Vedic origins notes

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Article on Indian population genetics from Genome Research - obviously crucial reading

Short but good response by Edwin Bryant to this exposition of the anti-Aryan migration point of view by Klaus Klostermaier.

And another good comment by Bryant on the difficuties of trying to do "scholarship" in such a politically charged context.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003, (presumably) a dalit activist site, on the uncouth & barbaric practices of the supposed Vedic Aryan invaders

Monday, August 18, 2003
Kurt A. Raaflaub of Brown University - Drews' End of Bronze Age theory (mercenary infantry rise up against the chariot masters) "rejected by virtually all scholars"

Jeremy Rutter at Dartmouth isn't quite so scathing, but is still sceptical about the relevance of chariot warfare to Greek terrain

in identifying a single cause for a very complex and multifaceted combination of events that involved a very large area over a century or more of time, Drews has unquestionably been guilty of the same kind of oversimplification that characterizes all of the "single-answer" approaches … many specialists have difficulty imagining chariot-borne warriors playing any significant role on Aegean battlefields in the first place because of the region's highly irregular topography, there is understandably a good deal of skepticism in this particular part of the eastern Mediterranean as to the significance of the supposed passing of massed chariotry from the military scene.

Monday, March 03, 2003
Dr. Sepncer Wells, who apparently is / was a research associate of Cavalli Sforza, says there is genetic evidence of migrations from Central Asia in NW India, in this interview with Indian news magazine Rediff.

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. It is on the higher frequency in the Indo-European speakers

... doesn't say when he thinks this marker reached India - an origin 10,000 years ago could still give an arrival date in India much earlier than 3 to 4,000 years ago

Friday, January 24, 2003
... and Suman's cynical but rather useful one page summary of Indian history and culture

More general modern India stuff - a couple of interesting posts by Suman Palit (a Bengali expat living in the US) about the state of Bihar.
So how does Bihar survive? (scroll down), and here

Saturday, January 18, 2003
A deconstruction of Edward Said's Orientalism, quoting a longer article by former Muslim Ibn Warraq

Thursday, November 28, 2002
Michael Witzel Harappa-Veda links page and a substantial paper on Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts

Friday, November 22, 2002
If the "Aryan Invasion Theory" hadn't been invented by European nationalist fantasists in the 19th century, would anybody feel compelled to invent it now given the current state of lingustics and archaeology? (Well, if you accept the Indo-European language family as a reality, then you have to accept that it came from *somewhere*, and spread from that somewhere into most or all of the areas where it is now spoken)

On archaeology. Clearly no satisfactory archaeological "evidence" of a major migration into, invasion of or culture shift in north western India anywhere near any of the possible dates for an Aryan arrival. Lots of sites in south-central Asia (Afghanistan, NE Iran, Uzbekistan ...) with possible signs "Aryan"/Vedic culture - but no sign of any of these "migrating" south west - and would archaeologists be obsessed with looking for them if it weren't for the pre-existing linguistic theory. Equally, of course, no evidence of "out of India" migration to support the indigenous Aryan counter-theory. Bryant's general conclusion - Indus basin / Afghanistan / south central Asia have throughout history and pre-history been a region with a lot of cultural interchange (until artificially & temporarily separated by British & Russian imperialism in the 19th & 20th centuries).

BUT, still, the Indo-European language came from somwhere and went to lots of other places. Language change, brought about by relatively small conquering warrior aristocracies, can take place without leaving much behind by way of visible archaeological or genetic traces - lots of historical examples of this in Europe (e.g. Norman conquest of England) quoted by Bryant and others.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Things that seem to me to be solid and believable:

The Indo-European language family is a reality. Sanskrit and its modern north Indian descendant languages are related to the majority of modern European languages, and therefore at some time had a common ancestor, "Proto-Indo-European", that was spoken somewhere by a single group of people. (There is no general agreement as to when or where. Attempts to locate the "Urheimat" based on the vocabulary of the hypothetical proto-language vary wildly and are unconvincing)

Lnaguages can spread and be adopted across populations. Modern speakers of Indo-European languages don't all have to be genetic descendants of the "Proto-Indo-European"-speaking population, whoever (and wherever) they were.

The country described in the Rig Veda is the Punjab. Interpretations differ as to whether (believed to be) earlier and later portions of the text can be read as showing a geographic shift from west to east or vice versa; but there is little or no suggestion in the text that the Vedic speakers are aware of having come from any earlier homeland outside northwestern India. (This doesn't in itself necessarily mean they didn't. Lots of peoples have explicit creation myths having themselves being born from the earth in their current homelands, even though there is solid historical evidence that they have actually only been there for a few hundred years - e.g. the Navajo and the Lakota in modern North America)

Horses are important in the Vedas. Claims of archaeological evidence of horses in India before circa 1500 BC are few and questionable. Judging from artistic evidence, horses were not important in the Indus Valley Culture (IVC) (circa 2800 to 1900 BC)

Chariots are also important in the Vedas. Chariots were not invented earlier than circa 2000 BC, and were not militarily significant before about 1700 to 1600 BC. Therefore the Vedas in their final form are later than circa 1700 BC (which doesn't preclude the possibility of them also containing older material) But war chariots were also a complicated high-tech weapons system, so the Vedic chariot warriors were a military elite in a settled and technologically sophisticated society, not semi-barbaric nomads from the steppes.

Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan (the language of the Zoroastrian holy texts from ancient Persia) are almost identical languages, particularly in the older portions of the respective texts. The material culture and religious background of the two are also very similar. Date one and you have dated the other, to within a century or two. (Unfortunately there is no firm consensus as to the date of either). The Persian texts come from western Afghanistan / north eastern Iran - adjacent to the country of the Vedas.

The Mitanni kings in Mesopotamia, circa 1500 to 1300 BC, were Indo-Aryan speaking chariot warriors ruling a predominantly non-Indo-Aryan population. Their language was similar to Vedic Sanskrit. (Some believe on linguistic grounds that Mitanni is later than Vedic Sanskrit, which would have implications for dating the Vedas) (The Mitanni could be "the Aryans on their way to India", or emigrants from Vedic India. Can be argued either way. The belief that Mitanni is later than Vedic, and the presence of peacock motifs in Mitanni art, can be used to argue the latter)

Things that seem not solid, but also not completely hypothetical, and interesting if true:

Very few demonstrably non-Indo-European place names in north west India. If true, this could be used to argue for Indo-European having originated there, because if an area is taken over by an immigrant population, some local place names in the previous language almost always survive (e.g. lots of Native American place names in the US and Canada).

No archaeological evidence of any major shift in north west Indian material culture anywhere near the generally assumed date of the "Aryan Invasion" circa 1500 BC. (But there are plenty of well-documented invasions/migrations/language shifts in later history that left no discernible trace in the archaeological record. No necessary correlation between language and material culture)

... also no genetic evidence of a major wave of immigration around this time.

Things that seem to me to be hypothetical, speculative and unconvincing:

Attempts to pin down the Proto-Indo-European "Urheimat" based on reconstructed linguistic "evidence". (But it was somewhere, and attempts to argue that that somewhere was north west India are at least as flawed as anywhere else)

Attempts to decipher the IVC script and identify it as either proto-Sanskrit or proto-Dravidian.

article by Ram Sharan Sharma

Religious fundamentalists want to establish the superiority of the Sarasvati over the Indus. In the Harappan context, they think that after Partition the Indus belongs to Muslims and only the Sarasvati remains with Hindus. The Sarasvati receives much attention in the Rg Veda and several suktas are devoted to it; so they want to use it for their purpose

He is sceptical of:

  • identification of the dry river as the Vedic Sarasvati
  • centrality of the dried up river settlements to IVC culture (sees this idea as being put forward by Indian nationalists because the main sites on the Indus are now in Pakistan) - they are numerous but small & late, nothing approaching the importantce of M-D and Harappa
  • resemblance of Vedic to IV culture - Vedic culture not urban; Vedic culture warlike & IVC not

a bibliography, but probably not as up to date or useful as Edwin Bryant's book

Slashdot thread on an Indian Linux-based PDA, with some interesting discussion on multilingual recognition issues for Indian languages, mutual intelligibility of the Dravidian languages

Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Notes on Indian agendas in the Vedic origins debate:

Aryan Invasion theory is true. Sanskrit-speaking (Hindi, Mahrati, Bengali, Urdu, Gujarati etc. etc.)-speaking northerners are oppressors of innocent Dravidian-speaking original inhabitants. Ravana is the real hero of the Ramayana.

Note that this is despite the earliest known Dravidian texts, in Old Tamil, being only circa 1500 years old - less than half as old as the *latest possible* generally accepted dates for the Vedas; and despite Dravidian origins & prehistory in general being at least as vague and dubious as Indo-Aryan origins. Theories that IVC script/language are Dravidian & Sanskrit shows Dravidian substrate influence are questionable.

Also into this comes the idea that the Shaivite tradition (and therefrom yoga) are a holdover of a pre-Vedic pantheistic, non-dualist religion that was largely subsumed by dualistic, ritualistic Brahminism. I don't really know enough about Hindu history & theology to have an opinion on this, but it seems to me to be largely based on New Age-y wishful thinking in the same vein as the Gimbutas-influenced belief in a pre-Indo-European Mother Goddess feminist utopia in Europe.

Interesting article on India. Argues that the roots of India's post-independence economic failure (relatively, until recently) lie in the combination of brahminism & fabianism in the British-educated Indian bureaucracy. (not actually anything to do with Vedic, but was interesting so wanted to note it somewhere)

Friday, November 15, 2002
Indology list archive

George Thompson on vedic recitation as (a) a technique for transmission of texts without writing and (b) a commitment to narrowing of focus, turning away from the world. Think about this also in connection with commitment to asana practice or any other form of yoga study

Here's the link to the Indology discussion archive that got my interest in this stuff started

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

At the risk of oversimplification, on one side of the increasingly barbed cultural barricades are those who believe truth is whatever serves justice, i.e., women, minorities, critics of American foreign policy, gun control …

On the other side of the cultural divide are those still dedicated to an older "correspondence theory" of truth as reflecting, however imperfectly, some objective even if not completely knowable reality. They are indifferent to, or at least not transfixed by, the "political implications" of the work and more concerned with whether the book's basic honesty and whether the history profession relaxes its professed standards for politically correct interpretations.

John Rosenberg on the nature of historical “truth”, quoted by Glenn Reynolds

Monday, June 10, 2002

Monday, April 22, 2002
Harvard Historians smash Brahmin Supremacist Vedic Indus Theory - a Dalit activist view of OIT theory as a Brahmin plot