
inscriptions and brief or passing references in Greek and Latin literature. The Romans regarded the
mysteries as originating from Persian or Zoroastrian sources. Since the early 1970s the dominant
scholarship has noted dissimilarities between Persian Mithra-worship and the Roman Mithraic mysteries. It could well be derived from Vedic Religion. One pointer to this may that the cults often
secret practices gave great importance to astronomy and heavenly bodies, as Hinduism does to this
day .

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131

Shrikant Talageris Arguments


Shrikant Talageri in his book The Rigveda and the Avesta: the Final Evidence,
2008, along with his earlier books, advances a number of arguments in favour of Out
of India theory, on the basis of Vedic and Zaorastrian cultures. Some of these are
briefly stated below.
The Rigveda and the Avesta are alleged to be books composed by the Vedic
Aryans and the Iranians well after they allegedly separated from each other in Central Asia and migrated to their respective historic habitats. If this were true, then
common elements in their languages should have been found most prominently in the
Early Books of the Rigveda as well as Avesta, which would then still have retained
remnants of the earlier common Indo-Iranian culture. Scholars now generally agree
on chronology of the ten Mandalas of Rigveda as
early: Mandalas 6, 3 and 7;
middle: Mandalas 2, 4;
late: parts of Mandalas 5 and 1 and Mandalas 8, 9 and 10.
The similarity between Vedic and Avestan is more pronounced in later Mandalas
5, 8, 9, 1 and 10 and some post-Rigvedic texts, compared to earlier Mandalas 3,
6 and 7. There is no class or category of common name-elements (names, prefixes
in names, or suffixes in names) which is found in the Early Books of Rigveda and
the Avesta, but missing in the Late Books. But there are many name-elements
common to the Avesta and the Late Books, elements which are missing in the Early
and the Middle Books. On the other hand, these elements are early elements in
the Avesta, present from the very earliest point of composition of the text. Yasna
9.10 narrates a story of Zoroaster engaged in debate with one Naidhyasa or Nodhas
Gautama which Zoroaster wins. Nodhas Gautama is the composer of late hymns RV
1.58 to 64. The name seems to suggest that he might be a descendant of Gautama,
composer of most hymns of Book 4. If Nodhas Gautama of the late Rigvedic Book 1
is a contemporary of Zoroaster, the ancestor Gautama, composer of most hymns of
Book 4, must obviously have been pre- Zoroastrian and pre-Avestan. Incidentally,
the name Gautama do not occur in early books 6,3 and 7 of Rigveda at all.
That the common names and name-elements found in Vedic and Avestan are
late elements in the Rigveda is obvious. Not only are they found exclusively in
the Late Books and hymns, but the names continue to be very common in postRigvedic texts and mythology; and the name-elements are found in more and more
new names. A significant example is the suffix ayana. In the Rigveda, we have
Gaupayana, Narayana and Kamayani; every single one only in the Late Books.
Later, post-Rigveda, it appears in many names like Sankhayana, Mahanarayana
Upanisad, the Asvalayana, Katyayana and Baudhayana and still later in Vatsyayana
and Badarayana, apart from Narayana, as a name for Lord Vishnu. The total absence

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of this suffix in the Early and Middle Books can only be because the said names and
name-elements did not exist at all in those earlier periods. On the other hand, these
elements are early elements in the Avesta, present from the very earliest point of
composition of the text. All the key words pertaining to the ethos of the earliest
parts of the Avesta are found only in the late parts of the Rigveda.
There are eight Rigvedic hymns containing various names and name-elements
in common with the Avesta in the early books of 6,3,7 and 4. All of them are
later interpolations or late additions as per Aitareya Brahmana VI.18 or Oldenbergs
classification. These are found in as many as 380 hymns of late books; 5,1,8,9 and
10.
The Early Books are characterized mainly by simple names (of single or fused
character), and the name-elements shared with the Avesta consist mainly of a few
restricted types of compound names with a few prominent prefixes of a basic nature
(Su-,Deva-, Puru-, Visva-), which are found in the names of important historical
personalities of the Early Period. However, these name-elements are found in even
greater profusion in the Late Books.
There are at least three words that are found in the Rigveda and the Avesta,
which are also found as names or name-elements in the Rigveda, but not in the
Avesta. These are included by Lubotsky (LUBOTSKY 2000) in a small list of words
which are peculiar to Indo-Aryan and Iranian, but are not found in any other branch
of Indo-European languages, and which are alleged by Lubotsky to be borrowings
into Indo-Iranian from a hypothetical BMAC language in Central Asia. These form
part of the names of the rshis Atharvan- fire-priest, Kasyapa - tortoise , Sunahsepa
and Parucchepa (suna - dog, Sepa tail). Atharvan is found in 3 hymns of early
book 6.15,16,47. All three of these hymns are placed by the western scholars (eg. in
Oldenbergs classification of the hymns) among the late or interpolated hymns which
do not fit into the numerical principles of arrangement of the hymns in the Family
Books (Oldenbergs classification). All 3 are found in many hymns of later books.
Apart from common names and name-elements, there are many words common
to Avesta and late books of Rigveda and not found in early books of Rigveda. Prof.
Edward W. Hopkins, in his article published in the Journal of the American Oriental
Society, 1896 says;
to point to the list of words common to the Avesta and viii (RV Madala
8) with its group, and say that here is proof positive that there is closer
relationship with the Avesta, and that, therefore, viii after all is older
than the books which have not preserved these words, some of which are
of great significance, would be a first thought. But this explanation is
barred out by the fact that most of these Avestan words preserved in
viii, with all those of the most importance, are common words in the

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133

literature posterior to the Rik.


This again indicates that earliest part of Avesta and late books of Rigveda are
from the same period.
the Rigveda is composed entirely in metrical verse, and compositions in prose
start appearing only in later Samhitas like the Yajurveda. However, the major part
of the Avesta is in prose, and it is mainly the oldest portions, the Gathas, which are
in metrical verse. Interestingly, the meters in which the oldest Gathas are composed
are similar to those found in late mandalas of Rgveda and equivalent of all meters
used in Avesta can be found in later books of Rigveda. They contain a range of
meters all of which existed only in the late books of Rigveda and were absent in the
earlier books. For example the third Gatha is composed in a meter consisting of four
lines of eight syllables each (11+11+11+11) equivalent to the oldest and commonest
meter in the Rigveda: the tristubh, which is found from the oldest Book 6 to the
latest Book 10 and constitutes about 40% of the total verses in the Rigveda as a
whole. The second Gatha is composed in a meter (11+11+11+11+11) equivalent to
the atijagati. These meters are found only in 11 verses in the Rigveda; all in later
books. In Yast 5, we find lines 23-32 in metrical verse consisting of 8+8+8+8+8
syllables, equivalent to pankti meter found only in the Late mandalas like book 5.
Shrikant Talageri has presented extensive data from Vedas and Avesta in support
of his arguments and his interpretations of many difficult issues of the IE homeland
problem appear quite plausible. But his primary focus is on linguistic evidences.
This will need to be fully validated by clear empirical data from other disciplines
like genetics, archaeology etc. Also the model need to cover the entire question in
totality, and not remain South Asia specific.

4.6.4

Conclusion

Further, the possibility that Indo-Iranians were nomadic pastoralist migrants from
Central Asia or Caspian Steppe is inconsistent with the following.
In the Avesta the Airyas or Aryas are described as a settled people, living on
agriculture and stockbreeding, opposed to the Tuiryas who were nomads (but also
bearing Iranian names), presumably steppe pastoralists in contact with the settled
agriculturists. If the Aryans were the nomads from the steppe, the situation in the
Avesta should be completely opposite; that is, Airyas should be nomads and Tuiryas
should be settled people, living on agriculture and stockbreeding. So, by the evidence
of Iranian texts and archaeology, the Aryans are actually the heirs of the CentralSouth Asian Neolithic tradition, and not of the steppe nomads, who normally are
absorbed by the superior culture of the sedentary civilizations, like the Mongols in
China or in Persia.

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A study on the historical Aryan emigration to Iran by Dr. Bonab Ashrafian,


of Portsmouth University, Published on Dec 19, 2013, has some interesting relevant
information. He says

There are many different languages, religions and tribes inside Iran. We
have done studies on 26 different Iranian groups, on over 2600 Iranian
DNA-sequences (y-dna mt-dna). Although we speak an Indo-European
language we are not genetically very close to Indo-European peoples.
The Aryan genetic markers that exist in central Asia and the Caucasus
are found very few in the Iranian Plateau. Our research shows that all
Iranian tribes are genetically related to the people who lived in south-west
of Iran since 10,000 years. The Arabian invasion has affected south-west
of Iran and Bushehr, but in very few amounts.

Dr. Ashrafian has also studied the ancient human bones found in Jiroft and Masjid
Kabood. These show that they belong to the ancestors of todays Iranians. There
are now a number of other studies which have concluded that the so called Aryan
genetic markers are sparse in the present day Iranian population. The implication
of these findings is unclear at the moment and if it is confirmed, it will add further
uncertainty to all proposed models.
Taking together the above, it might be more logical to conclude that the IndoIranians were migrants from North-West India or the two regions were part of a
single cultural horizon at some time in the pre historic past and that the split between
them occurred probably during the time of composition of later books of Rigveda.
But the Kurgan model would require just the opposite, the Vedic Aryans being a
splinter group of Indo-Iranians in order to accommodate their migration from the
steppes to South-Asia. But such a scenario has little support now from archaeology,
genetics or textual evidence. What is put forward as linguistic evidence is not entirely
convincing as alternate scenarios can be just as valid. Another plausible conclusion
could be that the two cultures are autochthonous at their respective present areas
with close cultural and trade contacts or might have had a common origin at some
stage in the Neolithic or even earlier.

4.7. EVOLUTION OF INDIC LANGUAGESSOME UNRESOLVED ISSUES 135

4.7

Evolution of Indic LanguagesSome Unresolved Issues

4.7.1

Retroflexion in Indo Aryan Languages

One defining feature of most South Asian languages is the presence of many retroflex
vowels and consonants in them. 26 These sounds are rare in other IndoEuropean
languages, including Iranian, the dialect that is closest to Vedic Language. The
difficulty in explaining this feature in Indic languages, consistent with prevailing
theories, has led to many suggestions, most of them purely speculative.
Many linguists, who support the popular model, believes this to show that Vedic
language came to India after it split from IndoIranian. It is believed that it acquired
this characteristic from ancient Dravidian languages as it came into contact with it
in India. But there are many problems with such a conclusion, and as a result it has
led to many unlikely assertions from various scholars.
For example, George Erdosy suggests that the majority of early old Indo Aryan
speakers might have had a Dravidian mother tongue, which they abandoned gradually, to change over to Indo Aryan dialects.
Professor in the Asian Studies department at University of Michigan, Madhav
Deshpande, has gone into the retroflexion of Indian Languages in detail. He says
my own conclusion regarding retroflexions in Rgveda is that the original compositions were either free from retroflexion of fricatives, liquids
and nasals or that these sounds had only marginal retroflexion. The
retroflexion we see in the available recension of Rgveda (Sakalya version)
is the result of changes which crept into the text during centuries of oral
transmission.
He believes that the Rgveda we know today is what has survived extensive redaction
and editing in later centuries, which probably imposed homogenisation and changes
in the text, in line with the dialect spoken by the redactors. The way the family
books are organised now points to the process of redaction. This is so, as the books
were composed by many generations of the different families, many of whom might
have been separated from each other in time and space. Some of the composers
were openly hostile to each other. Yet we find a level of homogenisation in the
language, style and organisation of the texts, which could only have been the result of
a meticulous process of redaction and editing. He feels that the redaction and editing
might have occurred after considerable time gap, as the dialect of the redactors had
26

Retroflex sounds are those produced by curving the tip of the tongue back to touch the roof
of the mouth. In the matrix of consonants in most Indian languages, both IndoEuropean and
Dravidian, the middle letters ta, dta, da, ddha and na are articulated as retroflex sounds

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undergone considerable changes by then. Hence he cautions that conclusions based


on linguistic features of Rgveda may be misleading.
Some authors have gone further to suggest that Vedic Language was an adopted
language for most of the composers of Rgveda; Porto Dravidian being their mother
tongue. But these suggestions seem to be too far fetched, with little empirical
support.
If the retroflex sounds we see today in the Indo Aryan dialects of North India is
due to the reason given by George Erdosy that majority of early old Indo Aryan
speakers might have had a Dravidian mother tongue, which they abandoned gradually, to change over to Indo Aryan dialects or even that most of the composers
of Rgvedic hymns were speakers of Dravidian dialects, one would expect far more
words of Dravidian origin in these languages. It is inconceivable that these Dravidian
speakers contributed retroflexion, but very few words to their newly learned alien
language. Besides, such a model can be credible only if we have some very good
reasons for the locals, totally and at such large scale, to opt for the difficult language
of a few trickled in nomads.
There are now many Indo Aryan loan words in various Dravidian languages; but
the reverse flow appear to have been far less. Similarly Vedic Language also might
have had a few loan words from ancient Dravidian languages. These might have been
the result of border contacts and trade as the loan words are limited. Adoption and
adaptation of linguistic features can be through social contacts or social convergence.
While the effects of the former are usually marginal, those from the latter can be
far more wide spread; but can only occur rarely under very special circumstances.
Similarly, the borrowing of words from another language and borrowing of phonetic
features, like retroflexion, are very different processes, as the later probably requires
more intimate social convergence and not contacts. This should be particularly so
between two totally different languages, as Vedic Aryan and Porto Dravidian must
have been. It seems that the Magadhi dialects or eastern Indo Aryan languages or
Prakrits had far more retroflex sounds than Vedic Language. Thus the possibility
exists that the retroflexion in Indian languages were acquired from some unknown
language in South Asia in ancient times, possibly in use in the North East.
We simply do not know how, when or from where the retroflex sounds entered
Indian Languages. An unusual aspect of this is presence of these sounds in two
language families with very different origin, phonetic characteristics, syntax and semantics. Partly because of this uncertainty, it is compatible with the Out of India
model also. Indo Aryan dialects could have acquired this feature from Porto Dravidian dialects, after the other proto Indo European language families had migrated out
of South Asia. However such suggestions will be speculative at best at the present
stage of our understanding of the circumstances and issues involved.

4.7. EVOLUTION OF INDIC LANGUAGESSOME UNRESOLVED ISSUES 137

4.7.2

Substitution of r for l in Indo Iranian Languages

Another inexplicable aspect of the phonetic evolution of Indic languages is the r


replacing l (l as in all, fall, Tamil etc) in Vedic, the Porto-Iranian and Mitanni languages, whereas all other IE dialects, including other Satem dialects have retained
the l. In Vedic Sanskrit, especially the Rig Veda, there is next to no ls, even words
that in Classical Sanskrit have an l, still have an r in Vedic. This has been noted
and discussed by many eminent scholars from 19T h century. Different authors have
different explanations to account for this strange feature. Hoernle (1880) suggests
that there were two Aryan groups in North India, which he names as Magadhan to
the east of River Ganges and Sauraseni in the North West. I will use these terms
for these dialects in this discussion for want of better terms. Oldenberg says
Probably the first immigrants and therefore the furthest forward east,
are the tribes Anga, the Magadha, the Videha, the Kosala and the Kasi
. He further claims that it was the second wave or the Souraseni speakers that
produced the Rgveda. Meillet also holds the view that Vedic dialect, like Iranian,
is a r only dialect, in which the PIE l merged with r. But he believes that the
dialect of the later redactors of Rgveda was was an l and r one.
But the Magadhi dialect, far to the east, was a pure l-only dialect, whereas the
north-western dialects like Vedic, were almost devoid of l. In the Asokan inscriptions
we see laja instead of raja for king. The explanation that the eastern IndoAryan dialects were brought by another earlier group of Indo-Aryans who preceded
Vedic Aryans into South Asia will make the model rather messy, assuming many
different unconnected Indo-Aryans speaking related dialects in pre-historic times,
entering South Asia in separate waves at different periods. Besides, a lot of Prakrit
words have direct indo-European etymologies but no Sanskrit ones. This might be
difficult to explain under any IE homeland model other than OIT.
What is now certain is that indo-European dialects, other than Vedic, were in use
in Central and Eastern India in pre-historic times. Bangani is a language spoken
in the Garhwal area in Uttarakhand in North India, which is an even more stranger
case. It has L only words, R only words as well as L and R words in it or
have linguistic markers in common with the other neighbouring Eastern Indo-Aryan
languages (L only dialects), words belonging to the level of Vedic Sanskrit (R
only dialects), and finally words going back to the level of the centum languages (L
and R dialects). Similarly the Sinhalese language may well represent another such
form of early Indo-European speech. The language, which had migrated from the
north-west India to an area to the south of the Dravidian-speaking areas, appear to
have a number of words in the Centum form. There may be yet others like the
Burushaski language.

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These dialects, like the parent Indo-European, had retained the original distinction between R and L, and not just coincidentally created a new distinction between
R and L, unrelated to the original distinction. They, therefore, represent a linguistic
stage, within Indo-European, earlier than the joint linguistic stage of the Indo-Aryan
(Vedic), Iranian and Mitanni combine before the three separated from each other.
Yet they are otherwise very similar to Vedic and almost as distant from Iranian as
Vedic is.
As per the AIT, the proto dialect from which the Vedic, Iranian and Mitanni
evolved must have been spoken well outside India, in Central Asia, or even further
west. Any Indo-European forms of speech representing an earlier linguistic stage
(whether as part of this combine or as a separate branch of Indo-European) should
be found further to the west of Central Asia at a point of time earlier than the split
of this combine into Porto-Indo-Aryan and Porto-Iranian. But we find these forms
well to the east of this combine. Again, if the eastern L and R or L only dialects
are earlier forms of Porto Indo-European language, they should have differentiated
from Vedic far more than Persian or Mitannian. This is not so. The Vedic language
would have been wholly incomprehensible to the people of Mitani and ancient Persia,
but was not very different from the Prakrit dialects like Pali and Magadhi.
The putative model of IE homeland and expansion cannot explain the presence of
these different dialects of IndoAryan languages deep to the east of Satem language
areas, except by resorting to mutually contradictory interpretations and doubtful
speculative conclusions.
The R-and-L and L only dialects, to the east of where early Vedic language
flourished, is difficult to explain under the popular model. Shrikant Talageri proposes
that they
represent survivals of the speech forms of other groups (Yadus, Turvasus,
Iksvakus, etc.) who lived to the east and south of the Purus (the Vedic
Aryans), and also include surviving remnants of varieties of the Anu and
Druhyu forms of speech of the north and west. They are not the remnants
of mysterious unconnected immigrant groups from Europe in the ancient
past: they are the remnants of archaic speech forms of local origin. The
picture we get is not of a language family from a far-off land which sent
one or more isolated linguistic shoots into India, but of a language family
with all its earliest roots going deep into the Indian soil.

4.8

The Horse and Indo-Aryans

One of the most discussed aspects of Indo-European culture all over Eurasia is its
association with Horses and chariots.

4.8. THE HORSE AND INDO-ARYANS

139

It appears that there were many animal types belonging to the Equus species in
pre historic times all over the world. Most of these have now become extinct. Only
those animals which could be domesticated by humans survived in most places. It
is not clear where the horses were first domesticated. There are reports that claim
archaeological evidence of horses that resemble modern Arabian horses dating back
4,500 years from Arabian Peninsula. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the
Porto-Indo-Europeans and were also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. S.
Piggott (1992) has established the presence of vehicles with one or two pairs of wheels
with their axles... from the Rhine to the Indus by around 3000. He found wheels
marked with what appears to be spokes in the Carpathian Basin from the Early
Bronze Age. Historically, the spoked wheel and the chariot seem to have sprung up
in several places within a short period of time, with accurate carbon dating yet to
give us a definitive reading on which civilization was the first to develop the chariot.
The earliest fully developed true spoked wheel chariots known are from the chariot
burials of the Andronovo (Timber-Grave) sites from around 2300 BC.
The chariot has been one of the great enabling technologies of history. It came
into being with the invention of the light and fast spoked wheel (as against heavy and
clumsy solid wheels), which was largely enabled by the metallurgical advances of the
Bronze Age. Derivatives of the chariot served as the primary means of transport for
all civilizations from 2500 BC until motorized transport came along 100 years ago.
From about the first half of second millennium BC to the middle of first millennium
BC, it became a fearsome and formidable war machine and enhanced the geographic
reach and military power of those who had access to the technology and expertise
to handle them effectively.
The AIT chronology for spread of IE language throughout Eurasia, in a comparatively short time, was difficult to explain without the help of means of fast
transport and enhanced geographical reach, like chariots and horses. Thus horses
were an important reason why Kurgan hypothesis came to be so successful. The mobility of the Kurgan culture, attributed to the domestication of the horse and later
the use of early chariots, facilitated its rapid expansion. The vast steppes north of
Black Sea and Caspian Sea had abundant supply of horses (Equus ferus caballus)
and archaeological finds in the area include many sites of chariot/horse burials, and
places with animal remains, where horse remains predominate. With this, it was
easy to connect Vedic Aryans to Kurgan Culture, as Vedas have many references
to chariots and horses. It was also concluded that Indus Valley (IVC) and Vedic
culture are unrelated as very few horse remains have been found in the Indus Valley
sites. But many scholars are uneasy about such mixing of archaeological finds and
literary references for evidences and conclusions. Besides, there are now a number
of arguments against such a conclusion. Some of these are

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The rarity or absence of horse remains in IVC sites might be on account of the
climatic conditions of South Asia where these would have disintegrated in the
course of time much faster than in the steppes.
IVC sites investigated so far are all urban settlements. Horse remains were
unlikely to be found in such areas in large quantity as these would be disposed
off away from the well planned human settlements. Horses might not have
got the benefit of burial within the IVC urban areas as IVC culture might not
have allowed its burial with humans, unlike in the steppes.
The many references in Vedas to horses may be on account of its rarity in
Indus Valley at the time and the resultant awe and glamour. Most references
in RV to chariots and horses are of their use by various gods and semi-gods.
Available indications of the style, size, materials and engineering of chariots in
Vedas differs substantially from those unearthed in Kurgan sites. Also these
references speak of only chariots and not horse riding as such.
Horse remains from the Harappan site Surkotada (dated to c. 2400-1700 BC)
have been identified by A.K. Sharma as Equus ferus caballus. The horse specialist Sandor Bokonyi (1997) later confirmed these conclusions and stated
that the excavated tooth specimens could in all probability be considered
remnants of true horses [i.e. Equus ferus caballus]. Bknyi stated that The
occurrence of true horse was evidenced by the enamel pattern of the upper and
lower cheek and teeth and by the size and form of incisors and phalanges (toe
bones). However, others like Meadow (1997) still disagree, because remains
of the Equus ferus caballus are difficult to distinguish even by specialists from
other horse species like Equus asinus (donkeys) or Equus hemionus (onagers).
A clay model that looks like a horse has been found in Mohenjo-Daro and a
horse figurine in Periano Ghundai in the Indus Valley. Thus the argument that
IVC had no horse needs to be fully established.
Among the many Harappan script fragments recovered so far, one sign that
repeatedly appear is that of a Unicorn, a horned animal, which but for the
horn and to a lesser extent the head, looks very much like a horse. Its physical
features and hind side appear so much like a horse that it seems certain that,
whoever first conceived the symbol, had the horse figure in mind. The unicorn
symbol appears in Harappan artefacts from 3000 BCE at least. It is often said
that almost three forth of all Indus seals carry the Unicorn sign. But a closer
look appear to suggest that while about half of them are horse like figures,
others are closer to bulls and goats. Thus it is possible that these signs depict
different animals. The elongated body and slender arching neck is typical of

4.8. THE HORSE AND INDO-ARYANS

141

unicorn figurines, as are the tail with bushy end. Some figures have a triple
incised line depicting a pipal leaf shaped blanket or halter, while most unicorn
figures have only a double incised line. These look very much like a halter and
saddle.
After Indus valley, unicorn like figures appear a millennium later in Mesopotamia
and after almost two millennia later in Greece. Unicorns are not found in
Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, in which unicorns
are stated to be an animal found only in India, a distant and fabulous realm
for them. The earliest description is from Ctesias who, in his book Indika (On
India), described them as wild asses. Other ancient Greeks who have described
unicorn in accounts of natural history include Strabo, Pliny the Younger and
Aelian. Greek scholars actually believed that this creature was real, and that
its home was in India. At the time India was a little known distant land that
seemed magical and mysterious to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Fittingly,
the unicorn was seen as a mystical and mysterious creature who commanded
great respect and power. The Bible describes an animal, the reem, which
some translations have rendered as unicorn.
Unlike almost every single other mythical creature, the unicorn does not appear
anywhere in any cultures actual mythology. That is to say, plenty of Greek
scholars believed that unicorns existed, but the unicorn itself does not come
from Greek mythology. There are no tales of gods riding unicorns or legends of
unicorns fighting monsters. To put it simply, there is no such thing as unicorn
mythology. One scholar pointed out another interesting fact about unicorns they are possibly the only mythical creature that do not evoke fear. Unicorns
are not monsters. Any time they are spoken of in ancient texts they are revered
and respected. They are strong, solitary animals who seek to do good for all
around them. Never does a unicorn pose a threat to humans, or any other
creature that does not seek first to harm them.
Medieval European knowledge of unicorn comes from biblical and ancient
sources, and the creature was variously represented as a kind of wild ass, goat,
or horse. In European folklore, the unicorn is often depicted as a white horselike animal with a long horn and cloven hooves (sometimes a goats beard). In
the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely
wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be
captured by a virgin.
That this horselike figure first appeared in South Asia and later myths about
it spread all over Eurasia suggest the possibility that there was either strong
cultural diffusion or waves of emigrations from the sub-continent from ancient

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times. Secondly it also points to the strong possibility that there were horses
in South Asia in the pre-historic past.
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetaka (or Bhim Baithaka) in the Raisen District of
Madhya Pradesh, 45 km south of Bhopal, at the southern edge of the Vindhyachal hills, contains many drawings of horses, among a large number of other
painting and drawings. They were accidently discovered some fifty years ago
and is within impenetrable thick forest. These paintings appear in nearly 700
natural rock shelters spread over ten kilometers. According to expert opinion
these painting are from different periods spread over many thousands of years.
The earliest among them are at least 30000 years old and even the latest are
from pre-historic times. They are in red and white and with occasional green
and yellow. The older paintings are clearly cruder and fading and the newer
more detailed and colourful. Interestingly one can see what looks like horse
figures from successive eras, the earliest of riders carrying blunt stone weapons,
later ones with bow and arrows and latest ones of massed figures engaged in
battle. The earliest of riders carrying blunt stone weapons strongly indicates
that there were horses in India from prehistoric times and more importantly
they were domesticated.
Absence of horse remains cannot be treated as evidence of absence of horses
in IVC, as not many horse remains have been discovered in North-Western
India dating to second millennium BCE. One would expect abundance of such
remains if Vedic Aryans had brought large number of horses into India in 1500
BCE.
One important element of the Invasion Theory is that Bactria Margiana Archaeological complex or BMAC settlements were built by the Porto Indo Iranians or Porto Indo Aryans or that they stayed close it it for some time, on their
way to South Asia. But horse remains are also rare in Bactria Margiana Archaeological complex, in an area where horses are native and where the locals
were known for their horsemanship from pre-historic times. If horse bones are
rare in the urban centres of such an area, there nothing unusual in its rarity
in Harappan centres. Thus, clearly rarity of horse remains in urban centres
proves nothing.
The references in Vedas may not be to steppe or Central Asian horses, but
to Arabian horses or even of horses of local origin. In RV 1.162.18(as per
translation of the term Catur-srimsad-vajino by Ralph Griffith) there is a
reference to 34 ribbed horses. Steppe horses have 36 ribs whereas Arabian
horses generally have only 34 and South Asia appear to have had commercial

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES

143

relations with Mesopotamia from very ancient times well before the putative
date for IE entry into North Western India. Michael Witzel counters this by
an unconvincing argument that the horse referred in RV 1.162.18 might be one
with a genetic deficiency of two ribs. The verse is dedicated to Asvam or horse
in general and not to a particular horse.
The invasion theory has been abandoned by most scholars as it became evident
that archaeological evidences do not support battle scenarios or sudden cultural
discontinuity. Also many authors began to express doubt as to how the invaders could
have brought chariots, suitable for plains, across the difficult Hindukush mountain
ranges. The The horse evidence is an important element of Kurgan hypothesis.
But so far as Vedic Culture is concerned, horse evidence has more or less become
irrelevant now, as horse remains are equally rare in Harappan sites as well as second
millennium North-West India. Besides it is not at all certain at this stage if this
rarity is on account of its absence in the area during that period. If it is possible to
argue that the equine argument makes India centric PIE homeland model invalid,
then by the same logic any model, based on IE entry into South Asia in the second
millenium BCE, will also become invalid.

4.9

Genetic Evidences

More than the above archaeological, archeo-cultural or anthropological evidences or


lack of such evidences; it is the emerging Hard genetic evidences that might give
us a definite answer. There have been a number of such studies, each successive
study making use of better data sets, technology and techniques. The technology
that helped the new finding is just about a decade old and is often referred to as Archaeogenetics. It is based on the fact that human Y-DNA and Mitochondrial DNA
(Mt-DNA) preserves a written record of their mutations for thousands of years
because neither gets mixed up or randomized as they are not involved in meiosis
and gene crossover, as genes inside nucleus do except those in y-chromosome. Any
mutation to the Mt-DNA is passed on in strict maternal line and mutations in Y
chromosome are passed down in a direct paternal line of descent. Furthermore the
historical sequence of these mutations can also be inferred. Technology is now available to estimate the time when such mutation occurred. 27 . Thus it is now possible
to determine the present decedents of a person who lived in the very distant past,
and as those decedents may be found all over the world, it is possible to trace human
27

Mitochondria are an organelle found in most cells outside the nucleus with its own DNA. It has
important functions in assembly of ATP, the most important energy source in most living organisms
on earth. It also has some other very important biological functions. It is passed on from mother
to children as it is not present in male sperms

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migrations and its chronology since the time of the ancestor. Further improvements
in the technology now use data from autosomes also for such study. This technique
has now emerged as a very powerful tool in the study of Archaeogenetics or genetic
genealogy. Now, as a latest development, Ancient DNA or aDNA research is revealing patterns of ancient human migrations far more clearly than was possible earlier
and is beginning to throw light on ancient human history that seems far more complex than that inferred from models based on modern DNA. The following is a quote
from an article in Nature Published online on 09 June 2015 by Ludovic Orlando,
M. Thomas P. Gilbert Eske Willerslev titled Reconstructing ancient genomes and
epigenomes
Research involving ancient DNA (aDNA) has experienced a true technological revolution in recent years through advances in the recovery
of aDNA and, particularly, through applications of high-throughput sequencing. Formerly restricted to the analysis of only limited amounts of
genetic information, aDNA studies have now progressed to whole-genome
sequencing for an increasing number of ancient individuals and extinct
species, as well as to epigenomic characterization. Such advances have
enabled the sequencing of specimens of up to 1 million years old, which,
owing to their extensive DNA damage and contamination, were previously not amenable to genetic analyses. In this Review, we discuss these
varied technical challenges and solutions for sequencing ancient genomes
and epigenomes.
It is interesting to hear what aDNA studies have found about various aspects of
pre-history. It appears that DNA profile of the present day population of Europe
consists of three elements. The first is of hunter gatherers who have lived in the
continent from 45000 years before present. The second is of the agriculturalists from
near east who entered Europe from the south, some 8000 years before present. And
the last was the nomadic pastoralists from the Caspian steppes, who reached Eastern
and Central Europe in the third millennium BCE. There might also have been a forth
element, but that needs to be confirmed.
The findings about the defining physical characteristics of present day Europeans
are some of the early results from such studies. It appears that the blue eyes is something that was inherited from the early European hunter gatherers, who were present
in Europe at least from about 45000 years before present (YBP). All samples tested
from this period had the genes responsible for light eye colour in modern European populations. Men from Holland are among the tallest in the world, averaging
1.9 meters, closely followed by the Danish, British and the Swedish. France and
Italy, however, have some of the shortest men in Europe. It appears that people
from northern Europe owe their height to Bronze-age populations from the Eurasian

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES

145

steppes, who migrated into the region. Southern Europeans, on the other hand,
owe their short stature to Neolithic hunter gatherers and later copper-age farmers
living in Iberia. The original hunter gatherers were of darker skin colour. It appears
the early farmers from Anatolia, who migrated into Europe in the Neolithic period,
also carried some genes for lighter skin colour with them. Thus it appears that we
may have a profound irony here; the white man got his skin colour from their Asian
ancestors.
The first such studies using Y-DNA mutations widespread among men in East
Europe, Central Asia and among caste groups in North India coinciding neatly with
the geographic spread of IE languages. It was immediately concluded as evidence
for AIT or AMT. The Genographic Project conducted by the National Geographic
Society states that Haplogroup (HG) R1a-M17 (The genetic marker representing the
particular set of mutations) arose in the region of present-day Ukraine or southern
Russia. Geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells stated that The Aryans came
from outside India. We actually have genetic evidence for that. Very clear genetic
evidence from a marker that arose on the southern steppes of Russia and the Ukraine
around 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. And it subsequently spread to the east and south
through Central Asia reaching India. M17 shows that there was a massive genetic
influx into India from the steppes within the past 10,000 years. Taken with the
archaeological data, we can say that the old hypothesis of an invasion of people not
merely their language from the steppe appears to be true. But contrary to the
assertion made by Spencer Wells, archaeological data now offers no such support.
However subsequent studies using larger sample sets and better techniques suggest that the conclusion was too hasty. Kivisild (2003) suggests that southern and
western Asia might be the source of this Haplogroup. A Y-DNA Haplogroup (HG)
is a line of people with a common pre historic ancestor with the same set of mutations in their Y-DNA. A recent study by S. Sharma et al., published in the American
Journal of Human Genetics Abstracts 2007, argued for Indian origin of HG named
R1a1, represented by the marker M-17 by pointing out the highest incidence of R1a*
(ancestral clade to R1a1) among Kashmiri Pundits (Brahmins) and Saharias, a Central Indian tribe. Similarly R1*, one of the topmost level Haplogroup R1 based SNP
found anywhere in Eurasia now, is found in some pockets in India and Pakistan. The
highest levels of R1a and its subgroups (more than 50%) found anywhere across the
Eurasia include West Bengal Brahmins (72%), Uttar Pradesh Brahmins, (67%) and
in the central India among the Sahariai tribe in Madhya Pradesh (72%). Besides
Iyers, Iyengars and surprisingly many tribals of south India are found to have high
concentration of HG R1a1.
Sengupta et al. in their 2006 paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics
say that

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Our overall inference is that an early Holocene expansion (about 10000


YBP) in north-western India contributed R1a1-M17 both to the Central Asian and South Asian tribes. In other words, there is no evidence
whatsoever to conclude that Central Asia has been necessarily the recent
donor and not the receptor of the R1a lineages. The current absence
of additional informative binary subdivision within this HG obfuscates
potential different histories hidden within this HG, making such interpretations as the sole and recent source area overly simplistic. The same can
be said in respect to HG R2-M124. Our reappraisal indicates that preHolocene and Holocene era; not Indo-European expansions, have shaped
the distinctive South Asian Y-chromosome landscape.
Other studies have concluded that there is little evidence of large scale genetic
input into India from outside from early Holocene period or from 10000 YBP. Thus
the logical interpretation of the available genetic data may be that the origin of M17
was in western India-Eastern Iran; as we find the highest rates and greatest diversity
of the HG R1 and its sub groups in Pakistan, India, and eastern Iran, and low rates
in the Caucasus. M17 is not only more diverse in South Asia than in Central Asia,
but diversity characterizes its presence in isolated tribal groups in the south, thus
undermining any theory of M17 as a marker of a male Aryan invasion of India.
According to Sanghamitra Sahoo et al (2006 National Academy of sciences, USA)
Even though more than one explanation could exist for genetic differentiation between castes and tribes in India, the Indo-Aryan migration
scenario rested on the suggestion that all Indian caste groups are similar
to each other while being significantly different from the tribes. Using
a much more representative data set, numerically, geographically, and
definitively, it was not possible to confirm any of the purported differentiations between the caste and tribal pools. Although differences could
be found to occur within particular regions, between particular caste and
tribal groups, consistent and statistically significant variations at the sub
continental scale were not detected. Although it is arguable that assimilation of tribal populations into the caste system could skew distributions
in any particular region, it cannot explain the persistence and prevalence
of those lineages put forward as being typical of incoming Indo Europeans (J2, R1a, R2, and L) among many of those populations who are
still designated as tribal.
An increasing number of studies have found South Asia to have the highest level
of diversity of Y-STR haplotype variation within R1a1a. On this basis, while several

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES

147

studies have concluded that the data is at least consistent with South Asia as the
likely original point of dispersal (for example, Kivisild et al. (2003), Mirabal et al.
(2009) and Underhill et al. (2009) a few have actively argued for this scenario (for
example Sengupta et al. (2005), Sahoo et al. (2006), Sharma et al. (2009). A
survey study as of December 2009, including a collation of retested Y-DNA from
previous studies, makes a South Asian R1a1a origin the strongest proposal amongst
the various possibilities. Such studies suggest that there had been no major maternal
genetic input into India for the past 30,000 years and no major paternal genetic
inputs for the past 10,000 years at least, ruling out a major migration in the second
millennium BCE. 28
Haplogroup R1a1-M198 is a major clade of Y chromosomal haplogroups that is
distributed all across Eurasia. The map of this Haplogroup shows unusual spread
over a wide area in Eurasia. It is geographically enormously expansive with two
distinct core areas in the Balkans and North-West India and a smaller one roughly in
Tajikistan in south-east Central Asia. Surprisingly the vast area between Don River
and Central Asia, west and north of Tajikistan, has low rates of R1a1-M198. Many
efforts have been made to identify large SNP-based subgroups and migration patterns
of this haplogroup. The origin and spread of R1a1-M198 in Eurasia has, however,
remained opaque due to the lack of downstream SNPs within the haplogroup. Three
additional binary markers since discovered within R1a1-M198 present an effective
tool because now more than 98% of the samples analysed assign to one of the three
sub-haplogroups. These are designated as M458, Z280 and Z93. R1a1-M458 and
R1a1-Z280 were typical for the Hungarian population groups, whereas R1a1-Z93
was typical for Malaysian Indians (large enough samples from main land India are
still difficult to obtain) and the Hungarian Roma. Further sub clades like Z-94
and L-657 are also since identified. Marker M458 has a significant frequency in
Europe, exceeding 30% in its core area in Eastern Europe and comprising up to
70% of all M17 chromosomes present there. The diversity and frequency profiles
of M458 suggest its origin during the early Holocene and a subsequent expansion
likely related to a number of prehistoric cultural developments like agriculture in
the region. Its primary frequency and diversity distribution correlates well with
some of the major Central and East European river basins where settled farming
was established before its spread further eastward. Importantly, the virtual absence
of M458 chromosomes outside Europe speaks against substantial patrilineal gene
flow from East Europe to Asia, including to India, at least since the mid-Holocene.
(European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication 4 November 2009;
28

The method used for designating particular Haplogroups has undergone many changes over the
last decade. Generally additional characters indicate a sub group. Thus R1a1 is a sub group of
R1a. The star characters indicate that no further sub groups have been classified for that class of
mutations

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doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.194)
Central Asia is an overlap zone for the R1a1-Z280 and R1a1-Z93 lineages. This
pattern might arguably imply that an early differentiation zone of R1a1-M198 conceivably occurred somewhere within the Eurasian Steppes and Caucasus region as
they lie between South Asia and Eastern Europe. The detection of the Z93 paternal
genetic imprint in the Hungarian Roma gene pool is consistent with South Asian ancestry and amends the view that H1a-M82 is their only discernible paternal lineage
of Indian heritage.
Distribution of R1a1-M198 is surprisingly similar to that of the Indo-European
languages. This should normally have made it easy to connect these two, except
that many studies have found its age well over 10000 years into the Palaeolithic.
Further low caste South Indian groups, relatively untouched by Indo-Aryan culture,
also manifest high frequencies of R1a1. Thus it appears that R1a1-M198 or its sub
group R1a1a-Z93 is probably a pre-Indo-European genetic legacy of Ancestral North
Indian populations. One likely candidate here is the Harappans, but at this moment
it can only be speculative. We might have a better insight if the human remains
obtained from the Harappan sites are made available for genetic studies.
A recent study published in American Journal of Human Genetics Volume 89,
Issue 6, dated 9 December 2011, Pages 731744 authored by Mait Metspalu et al
makes a number further interesting points.
South Asia harbors one of the highest levels genetic diversity in
Eurasia, which could be interpreted as a result of its long-term large effective population size and of admixture during its complex demographic
history. Here we report data for more than 600,000 SNP markers genotyped in 142 samples from 30 ethnic groups in India. Combining our
results with other available genome-wide data, we show that Indian populations are characterized by two major ancestry components, one of which
is spread at comparable frequency and haplotype diversity in populations
of South and West Asia and the Caucasus. The second component is more
restricted to South Asia and accounts for more than 50% of the ancestry
in Indian populations. Haplotype diversity associated with these South
Asian ancestry components is significantly higher than that of the components dominating the West Eurasian ancestry palette. Modelling of the
observed haplotype diversities suggests that both Indian ancestry components are older than the purported Indo-Aryan invasion 3,500 YBP.
Consistent with the results of pairwise genetic distances among world
regions, Indians share more ancestry signals with West than with East
Eurasians. The South Asian genetic make-up is dominated by largely
autochthonous lineages testifying for low levels of admixture with other

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES


parts of Eurasia because the peopling of the subcontinent some 50,000 to
70,000 years ago. Notably, these genetic dates are earlier than the oldest
confirmed human fossil in the subcontinent, found in Sri Lanka and dated
to 31,000 years before present (YBP), but postdate the archaeological evidence below and above the layers of ash from the Mount Toba volcanic
super eruption associated with the Middle Palaeolithic tools that could
have been produced by anatomically modern humans
For example, it was first suggested by the German Orientalist Max
Mller that ca. 3,500 years ago a dramatic migration of Indo-European
speakers from Central Asia (the putative Indo Aryan migration) played
a key role in shaping contemporary South Asian populations and was
responsible for the introduction of the Indo-European language family and the caste system in India. A few studies on mt-DNA and Ychromosome variation have interpreted their results in favour of the hypothesis, whereas others have found no genetic evidence to support it.
However, any non-marginal migration from Central Asia to South Asia
should have also introduced readily apparent signals of East Asian ancestry into India. Because this ancestry component is absent from the
region, we have to conclude that if such a dispersal event nevertheless
took place, it occurred before the East Asian ancestry component reached
Central Asia. The demographic history of Central Asia is, however, complex, and although it has been shown that demic diffusion coupled with
influx of Turkic speakers during historical times has shaped the genetic
make-up of Uzbeks, it is not clear what was the extent of East Asian
ancestry in Central Asian populations prior to these events.
Our simulations show that one can detect differences in haplotype
diversity for a migration event that occurred 500 generations ago, but
chances to distinguish signals for older events will apparently decrease
with increasing age because of recombination. In terms of human population history, our oldest simulated migration event occurred roughly
12,500 years ago and pre-dates or coincides with the initial Neolithic expansion in the Near East. Knowing whether signals associated with the
initial peopling of Eurasia fall within our detection limits requires additional extensive simulations, but our current results indicate that the
often debated episode of South Asian prehistory, the putative Indo-Aryan
migration 3,500 years ago falls well within the limits of our haplotypebased approach. We found no regional diversity differences associated
with k5 at K = 8. Thus, regardless of where this component was from
(the Caucasus, Near East, Indus Valley, or Central Asia), its spread
to other regions must have occurred well before our detection limits at

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12,500 years. Accordingly, the introduction of k5 to South Asia cannot


be explained by recent gene flow, such as the hypothetical Indo-Aryan
migration. The admixture of the k5 and k6 components within India,
however, could have happened more recently. Our haplotype diversity
estimates are not informative about the timing of local admixture.
Did genetic variation in West Eurasia and South Asia accumulate
separately after the out-of-Africa migration; do the observed instances of
shared ancestry component and selection signals reflect secondary gene
flow between two regions, or do the populations living in these two regions
have a common population history, in which case it is likely that West
Eurasian diversity is derived from the more diverse South Asian gene
pool.
Summing up, our results confirm both ancestry and temporal complexity shaping the still on-going process of genetic structuring of South
Asian populations. This intricacy cannot be readily explained by the
putative recent influx of Indo-Aryans alone but suggests multiple gene
flows to the South Asian gene pool, both from the west and east, over a
much longer time span.
Thus the above paper makes the following points.
South Asia is home to two distinctive genetic types termed Ancestral South
Indian (ASI-k6) and Ancestral North Indian (ANI-k5). ASI appears to be completely
autochthonous as it is not found anywhere else in the world. But ANI is genetically
similar to ancestry components found in East Europe and Caucus. The age of ANI in
India is much greater than Max Mullers estimate of 3500 years for Aryan entry into
India. It could be 12500 years or older and it is likely that West Eurasian diversity
is derived from the more diverse South Asian gene pool. A further difficulty with
the theory that IE language entered India with a large migration of people in about
3500 YBP is that by this time India was a densely populated region with widespread
agriculture, so the number of migrants of West Eurasian ancestry would need to be
extraordinarily large to explain the fact that today about half the ancestry in India
derives from the ANI.
A recent paper in The American Journal of Human Genetics 93, 422438, September 5, 2013 by Priya Moorjani et al reports the following findings.
Our analysis documents major mixture between populations in India that occurred 1,900-4,200 years BP, well after the establishment of
agriculture in the subcontinent. We have further shown that groups with
unmixed ANI and ASI ancestry were plausibly living in India until this
time. This contrasts with the situation today in which all groups in

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES


mainland India are admixed. These results are striking in light of the
endogamy that has characterized many groups in India since the time
of mixture. For example, genetic analysis suggests that the Vysya from
Andhra Pradesh have experienced negligible gene flow from neighbouring
groups in India for an estimated 3,000 years. Thus, India experienced
a demographic transformation during this time, shifting from a region
where major mixture between groups was common and affected even isolated tribes such as the Palliyar and Bhil to a region in which mixture
was rare. Our estimated dates of mixture correlate to geography and
language, with northern groups that speak Indo- European languages
having significantly younger admixture dates than southern groups that
speak Dravidian languages. This shows that at least some of the history
of population mixture in India is related to the spread of languages in the
subcontinent. One possible explanation for the generally younger dates
(of the admixture event) in northern Indians is that after an original mixture event of ANI and ASI that contributed to all present day Indians,
some northern groups received additional gene flow from groups with
high proportions of West Eurasian ancestry, bringing down their average
mixture date. Although we have not been able to test this hypothesis, it
may become possible to do so in future by developing a method to infer
the ancestry at each locus in the genome of Indians that can provide accurate estimates even in the absence of data from ancestral populations.
It is also important to emphasize what our study has not shown.
Although we have documented evidence for mixture in India between
about 1,900 and 4,200 years BP, this does not imply migration from
West Eurasia into India during this time. On the contrary, a recent
study that searched for West Eurasian groups most closely related to the
ANI ancestors of Indians failed to find any evidence for shared ancestry
between the ANI and groups in West Eurasia within the past 12,500 years
(although it is possible that with further sampling and new methods
such relatedness might be detected). An alternative possibility that is
also consistent with our data is that the ANI and ASI were both living
in or near South Asia for a substantial period prior to their mixture.
Such a pattern has been documented elsewhere; for example, ancient
DNA studies of northern Europeans have shown that Neolithic farmers
originating in Western Asia migrated to Europe about 7,500 years BP
but did not mix with local hunter gatherers until thousands of years
later to form the present- day populations of northern Europe. The most
remarkable aspect of the ANI-ASI mixture is how pervasive it was, in
the sense that it has left its mark on nearly every group in India. It has

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affected not just traditionally upper-caste groups, but also traditionally


lower-caste and isolated tribal groups, all of whom are united in their
history of mixture in the past few thousand years. It may be possible
to gain further insight into the history that brought the ANI and ASI
together by studying DNA from ancient human remains (such studies
need to overcome the challenge of a tropical environment not conducive to
DNA preservation). Ancient DNA studies could be particularly revealing
about Indian history because they have the potential to directly reveal
the geographic distribution of the ANI and ASI prior to their admixture.
The conclusion that there was an admixture of ASI and ANI in India at some
period between 1900 and 4000 YBP appear to offer some support the putative IE
influx into South Asia in the second millennium BC though the studies are clear that
ANI was present in India long before that. Thus genetic evidence as of now appears
to rule out either AIT or AMT in the suggested time frame. Only possibility is
arrival of small batches of IE people without leaving significant mark on the genetic
makeup or culture of South Asia.
The above studies bring out a very interesting aspect of demographic history of
South Asia. It had two distinctive racial groups living here for thousands of years
without much contact between them. Then during the period 4100 YBP to 1900 YBP
for some unknown reason these two groups began to mix together. This admixture
affected almost everyone living in the subcontinent. Then just as mysteriously the
genetic admixture stopped and all groups began to practice strict endogamy. It
should be interesting to go into the social, cultural, political and historical reasons
for this. But it might need more research to confirm the above and it might be
premature to treat it as a given fact.
Y-DNA haplotype diversity in South Asia is much greater than Europe and
the Near East, thus pointing to an older age of the component. This could also
be on account of long-term higher effective population size. These studies use the
Evolutionary Effective Mutation Rate, which could have the effect of increasing the
age of the mutation. The use of this method has been criticized as, such use with
haplogroup populations which clearly show evidence of high population expansion,
could artificially increase the actual age of R-M17 considerably. Some of the recent
research into it has suggested lower age for it offering alternate interpretations for the
greater diversity in the core areas. Authors using the alternate germline mutation
rate arrive at more recent age estimates. Thus the greater genetic diversity in the
two core areas might have an alternate explanation other than its age; frequent
migrations from the east in the case of Balkans and large demographic size for the
last 10000 years and multiple genetic inputs over a long time span in the case of
South Asia. In this context, a brief quote from an article that appeared in Journal

4.9. GENETIC EVIDENCES

153

of Human Genetics is given below.


Journal of Human Genetics 59, 61-63 (February 2014) doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.122
South Asia is the home to more than a fifth of the worlds population, and
is thought, on genetic grounds, to have been the first main reservoir in
the dispersal of modern humans Out of Africa. Additionally, high level
of endogamy within and between various castes, along with the influence
of several evolutionary forces and long-term effective population size,
facilitate the formation of complex demographic history of the subcontinent. Therefore, the ancestry of peopling of the South Asia is a question
of fundamental importance in archaeogenetics, linguistics and historical
disciplines, and it is not surprising that the number and timing of migrations in and out of South Asia is still vigorously debated. Researches from
various disciplines focused on testing the hypothesis that several separate
migrations entered to the subcontinent with each migration being associated with different tool technology, linguistic and genetic characteristics.
The mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) data suggest deep autochthonous diversity with minor sharing with East and West Eurasians, whereas, in
contrast with this, the recent autosomal data showed substantial similarities of their genome with Caucasus and West Asians. However, at the
current resolution, it is unclear that this sharing is extremely ancient or
arisen with the arrival of new languages and farming.
But the probability of higher age of South Asian genetic stock is suggested by a
number of circumstances. Some of these are
There is high concentration of top level Haplogroup R1a based SNP individuals
in Pakistan and NW India. These markers are not as frequent in other parts
of Eurasia. Haplogroup R1a and its successor clade R1a1 have the highest
frequency and time depth in South Asia, making it a possible locus of origin,
and by extension, its higher age.
R1a based SNPs are found among even tribal populations which do not exhibit
Indo-Aryan influence suggesting that they acquired it in pre Indo-Aryan times.
Today almost 50% of South Asian population carry Ancestral North Indian
SNPs that include every population segments even in remote areas of the subcontinent. If this is on account of genetic input from Central Asia in around
3500 years BP, the number of immigrants must have been incredibly large.
This is because of the strict endogamy that has characterized most groups
in India since at least the beginning of Common Era gives not enough time

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for such extensive admixture as the time available would be less than 1000
years or about 40 generations allowing the newcomers time to start mixing
with the natives. Besides, the immigrants would have to match the very large
population size of South Asia at the time in order to have any demographic
impact. As mentioned in the Priya Moorjani et al 2013 paper quoted above,
there are groups in South Asia which have practised strict endogamy for the
past 3000 years who also show mixed ancestry. Thus it seems logical to assume
that R1a was present in South Asia at significant frequencies before 3500 YBP.
As mentioned above, almost 50% of South Asian population carry Ancestral
North Indian SNPs. But the upper castes constitute only 20% of the total
population. Thus, numerically the lower castes and tribals having ANI DNA
exceeds upper castes. This level of admixture is unlikely in a short time span.
A number of R1a based SNPs commonly found in Europe and Central Asia
are not found in South Asia. This again makes large genetic inputs from these
areas in second millennium BC unlikely.
We know that all humans beings are descended from a relatively small African
population because Africa contains almost all the genetic markers found in
other parts of the world, but the reverse is not true. It is a basic law of
population genetics that older a population group, more genetically diverse
it is. Africa is genetically the most diverse continent because it contains the
oldest humans. In contrast, Native Americans are the least diverse because
they are more recent comers to the region. Thus the unusually high genetic
diversity in South Asia should mean heigher age of the population groups.
Based on these, various peer reviewed papers that appeared in leading journals
support South Asia as the core of R1a basal diversity and that Y-DNA Haplogroup
R1a1 (M17) is of autochthonous Indian origin. Similarly many researchers like Oppenheimer considers it highly probable that nearly all human maternal lineages in
Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe descended from only four mtDNA lines
that originated in South Asia 50,000-100,000 years ago.
One unfortunate circumstance in respect of these studies is that the populations
of the Indian subcontinent have been under-represented relative to East and West
Eurasia in genome-wide data sets that have been compiled so far.
The importance of genetic studies for Kurgan Hypotheses is that if it could be
conclusively shown that Haplogroup R1a1-M198 originated about 5000 -7000 BP in
the steppes, it could offer major support to it. On the other hand if it is far older it
would be neutral so far as the model is concerned. The IE expansion could still be
explained in terms of trickle in and elite dominance, though such explanation might

4.10. THE SARASVATI RIVER

155

not be quite satisfactory. But then the riddle of IE expansion selectively in areas
with high incidence of Haplogroup R1a and its sub groups will remain. Thus if the
view that the age of R1a is indeed very high and that it is an SNP associated with
Porto Indo Europeans prevails, a serious relook at Palaeolithic Continuity Theory
or a suitable variant will become necessary.
These genetic studies at present are based on a large data sets collected during
the past decade from multiple sources, from different geographical areas and from
populations with complex demographic histories, a large part of which is still unclear. Any interpretation of such data is bound to be controversial, as alternate
interpretations also can be just as valid. Thus conclusion at the moment is that
genetic evidence has not so far resolved the issue, but there is strong possibility that
Haplogroup R1a was present in South Asia before second millennium BC.

4.10

The Sarasvati River

There are many references to the Sarasvati River in Vedas. Its importance to Vedic
culture is clear from the fact that it is mentioned 72 times in the Rig-Veda, appearing
in all mandalas except in mandala four. It is mentioned as the chief river among
the Sapta Sindhu, the seven major rivers of the early Rig-Vedic period. These
are Saraswati, Satadru or Shutudri (Sutlej), Vipasa (Beas), Parosni (Ravi), Asikni
(Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum) and Sindhu (Indus), that is, the five rivers of Punjab
with Sarasvati in the east and Sindhu on the west. There are some differing views
on the identification of these rivers. The term also often refers the geographical area
between these rivers where the early Vedic culture flourished. It is the only river
with hymns entirely dedicated to it, RV 6.61, 7.95 and 7.96.The Rig-Veda describes
the Sarasvati as the best of all the rivers (RV 2.41.16-18; also 6.61.8-13; 7.95.2).
Rig-Veda 7.36.6 calls it the Seventh, Mother of Floods. RV 2.41.16 calls it the
best mother, best river and best goddess and states that all life spans abide on the
Sarasvati. Other hymns that praise the Sarasvati River include RV 6.61; 7.96 and
10.17. Rig-Veda 7.95.2 and other verses (e.g. 8.21.18) also tell that the Sarasvati
poured milk and ghee. Such expressions show the importance and reverence of the
Vedic religion for the Sarasvati River. Some Rig Vedic verses (6.61.2-13) indicate
that the Sarasvati River originated in the hills or mountains, where she burst with
her strong waves the ridges of the hills. It is described as a river swollen by the rivers
(RV 6.52.6). Incidentally, Mandala 6 and 7, along with Mandala 3 are considered
the oldest part of Rigveda.
Another reference to the Sarasvati is in the geographical enumeration of rivers in
the late Nadistuti sukta (10.75.5). This verse enumerates all important rivers from
the Ganges in the east up to the Indus in the west in a strict geographical order as

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Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Shutudri. Sarasvati is placed between the Yamuna and
the Sutlej just as the paleo canal of an ancient river seen now between these two
rivers. This sukta is of particular significance as there is nothing ambiguous about
it and it leaves little room to suspect that it is merely a poetic expression without
any factual content.
Many references in Vedas to Sarasvati are often ambiguous and it is not always
clear if the reference is to the river, particularly in the last two Mandalas. Often
it is to Goddess Sarasvati. In Mandalas 1 and 10 of the Rig-Veda, the last two to
be composed, the Sarasvati is mentioned in 13 hymns (1.3, 13, 89, 164; 10.17, 30,
64, 65, 66, 75, 110, 131, 141). Only two of these references are unambiguously to
the river, 10.64.9 calling for the aid of three great rivers, Sindhu, Sarasvati and
Sarayu, and the geographical Nadistuti list (10.75.5) discussed above. The others
invoke Sarasvati as a goddess and connection to a specific river is not unambiguous,
arguably indicating that the river was drying up by the time these last Mandalas were
composed. Nadistuti is dedicated to the Sindhu River and Sarasvati is mentioned
just as one of the rivers indicating that by then it had lost its pre-eminence it had
earlier, but continued to be an important river. Thus it seems clear that Sarasvati
River was of central importance to the Vedic people till it began to dry up towards
the end of Vedic period.
The first reference to drying up of the Sarasvati is from the Brahmanas, texts that
were composed in Vedic Sanskrit, but dating to a later period than the Veda Samhitas. The Jaiminiya Brahmana (2.297) speaks of the diving under of the Sarasvati,
and the Tandya Brahmana calls this the disappearance. The same text (25.10.1116) records that the Sarasvati is so to say meandering as it could not sustain heaven
which it had earlier propped up. In the Satapadha Brahmana (1.4.1.10) there is
a description of the god Agni burning out rivers, which may be a reference to the
drying up of rivers. The Mahabharata says that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert
(at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana) and the river dried up in order that the
Nishadas and Abhiras might not see her. The Mahabharata also states that Vasishta committed suicide by throwing himself into the Sarasvati and that the river
then broke up into 100 channels. In Salya parva there is a description of Balarama
making a pilgrimage to the river. It is said the river changed its course first to the
east and then to the west and there were seven Sarasvati Rivers. In another part of
the same Parva it is said, because of the curse of a sage, flesh and blood flowed in
the river, instead of water for some years. All these could be references to a river
system in gradual decline. Mahabharata also mentions that River Sarasvati flowed
north of Kurushetra. The lake in which Duryodhana hid to escape from Pandavas
at the end of the war was said to have formed with water from Sarasvati. According
to many scholars the original text of Bharata may have been composed just before
the time of Panini, but the incident based on which it was composed might have

4.10. THE SARASVATI RIVER

157

occurred around tenth century BCE or even earlier.


It is now generally accepted that mandalas 2 to 7, all family books, are the
oldest part of Rig-Veda and mandalas 1 and 10 the latest. These are known as
Family Books as most of the hymns in these Mandalas have members of the same
family as Rishies or poets. The Brahmanas came later and the epics much later.
If this is true, the reference to Sarasvati River in Vedic Literature noted above,
fully agrees with the putative relative chronology of composition of Hindu religious
texts: the order of the Vedas first, followed by Brahmanas and then the epics agrees
with order of the references to the great river weakening into a ordinary river by
the time of the composition of mandalas 10 and 1 and beginning to dry up at the
time of the battle of Kuru tribe and its drying up by the time of the composition of
Sathapadha Brahmana and becoming an old myth by the time of the composition
of Mahabharatha. This consistency should be considered strong evidence against
the suggestion that most or all references to the river in Vedic Literature are to an
imaginary spiritual entity. Such an argument could have been considered seriously
if there had been references in early Vedas to a week drying up Sarasvati and to a
great river in Satapadha Brahmana.
Apart from the references noted above various texts of Vedic Literature, the epics,
puranas etc have many descriptions of the Sarasvati River. The name itself suggests
that it had many lakes in its course. At least two major tribes including Purus and
many minor tribes lived on the banks of the river. While RV 6.61.12 associates the
Sarasvati River with the five tribes; and RV 7.95-6 associates it with the Paravatas
and the Purus; in RV 8.21.18, a number of petty kings are said to dwell along the
course of Sarasvati. Besides, many Vedic sages had their abodes on its bank. The
association of Sarasvati with letters and knowledge might be on account of the many
abodes (Asrams) of Rshies and sages on its banks. There are numerous references
in ancient texts that point to the role played by the banks of Sarasvati as the centre
of learning and enlightenment in Vedic India. Large parts of the banks of the river
were covered in thick jungle. It is difficult to accept that all these references are to
a mythical or imaginary river as some scholars have asserted.
A hotly debated geo-archaeological issue is whether River Sarasvati, most respected river of the Vedic culture, ever existed as a physical entity or it was just a
mythical concept. The debate covers different domains and issues; (1) whether the
river existed at all, (2) if existed during which period, (3) which were its tributaries,
(4) where was it flowing, (5) was it draining into the sea/gulf or was it a tributary
of some other major river, (6) if it was draining into the sea/gulf where and near
which geographic location, (7) when and why did it disappear?
At present there is a small seasonal river called Ghaggar that originates in the
Shivalik Hills of Himachal Pradesh. It then flows west through Punjab and Haryana.
There is another still smaller one called Sarsuti (Note the similarity of the name to

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Sarasvati) flowing south of Ghaggar passing through Kurukhetra. It now originates


in a submontane region of Ambala district and joins the Ghaggar near Shatrana
in Punjab. From Shatrana the paleo canal widens considerably. Near Sadulgarh
(Hanumangarh) the Naiwal channel, a dried out channel of the Sutlej, joins the
Ghaggar. Near Suratgarh further west the Ghaggar is joined by the dried up Drishadvati (Chautang) river. The river is called Ghagger in the area prior to the Ottu
barrage in South-Western Haryana. The bed after Ottu barrage is called Hakra or
Nara in Cholistan in Pakistan Punjab and Sind. Hakra is mostly a dried out canal.
It may also have been locally called Hakra in Kutch.
Satellite pictures and remote sensing data show the dry bed of a large river system
from the foot hills of Himalayas going south west through Punjab and Haryana. The
course is mostly the same as Ghaggar-Hakra system. It then crosses the border into
Cholistan in Pakistan. The system then appears to have flowed south parallel to
Indus River which flowed about 500 kilometers to the west. The dry bed is discernible
up to the Rann of Kutch. Satellite pictures show several palaeo-channels of rivers
in the region of Rajasthan, Haryana Uttar Pradesh and adjacent areas indicating
that the system might have shifted course more than once in pre-historic times and
appear to have to have migrated from east to west. It is 4 to often 10 kilometre wide
in most places which is more than the present width of Indus River. There is also a
300 to 500 KM wide band rich in fossil remains, on either side of the dry bed, which
points presence of adequate moisture in the soil at some time in the past to support
the life forms. The soil in the bed is mostly clay and it becomes very hard in the dry
season and slippery in rainy season. Fresh potable water is available all through the
year in the wells dug at many places in the bed. Radio isotope tests conducted by
BARC scientists on the water indicate that it may be 11000 to 5000 years old. On
either side on the banks the soil is mostly sandy and water is salty where available.
According to some archaeologists, over 2000 Harappan sites (which include more
than half the mature sites identified so far) have been discovered along the dried
up beds of the paleo canal and Ghaggar-Hakra River out of the more than 3500
sites identified so far. Discovery of these large settlements points to availability of
enough water not only for sustenance, but also for agriculture and transportation as
these Harappan settlements appear to have been centres of manufacture of various
artefacts and trade in these goods and easy transportation was essential for the
survival of Harappan towns. Local people who live in the arid, mostly desertified
areas still narrate myths about a very prosperous and wet past. Another interesting
detail is that many place names in the area, which is mostly desertified, end with
Sar local version of the Sanskrit term Saras or lake. The word Sarasvati means
rich in pools or lakes
Experts from different disciplines have studied the paleo canal and GhaggarHakra system. These are based on modern surveys, archaeology, geological stud-

4.10. THE SARASVATI RIVER

159

ies, satellite photography, remote sensing and such other modern investigative techniques. Conclusions of some of them are given below.
The chronology of the drying up of the system and its cause suggested by Gregory Possehl (who was a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of
Pennsylvania and was involved in excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization in
India and Pakistan since 1964 and is an author of many books and articles on the
Indus Civilization and related topics) is as follows.
Before 3000 BCE both Yamuna and Sutlej were flowing into Ghagger and it
was a large river system fed by melting Himalayan glaciers and well as monsoon.
Sometime before 2700 BCE just as the mature phase of IVC was beginning, Yamuna
changed course and joined Ganga to the east and Sutlej started to move west in
stages (Possibly because of earthquakes/tectonic shifts/accumulation of silt) . This
led to reduced water flow in the upper portion of Ghagger in Haryana and East Punjab. Sutlej gradually moved west and met Hakra in present day Cholistan lower and
lower south. Sometime around 2000 BCE Sutlej finally completely moved over to Indus. This resulted in Southern Haryana, Rajasthan, Cholistan and Kutch/Sourastra
becoming very arid or deserts.
A recent paper published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences (PNAS) of the USA, compiled from data collected by an international
team of geologists, archaeologists and botanists led by Liviu Giosan, geologist with
the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, came to a somewhat different conclusion.
The paper states that for the past 10,000 years, the Ghaggar-Hakra was a monsoonfed river system and had no connection with any river originating in the Himalayas,
including the Yamuna and the Sutlej.
Our study suggests that the decline in monsoon rains led to weakened
river dynamics, and played a key role both in development and the fall of
Harappan culture, he said. The research, which was conducted between
2003 and 2008, also claimed that the mythical Saraswati River was
actually not fed by glaciers in the Himalayas as believed. Rather, it was
a perennial monsoon-supported watercourse and aridification reduced it
to short seasonal flows.
Scientists from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated that an abrupt
weakening of the summer monsoon affected northwest India 4,100 years ago. The
research involved the collection of snail shells preserved in the sediments of an ancient
lake bed. From 4,500 BCE to 3,800 BCEs, a deep fresh-water lake existed at Kotla
Dahar. The deep lake became a shallow one after 3,800 BCE, indicating a weakening
of the monsoon. Further, a drastic monsoon weakening occurred at about 2,100 BCE
that lasted for 200 years and the lake became more or less dry during this time. By
analyzing the oxygen isotopes in the shells, the scientists were able to tell how much

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rain fell in the lake where the snails lived thousands of years ago. The new data show
a decreased summer monsoon rainfall, at the same time that archaeological records
and radiocarbon dates suggest the beginning of the Indus de-urbanization.
Many experts now hold the view that the area became arid by 2000 BCE. These
include Enzel et al.1999, Staubwasser et al.2003, Wunneman et al.2010, Srivastava
2011, Meadow & Patel 2011, Clift et al.2012. Their findings briefly is that around
2200 BC Ghaggar-Hakra river started to reduce its flow due to monsoons reduction
and by 1900 BC due to a 300 years of gradual monsoons weakening resulting in poor
crop production, Harappan people were forced to start migration from GhaggarHakra banks towards better watered regions. Later, the river continued to flow as a
little brook in Iron Age, ceasing to flow completely in post Iron Age, and covered by
desert sands before 600 CE. There are strong evidences now to believe that there was
a worldwide period of draught from 2200 to 1900 BCE. It appears to have affected
Egypt, Mesopotamia (Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur), Central Asia, China, The
Americas and South Asia. Many civilizations disappeared in these areas during this
period.
Most scholars hold the view that the ancient river flowed to the north of the state
of Gujarat in western India (viz. Oldham, 1886; Wilhelmy, 1968; Sridhar et al., 1999;
Malik et al., 1999), draining into Arabian Sea/Rann of Kuch. Whereas a few others
placed the river in the eastern part of Kuch and Saurashtra, emptying itself into the
Gulf of Kuch/Little Rann at Prabhas Patan near Mehsana (Iyengar and Radhakrishna, 2005). There is the view that the river flowed through central Saurashtra and
entered Arabian Sea near Prabhas Patan, Somnath-Veraval (Thakker, 2002).
Thus though the experts differ on specific aspects, consensus seem to have emerged
that it was a full flowing large river till about 3000 BCE and started drying up by
about 2000 BCE. Many scholars believed in the initial stages (till it became clear
that the system had dried up by about 2000 BCE) that the paleo-channel was the
old course of Vedic Saraswati. They include Christian Lassen, Max Muller, Marc
Aurel Stein, C.F. Oldham, R D Oldham and Jane Macintosh among others. Many
recent papers/publications (J.M.Kenoyer-1998) also hold this opinion. On the face
of it, this identification of the Saraswati with the Ghaggar is logical. Rg Vedic descriptions of the river place it between the Yamuna and Sutlej and talk of its course
extending from the hills to the sea. In later Puranic literature, the river is often
described as vanishing. This provides a surprisingly good match with the modern
scientific evidence. It seems clear that at the time the hymn was composed a large
river known as Sarasvati was flowing between Yamuna and Sutlej. Hard evidence
has established that a large river system existed between these two rivers in the
beginning of forth millennium BCE. The straightforward conclusion then is that the
river system was the Vedic Sarasvati and it was a full flowing river till about 3000
BCE and it dried up by 2000 BCE.

4.10. THE SARASVATI RIVER

161

But the identification of Ghaggar or the paleo-canal with Sarasvati came into
direct conflict with the putative chronology of IE expansion into South Asia once
hard data pointed to its drying up around 2000 BCE. If the composers of RV had
seen Sarasvati in full flow and as the chief among Sapta sindhu, then RV will have to
be dated before 3000 BCE. The chronology of IE expansion in its present formulation
cannot have its entry into South Asia and Vedic civilization much before 1500 BCE.
This has led to various explanations from scholars who are strong votaries of
prevailing IE chronology. These include the suggestion that references to Sarasvati
in the older parts of RV is to Helmand River of southern Afghanistan mainly as
its old name in Avestan cognates with Sarasvati. But Helmand is a small, mostly
seasonal river that hardly fits the Rg-Vedic description of Sarasvati. The argument
is that as the Vedic people migrated from Afghanistan to Punjab they began calling
the river they encountered by a name familiar to them. The well-known Rg Vedic
scholar Michael Witzel and R.Kochhar (1999) hold this view. Kochhar has in fact
listed a number of arguments in support of this view. He has gone to the extent
of arguing that the other rivers mentioned in conjunction with Sarasvati in Vedas
might also be in Afghanistan. It is difficult to believe that the Vedic people, out
of love for a river in a distant land where they lived for some time in the course of
migration into South Asia, would go to the extent of using the familiar name for a
dried up river near their new home and describe it as a very large river, when there
were many other rivers in Punjab in full flow. Also this argument hardly explains
the very systematic description in Nadistuti Sukta which places Sarasvati between
Yamuna and Sutlej and talks of it as a large river. In fact the description in the
sukta of the seven rivers, in an area almost 1000 km wide, is amazingly accurate
geographically considering the limitations of the times.
Steve Farmer, a comparative historian says,
I find all attempts to identify the Sarasvati with a single historical river
quite off base. The Rg Veda is a heavily stratified document, as weve
known since the 19th century, meaning it is a compilation from different
times and to some extent different geographical regions as well. To speak
of the Sarasvati to me seems quite naive philologically, since there are
many different kinds of references to the river in different layers of the
text. Some may be based on one historical river or other. Others are
clearly mythological references. Writers who try to identify the Sarasvati
to my mind demonstrate above all that they are at best amateur philologists and dont know much about how ancient texts were put together.
Similarly, Infran Habib, the noted historian has concluded that all references in RV
to the river are to a mythological or mystical concept and not to an actual, physical
river.

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But to an uncommitted observer all these seem to be laboured attempts to get


around the obvious, simple, straightforward conclusion and appear to be a fit case
where Ockhams razor, an expression frequently used by Michael Witzel, could be
applied. 29 Consider the follwing
The many references in Rgveda make it clear that there was a large river system
in the area, other than the Indus, where these hymns were composed. Many
vedic tribes lived on the banks of this river, including the most important vedic
tribe; The Purus. It was very important for these tribes as it nourished the
Aryas.
The land of Purus was the area around Kurukshetra, on the banks of Ghagger
River. Composers of the hymns were subjects or dependents of Puru or more
correctly; Bharata kings.
The vedas were composed by people living in the area.
We now know that there was a large river system flowing from the Himalayas,
through present day Pujab, Haryana, Sind, Rajastan and draining into the sea
along the Gujarat coast. It was a large river system before 3000 BCE.
Thus the straightforward conclusion should be that the ancient palio canal visible
in the area could be that of the Vedic Sarasvati. The only objection to such a
conclusion is that it will be in conflict with the chronology of the popular model.
These surely calls for a hard re-look at this chronology.
However marrying hard data from physical sciences and evidence from a text
like Rgveda must be considered an uncertain procedure as data from two different domains may not be isomorphic. Thus it is best to await further evidences in
the matter before coming to a definite conclusion. But as of now the evidence of
Sarasvati poses major questions to the putative chronology of IE expansion into
South Asia. Till such adverse data is satisfactorily explained, the hypothesis that
Ghaggar-Hakra is the paleo canal of the Vedic Sarasvati will have to be considered
the more logical one. But such a conclusion will destabilize the foundations of Aryan
Invasion/Migration/Trickling in Theories as they are formulated now.
29

Occams or Ockhams razor is a principle attributed to the 14th century logician and Franciscan
friar William of Ockham. Ockham was the village in the English county of Surrey where he was
born. Briefly it holds that if you have two theories that both explain the observed facts, then
you should accept the simplest until more evidence comes along. The simplest explanation for a
phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations. The explanation
requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct and the burden of proof falls on the
later. The razor is to be applied to cut off the complicated theories. In the present case a number
of subjective assumptions are required to argue that Vedic Sarasvati was never an actual river.

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

4.11

163

Astronomical Evidence

Apart from the evidence of Sarasvati River, evidences available from the many references in Vedic Literature to positions of astronomical bodies like stars, also point
to a very high chronology of these texts. I will attemt a brief discussion of these
references and their interpretations below.
The phenomenon of the axial precession is a slow and continuous change in the
orientation of an astronomical bodys rotational axis. In particular, it refers to the
gradual shift in the orientation of Earths axis of rotation, which like a wobbling top,
traces out a pair of cones joined at their centre. Earths precession was historically
called precession of the equinoxes because the equinoxes appear to move along the
ecliptic relative to the fixed stars, opposite to the apparent motion of the Sun along
the ecliptic. The precession of the Earths axis has a number of observable effects.
First, the positions of the south and north celestial poles appear to move in circles
against the space-fixed backdrop of stars. Secondly, the position of stars, asterisms
and constellations close to the sun on the days of solstices, equinoxes or any other
time defined relative to the seasons slowly appear to changes over the years. Asterisms or stars that are seen as close to the sun gradually move away and the next star
is seen close to the sun at the defined time of the year after a few centuries. The
ring of asterisms close to the ecliptic around earth called sidereal zodiac appear to
slowly rotate in the opposite direction to suns movement. Thus, the tropical year,
measuring the cycle of seasons (for example, the time from one winter solstice to next
solstice, or one spring equinox to the next), is about 20 minutes shorter than the
sidereal year, which is measured by the Suns apparent position relative to the stars.
This cycle is completed once every 25,772 years, or the equinoxes precesses one cycle
in those many years or one degree in 71 years. This apparent movement of the stars
relative to the sun is a very useful tool in determining the dates of ancient events if
we have reliable records of astronomical observations. Apart from precession of the
equinoxes,30 such determination can also be done on the basis of records of positions
of planets and moon and astronomical events like eclipses.
Since the 1780s, Western researchers (Playfair, Bailly and Jacobi among others)
have reported data in both Hindu astronomical tables and stray astronomical references in religious and epic texts, which indicate a surprisingly high chronology for
Vedic civilization. In a paper of John Playfair (1748-1819) (FRS and Professor of
Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh), which is a detailed review published in
1790 of the book Traite de astronomie Indienne et Orientale, by J. S. Bailly (Paris
1787), the famous French historian of astronomy, states that the oldest astronomical
30

Equinoxes are the two points in the elliptical path of the earth when the axial tilt of the earth
neither point away nor towards the sun and the night and day have approximately equal length.
The equinoxes are the only times when the Sun is exactly overhead on the Equator.

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observation recorded in the tables still in use among Hindu astrologers (of which
three copies had reached Europe between 1687 and 1787) had to be 4300 BC. The
copies, obtained from Thailand, Karnataka and Tamilnadu by different people from
different sources during a period of hundred years had remarkably similar data of
star/planetary positions/corrections and of solar eclipses. The origin of these tables
is uncertain, but clearly the actual observations based on which these data has been
compiled are very ancient. Playfairs main conclusions are the following:
The observations on which the astronomy of India is founded, were made more
than three thousand years before the Christian era; and in particular, the
places of the sun and the moon, at the beginning of the Kali-yoga (i.e., 17/18
February 3102 B.C.), were determined by actual observation.
Though the astronomy which is now in the hands of the Brahmins is so ancient
in its origin, yet it contains many rules and tables that are of later construction.
The basis of the four systems of astronomical tables of Hindus which we have
examined is evidently the same.
The construction of these tables implies a great knowledge of geometry, arithmetic, and even of the theoretical part of astronomy.
Playfair argues that communication (of astronomical knowledge) is more likely
to have gone from India to Greece, than in the opposite direction.

4.11.1

Bal Gangadhar Tilaks Hypothesis

Bal Gangadhar Tilak in his scholarly book titled The Orion points to many references and obscure allusions in Rgveda as well as some later texts of Vedic Literature
that points to the possibility that the sun was close to the Orion or asterism Mrigashira was close to the sun on vernal equinox during the time Rgveda was being
composed. Asterism Mrigashira was close to the sun on vernal equinox in around
4000 BCE. He has analysed RV 10.61.5-9 and RV 10.86 in great detail to establish
his hypothesis. I will attempt a short review of his arguments in respect of RV 5.40
and RV 10.86 below.
Astronomical references appear in the earliest parts of Rig Veda, in other Vedas
and other later Vedic Literature texts. One such is RV 5.40.5-9, which appear to
record a solar eclipse.
The translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith of verses 5 to 9 of the hymn is reproduced
below for clarity.
(RV 5.40.5-9 Rshi Atri Devata Indra Agni)

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

165

5 O Surya, when the Asuras descendant Svarbhanu, pierced thee through


and through with darkness, All creatures looked like one who is bewildered, who knoweth not the place where he is standing.
6 What time thou smotest down Svarbhanus magic that spread itself
beneath the sky, O Indra, By his fourth sacred prayer Atri discovered
Surya concealed in gloom that stayed his function.
7 Let not the oppressor with this dread, through anger swallow me up,
for I am thine, O Atri. Mitra art thou, the sender of true blessings:
thou and King Varua be both my helpers.
8 The Brahman Atri, as he set the press-stones, serving the Gods with
praise and adoration, Established in the heaven the eye of Surya, and
caused Svarbhanus magic arts to vanish.
9 The Atris found the Sun again, him whom Svarbhanu of the brood
Another translation of verse 5 above that I have come across runs like thisO
Sun! when you were blocked by one whom you gifted your own light, the earth gets
scared by the sudden darkness. This interpretation seems to be far more logical
and well in tune with the context, but will imply that the composers of these hymns
were well aware of the reason for the sudden darkness or actual cause of eclipses.
The expression Svarbhanu, etymologically means a powerful phenomenon which
takes away the splendour of the heavens. Thus the term could just mean a Solar
Eclipse and may have nothing to do with any evil Asura. Turiyena brahmana in
verse 6 is rendered as forth sacred prayer by Griffith, which make little sense. In
fact it is true of many other ancient/medieval interpretations of the term, verse and
hymn. Bal Gangadhar Tilak feels it could be a crude instrument or even knowledge
of astronomy. The word Brahma is often used to denote a mantra, but it may
also mean knowledge or the tool or means of the acquiring such knowledge. Thus
the phrase could mean by the action of turiya or, in other words, by means of
turiya and thus give to the whole hymn a simple and natural appearance, rather
than endeavour to interpret it after the manner of the Red Indians, who believed
that Columbus averted the calamity of the eclipse by prayers. Tilaks interpretation
sounds far more logical. Turiya is mentioned in Sidhanta Shiromani xi. 15 as a name
for quadrant; an instrument of observation .
From the description it is clear that it was a annular or hybrid eclipse or a near
total eclipse, since it says that darkness spread beneath the sky. A number of
Brahmanas says the eclipse occurred three days before the autumnal equinox and it
took place in the afternoon. Assuming that Sage Atri observed it from a place close
to Kurukshetra meridian, P. C. Sengupta found only one date with the occurrence
of such a solar eclipse, that satisfies all these conditions, which he has calculated as

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26 July 3928 BC. However such a conclusion might not be acceptable to many as the
meridian of the place of observation could have been far to the north. Also the date
and time assumed is too speculative. Yet the date is consistent with those based on
other astronomical references mentioned below.
Tilaks Hypothesis on Orions Position During Vedic Times
Orion is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the
night sky. Its visibility is better in the winter. It was named after Orion, a hunter
in Greek mythology. Orions Belt or The Belt of Orion is an asterism within the
constellation. It consists of the three bright stars Zeta (Alnitak), Epsilon (Alnilam),
and Delta (Mintaka) and many others. Alnitak is around 800 light years away from
earth and is 100,000 times more luminous than the Sun; much of its radiation is in
the ultraviolet range, which the human eye cannot see.The formation resembles that
of a hunter.
In artistic renderings, the surrounding constellations are sometimes related to
Orion: he is depicted standing next to the river Eridanus with his two hunting dogs
Canis Major and Canis Minor, fighting Taurus. He is sometimes depicted hunting
Lepus the hare. He also sometimes is depicted to have a lions hide in his hand. Orion
is bordered by Taurus to the north-west, Eridanus to the south-West, Lepus to the
south, Monoceros to the east, and Gemini to the north-East. Another constellation,
Canis Major also is close to it.
An interesting fact about The Orion or The Hunter or The antelopes head
is that many Indo-European language speaking societies like Parsies, Germans apart
from Vedic Aryans and The Greeks had closely similar myths about it.
Mrigasira or Makeera in Malayalam is the name of an important Nakshatra in
Indian astronomy/astrology. It is in Orion constellation and is usually identified as
Lamda Orioni. Its position is described in the Surya Siddhanta. The term Mrgasira
a composite of two Sanskrit words, mrga meaning animal/beast and sira meaning
head or precisely, the top of the head. Taking the three stars in the belt of Orion
as the top of the head, the figure of Mrigas head can be perceived or imagined in
the sky. In Indian myths, mrigasira is the head of Prajapati, a wish born son of
Brahma. According to Satapadha Brahmana 2.2.2.8-9, Aitareya Brahmana 3.33 as
well as many other Itihasa-Purana texts, Prajapati (Orion) commits incest with his
daughter, Rohini (Aldebaran), both taking the form of antelopes. Angered by the
incest, Rudra (Sirius) cuts off the head of Prajapati with an arrow. The story goes
that the head became the asterism mrgasira. One can perceive, with some inventive
imagination, the antelope head with the arrow pierced through the top of its head
in the Orion constellation.

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE


Reproduced below is the translation of RV 10.86 by Ralph T.H. Griffith.
RV 10.86 Rshi Indra Putra Vrshakapi, Indrani and Indra; Devata Indra.
1. MEN have abstained from pouring juice they count not Indra as a
God. Where at the votarys store my friend Vrsakapi hath drunk his
fill. Supreme is Indra over all.
2 Thou, Indra, heedless passest by the ill Vrsakapi hath wrought; Yet
nowhere else thou findest place wherein to drink the Soma juice.
Supreme is Indra over all.
3 What hath he done to injure thee, this tawny beast Vrsakapi, With
whom thou art so angry now? What is the votarys foodful store?
Supreme is Indra over all.
4 Soon may the hound who hunts the boar seize him and bite him in
the car, O Indra, that Vrsakapi whom thou protectest as a friend,
Supreme is Indra over all.
5 Kapi hath marred the beauteous things, all deftly wrought, that were
my joy. In pieces will I rend his head; the sinners portion shall be
woo. Supreme is Indra over all.
6 No Dame hath ampler charms than 1, or greater wealth of loves delights. None with more ardour offers all her beauty to her lords
embrace. Supreme is Indra over all.
7 Mother whose love is quickly wibn, I say what verily will be. My,breast,
O Mother, and my head and both my hips seem quivering. Supreme
is Indra over all.
8 Dame with the lovely hands and arms, with broad hair-plaits add ample
hips, Why, O thou Heros wife, art thou angry with our Vrsakapi?
Supreme is Indra over all.
9 This noxious creature looks on me as one bereft of heros love, Yet
Heroes for my sons have I, the Maruts Friend and Indras Queen.
Supreme is Indra over all.
10 From olden time the matron goes to feast and general sacrifice. Mother
of Heroes, Indras Queen, the rites ordainer is extolled. Supreme is
Indra over all.
11 So have I heard Indrani called most fortunate among these Dames,
For never shall her Consort die in future time through length of days.
Supreme is Indra overall.

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12 Never, Indralni, have I joyed without my friend Vrsakapi, Whose


welcome offering here, made pure with water, goeth to the Gods.
Supreme is Indra over all.
13 Wealthy Vrsakapi, blest with sons and consorts of thy sons, Indra will
eat thy bulls, thy dear oblation that effecteth much. Supreme is Indra
over all.
14 Fifteen in number, then, for me a score of bullocks they prepare, And
I devour the fat thereof: they fill my belly full with food. Supreme is
Indra over all.
15 Like as a bull with pointed horn, loud bellowing amid the herds, Sweet
to thine heart, O Indra, is the brew which she who tends thee pours.
Supreme is Indra over all.
18 O Indra this Vrsakapi hath found a slain wild animal, Dresser, and
new-made pan, and knife, and wagon with a load of wood. Supreme
is Indra over all.
19 Distinguishing the Dasa and the Arya, viewing all, I go. I look upon
the wise, and drink the simple votarys Soma juice. Supreme is Indra
over all.
20 The desert plains and steep descents, how many leagues in length
they spread! Go to the nearest houses, go unto thine home, Vrsakapi.
Supreme is Indra over all.
21 Turn thee again Vrsakapi: we twain will bring thee happiness. Thou
goest homeward on thy way along this path which leads to sleep.
Supreme is Indra over all.
22 When, Indra and Vrsakapi, ye travelled upward to your home, Where
was that noisome beast, to whom went it, the beast that troubles
man? Supreme is Indra over all.
23 Daughter of Manu, Parsu bare a score of children at a birth. Her
portion verily was bliss although her burthen caused her grief.
All verses end with Visvasmadindra Uthara rendered as Supreme is Indra over
all by Griffith, except the last. As can be seen, it reads like a series of disconnected,
mutually inconsistent bits of some obscure myths. Most ancient/medieval interpretations are also just as opaque. Some scholars have expressed the opinion that it
may be narrating some ancient legend or even a record of history. It is believed that
it can be understood as a dialogue between the three rishies of the hymn; namely

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

169

Indra Putra (son of Indra) Vrshakapi, Indrani, the wife of Indra and Indra himself;
the last two verses being the concluding remarks by the composer.
In the first verse, Indra seems to say that due to his friend Vrshakapis action,
people have stopped offering sacrifices. In verse 3 Indrani, the wife of Indra, says
that Vrishakapi has the form of a yellow antelope. In verse 5 Indrani is about to
cut off Vrshakapis head, because he offended her, and in the preceding verse (4)
a dog is said to be let loose upon him to bite off his ear. Svanasya jamdishadapi
karne. Indrani cuts off the head of Vrshakapi as he had stopped sacrifices and thus
denied Indrani her share of the sacrificial offerings as the wife of Indra. Verse 21 and
22 might be saying that when Vrishkapi appears again, sacrifices would commence
again. It is difficult to make any consistent sense of the remaining verses. Tilak has
given his interpretation of these verses in detail.
None of the ancient/medieval/modern interpretors have any clue as to who or
what this Vrshakapi is or the logic, context or etymology of the various unexplained
expressions, words and allusions in the hymn. Yaska and Sayana have treated Vrshakapi as The Sun. Amarasimha thought it may be either Visnu or Shiva. There is
a reference in Mahabharata to one Vrshakapi as the author of Nighandu. But why
would a close friend or son of Indra want to stop sacrifices? Even more mystifying
is the role of the dog in all this.
Tilak argues that Vrshakapi might be the sun at the time of the two equinoxes.
In vedic times the Ayanas or two half years were calculated from the time of each
equinox. Six months from vernal equinox to autumnal equinox (the warm season
from March 21-23 to September 21-23) was known as Deva Ayana and the other half
or cold season was known as Pitri Ayana. Some centuries later the period of ayanas
was changed to the present one of solstice to solstice. Traditionally no sacrifice or
yajna was conducted during Pitri or Dakshina ayana. These were conducted only
during Deva Ayanas or later during Utharayanas. Now if sacrifices are stopped on
autumnal equinox, it could be said that Vrshakapi did it as he is the equinox, only
to recommence it after next vernal equinox, as verse 21 says.
This still do not explain where the dog comes in in this process. Tilak thinks that
the dog refered in this hymn is the constallation Canis Major to the north of Orion.
Had Yaska, Sayana and various other ancient/medieval commentators known that
there was a constellation called dog in the heavens by the side of Mrigashiras, it
is possible that they would have recognized Vrishakapi as the sun during equinoxes.
There is no reference to the Dog Star in any text of Vedic Literature after the
Rgveda. This might be so as it was lost from the collective memory of Indian
astronomers due to passage of time and hence neither Yaska nor Sayana could find
any clue to the true meaning of the hymn. One possible explanation for the loss
may that there was a large time gap between Rgveda and later texts. Also Hindu
Astronomers were probably more focussed on the celestial bodies in the ecliptic; the

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27 asterisms and planets. The Dog Star is far from the ecliptic. Ecliptic is the plane
of earthe revolution around the sun.
Tilak argues that this hymn is clear evidence that during vedic times the sun
was in Orion or Mrigashiras Asterism at vernal equinox. The antelope head is
Mrigashiras and the dog is Canis Major. The identification of the yellow antelopes
head mentioned in this hymn with Mrgasira Asterism is supported by the myth
about the Prajapatis head mentioned above. Canis Major is close to the right ear of
the antelope head and may be perceieved with some imagination as about to bite it.
If the Orion is close to the sun on vernal equinox, the dog or Canis Major would be
seen as following the Orion and dip below western horizon on autumnal equinox or
as the dog chasing the antelope out of the sky, as sun raises in the east. At present
constellation Pisces or Hindu asterism Uttara-bhadrapada can be seen close to the
sun at sunrise as well as sunset on vernal equinox day and can be seen as raising in
the east at sunset and setting in the west at sunrise on autumn equinox day or the
sequence is reverse of the one on vernal equinox. Similarly, in the middle of third
millennium BCE, Krittika and in the beginning of Common era, Ashvini would have
been visible likewise. The sun was close to the Orion or the asterism Mrgasira on
vernal equinox in 4000 BCE.
A related argument put forward by Tilak is based on the time Pitri Paksha
is celebrated by Hindus to this day. It is now celebrated in the dark half of the
Bhadrapada month. Tilak says this is because Pitri Ayana started at that time in
ancient times or that the autumnal equinox was about that time then or the Orion
was close to the sun on vernal equinox. Incidentally Zoroastrians also have such
ceremonies for departed ancestors at about the same time.
There are many grey areas in our understanding of how the composers of Rgveda
and later texts calculated moon phases, months, seasons and the year; and how
advanced was their knowledge of astronomy. This is important, as an error of a few
days in what is recorded in these texts, can result in an error of many centuries in
our calculation of period of composition of these texts based on these references.
Some of these are listed below.
Whether their calender was lunar, solar or sidereal; based on the phases of the
moon, the changes of seasons or star positions.
Whether the commencement of the year was from winter solstice or from vernal
equinox or what was called Vishuvan. Vishuvan literally means the time when
day and night are of equal length.
How they solved the problem involved in balancing the solar with the lunar
year?

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

171

How accurate was their astronomical observations? While determining phases


of moon is very simple, identifying various planets and stars and calculating the
exact time of vernal equinox or winter solstice might require some astronomical
knowledge.
Many Western indologists were of the view that one cannot suppose the primitive Aryans to be so far advanced in civilization as to correctly comprehend such
problems.
Tilak has gone into these aspects in detail. I quote some of his observations
below.
the ancient Aryas originally commenced their year, which was luni-solar
and sidereal, with the vernal equinox, and that when the beginning of
the year was changed to the winter solstice, both the reckonings were
kept up; the one for sacrificial and the other for civil purposes. How they
solved the problem involved in balancing the solar with the lunar year is
not quite clear. There may be some doubt as to whether the concurrence
of the two years was at first secured by intercalating twelve days at the
end of every lunar year, or whether the days were allowed to accumulate
until an intercalary month could be inserted. The former appears to have
been the older method, especially as it has been utilised and retained in
the performance of yearly sacrifices. But one thing is certain; that the
primitive Aryas had contrived means for adjusting the lunar with the
solar year
He has quoted from Shatapatha Brahmana 1.3.1-3 wherein it says that
the seasons Vasanta, Grishma and Varsha are of the Devas and Sharad,
Hemanta and Shishira are of the Pitris; the day is of the Devas; the night
of the Pitris: again the first part of the day is of the Devas ; the latter of
the Pitris ...... When he (the sun) turns to the north, he is amongst the
Devas and protects them ; when he turns to the south he amongst the is
Pitris and protects them.
The path of the Devas and the path of the Pitris are several times referred to in the Rigveda. Thus the north is equated with devas. This
should remove doubts as to what we are to understand by devayana,
devapadha, or devaloka and uttarayana as connected with it. Vasanta
constitutes the two months following the vernal equinox. the word uttarayana or dakshinayana do not occur in the Rigveda.
It appears that the beginning of the year in the Hindu calenders was changed
from vernal equinox to winter solstice at some time, probably in the first centuries of
Common Era. In the Vedanga Jyotisha the year commence with the winter solstice.

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When these texts talk about the Ayanas and six different seasons, one will
have to conclude that the composers had reasonable knowledge and means to know
the time and period of these. Any assumption to the contrary will require many
unconvincing special pleadings, as the assumption will then have to be that they did
not know what they were talking about. Thus it seems clear that the Vedic Aryans
had adequate astronomical knowledge to identify various planets and asterisms and
correctly calculate the beginning of the year, the change of seasons and the north
south movement of the sun. It also seems clear that Devayana meant the six months
from vernal equinox or when the sun was in the northern hemisphere and Pitriayana
meant six months when it was south of the equator.
The test of a good hypothesis is that it should be able to explain most of if not
all the observed or known data without any serious adverse or unexplained data.
By this yardstick Tilaks model should be considered quite strong. It certainly has
logical consistency, far more than any other interpretation attempted so far. Yet
it might still require a more substantial empirical frame-work to be acceptable to
many, particularly as it contradicts the accepted wisdom.

4.11.2

Other Astronomic Evidences From Vedic Literature

At present, the sun rises in the background of Pisces on the vernal equinox or sun
is close to the line between Pisces and the earth on that day. We will transition to
Aquarius from Pisces in the year 2,150 AD. In the Vedic period it used to rise in the
background of Gemini (Margasira/Orion - Messier 42 - is close to Gemini) according
to Tilaks hypothesis. There are 3 constellations (Taurus, Aries, and Pisces) that
the sun has travelled through from the time of composition the Vedas and our own
time. There are twelve constellations in the zodiac and thus each covers an arc of 30
degrees. It takes 71 years for 10 precession. Multiplying these numbers (3*30*71)
we get 6,450 years or 4450 BCE. Or in terms of the Hindu asterisms, sun has moved
from Mrgasira through Rohini, Kritika, Bharani, Ashvani, Revati and now is close
to Uttara Bhadrapada on vernal equinox. As each asterism covers an arc of 13.330 ,
we get (7*13.33*71) about 6610 years with a maximum possible boundary error of
around 700 years. Thus the approximate date when the Vedas were composed must
be around 4500 BCE.
Apart from those references pointed out above, there are a number of others
spread across many other texts of Vedic Literature. I have mentioned a few of them
below and their significance.
Krishna Yajur Veda versions available today, Taittiriya Samhita 4:4:10, Maitrayan
Samhita 2:13 :20, Kathaka Samhita 39:13 as also Atharva Veda, Taittiriya Brahmana
and Satapadha Brahmana have lists of 27 or 28 ecliptical asterisms opening with Krttika. Starting the list with Krttika (Krttika is in Pleiades -Messier 45- star cluster

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

173

within Taurus) implies that it was close to the sun at the start of the year whereas it
was close to Margasira/Orion at the time of composition of early Vedas. Incidentally
Hindu calenders at present start with Ashvani. These are still prepared based on
astronomical tables created at some time at the beginning of Common Era. The
change from Krttika to to Ashvani is possible if the sun had moved two asterisms
(Kritika, Bharani, Ashvani) or if there was a time gap of about 2000 years from the
time of composition of Krisna Yajur Veda texts and the preparation of the astronomical tables now in use. Again sun is now close to Uttara Bhadrapada on Vernal
Equinox as another 2000 years have elapsed and the sun has moved another two
asterisms due to precession.
The year started with spring equinox in India from ancient times. Spring equinox
and winter solstice are two days used as the beginning of the year by all cultures of
all times as they are the most logical. The reference cannot be to the winter solstice
as the period then will be around 9000 BCE. Other season defined points of autumn
equinox and summer solstice also fails for the same reason. Krttika was close to
the sun on vernal equinox from 3000BCE to 2000BCE. This implies that the texts
mentioned above must have been composed in the third millennium BCE.
Adharvaveda 19.7 by Rshi Gargya, apart from the list of twenty eight Nakshatras
starting with Krittika, also refers to Ayana occurring in Maghaa during his time.
Ayana refers to apparent direction of Suns North-South motion. The day of direction
reversal is called an Ayana day (Uttara and Dakshina Ayana). When Rishi Gargya
refers to Ayana in Maghaa, he is clearly referring to a Summer Solstice day, as
Maghaa is the seventh Nakshatra after Krittika. Since the list starts with Krittika,
it must have been the starting point of new year or the vernal equinox day. Sun was at
Maghaa on summer Solstice day during the middle of third millennium BC. It could
be either Dakshina Ayana (Summer Solstice) or Uttara Ayana (Winter Solstice).
But the former fails because the date would then be 22000 BC. The relevant part of
the suktam by Rshi Gargya is as follows.
suhavamagne krittika rohini chaastu bhadram mrigashirah Sham aardhrah
punarvasu soonruta chaaru pushyo Bhaanur aslesha ayanam magha mey
Some of the names are different from the presently followed list and Bhanu or
the sun is included as the eighth asterism. However the order and most of the
names are the same. The reason for the presence of the 28th Abhigit in some of
these lists is not quite clear. One explanation is that it was used to accommodate
the part of a day in excess of 27 days that constitute a sidereal lunar cycle.
Vedic astronomy or astrology divides ecliptic circle into 27 sectors or segments
and each segment is recognized with unique name. The number of these segments
or nakshatras reflects the number of days in a sidereal month (modern value: 27.32

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days). Thus Nakshatra should be understood as an arc segment of approximately


of 13.33 degrees or 13 degree 20 minutes, along the ecliptic and not any particular
star or constellation. The nakshatras are referred to as the lunar mansions because
the Moon stays in one arc segment for one day. Their names are related to the most
prominent star or asterism in the respective arc segment. The apparent movement
of the sun also is along the same lunar mansions, but sun stays in one lunar
mansions for 13 to 14 days; the variation being the result of the elliptical path of
the sun. The Surya Siddhantha concisely specifies the coordinates of the twenty
seven Nakshatras, though it is in very cryptic and often symbolic language, making
it very difficult to comprehend.
Other data revealing the precessional phases include the constellational positions
of the solstices or of solar and lunar positions at the beginning of the monsoon and
at solstitial and other datable festivals, and these too point to the high chronology of
these texts. Thus, the Kaushitak Brhmana 19:2-3 puts the Mahashivaratri festival
just after the winter solstice, which now falls 65-70 days later. It is now celebrated in
the month of Phalguna on the last day of lunar waning phase or in the later part of
February in most parts of the country. This might mean that Kaushitak Brhmana
was composed in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC.
Contrast this with the statement in Surya Sidhanta, 14.9, an ancient text on
astronomy of unknown authorship and of uncertain period, that Uthara Ayana was
from Makara Sankranti (winter solstice) to Karkitaka Sankranti (summer solstice)
and Dakshina Ayana was from Karkitaka Sankranti to Makara Sankranti. The
relevant part of Surya Sidhanta, 14.9 as translated by Pandit Bapu Deva Sastri in
his work published in 1861 is reproduced below.
From (the time of) the suns entrance into Capricorn (Makara), the
six solar months are Uttarayana. In the same manner from the time of
the entrance of sun into Cancer (Karkitaka), the six solar months are
Dakshinayana.
Makara Sankranti now falls about 25 days after winter solstice in the middle of
January. While the asterism Makara is visible at sunset in the horizon close to the
sun on the Makara Sankranti day, winter solstice occurs between December 21 and
23, some 25 days earlier. This indicates that the observation in Surya Sidhanta was
recorded about 1800 years ago or in about second century AD.
31
31

Surya Sidhanta is traditionally mentioned as the first among 18 very ancient Sidhantic (astronomical) texts. Most of these texts are not available today, but there are references to some of
them in extant texts like Varahamihiras work, Panchasiddhantika. These 18 texts, if they existed,
could be older than Vedanga Jyothisha of Sage Lagadha as Vedanga Jyothisha is not among the

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

175

Taitiriya Brahmana 1.5.2.7 lists 13.5 nakshatras ending with Visakha in the
Northern Hemisphere called Devenakshatras and the other 13.5 nakshatras in Southern Hemisphere called Yama Nakshatras. These statements points to a period of
around 2300 BCE.
Satapadha Brahmana 2:1:2:3 (known as Nakshatra Brahmana) has another such
interesting reference. Krttika never swerving from the east (eta ha vai pracyai dizo
na cyavante). Except for Krttika (the Pleiades), there were also other constellations
on the equator, likewise rising due east. But only two were also on the ecliptic,
one at the vernal (Pleiades) and the other at the autumnal end. This was the case
around 2900- 2400 BC, not in 800 BC when conventional scholarship assumes the
Shatapatha Brahmana was written.
Maitrayani Upanisad (6.14) states that the winter solstice occurred in the middle
of Dhanista (Sravistha) and the summer solstice at the beginning of Magha Nakshatra. This would place the period of the Upanishad in 2400-1800 BCE. The Vedanga
Jyotisha (VJ) states that winter solstice occurred in the beginning of Dhanista. Thus
the solstice point had moved by half a naksatra between Maitrayani Upanisad and
VJ. This means that about 450-500 years elapsed between Maitrayani Upanisad and
VJ.
Vedanga Jyothisha (VJ) by sage Lagadha is the oldest text on Vedic astronomy
available today. It is a very short and cryptic Sutra type work very difficult to
interpret probably used as a guide or hand book. It now has two versions; assigned
to Ric Veda and Yajur Veda. Yajur VJ Verses 6,7and 8 observes that at the time
of its composition the winter solstice was at the beginning of Sravistha and summer
solstice was at the midpoint of Aslesa. Varahamihira has stated that in his own
time these were at Punarvasu and Uttarasadha which means that there was a
precession of 23.330 from the time of Lagadha to that of Varahamihira. We know
Varahamihira lived in about 550 AD. This gives Lagadhas time as 23 1/3*72=1700
years before that or about 1150-1300 BCE. Western scholars give a much later date
for VJ. Usually mentioned period is 200 BCE.
Dhruva or Alpha Draconis as Pole Star During Vedic Times
Another observable shift due to the precession pertains to the Pole Star, a very
important one as it was always an aid to ocean navigation. The position was occupied by different northerly stars by virtue of the precession of the polar axis, and
frequently left unoccupied for thousands of years. Thuban or Alpha Draconis is a
18. This means that Surya Sidhanta available today might have undergone revision or redaction
sometimes in the first centuries of Common Era. Surya Sidhanta is narrated in the form of explanations regarding astronomy, time, seasons and related subjects given indirectly by Sun God or Surya
Deva for the benefit of the Asura Sage, Maya.

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star (or star system) in the constellation of Draco. Due to the precession of Earths
rotational axis, Thuban was the naked-eye star closest to the North Pole from 3942
BC, until the position was taken by Kappa Draconis. It was closest to the pole in
2787 BC, when it was less than two and a half arc-minutes away from the pole. It
remained within one degree of true north for nearly 200 years afterwards, and even
900 years after its closest approach, was just five degrees off the pole. Thuban was
considered the pole star until about 1900 BC. At present the term Pole Star usually
refers to Polaris, which is the current northern pole star, also known as the North
Star. During the 1st millennium BC, Ursae Minoris was the bright star closest to
the celestial pole, but it was never close enough to be taken as marking the pole,
and the Greek navigator Pytheas in 320 BC described the celestial pole as devoid
of stars. Thus the star Yama or Thuban or Alpha Draconis was very close to the
North Pole in the early 3rd millennium BC and passably close in the preceding and
subsequent centuries, but certainly not in the later part of first millenium BC where
the dominant school wants to place these texts.
Taitiriya Aranyaka (2-9-1) is the first Vedic text to mention the constellation
Draco (Thuban) as the pole-star (Dhruva). The pole-star is mentioned in several
Sutra texts. The married couple was required to have a darsana of the pole-star.
Ekagni Kanda (1.9), part of Taitiriya Samhita of Krisna Yajur Veda mentions
the pole-star (Dhruva) and Great Bear (Saptarsis). Asvalayana Grhya Sutra (1.7.22)
mentions that the bride shall have a darsana of Dhruva, Arundhati and Saptarsi.
When she sees the polar-star, the star Arundhati, and the seven Rishis
(ursa major), let her break the silence (and say), May my husband
live and I get offspring..
Sankhayana Grhya Sutra (1.17.2-4) says
2 Let them sit silent, when the sun has set, until the polar-star appears.
3. He shows her the polar-star with the words, Firm be thou, thriving
with me!
4. Let her say, I see the polar-star; may I obtain offspring.
Sukla Yajurvedic Paraskara Grhya Sutra (1.8.19), Kathaka Grhya Sutra (3.25.45),
Samavedic Drahyayana Grhya Sutra (1.4.4), Gobhila Grhya Sutra (2.3.8-9), Jaimini
Grhya Sutra (1.21.24), Krsna Yajurvedic Apastambha Grhya Sutra (2.6.12), Baudhayana Grhya Sutra (1.5.12-13), Bharadvaja Grhya Sutra (1.19.1), Manava Grhya
Sutra (1.14.9), Vaikhanasa Grhya Sutra (3.5) also mention the pole-star in connection with marriage rituals.
During 3300 - 2300 BCE, Thuban was very close to North Celestial Pole (NCP).
It was closest to NCP around 2800 BCE. This was one of the arguments introduced

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

177

by Hermann Jacobi (1894) in favour of a high chronology of Vedic texts. Abhayankar


(1993:7) sums up: Taking Alpha Draconis as the pole star, Jacobi calculated that
these verses were composed in 2780 BC +/- 500 years.. The majority view now
is that the Grhya Sutra texts were composed at some time in the later half of first
millennium BCE. But, as Greek navigator Pytheas said, north pole had no star that
could qualify as pole star during that period.

4.11.3

Evidence of Kali Yuga

Hindu tradition as well as Aryabhatiyam makes mention of the conjunction of the


seven planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Sun and Moon) and Ketu
(southern lunar node, the northern node/ Rahu being by definition in the opposite
location) near the fixed star Revati (Zeta Piscium) on the day Kali-Yuga began (18
February 3102 BC). It is believed that Lord Krishna breathed his last on this day
and is also conventionally the start of the so-called Kali-Yuga, the age of strife, the
low point in a declining sequence of four ages. An intriguing aspect of this date is
its closeness to the beginning of Mayan Calendar which happens to be from August
10, 3113 BCE. However, modern scholars have claimed that the Kali-Yuga system of
time-reckoning was a much younger invention, not attested before the 6th century
AD, just as we have no record of Mayan Civilization before 5th century BCE. Against
this modernist opinion, Bailly and Playfair had shown that the position of the moon
(the fastest-moving planet, hence the hardest to back-calculate with precision) at
the beginning of Kali-Yuga, on 18 February 3102 as given by Hindu tradition and
Aryabhatta, was accurate to 37. Count Magnus Fredrik Ferdinand Bjornstjerna
(1779-1847) has stated: According to the astronomical calculations of the Hindus,
the present period of the world, Kaliyug, commenced 3,102 years before the birth of
Christ, on the 20th of February, at 2 hours 27 minutes and 30 seconds, the time being
thus calculated of the planets that took place, and their tables show this conjunction.
Bailly states that Jupiter and Mercury were then in the same degree of the ecliptic,
Mars at a distance of only eight, and Saturn of seven degrees; whence it follows,
that at the point of time given by the Brahmins as the commencement of Kaliyug,
the four planets above-mentioned must have been successively concealed by the rays
of the sun (first Saturn, then Mars, afterwards Jupiter and lastly Mercury)....The
calculation of the Brahmins is so exactly confirmed by our own astronomical tables,
that nothing but an actual observation could have given so correspondent a result.
The planetary conjunction was not perfect; but would have been unusual for naked
eye observers, as at least four of the planets would have been quite close to each other.
It would have been impossible for Indian astronomers, in the beginning of common
era, to back calculate and arrive at the time of conjunction of the seven planets
in 3102 BCE. Thus, the only possibility seems to be that is was actually observed

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and recorded on Kali Yuga day itself. Richard L. Thompson claims that in Indian
literature and inscriptions, there are a number of datelines expressed in Kali-Yuga
which are older than the Christian era. More importantly, Thompson argues that the
Jyotisha-Sastra (treatises on astronomy that in course of time evolved into astrology,
starting with the Vedanga Jyotisha by Lagadha which as per its own astronomical
data was composed in 14th century BC) are correct in mentioning this remarkable
conjunction, for there was indeed a conjunction of these heavenly bodies on that
date. If Hindu astronomers had simply been going over their astronomical tables
looking for an exceptional conjunction; they could have found more spectacular ones
than the one on 18 February 3102 BC. And why would they have calculated tables
for such a remote period, sixteen centuries before the Aryan invasion, nineteen before
the composition of the Rg-Vedic hymns as per AIT chronology, a time of which they
had no recollection? Unlike other astronomic references mentioned above, there
is nothing vague about the date of start of Kali Yuga and the unusual planetary
conjunction. Vagueness if any is only on account of the cultural differences most
western Indologists experience when dealing with ancient Hindu texts.

4.11.4

Conclusion

Thus astronomical references in Vedic texts point to their chronology roughly as


follows; composition of RV before 4000 BCE; battle of Kurushetra in around 3150
BCE, other Vedas, Brahmanas and Aranyakas in the first half of third millennium
BCE, main Upanisads, Vedangas, Sutras etc between 2500 to 1500 BCE and Vedanga
Jyothisha in around 1300 BCE. This more or less agrees with the evidence of Sarsvati
River mentioned above.
Such astronomical dating, like other forms of historical interpretation, needs to
be done with care, using records which are written or otherwise secure. John Steele
has proposed three questions that must be asked when dating an event: Does the
record refer to an actual astronomical event, or is this merely a modern assumption? If it does refer to an actual astronomical event, is the source reliable? Can
the record provide an unambiguous date without making unwarranted assumptions
about ancient astronomical observational methods? Since the success of this method
depends on the reliability of the written sources and the precision of their accounts
of astronomical phenomena, attempts to date literary texts, which may describe
astronomical events loosely or even as metaphors, have to be done with utmost care.
A good example of such reliable reference is that of available records which provide detailed and unambiguous accounts of the positions of all the visible planets,
often in relation to specific stars, that provide precise dates of events like the defeat
of Darius by Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE or of Alexanders
death on 11 June 323.

4.11. ASTRONOMICAL EVIDENCE

179

Though Hindu religious and epic texts contain many references and data, many
scholars are skeptic about their reliability because of their general vagueness. Two
main arguments of those who do not agree with the chronology indicated by the
astronomical references in Vedic texts are first that these references are too vague.
It is true that astronomical references in Vedic literature are generally vague. One
example is the Satapadha Brhmana statement that Krttika never swerving from the
east. Obviously the same asterism cannot rise in the east at sun rise throughout
the year. Thus we will have to make the unstated assumption that what is meant
is that Krttika never swerving from the east on the vernal equinox day or on the
day New Year begins. But in spite of this vagueness of particular references, they
together display remarkable consistency. These references form a consistent set of
data pointing to a chronology in full agreement with the putative relative chronology
of these texts. That is, Rig-Veda Samhita first followed by other Vedas, Brahmanas,
Vedanga Sutras, Vedanga Jyotisha and the epics more or less in that order. Inconsistency in the relative chronology could have been justifiable ground for treating
these individual astronomical references as just poetic expressions without any reliable data or scientific content. These references would have little value if any of the
Brahmana or Vedanga text pointed to a date earlier than the period of composition
of the Rig Veda Samhita. However the fact is that there is no such inconsistency.
Significantly not one of the dozens of astronomical data in Vedic literature is in
agreement with the Aryan Invasion Theory chronology. Thus while the vagueness
is a serious shortcoming of these references, their overall consistency greatly make
up for the shortcoming. These references may not be of the rigorous standard of
twenty first century science. But then so is the case with most ancient texts including Egyptian and Greek. Thus these can hardly be dismissed as too vague and
unreliable.
Second argument against high chronology of these texts based on these references
is that there is the possibility of large error in these observations. In the Hindu
system, the ecliptic is divided into 27 or by some earlier tradition 28 segments and
the segments are identified by an asterism within that segment. These asterisms are
neither a star nor a constellation, but what is seen as a group from earth. Thus the
different stars in it may be actually far apart belonging to different constellations.
Thus each asterism occupies an arc of roughly 13.3 degrees. These segments are
unlike western type zodiac which is independent of the constellation after which it
is named. Thus what is observed is the asterism close to the sun on any given date.
A person observing an asterism 0 to 6 or 7 degree away from the sun would say that
the particular asterism is close to the sun. There can thus be an error up to roughly
half of the segment or about 7 degrees. Since the asterisms might not be in the exact
centre of the segments there could be further error of say another 2-3 degrees. The
earth precesses by one degree in about 71 years. In view of this there is a possibility

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of error of 10*71=710 or say 700 years, but not more, as the next asterism then
will be closer to the sun than the earlier one. An error of more than 1000 years is
impossible in this process. Besides, if the difference between Max Mllers chronology
and the one based on astronomical references found in Vedic texts is on account of
observational errors in the constellations boundaries, one would expect to find the
difference shifting erratically to either side of the Max Mllers chronology. Thus if
Shatapatha Brahmana is dated to 2500 BCE and Baudhayana Sroutasutra to first
millennium CE such an error can be suspected. Such is not the case. The odds
on such an error happening consistently to the same side (older dates in this case),
in the case of nine or more different astronomical references found in Vedic texts,
should be considered unacceptable.
Another objection is that the higher chronology is impossible as it will then conflict with accepted theories. Some scholars have expressed the opinion that these
references were fraudulently incorporated into the texts much later by Brahmin astrologers so as to give their texts the authority and aura of antiquity. Fabricating
astronomical data going back thousands of years calls for knowledge of Newtons
Law of Gravitation and the ability to solve differential equations. If the data includes that for planets and particularly the moon it is simply impossible without
modern computers and advanced planetary software or at least 19th century astronomical knowledge. In the absence of this advanced knowledge and tools, the data
in the Brahminical tables must have been based on actual observation. There are
suggestions that the actual observational data might have been passed down orally
and incorporated into the texts when they were actually composed. Romila Thapar
(1992) affirms her belief that when references to what have been interpreted as
configurations of stars have been used to suggest dates of about 4000 BC for these
hymns (RV). These planetary positions could have been observed in earlier times
and such observations been handed down as part of an oral tradition. It is incredible to suggest that all those Vedic seers and astronomers were incorporating the old
data into their texts just to fool posterity, being consistent in their antedating and
coordinating with one another across vast distances for many centuries. This would
require a system to keep track of which data has been used and which is to be used
next for thousands of years by a society of nomadic barbarians. One only needs to
reflect briefly on how such a task could actually be accomplished to realize its impossibility. it would require the nomadic barbarian tribes, in the fifth millennium BCE
onwards, to recognize correctly some 27 different asterisms or star patterns that appear at different parts of the sky, the ability to recognize different planets and solar
and lunar eclipses, besides having a system to maintain these observations in oral
tradition for thousands of years and its incorporation in different texts in the correct
sequence; all these without any error. Such a suggestion also implies existence of
another now lost oral tradition which contained these data and its preservation for

4.12. MEANING AND CONTENTS OF RIG-VEDA

181

thousands of years, mostly by nomads, before these texts were composed. Besides
Hindu time scales were incredibly large. For example Kali Yuga is for a period
of 4,32,000 years and a day of Brahma consists of an incredible 4.32 billion years
and the Maha-Manvantara of 311.04 trillion years. The composers of these texts
or the Brahmin astronomers or astrologers would have considered a period of few
thousand years a ridiculously short period. The general public whom they would
thus have wanted to fool would also hardly be impressed by a claim of antiquity
of a few thousand years. These references are in different context and clearly not
intended as time markers. Thus the fact that they are vague as time markers should
be taken as an argument against the possibility that they were incorporated later to
make them appear older than they actually were.
As AIT/AMT is an extension of the Kurgan Hypothesis, this model also will
need to contend with these data. The evidence of Sarasvati River is now supported
by hard data which has gained a critical mass that it cannot be ignored any more.
Astronomical evidences are admittedly vague and require too many assumptions and
thus still cannot be accepted as primary proof for high chronology for these texts.
But their consistency makes them useful as strong secondary evidence. Thus these
cannot be simply ignored or rubbished as worthless and the burden of proof falls on
those who deny the validity of these data and oppose the high chronology.
Summing up, the evidence of Sarasvati River discussed above and astronomical
references in Hindu scriptures together poses serious questions to the putative model
of IE arrival in South Asia. These have now a critical mass that cannot be simply
rubbished away as based on vague references and myths. Since the invasion and
large scale migration models have become untenable in view of the Hard evidence
from genetics and archaeology, Elite dominance and trickle in model was thought
to explain the IE entry into South Asia. But the evidence of Sarasvati River and
astronomical references could seriously question the revised model as well as its
chronology and by extension that of Kurgan Hypothesis. The chronology is quite
integral to the Kurgan model and the entire model can fall if the chronology is
seriously undermined.

4.12

Meaning and Contents of Rig-Veda

4.12.1

Structure and Organisation of Rgveda

The Rig Veda contains 10,552 mantras or rcs or verses; grouped into 1,028 Suktas,
spread over ten Mandalas (Books). Another less popular method of division of rgveda
is known as Ashtaka method. This method was probably designed to facilitate
easy memorization by apportioning more or less equal number of mantras to each
section. The number of suktas is often stated as 1017, as 11 suktas are considered

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as Vaalakhilya or of doubtful authenticity. All suktas of rgveda are stand alone


poems, in the sense that they do not appear to have any relation with each other in
their contents, context or subject matter. Often verses in the same hymn also seem
to have little relation with each other. This could be a pointer to the possibility that
the rcs were the basic unit of rgveda and the later redactors created the hymns as
we know today by putting together the stand alone rcs that they were able to collect
together during their time. The fact that many of these hymns have rcs in different
meters might again point to such a possibility.
These mantras were authored by about 400 Rishis of whom about 30 were women.
The Rishi is usually identified by names with two parts; his/her personal name and
the name of his/her father or teacher or lineage. For instance, the rshi of the first
Suktha of Rig Veda is Madhuchchanda Vishwamitrah, meaning that he was the son
or the disciple of Vishwamitra. The Gayatri mantra has Vishwamitra Gathin as rshi,
meaning that he was Vishwamitra, the son of Gatha. It also indicates whether the
Rishi was a man or a woman; for instance, Ghosha Kakshivali (RV 10.39-40) was
the wife of kakshivan; another Rishi. Some of the other female Rishis (Rishikas) include Ghosha Kakshivati, Dakshina Prajapathya, Vishvavara Atreyi, Godha, Apala
Atreyi, Yami Vivasvathi, Lopamudra, Romasha Svanya, Aditi Dakshayeni, Ratri
Bharadwaja, Vasukra Pathni, Surya Savitri, Indrani, Sarma Devasuni, Urvashi, Sasvati Angirasi, Sri Laksha and others. Many of them may have been close relatives
of some of the male composers.
According to tradition, these rcs are the phonetic equivalent of Brahman or
the ultimate Cosmic Consciousness and were heard by the rshies when in deep
meditation, who in turn orally taught their disciples what they thus heard. Sri
Aurobindo calls Vedasinspired knowledge. This is how he puts it
it is an inspired knowledge as yet insufficiently equipped with intellectual and philosophical terms. We find a language of poets and illuminates
to whom all experience is real, vivid, sensible, even concrete, not yet of
thinkers and systematisers to whom the re- alities of the mind and soul
have become abstractions.
Of the ten Mandalas, Mandalas 2 to 7 are homogeneous in character and are
considered the oldest parts of the Rig Veda. They are arranged in a uniform pattern.
Hymns addressed to Agni or Fire always come first. A frequent epithet of Agni
in the Rigveda is puro-hita or placed in front. An amusing detail is that rgveda
begins and ends with hymns to Agni. The first hymn in mandala 1 and RV 10.191,
the last hymn of rgveda, are both dedicated to it. The Agni hymns are followed
by hymns to Indra. Within these two groups the hymns are arranged in order of
diminishing length. hymns addressed to other Devas form the third group of each
of these Mandalas.

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Each of these six mandalas was composed by a Rishi or by members of his family
/ disciples or those belonging to the same clan. These Mandalas are therefore often
called Family Books. Thus, rshies of hymns of book 2 are Grtsamada and his clan.
Grtsamadas belong to the larger Bhrgu clan. Likewise all hymns of book 3 are from
Visvamitra clan, book 4 from Vamadeva Gautama and his clan, book 5 from Atri
clan, book 6 from Brahaspatya family of Angirasas; mainly Bharadvaja and book 7
from Vasista clan.
Hymns in mandalas 1, 8 and 10 were not composed by a distinct family of Rshis
but by different individual Rshis. But hymns by some important Rshies are grouped
together. Dirghatamas32 is the Rshi of RV 1:140 to 164, while Agastya is of RV
1:165 to 191. Mandala VIII follows a more natural arrangement, and contains many
hymns of early date. It contains many hymns by the Rshi clan of Kanvas. Eleven
hymns in this mandala, 8.49 to 8.59 are the apocryphal vaalakhilya or of doubtful
authenticity. Mandala I and X appear to have been added later to the core collection.
It is a collection of various earlier and later hymns, frequently in linguistically later
versions of the dialect.
The Mandalas are of uneven size. The Books 1 and 10 are the longest Books;
both having 191 hymns each. Thus they together account for about 40 percent of
the bulk of the Rig Veda. Next is book 9 with 114 hymns, book 7 with 104, book 8
with 103, book 5 with 87, book 6 with 75, book 3 with 62, book 4 with 58 and the
smallest book 2 with 43 hymns.
Many hymns of Rgveda relates to creation, each differing in essentials. Most of
them are found in Mandala 10. Some of these are 10.5 to 7 by Rshi Trita Aptya,
10.31 of Kavasha Ailusa, 10.72 of Brahaspati Angirasa and Brahaspati Laukya or
Aditi Dakshayani, 10.81/82 of Visvakarman Bhauvana, 10.90 Purusha Suktam of
Rshi Narayana, 10.121 Hiranyagarbha Suktam by Rshi Prajapatayo Hiranyagarbha
(interestingly Ka or who is the Devata of this suktam), 10.129 Nasadiya Suktam
of Prajapati Paramesthin and 10.190 Aghamarsana suktam of Rshi Aghamarsana
Madhuchandasa, with Bhavavrttam as Devata. 10.81 and 10.82 have Visvakarma
as Devata (architect of the universe?).
Book 9 is different from the rest as all the hymns in it are dedicated to Soma
Pavamana, while not a single hymn dedicated to Soma is found in the Family Books.
Many of them are by groups of Rishis. We also find many obscure words in this
Mandala. In the entire RV, Soma is the third most important Devata in terms of
32
Meaning of the name elements in Dirghatamas is Long Darkness. Some scholars have speculated that he could have been blind from childhood; and hence the name. But this seems unlikely,
as many of his hymns probably deal with astronomy or cosmogony. It will be difficult for a blind
man to appreciate the intricacies of astronomy. But his hymns could be described as dark, as they
seem to make little sense to us at present and might require an entirely new interpretation. These
could also be among the oldest of Rgvedic hymns

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number of hymns dedicated to it; Indra being the first and Agni the second (Indra
289, Agni 218 and Soma123 hymns). Western indologists generally treat Soma to
mean an intoxicating drink. But there are reasons to believe that at least some of
these references might be to some spiritual experience. For example, RV 10.85.3
says it can be known only by those who have attained Brahma-jnana, the highest
possible spiritual attainment which makes the rshies almost godlike. RV 10.85.4
says those who are born on earth cannot drink it. RV 10.116.3 says it is available
in heavens only. It is possible that at least some references may be to the spiritual
ecstasy experienced when one realizes Brahman. Or Soma might be some sort of
fundamental form of energy or it may have something to do with the composers
concepts of cosmology, as the following verses randomly selected from hymns in
Mandala 9 and as translated by Griffith, seem to indicate.
RV 9.42
1. ENGENDERING the Sun in floods, engendering heavens lights, green-hued,
Robed in the waters and the milk,
2 According to primeval plan this Soma, with his stream, effused Flows purely
on, a God for Gods.
It seems to say that soma created the sun and heavens lights. Soma is a God
for Gods.
RV 9.60.2
2 Thee who hast thousand eyes to see, bearer of thousand burthens, they Have
filtered through the fleecy cloth.
Soma has thousand eyes to see.
RV 9.64.8
8 Making the light that shines from heaven thou flowest on to every form Soma,
thou swellest like a sea.
RV 9.64.30
30 Specially, Soma, coming as a Sage from heaven to prosper us, Flow like the
Sun for us to see.
Soma makes the light that shines from heaven, flows like the Sun for us to see.
RV 9.84.6,7
6 The beams of Pavamana, sent from earth and heaven, his ensigns who is ever
steadfast, travel round.
When on the sieve the Golden-hued is cleansed, he rests within the vats as one
who seats him in his place.
7 Served with fair rites he flows, ensign of sacrifice: Soma advances to the special
place of Gods.
He speeds with thousand currents to the reservoir, and passes through the filter
bellowing as a bull.

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185

The verse seems to say that the beams of Pavamana is sent from earth and
heaven. Soma advances to the special place of Gods. He speeds with thousand
currents to the reservoir.
RV 9.84.9
9 He on whose high decree the heavens and earth depend nath roared and thundered like the summit of the sky.
Somas The heavens and earth depend on Somas high decree
RV 9.84.28
28 These are thy generations of celestial seed thou art the Sovran Lord of all the
world of life.
This universe, O Pavamana, owns thy sway; thou, Indu, art the first establisher
of Law.
Soma is the Lord of all the world of life, the first establisher of Law.
One can make little sense out of many of the verses from Griffiths often crude
translations. But it is difficult to accept that all these are inane, incoherent and
intoxicated babbling of the composers, as most Western indologists considers them.
The sense one gets is that the poets are trying to tell us something in a very archaic,
yet poetic language, using lot of symbolic expressions. Besides, it is difficult to
believe that the redactors of Rgveda, who must have been sensible people, chose
for their collection, 123 hymns or almost 12% of all the hymns in Rgveda, and a
whole dedicated Mandala, if they even suspected that these are just inane drunken
babbling.
It is clear that Rgveda, as we know it today, had undergone a very systematic
redaction at some time in the pre-historic past. Madhav Deshpande, Professor in
the Asian Studies department at University of Michigan, puts it succinctly thus
The way the family books are organised now points to the process of
redaction. This is so, as the books were composed by many generations
of the different families, many of whom might have been separated from
each other in time and space. Some of the composers were openly hostile
to each other. Yet we find a level of homogenisation in the language,
style and organisation of the texts, which could only have been the result
of a meticulous process of redaction and editing..
Putting all hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana together in one mandala, all
vaalakhilya hymns together as mandala 8.49 to 8.59 and grouping together hymn by
a single rshi or a rshi clan, apart from those pointed out by Prof. Madhav Deshpande,
are all clear pointers to this process. We also have the tradition of Veda Vysa giving
us the vedas as we know today. Hindus mythology hold that Vyasa categorised a
single Veda into three canonical collections that helped people to understand it.

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Atharvaveda is not usually ascribed to him. The literary meaning of Veda Vyasa
is Splitter of the Veda. The word vyasa means split, or differentiate.
There are indications that this process had occurred a long time after the composition of the hymns, which may be a few centuries, but could well be a millennium
or more.
While it is thus clear that the hymns were arranged in the present form during the
process of the redaction, many authors have expressed the opinion that the redactors
may have gone further. As mentioned above, it is possible that these hymns were
put together from available stand alone verses or at least a large number of hymns
were created in this manner. Some authors feels that words, syntax and phonetic
might have been altered, as the redactors dialect could have evolved and got transformed in many significant ways. There is even the opinion that the redactors did
not understand fully the meaning of the hymns, resulting in some shoddy redaction.
Others, like George Erdosy suggests that the majority of early old Indo Aryan speakers might have had a Dravidian mother tongue, which they abandoned gradually,
to change over to Indo Aryan dialects. Some authors have expressed the opinion
that Vedic Language was an adopted language for most of the composers of Rgveda;
Porto Dravidian being their mother tongue. This , they suggest , is the reason for
presence of retroflex sounds in Indic Languages. These are issues that may never be
fully resolved and answered.
Chandas or Meter
The verses of the Vedas have a variety of different meters. Several Chandas or meters
are used, but the seven listed below are main ones.
Gayatri: 3 padas of 8 syllables containing 24 syllables in each verse.
Ushnuk: 4 padas of 7 syllables containing 28 syllables in each verse.
Anustubh: 4 padas of 8 syllables containing 32 syllables in each verse. This is
the typical shloka of classical Sanskrit poetry.
Brihati: 4 padas (8 + 8 + 12 + 8) containing 36 syllables in each verse.
Pankti: 4 padas (sometimes 5 padas) containing 40 syllables in each verse.
Tristubh: 4 padas of 11 syllables containing 44 syllabes in each verse.
Jagati: 4 padas of 12 syllables containing 48 syllables in each verse.
There are several other less frequently used ones such as Viraj, Virat, Kakubh
etc. Almost 40% of rgvedic rics or verses are in Tristubh meter and it is used in

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187

the oldest mandalas of 6, 7 and 3 as well as the latest rics in mandala 10. Tristubh,
Gayatri and Jagati together are used for nearly 2/3 rics of the entire rgveda.
Though Chandas is one of the sixVedanga(limb of the vedas), no original treatises
dealing exclusively with Vedic meter have survived. Later sources that discusses
Chandas or Vedic meters in some detail include theAgni Purana chapters 328
to 334, chapter 15 of the Natyashastra by Bharatamuni, and chapter 104 of the
Brihat-samhita.
TheAnukramanis
TheAnukramanis are systematic indices of Vedic hymns recording traditions of authorship, poetic meter, the deity to which the hymn is addressed and content. Six
Anukramanis of the Rigveda ascribed to Shaunaka are mentioned in some ancient texts. These are Anuvakanukramani, Arshanukramani, Chandonukramani,
Devatanukramani,Padanukramani and Suktanukramani. Anukramanis other than
Anuvakanukramani, survive only in quotations found in later texts. An important Anukramani of the Rigveda is Katyayanas Sarvanukramani, which has a complete, systematic index of the first word, the number of verses, name and family
of rshis, names of deities and metres for each of the 1,028 hymns of the Rigveda.
Vedarthadipika, written by Shadgurushishya, who is believed to have lived in
about 12th century CE, is a significant commentary of this work. However the exact
relation between the names and the hymns or rcs will have to be considered uncertain. Academic opinion regarding authenticity of the tradition of the names of Rshis
is not unanimous. But it is possible that the Anukramanis were created based on
some older tradition. There are anukramani indexes for other vedas also.

4.12.2

Meaning of Rig-Veda

Introduction
Rigveda is probably the oldest literary text in an Indo-European language available
to us and the oldest inherited by mankind from pre-historic times. But the meaning
and content of many of these hymns remain incomprehensible. In fact it is doubtful
if we comprehend what the composers intended to convey in respect of any of these
hymns. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Some of the possible reasons and
issues involved are discussed in the following pages.
The Rigveda Samhita available to us today consists of about 10500 verses. These
might have been part of a larger collection of hymns, parts of which were lost due
to passage of time. This large body of text was preserved for the past 3500 years or
more in a remarkable oral tradition. The mechanism was so perfect that the phonetic
part of the hymns has been preserved without much redundancy, corruption or loss

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of fidelity for almost four millennia, by hundreds of generations of Vedic scholars,


through many centuries of invasions, floods, famines, epidemics, massive social and
political upheavals, long periods of anarchy and lack of political patronage in many
parts of the country for long periods.
This was achieved by evolving an elaborate and meticulous system of recitations.
These systems of discipline with their checks and balances , ensured the correctness
of the text including the correct sequence of its words; purity of the language; exact
pronunciation of the words; precise stress on syllables ; measured pause between
syllables; appropriate tone, accent, modulation and pitch of recitation; proper breath
control etc. Shiksha, one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda), deals with phonetics
and phonology of Vedic hymns and Pratishakhyas are the texts that laid down rules
for correct pronunciation of these.
But whoever designed and perfected this astounding and complex mechanism
overlooked or did not know the meaning or did not consider it necessary to preserve the meaning part of it. This is contrary to what usually happened in other
civilizations, where the meaning was preserved in many cases, but the phonetics got
corrupted and lost.
It appears that Vedas might have become incomprehensible by at least the beginning of the first millennium BCE. The following point to such a possibility.
Yaska, the auther of Niruktam, which is a commentary of Nighandu, a
glossary of Vedic terms of very ancient and unknown authorship, says that
ancient Rshis created Nighandu to help common people understand the meaning of Vedas. This indicates that the Vedas had become incomprehensible by
his time. Yaskas time might probably be around sixth century BCE or even
earlier.
Koulsan believed that Vedas had no meaning. He expressed his belief in his
famous declaration Anardhaka mantra. The period of Koulsan is not clear.
But his language indicates that he lived before Panini and Yaska; though he
is usually identified as a Meamamsika. In fact he had advanced three very
logical reasons for this belief, one of them being that the known meaning of
the hymns did not make clear sense and was inconsistent. Similarly Jaimini
in Purva Meamamsa sutra 1.2.1 says Atmanayasya Kriayardhatvad. Veda
is not for understanding, but for doing (conducting rituals). Such statements
are unlikely for hymns even remotely understandable.
A number of Puranas has a myth about the loss of Vedas by Devas and Rshies
and its recovery from the bottom of the sea by Lord Vishnu in the incarnation
of Matsya (fish). Though such myths cannot be relied on, these are likely
to contain a grain of truth somewhere. Vedas might have remained unused

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189

and unsupported for a long time as its meaning become obscure gradually and
might have been revived for ritual use after a long time.
There is a very ancient tradition which talk about at least three types meaning
of Vedic Hymns; Atmiyam, Tanntrikam and Bhoutikam. Another classification of these different meaning is as Adhyatmika, Adhi-daivika and Adhibhautika. Similarly Yaska says Vedas have two meaning; one for Rishies and
for people with spiritual powers of high order and another for common man.
These shows that even in ancient times, there were serious doubts about the
actual meaning of Vedas.
These also point to the distinct possibility that the Rgveda Samhitas were originally composed at least a millennium before the other texts of Vedic Literature like
Brahmanas, and not a couple of centuries assumed in the now accepted chronology. A language does not become incomprehensible to its own speakers in a couple
of centuries.
The following quote from Ancient Sanskrit Online-Series Introduction-Karen
Thomson and Jonathan Slocum explains in colorful language, part of the difficulty
in understanding these hymns and the possible reasons.
The Rigveda remains open to imaginative exegesis because Indologists
continue to believe that its poems are deliberately obscure.As the Brahmanas tell us so often, the gods love the obscure... and in investigating Vedic matters, we must learn to cultivate at least that divine taste
(Jamison The Ravenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun. Myth and Ritual
in Ancient India, 1991, p. 41). But the Brahmanas came into existence
because the meaning of the poems had become lost. The ancient commentators didnt understand the Rigveda, and they were trying to work
out what the poems were about. The American linguist William Dwight
Whitney, writing over a century ago, had little time for their misapprehensions and deliberate perversions of their text, their ready invention
of tasteless and absurd legends to explain the allusions, real or fancied,
which it contains, their often atrocious etymologies (Oriental and Linguistic Studies, 1873, p. 110).
Because the poems were put to ritual use by the ancient priests, much of
their vocabulary was assumed by the authors of the later texts to refer
in some way to ritual activity. Without the ability to compare contexts,
decipherment is extremely difficult, and ready invention is a tempting
alternative.

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The web page lists many Vedic terms which appears to have been misinterpreted,
in order to frame them in a ritual contest. Some of these are Asura, Purohita,
Soma, Rta, Yajna and possibly also terms like Indra and Varuna. Most interpretations available today use these doubtful vocabularies of atrocious etymologies
and morphology. When the meanings of so many words are doubtful or plain wrong,
it is natural that the meaning of the hymns is incomprehensible.
Stephanie Jamison vividly portrays the frustrations inherent in the indological approach for a conscientious scholar. The more I read the Rig
Veda, the harder it becomes for me and much of the difficulty arises
from taking seriously the aberrancies and deviations in the language
(op. cit. p. 9). Viewed through the eyes of Vedic scholars, this most
ancient of Sanskrit texts is by turns tedious, and unintelligible: One
can be blissfully reading the most banal hymn, whose form and message
offers no surprises and suddenly trip over a verse, to which ones only
response can be What??!! (Jamison, op. cit. p. 10).
The sophistication of the earliest Indo-European poetry lies buried beneath a mass of inherited misunderstandings that overlay the text, like
later strata at an archaeological site. The vast body of derivative material (Other texts of Vedic literature) remains the subject of extensive
study by Indologists. However, from the point of view of understanding
the earliest Sanskrit text the Rigveda itself it has always been, and
continues to be, crucially misleading. Indology today, which has these
resources, nonetheless adheres to the ancient methods of investigation.
Many ancient mistranslations continue to be maintained with unshakeable conviction by Vedic scholars.
With major pieces of the jigsaw firmly in the wrong place, the rest,
inevitably, refuses to fit, and the comparison of passages in the attempt
to establish word meanings appear to be a fruitless exercise. Indology has
concluded that the Rigveda is not only uninteresting, describing fussy
and technical ritual procedures (Stephanie Jamison On translating the
Rig Veda: Three Questions, 1999, p. 3), but that it is also intentionally
indecipherable. One feels that the hymns themselves are mischievous
translations into a foreign language (Wendy OFlaherty The Rig Veda.
An Anthology, Penguin, 1981, p. 16).
The confusion about the word meanings has many dimensions. Some of them
are listed below. The list is indicative; and not exhaustive.
It is now certain that presently understood meanings of many words occurring
in these hymns are mistranslations. It is possible that many of these have

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191

changed their meaning as part of the natural evolution of the dialect. Many
of these occur in the context of obscure incidents and allusions that might
have happened during the time of the composition of these hymns and these
words can only be understood if we have some insight into these incidents and
allusions.
The language is highly agglutinative; that is, most words are combination of
two or more word roots or morphemes. These can be split in many different
ways to get completely different meaning for the words. Besides the meaning
in which many of the roots are used do not seem to be what later interpretators
have assumed. The tendency to assume the currently understood meanings to
these leads to very unsatisfactory interpretations.
These hymns might be in an early form of Sutra style, which became very
popular in Sanskrit later. Sutra style aphorisms are often very cryptic phrases
that do not make much sense by themselves. They seem to use too few inflections compared to Panninian or Classical Sanskrit. Often it is not clear if the
word is a noun, verb, adjective, singular or plural or the tense in which it is
used.
The language might have undergone a long period of evolution as the syntax
and semantics appear to be very different from Classical Sanskrit. It is also
possible that Vedic and Sanskrit have evolved from two different dialects of
proto Indo Aryan speech form.
The opacity of these hymns might also be on account of liberal exercise of
poetic freedom in respect of rules of grammar by the composers, particularly
as these were composed in strict conformity to the the Meter or Chandas,
which often required bending of these rules.
Karl Geldners translation of Rgveda into German made in early twentieth century, is often considered as the scholarly standard. Geldners attempt to translate
all the poems was however, in his own view, far from satisfactory, and it remained
unpublished during his lifetime. As he wrote in the introduction to a selection of
passages published in 1923, his versions are only a renewed attempt to make sense
of it, nothing conclusive... where the translation appears dark to the reader, at that
point the meaning of the original has also remained more or less dark to me. Thus
one of the best translation of Rgveda available today, freely admits that it is only
a renewed attempt to make sense of it, and that meaning of the original has also
remained more or less dark to me.

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Even well known, reputed translators appear to have used doubtful methods when
confronted by expressions they did not understand. Renfrew points out a typical
reference to Soma juice based on Rigveda I.102.1, using Griffiths translation:
To thee the Mighty One I bring this mighty Hymn, for thy desire hath
been gratified by my praise.
In Indra, yea in him victorious through his strength, the Gods have joyed
at feast, and when the Soma flowed.
The picture conjured up is pleasing, calling to mind Greek gods supping nectar
on Mount Olympus, or Anglo-Saxon heroes feasting in the mead-hall. But when
the Soma flowed translates a single word only, the abstract noun prasave. This
same locative form, prasave, is repeated eight verses later (RV 1.102.9) in the poem,
where Griffith interprets it entirely differently, as in attack: may Indra make us
prasave purah foremost in attack. So is the Rigveda typically about the drinking
of an intoxicating juice whose identity remains unidentified, or about warfare? Or is
it about neither?.
In spite of these, we find that most translations available today give more or less
the same meaning for these verses. I quote translations by some renowned scholars
of the first verse of Rgveda .
RV 1.1.1 Rshi Madhuchhanda, Chandas Gayatri, Devata Agni
Agnimeele purohitai yajnasya devamrtvijam hotaaram ratnadhaatamam
Agnio puurvebhirshibhireadyo nuutanyaruta sa devai eha vakshati
Trasalation by Sri Aurobindo
I adore the Flame, the vicar, the divine Ritwik of the Sacri- fice, the
summoner who most founds the ecstasy.
The Flame adorable by the ancient sages is adorable too by the new. He
brings here the Gods.
By Griffith
I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice, The hotar,
lavishest of wealth.
2 Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers. He shall
bring hitherward the Gods.

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193

The translations by these two scholars, with such differing attitudes, philosophies
and world view are very similar, except that while Sri Aurobindo translates ratna as
(spiritual) ecstasy, Griffith calls it wealth. While Sri Aurobindo believes that Vedas
represent inspired knowledge, for Griffith these are wild songs of barbarians, which
are often surprisingly poetic. While Sri Aurobindo is looking for the soul of the most
sacred scriptures of Hinduism, Griffith is trying to unravel the Indo European past
or rather the evolution of European past from pre-historic barbarian times. Yet their
translation of the verses are very similar.
Another author translates the second part of the verse thus; The Devas invites
Agni, who was praised by ancient sages and who is still praised by them, to the
yajna. In the first two translations it is the Agni which is inviting the Devas, but
in the third it is the Devas who invite the Agni to the yajna. Clearly nobody seems
to have any clear idea what the verse is all about.
Similarly, what is this flame or Agni, which is adored by the ancient as well as
the new sages? The verse seems to make little sense other than as meaningless intonations by priests as part of some obscure ancient rituals and sacrifices. The whole
verse is made to sound as if it has to do with such activity. As mentioned earlier,
this might well be because the ancient redactors of Rgveda did not understand the
meaning, context or theme of the verses and so developed some atrocious and absurd
etymologies of many of the terms that occur in these verses, so that they are made
to conform to the ritual context. In the absence of any other authentic translations,
authors tend to follow the ancient redactors, except whenever it seemed rational,
and consistent with the context, as Griffith says he did. But Griffith does not say
how he determined what is rational, and consistent with the context.
Surprisingly, it is not very difficult to find entirely new meanings for these verses,
which are far more consistent and sensible, and which has nothing to do with ritual
practices, using very legitimate tools like the Niruktam. Yaskas Niruktam gives
many different meanings for many word roots occurring in Rgveda. We can create
many different meanings for these verses using different permutations and combinations of these different meanings. But such a translation is unlikely to be acceptable
to most, unless it is supported by some very solid supporting evidences. This is
primarily because of our general reluctance to accept a paradigm shift in any field,
even if what is available now is clearly of doubtful quality or reliability.
Many of these hymns might have missing key words in them, as they do not
seem to convey a clear, consistent meaning. These might have been obvious at the
time they were composed, but in the absence of the contexts, we have no means to
know whether there are such unstated words and if there are, the nature of them.
Thus most interpretations might be on the basis of incomplete data or unstated assumptions. But then, a different set of assumptions could give a completely different
meaning to it.

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One instance, where such incomplete data or unstated assumptions might have
resulted in serious misinterpretation, is probably the most important verse in the
entire Vedas; the Gayatri.
Interpretations of Gayatri
RV 3.62.10 Gayatri is probably the most important verse in entire Vedas, as it
appears in all four Vedas and is of prime importance in all Brahmanical rituals and
rites. But the actual meaning of even this verse is not quite certain. Interpretations
of it given by some eminent scholars are as follows.
Gadhino Visvamitra Rshi, Gayatri Chanda, Savita Devata.
Tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyoyona prachodayat

May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the God: So May he stimulate our
prayers. Griffith
We mediate on the glory of that being who has produced this universe. May he
enlighten our minds Vivekananda
We mediate on the effulgent glory of the divine light; may he inspire our understanding Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.
It has been put beautifully and poetically in Malayalam as Velichame Nayichalum
OH! Divine Light! Please lead us
As can be seen most interpretations treat the third and last Paada as a prayer to
Savitav for illumination or inspiration. But there may not be any phrase/word/morpheme/wo
root to indicate us or our or a prayer in the verse.
The following is the rough meanings of the words or word roots that occur in
the last line or Paadam of Gayatri mostly based on Monier Williams dictionary,
though it is known that this dictionary has its share of errors.
Dhi- intellect (it could be cosmic or divine intellect; not human intellect), consciousness, awareness.
Yoyo- proportionately, progressively, uniformly, could also be in waves.
Na - as, binding, not. Na is usually taken to mean as us by many authors.
Monier Williams do not mention any meaning close to us for it. According to
him the morpheme Nas may have meaning like us, to us and of us, but it
may also mean to flow, to bend etc. Thus, the validity of the generally accepted
interpretation for the term Na may need to be fully substantiated. It is crucial for
the interpretation of the entire verse.

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195

Pra- Before, forward, in front, excessively, very much.


Chodaya- inspire, stimulate.
At- to go, expand, progress
As can be seen, it is difficult to make any sense from the above directly. One
possible translational could be as The cosmic intellect flows uniformly forward and
stimulates expansion if this fits in with the context of the entire hymn. It appears as
if there are some vital pieces missing in the jigsaw or alternatively we are completely
on the wrong track in our effort to make sense of the verse. Thus anybody really keen
to make any sense of it will need to invent some pieces on their own to complete the
puzzle. Added to this is the possibility that these verses can be broken into different
sets of word roots to arrive at many more possible interpretations. The possibility
to arrive at multiple interpretations also point to the possibility that none of them
might be what the composers had tried to convey.
Thus the prayer seems to be an unstated assumption and one can have other unstated assumptions to interpret the verse in many different ways. In fact I have come
across at least one such very credible interpretation of the entire hymn, including
Gayatri as dealing with creation and cosmology or cosmogony.
An intriguing aspect of Gayatri Mantra is that, while the original version in
RV 3.62.10 is strictly in the Gayatri chandas or meter, with 3 padas of 8 syllables
each, for a total of 24 syllables in the entire verse, at some point of time later, an
additional pada or line was added to it, in the form of Om! bhur bhuva suva.
This new version, which first appears in the Yajurveda versions available today, is
the generally accepted official one now. There seems to be no obvious reason why
the redactors thought such an addition was necessary. Considering the importance
of Gayatri Mantra as the most important verse in the entire vedas, one would have
thought only a person of great eminence could have done this redaction. But the
additional line appear to have been composed quite unprofessionally. This new line,
not only leaves the verse in a form without a proper chandas, it also has only
6 syllables in the new first line, as against 8 in the next three. Thus, at present
Gayatri is not in gayatri meter or in Ushnuk (7*4) or in Anushtubh (8*4) meters
or in other words, Gayatri has ceased to be Gayatri, as it gets its name from the
chandas in which it was composed.
Doubtful Interpretation of Some Other Hymns
These hymns contain many obscure symbols and allusions. Based on these many
colorful mythical stories have been invented later, often with little basis apparently.
Many of these can be found in later texts like Upanishads, Brahmanas and Puranas.
But without any clear indications of contests or their original import, these imaginative inventions make the hymns even more incomprehensible by adding confusions

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reguarding their actual significance. Available interpretations only help to misdirect things. These utter uncertainties with respect to syntax as well as semantics
prompted at least one western author to suspect that these hymns might be crude
translations from some unknown foreign language.
There are many instances of such clear misinterpretations that are the accepted
wisdom today. I will point out just a few of them below.
RV 1.130 is one such hymn that do not seem to have a consistent and satisfactory
interpretation that make sense. Verses 5 to 10 of the hymn in original in English
script and its interpretation by Ralph Griffth is given below.
tvam vrtha nadya indra sartave.acha samudramasrjo rathaaniva vaajayato rathaaniva ita utirayunjata samaanamarthamaksitam dhenuriva
manave visvadohaso janaaya visvadohasah
imaam te vaacam vasuyanta aayavo ratham na dhirah svapaataksisuh
sumnaaya tvaamataksisuh sumbhanto jenyam yatha vaajesu vipra vaajinam atyamiva savase saataye dhana visva dhanaani saataye
bhinat puro navatimindra purave divodaasaaya mahi daasuse nrto vajrena daasuse nrto atithighvaaya sambaram ghirerughroavabharat
maho dhanaani dayamaana ojasa visva dhanaanyojasa
indrah samatsu yajamaanamaaryam praavad visvesu satamutiraajisu svarmihesvaajisu manave saasadavrataan tvacam krsnaamarandhayat daksan na visvam tatrsaanamosatinyarsasaanamosati
surascakram pra vrhajjaata ojasa prapitve vaacamaruno musaayatisaana
aa musaayati usana yat paraavato.ajaghannutaye kave sumnaani
visva manuseva turvanirahaa visvevaturvanih
sa no navyebhirvrsakarmannukthaih puram dartah payubhihpaahi saghmaih divodaasebhirindra stavaano vaavrdhitha ahobhiriva dyauh
5 Thou, Indra, without effort hast let loose the floods to run their free
course down, like chariots, to the sea, like chariots showing forth their
strength. They, reaching hence away, have joined their strength for one
eternal end, Even as the cows who poured forth every thing for man,
Yea, poured forth all things for mankind.
6 Eager for riches, men have formed for thee this song, like as a skilful
craftsman fashioneth a car, so have they wrought thee to their bliss;
Adorning thee, O Singer, like a generous steed for deeds of might, Yea,
like a steed to show his strength and win the prize, that he may bear
each prize away.

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197

7 For Puru thou hast shattered, Indra ninety forts, for Divodaasa thy
boon servant with thy bolt, O Dancer, for thy worshipper. For Atithigva
he, the Strong, brought Sambara. from the mountain down, Distributing
the mighty treasures with his strength, parting all treasures with his
strength.
8 Indra in battles help his Aryan worshipper, he who hath hundred helps
at hand in every fray, in frays that win the light of heaven. Plaguing
the lawless he gave up to Manus seed the dusky skin; Blazing, twere, he
burns each covetous man away, he burns, the tyrannous away.
9 Waxed strong in might at dawn he tore the Suns wheel off. Bright red,
he steals away their speech, the Lord of Power, their speech he steals
away from them, As thou with eager speed, O Sage, hast come from far
away to help, As winning for thine own all happiness of men, winning all
happiness each day.
10 Lauded with our new hymns, O vigorous in deed, save us with strengthening help, thou Shatterer of the Forts! Thou, Indra, praised by Divodaasas clansmen, as heaven grows great with days, shalt wax in glory.
The following is what the web site mentioned above has to say about some
authoritative interpretations available today on RV 1.130
Tradition colors translations in a number of ways that can be misleading
for scholars. Ralph Griffths nineteenth-century translation of Rigveda
I.130 is typical. The only reference to human strife in the poem has
svar or sunlight as its prize (verse 8); chariots only appear in similes
describing streams running down to the sea (verse 5), and wise men
fashioning a speech (verse 6); and the Sanskrit word asva, related by
linguists to other words for horse in the Indo-European language family,
is absent from the poem. The three adjectives interpreted as horse by
the English translator could all have an entirely different meaning. The
problem does not lie in the choice of a nineteenth-century translation;
Geldners version of I, 130 is similar, and Louis Renou, working in the
1960s, supplies a word for horse to his French translation of this poem
in two additional places.
All these interpretations treat the hymn as describing some battle involving
horses and chariots and Indra being hailed as the supreme hero. But it appears
that the hymn might have nothing to do with battles and strife, and might be talking
about something entirely different. Besides it seem to make many obscure allusions
that need to be explained for the hymn to make sense.

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Another hymn that creates more doubts than understanding is RV 10.95, which
is usually understood as a conversation between King Pururavas and Urvasi. These
verses seems to contain multiple levels of symbolism by playing on the multiplicity of meanings in the Vedic Sanskrit terms. Most interpretations assume it is a
conversation between lovers, expressing the conflict of interest between a lover and
his beloved. But it could well be a poetic expression of the immortal relationship
between the Sun (Pururavas) and the Dawn (Ushas). At least one noted Indian historian has interpreted it as Urvasi about to conduct a human sacriffce of Pururavas
and his pleading with her to spare him. In addition to these levels of meaning, it also
might be a magic prescription for some obscure ritual activity. Confusingly there are
so many words/expressions/allusions in it that make little sense, if we accept any
one of these interpretations.
Another probable misinterpretation might be of RV 8.96.13-15 described in Page
101 above. Apart from the interpretation in which Indra, with the help of Brhaspati,
kills Krishnasura and his ten thousand followers in a battle on the banks of Amsumati
River, the Puranic (Bhagavata 10th skanda) story of the fight between Krishna
and Indra might be another version of the same. In the Puranic story Krishna is
the winner and Indra admits defeat as he recognizes who his opponent was. But
the original intended meaning of the hymn might be just the poetic description
of monsoon rains and the story of the battle might be a product of some fertile
imagination.
All Rig-Vedic hymns have a Rishi, Devata and Chandas assigned to them.
The current understanding is that Devata is the deity to whom the hymn is dedicated, in the belief that most Rg-Vedic hymns are prayers addressed to various
primitive nature gods. If this is so, Rg-Veda has some strange Devatas. These
include Food RV1.187, Falcon RV4.27, Cows, Frogs RV7.103, Dice RV 10.34,
Rogasanti (relief from illness) RV 10.163, Svapnasanti (relief from bad dreams)
RV 10.164 and Ka RV10.121.
The last is particularly intriguing as the meaning of the term Ka is who. RV
10.121 is the well known Hiranya Garbha Sukta. The subject of the hymn is quite
clearly creation and cosmology. Of its ten verses nine ends with the beautiful poetic
words Kasmai devaya havisha vidhema which means, This being so, which deity
I should worship. This seems to imply that the poet is uncertain about the potency
of the commonly accepted deities. Thus he seems to ask who created everything in
the first nine verses and gives the answer in the tenth verse that it was Prajapati.
The hymn ends with the equally beautiful line Vayam syama patayo rayinam.
Thus Ka seems to be the subject or rather the title of the hymn and has nothing to
do with any Devata. This is also the case with many other hymns and if we treat
Indra, Varuna and Agni as natural forces, the more appropriate meaning of the term
Devata might be the subject/title. The presently accepted meaning of the term

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199

Devata in Vedas to mean deity might also be part of the misinterpretation.


Mythical Stories in Vedas and Ithasa-Puranas
All Puranas are believed to have been authored by Vyasa, or more particularly the
28 th Vyasa. It is said that they were created or revealed, even before the Vedas
were first heard by the rshies. Modern consensus is that they were created, at least
in the present form, in the first centuries of common era. But it is possible that the
original forms of these might have come down from pre-historic past.
Rgveda contain many vague allusions that might be the form in which the composers chose to record incidents that happened during their time or what they had
heard had happened in times earlier to them. Many of these are retold as colourful
mythical stories in Puranas. However it is often not clear if these Puranic stories
are faithful expansions of the Rgvedic myths and allusions or imaginative inventions of later story tellers. Most modern historians reject these Rgvedic myths as
well as their expanded versions in Puranas as myths without any factual content.
However, it is possible that at least some of them might contain bits of pre historic
incidents and facts. Thus, though it might be difficult to segregate these bits from
the mass of embellishments, total rejection of the vedic literature as worthless, with
regard to their factual content, will be denying ourselves a possibly valuable source
of information on Indias pre history.
European historians of 18 and 19 centuries, who created The history of India,
as we know it today, believed that early/medieval Indians were ahistorical, as they
could not find in the Sanskrit texts they encountered, anything comparable with
histories created by other ancient civilizations they were familiar with; Greco-Roman,
Arab or Chinese. This led to the origin of the axiom of Indian society denying
history. This was part of the characterisation of Indian society by these European
historians as historically ruled by Oriental despots. Oriental despotism resulted in
the stagnant unchanging nature of Indian society. Hegel, for example, remarked
on the absence of dialectical change in Indian history, and consequently dismissed
Indian civilization as static, despotic in its orientation and outside the mainstream of
relevant world history. This was also the basis of Marxs theoretical model of Asiatic
mode of production. They mostly rejected the Itihasa-Puranas as myths with no
factual content. Works of Vedic literature and other Sanskrit texts were also rejected
in contempt. Part of the reason for this was that none of these authors and historians
had actually visited India and had no first hand experience of Indian Society. Besides,
they did not have access to or were unfamiliar with other sources like Pali and Jain
texts, oral traditions in many different languages and inscriptions that were lying
around all over India. Romila Thapar in her article, Historical consciousness of
early India puts this colourfully thus; The construction of reality of the other was

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derived not from trying to understand a culturally different perception of the world,
but from noting the absence of European characteristics in this perception.
Contrary to this generally accepted wisdom that stories in texts of Vedic Literature as well as Itihasa-Puranas are just myths without factual content, we now
know that, at least part of these accounts, are more or less true accounts of history.
Many Puranas have lists of pre-historical as well as historical dynasties. While some
of them like Vishnu Purana list the Nandas and Mouryas, others have lists of later
dynasties up to Guptas and further. These genealogies were not taken seriously until
recently as they were considered fanciful concoctions without any factual or historical content. Recent works have changed this perception some what. Many of the
details mentioned are now found to be historically accurate, like how Mahapadma
Nanda became king of Magadh, the length of his rule as well as that of his descendants (100 years). A number of Puranas says Mourya dynasty had ten rulers who
ruled for a combined period of 137 years. This agrees with other accounts like those
in Mahabodhi Vamsa; a Pali text. Accepted historical period of Nandas is from
424 BC to 322 BC and Mouryas from 322 BC to 187 BC. Puranas also seem to have
recorded other facts of history correctly. These include the means by which Mahapadma Nanda, an illegitimate son of King Mahanandi of Magadh, the last Kshatriya
king of Brhadradha dynasty, became the king, by killing his father, Mahanandi as
well as all other possible claimants to the throne; how Chanakya, a Brahmin, plotted the annihilation of the entire Nanda clan and made Chandra Gupta Mourya the
new king and how the last Mourya king, Brahadradha was killed by his own general, Pushyamitra Sunga, during a royal parade and how Pushyamitra later declared
himself the king. Another instance where the accounts in Puranas have turned out
to be accurate, is a reference to Hastinapura being destroyed by River Ganga, in a
flood during the reign of one King Nichaka. It is stated that the capital was then
shifted to Kousambi, near Allahabad. Archeological investigation now confirms that
Hastinapura was destroyed in a flood in Ganges in about 900 BC and earliest human
habitation in Kousambi is dated just about the same time. Hastinapura was just
west of Meerat. Both Hastinapura and Kousambi are within Ganga-Yamuna Doab.
Thus it cannot be said that Puranas are completely without any factual or historical
content. This result of Archeological investigation cannot be said to confirm the Puranic account; but it becomes a distinct possibility. What is particularly interesting
about this result is that, the date is very close to the composition of Rgveda as per
the popular model. If the Puranic account of destruction of Hastinapura in 900 BCE
is correct, it is reasonable to assume that many other Puranic stories also might be
factually correct.
One feature of all Puranas is the narration shifting from past incidents to future
predictions. However the point of shift is different in different Puranas. For example
in Vishnu Purana all events upto the reign of Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu, is in

4.12. MEANING AND CONTENTS OF RIG-VEDA

201

the past. It then shifts to future tense. In Vayu Purana the shift is during the reign of
Asima Krishna, the fifth descendant of Parikshit (Parikshit, Janamejaya, Satamika,
Asvamedha Datta and Asima Krishna). These differing period of shift might rule out
the possibility that, the shift from past to future, was just a convention in composing
Puranas. It also point to the possibility that the shift might be indicative of the time
of first composition of the Purana, though it might have undergone later revisions
and additions. We can only speculate on its possible significance.
It is generally believed that the insidents vaguely mentioned in Rgveda, and their
expanded representation in Puranas are unreliable myths and legends. It is certain
that these Puranic stories are in an embellished form, probably as a result of later
story tellers imagination running wild. But the evidence that Puranas have got at
least some of the insidents that happened very close to the period of composition of
Rgveda correctly, call for some rethinking on the validity of our perception, at least
in cases where we have corroboration form other sources. But this corroboration
is crucial and we must also equally firmly reject the attempts of some right wing
authors to treat Puranas as texts of history.
Conclusion
To sum up the interpretations of Vedas available to us today are far from satisfactory. The reason for this is not clear. Available interpretations of many of these
hymns, or even verses, do not make any consistent sense, with far too many opaque
allusions and expressions. A prime example of such hymns are RV 1.140 to 164
attributed to Rshi Dirghatamas. None of the available interpretations do not even
attempt to clarify what these hymns are about. Modern interpretations are mostly
based on ancient/medieval interpretations inherited by us. But these might have
been created for entirely different purposes and might not be serious attempts to
understand the contents. The huge mountain of these misinterpretations have now
become a crucially misleading and serious impediment to the actual understanding
of the hymns, as most people might not be comfortable with a conceptually different
interpretation. The sophistication of the earliest Indo-European poetry lies buried
beneath a mass of inherited misunderstandings that overlay the text, like later strata
at an archaeological site. With major pieces of the jigsaw firmly in the wrong place,
the rest, inevitably, refuses to fit
Available indications point to the possibility that at least part of the reason for
the difficulties in understanding these hymns might be their extreme antiquity. It is
distinctly possible that there might have been a time gap of a millennium or more
between the Rgveda and later Vedic texts like other Vedas or Brahmanas.
The above statements should not be interpreted as an attempt to glorify the
Vedas, as many, with extremist religious views, have been attempting to do. It is

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often suggested that Rigveda might contain profound wisdom and invaluable knowledge that can explain everything, but these are in a hidden form that cannot be
understood in normal course. But as far as I can see, most of these hymns express sentiments and world views that can be expected from people who lived 4000
or 5000 years ago, while some of them might contain ideas quite advanced for the
times. These verses are very musical and many of them are breathtakingly beautiful
poetically, often expressed in imaginative symbols. But they seem to mostly discuss
mundane issues, though some of them deal with philosophy and astronomy beyond
its time. Many of them just do not make any consistent sense; probably because we
do not have the tools to unravel the archaic language forms. I an sceptic about any
hidden meaning in Vedas containing cosmic wisdom, but would avoid being cynical
about it.

Chapter 5

Conclusion
The accepted wisdom at present, now increasingly limited to historical linguists, is
that Indo-Aryan language was brought to India from outside by a group of nomadic
barbarians with little claim to culture or refinement just about 3500 years BP. Yet
here we have a paradox. Sanskrit, which is a Sanskritised or refined form of Vedic
language, is one of, if not the most, refined language in the world. It is regarded
as probably the only natural language that can be used as a computer language
without too many modifications as it has the strict syntax and semantics required
for a computer language. Moreover Sanskrit is a highly musical and metrical language. Ideas can be expressed in it with a greater economy of words than any living
language. It possesses the oldest and most sophisticated grammatical science, going back to a period before the Buddha to the time of Panini and before. It has a
highly algorithmic grammar, both in terms of morphology and syntax so much that
by mechanically applying the sutras of Panini to nounal and verbal roots one can
form perfectly correct words and sentences without even knowing what they mean.
Sanskrit is morphologically very complex, with seven declensional cases for nouns
and a whole host of verb forms that we dont have in most modern languages. Yet
the orderly and systematic, yet extremely versatile word formation, which, using a
fairly limited number of nounal and verbal roots, with the help of a few prefixes,
suffixes, and pronouns, expands into a practically unlimited range of words and their
meanings. It uses lexical lists Dhatupatha and Ganapatha (that most probably
pre-existed Panini) as input and has algorithms to be applied to them for the generation of well-formed words. Thus Sanskrit needed no dictionary or new grammar
rules for the past 2500 years, as a new word to represent a completely new concept
or idea can be formed using the strict rules and the lists of word roots. Similarly
anyone familiar with the lexical lists and the rules can understand the meaning of the
word by breaking them into the roots and thus there was no need for a dictionary.
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This is quite unlike English (or most other natural languages) which is a mixture of
loan words from different languages like old German, Danish and French, with an
admixture of Greek and Latin. In most modern languages, when the need for a new
word arises, either it is borrowed from another language or just a random pattern of
sound is introduced to represent it. The only test is whether the new word becomes
generally acceptable. Another quite unusual feature of Sanskrit is its inflection-based
syntax, which makes the overall meaning of a sentence almost independent of the
position of its constituent words, again unlike most other languages.
Classical Sanskrit is based on Ashtadhyayi, a manual of about 4000 sutras
or aphorisms composed by Panini in about 600 BCE (there are differing opinions
about the period). It is one of the earliest known grammars in any language. It
is the earliest known work on descriptive linguistics, and together with the work of
his predecessors (Nirukta, Nighantu, Pratishakyas) stands at the beginning of the
history of linguistics itself. It is highly systematized and technical. Inherent in its
approach are the concepts of the phoneme, the morpheme and the roots. Paninis
brilliant codification of Sanskrit grammar was not equalled until the days of modern
linguistics (whose birth was probably inspired by 18th- and 19th-century philologists
encounters with Sanskrit grammar). His morphological analysis was more advanced
than any equivalent Western theory before the mid 20th century, and his analysis of
noun compounds still forms the basis of modern linguistic theories of compounding.
Panini used meta rules, transformations and recursion with such sophistication that
his sutras have the computing power equivalent to a Turing machine. Paninis stroke
of brilliance also lies in the fact that the grammar he wrote, in addition to being a
descriptive grammar, is also a generative grammar. His rules have a reputation for
perfection as they describe Sanskrit morphology fully, without any redundancy in
just about 4000 brief aphorisms which are immensely information dense. The near
perfection of his rules is clear from the fact that in spite a long continuous line of
brilliant grammarians Sanskrit produced for the past 2500 years, his Sutras needed
little alteration, but only comments, explanations and analysis. Just as an example
of these aphorisms, Sutra 1.2.45 of Paninis Astadyayi is reproduced below.
arthavadadhaturapratyayah.
An explanation of this sutra requires whole books.
Most of what is described above is also true of Vedic Language; particularly late
Vedic. The language of Brihdaraynaka or Chandogya Upanishads, or the epics is
more or less the same as Paninian Sanskrit. Only those with adequate scholarship
in Sanskrit language can appreciate differences if any. It is possible that the style,
content and technique of Ashtadhyayi were not invented by Panini. He might
have only classified, codified and formalized existing rules.1 The sutra style of mak1

The present popular wisdom is that Panini created a completely new perfected or refined

205
ing use of very brief, yet immensely information dense aphorisms was common for
Sanskrit of that period. Its excellent morphology and sophisticated grammar might
have evolved over a very long time as Panini himself mentions many earlier grammatical traditions. Panini refers to Yaskas Niruktam which gives a commentary
of Nighandu, a glossary of Vedic terms of very ancient and unknown authorship.
Niruktam gives a number of different meanings of terms in Nighandu as also interpretation and etymology of archaic Vedic terms. There are some references which
name one Rshakapi as the author of Nighandu. Both Yaska and Panini refer to
etymologists and grammarians like Sakatayana before them. In fact various ancient
texts mentions many earlier grammarians. Thus it is evident that the tradition of
grammar in Sanskrit and Vedic had a very long history before Panini. It is remarkable that Vedic Language seems to have had very well advanced traditions in the
three main components of modern linguistics; morphology (Nirukta), syntax (Satakayana) and phonetics (Pratisakhyas).
Panini notes a few special rules, marked chandasi (found in Vedas) to account
for forms in the Vedic scriptures that had fallen out of use in the spoken language
of his time. These indicate that Vedic Sanskrit was already archaic. As mentioned
earlier, early or Samhita Vedic found in the Rig-Veda and late Vedic found in the
earlier Upanishads are substantially different, but Samhita Vedic already had the
linguistic complexity of Paninian Sanskrit. Rig Veda is composed in complex meters.
It uses many synonyms indicating a long and rich development. For example at least
four different synonyms for horse can be found in Rig-Veda; ashva, vagin, haya
and arvan, each with subtle differences in their meaning, depending on the context
in which they are used. Nomadic pastoralists, with little claim to a sophisticated
poetic culture, would have found such linguistic complexity beyond them. Vedic is
a complex language with singular, dual and plural for nouns and verbs and many
classes of nouns. The verbs have present, past and future tenses and the past tense
alone is of 6 or 7 kinds. The language, expressions and phrases are often poetic,
enigmatic, symbolic, highly lyrical and often hyperbolic. It appears to have had a
grammatical tradition beyond its time. Thus Vedic Sanskrit seem to be a language
of an old, venerable, sophisticated poetic culture and that the language had evolved
over a very long time in an environment of intellectual and cultural refinement. It is
language or that Classical Sanskrit is an artificial language. The task accomplished by him was
truly superhuman, even if he had only classified, codified and formalized existing rules. It is difficult
to believe that he had also thought up all those rules on his own. I am suggesting an alternate
possibility that he might have just classified, formalized and codified the rules of many different
dialects in use in the Indo-Gangetic Planes during his time. The case of Pali is also some what
similar. It is said that it never was a spoken language, but was an artificial language created by the
disciples of Buddha, as the area where he preached had many mutually incomprehensible dialects.
The new artificial language was created, so that everyone can comprehend his preachings directly.

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difficult to believe that nomadic barbarians could speak and develop a language of
such refinement. Yet we are told that Vedic was the language of barbarian nomads
who were on the move for centuries.
Till the middle of the last century the dating of Vedas was based on an educated
guess at best. When Max Muller first suggested the time of entry of Indo-Aryan
language into South Asia as 1200 BC, it was mainly based on his firm belief in the
then accepted Biblical chronology of creation of earth. Later he himself expressed
doubts about this chronology, but by then the date was struck in the minds of
academics. Max Muller chronology was first treated as a hypothesis, but soon was
accepted as a proven fact all over the world by academics, stated as a fact of history in
school text books and in common perception, even though there were many sceptics
and dissenters as well as inconsistent data. This happened partly because of what is
often termed as Intellectual filtering.
Intellectual filtering is a process by which opposing views on any subject is not
afforded opportunity to be discussed freely. Only ideas favoured by The Metropolis
are allowed to gain prominence. Scientists and others routinely accept evidence
that supports their preconceptions and theories while rejecting, either consciously
or unconsciously, other evidence that does not uphold their views. Most academics
are uncomfortable with a completely new paradigm. Many of them are incapable
of changing the paradigm and are fearful of others doing it. This often necessitates
trying to force the facts to fit the preconceived theories so as to conform ones findings
within it. This often happens not intentionally, but is on account of the organization
of the knowledge dissemination infrastructure within the domain. Junior researchers
are scared about the censor of senior faculty members. Senior faculty members are
afraid about ridicule from peers. Prestigious journals and organizers of important
conferences are worried about losing their status. Everyone is concerned that their
career prospects may be compromised on account of support to a rebel proposal, as
career advancement depends on number of publications in important journals and
the number of references papers attract. In the past, though everyone was aware of
the situation, few dared to discuss it openly or it was a sort of inarticulate major
premise.2
In this respect, a view expressed recently by 2011 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry,
Dan Shechtman, may be relevant. Unlike religion and faith based systems, science
is not dogmatic and is open to revision. But in frontiers of science, there is not
much of a difference between science and religion. People have their beliefs and they
2

Inarticulate Major Premise is a legal principle proposed by Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes in late
nineteenth century. He was a judge of the United States Supreme Court from 1902 when President
Roosevelt nominated him to that office. It means a premise that is not openly articulated for reasons
unrelated to its validity. In the legal domain it implies that justice can never be completely impartial
as judges are influenced by their social background, beliefs, moods, likes and dislikes etc.

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would not listen. Any new idea that is opposed to their views on the subject is
dismissed in contempt. A true scientist should be a humble person willing to listen to
opposing views and should be a true skeptic. But unfortunately this is not often the
case. The more scientifically literate you are, the more likely you are to misinterpret
information in a way that supports your own ideology. He was saying this based on
his own struggles lasting more than a decade against such inflexible beliefs among
leading scientists in his own field.
Heinrich Harke, in his paper Archaeology and Nazism: A Warning from Prehistory discusses how archaeology and archaeologists were manipulated and forced
to conform their reserch and findings to the official Nazi line, in the Third Reich.
He goes on to discuss the possibilities for such distortions even in todays perfectly
democratic set-ups.
A critical look at our own institutional contexts and our own behaviour
reveals disturbing parallels, even in perfectly democratic states. Our disciplines, by and large, rely on state funding for institutions, for posts, for
research. So archaeologists, historians, linguists and others bend with
the wind and try to anticipate what they think the powers that be want
to hear. At the end of the Thatcher era, and with the incoming Blair
government, I noticed my British colleagues switching the terminology
of their grant applications and book advertisements from key concepts of
the Conservative Party (innovation, entrepreneurial initiative, expansion
etc.) to those of the Labour Party (social inclusion, multivocality, sustainability, etc.). On the European mainland, German, French and other
colleagues have for years tried to tap the rich funds of the European Union
with projects and exhibitions which present the early medieval Franks,
or the Iron Age Celts, or even the Bronze Age cultures, as predecessors
of a united Europe.
All processes of creating new knowledge goes through many stages. It usually
starts as a flash of intuition. It might then become a speculation by adding a logical
framework to it. As the supporting evidence grows, it becomes a hypothesis, a theory
and finally is accepted as a fact. None of these stages are well defined and thus it may
be a gradual process of progress from speculation to fact. But often some idea may
skip some of these stages and may be accepted as fact under various circumstances.
These are continuing processes and some of them may be proven wrong at a later
stage and others once rubbished and ridiculed may later be accepted as the true
position. The situation may be described in the words of Arthur Schopenhauer as
follows All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is
violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

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The Indo-European language family is the largest linguistic group in the world;
three out of the four most spoken languages in the world (Spanish, English and Hindi)
derive from Indo-European roots, and its three billion native speakers cover the globe.
Geographically IE languages are spoken in most of Europe from the Atlantic coast to
the Urals, Iran, Afghanistan and South Asia apart from North and South America,
Australia and in many other countries. The evolution and spread of this language
group in pre-historic times is still hazy. In fact there are sceptics among scholars
about the concept of IE Languages itself. The evidence that the Indo-European
languages are related lies primarily in their grammar and vocabulary. Thus the
Sanskrit agni (fire) is cognate with Latin ignis. Foot is pada in Sanskrit, pedis
in Latin, pied in French foot in English. The Sanskrit pashu (cattle) cognates
with pecus in the Latin. But the temptation to draw simple conclusions about
non-verbal facts from such cognates or verbal correspondences might lead to serious
errors. The fact that many others, like the word for hand, are different in most of
these languages should put us on guard and make us skeptic of such facile conclusions.
The difficulties encountered by these models seem to grow as our knowledge
expands in different fields. The more precise our knowledge of DNA patterns grows,
the harder it is to fit an Indo-European migration in anywhere. This is also the
case with archaeology. Yet we know that the language group had spread all over
Eurasia at some time in the past. Thus Indo-European has become a kind of ghostly
presence, with no firm ties to history, archaeology, or genetics. The model which has
more support at the moment is the Kurgan Hypothesis, but it has yet to overcome
many adverse facts and as J. P. Mallory said, it is at best the least bad solution.
Mallory notes that with the the growing sophistication of the knowledge on the IndoEuropean origin and migrations, new uncomfortable questions arise, and that it is
evident that we still have a very long way to go.. One of those questions is the
origin of the shared agricultural vocabulary, which appears to belong to the earlist
layer of proto Indo-European vocabalary and the earliest dates for agriculturalism
in areas settled by the Indo-Europeans. Those dates seem to be too late too account
for the shared vocubalary. Support for the model is now limited to linguistics and
archaeological finds from the Steppes. But even here many scholars are not convinced
PIE lexicon is consistent with the kurgan culture. Evidence from hard sciences
like genetics is mostly against it and archaeology beyond Steppes, in the west as
well as east, is emphatically against it. Thus the model may be in need of a serious
relook. However the current majority position of genetics and archaeology need not
be treated as final. It is a continuing process and as the technology and data set is
improved and fine tuned new interpretation might emerge.
But such enquiries are now facing a new challenge, as the domains and disciplines
involved seem to multiply as we go forward. Till the middle of twentieth century
linguistics was the only discipline involved, with some inputs from textual and ar-

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chaeological sources. Then came Marina Gimbals novel method of use of archaeology
and linguistics together, to arrive at conclusions about historical linguistics. In the
second half of twentieth century, archaeology became even more important in the
IE origin and expansion than linguistics, as breakthroughs in linguistics has been
rare in the absence of discovery of written attestations from ancient times. In fact
data/findings from linguistics has now become dependent variables, as it cannot determine the origin or actual chronology of evolution of a language on its own. New
discoveries in archaeology, related to IE linguistics, also has been rare for the past
few decades.
By the turn of the century, we were beginning to get results from genetics or Archaeogenetics or genealogical DNA tests. Here again, in the beginning these studies
were restricted to Short Tandem Repeats or STR and single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNP in mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome DNA. As the technology
and techniques improved, autosomal DNA also were began to be used. The preferred
choice now for genealogy is micro-array chips that use hundreds of thousands of autosomal SNPs. Further improvements of these resulted in the ability to extract DNA
samples from fossils and ancient biological remains of long dead individuals. These
are beginning to modify and fine tune our understanding of pre-historic human history and migrations. A powerful new method for study of history of origin and evolution of languages is an extremely complex Mathematical/statistical/computational
tool developed recently and since refined greatly, which involves phylogenetic analysis of linguistic data. phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships among
groups of organisms. In historical linguistics, similar concepts are used, with respect
to relationships between languages, using methods of computational phylogenetics.
The problem with such multiplicity of disciplines used to enquire into same aspects of
human history, is that a single expert cannot have expertise in all these fields. Thus
such enquiries will have to involve experts from different fields, in a team, in future.
Such team work may run into difficulties, as these different domains have different
systems, methods, language, lexicon, world views, attitudes and philosophy, which
may be incompatible with each other. The problem is becoming quite apparent now,
as linguists and historians, who were in the forefront of these discussions till recently,
have difficulty in challenging the new findings, which are mostly against their pet
theories.
Available data on PIE homeland and expansion is mostly controversial. For example some authors, after exhaustive analysis, arrive at the conclusion that PIE
dialect had many agricultural related words in its earliest layers. Others, after
equally detailed studies, conclude that these terms are later additions or borrowings.
Similarly, according to Kurgan Hypothesis, Indo-Europeans invaded Europe in the
second millennium BCE and transformed the culture and language of the entire continent, after erasing most pre-existing languages. The Anatolian Hypothesis and

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PCT are equally emphatic that there was no major genetic, cultural or archaeological change in Europe from the neolithic or even earlier. This is true of many other
related issues. Part of the problem is that we are looking into the pre-historic past
without any reliable empirical data. Data on which these conclusions are based are
often doubtful or even motivated or false. Besides these discussions often have the
tendency of reaching the standards of fairy tales and do not conform to the standards of scientific rigour. These are often a series of assumptions, presumptions and
speculations leading to fanciful conclusions; and thus are just probable models; not
facts. The differing conclusions point to the need for far more studies to get closer to
the true position. Since the nature of the data itself is suspect, interpretations of the
data becomes even more problematic. Various home land theories discussed above
uses a chain of such data and interpretations to arrive at their final conclusions.
Each of the individual items in the chain can generally be described only as one
of the possibilities. If one or more of the parts are found to be erroneous or interpretations based on wrong premises, the whole model can fail. The excruciatingly
limited reliable data we have about the languages, the people, their materiel culture,
migration patterns and a host of other related aspects contain too many complex
puzzles and unanswered or unanswerable questions, that it is impossible to build a
reliable and satisfactory model at present. Hans Henrich Hock, Professor Emeritus
of Linguistics and Sanskrit at the University of Illinois says
The issue is much more difficult to figure out. Im always amazed by
people who on one side or another have this very clear view that they
know the truth. I think we have to take this basically as a scientific issue
where we have to judge which is the best hypothesis. And that doesnt
mean that it is the absolute truth because we cant go back in time.
Thus, it is best that these models are treated as good hypothesis at present, and
not as facts.
All these models of IE origin and expansion are essentially European centric as
they mostly try to explain IE arrival and expansion in Europe. Its arrival in South
Asia is really a sub plot of these models of Porto IE origin and expansion. But
South Asia poses serious difficulties for the Kurgan model, as, so far, there is little
archaeological evidence for arrival of IE people here in the second millennium BC.
Besides genetic evidence, as of now, rule out any significant gene flow into South
Asia for a very long time. Thus the only way the Kurgan model can be related to
Vedic Language is by the so called trickle in and elite dominance model. But such
a model seems too far-fetched and illogical and there is no parallel for it anywhere.
Besides the chronology of the Kurgan model is in conflict with evidence available
now on the timing of drying up of Sarasvati River as also the astronomical evidences
in Vedic texts. Equally significant is the absence of any reference to a Migration

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Event of the Vedic people in these texts. There are no references in Vedic/Puranic
texts or mythical stories in any part of India to a major or minor migration event
from the north to support AMT/AIT. The battles described in RV are hardly battles
between small groups of immigrant elites and a large local enemy. We probably need
more ancient chronologies for Indo-Aryan presence in South Asia as well as PIE
origin and expansion, as the current evidences and data from multiple fields like
archaeology, genetics, literature, local myths and even linguistics are inconsistent
with the currently accepted time frame. Thus it is best to await results of further
studies and research before coming to a firm conclusion. Till then it may be more
logical not to treat any of these models as proven facts, but only as hypotheses which
might be subject to future revisions or even rejection.