5. Some new arguments
5.5. THE EVIDENCE FROM
5.5.1. Aryan contributions
to indigenous culture
most invasionists, who minimize the IE contribution by seeing “pre-Aryan”
origins behind every (post-Harappan) Hindu cultural item, Sergent admits
the IE origin of numerous elements of Hinduism usually classified as remnants
of earlier populations. Though I will offer only very little comment
on it, this is one of the most elaborate and original sections in his book.
sources, and more so in politicized writings against the “Aryan invader
religion” Hinduism, it is claimed that the two most popular gods, Vishnu
and Shiva, are (the former partly, the latter wholly) sanskritized pre-Aryan
indigenous gods. Sergent argues that they
are in fact neat counterparts of IE gods attested in distant parts of the
IE language domain, Vishnu corresponding to the Germanic god Vidar, Shiva
to the Greek and Thracian and Phrygian god Dionysos and to an extent also
to the Celtic god Dagda.112 He
notices the puzzling fact that the classical Shiva is unattested in the
Vedas (though Shiva’s persona includes some elements from Indra, Rudra
and Agni who are not counterparts of Dionysos); so he suggests that the
Shiva tradition, definitely part of the common IE heritage, was passed
on through a VrAtya or non-Vedic Indo-Aryan circle.113 This
is an important acknowledgment of the fact that the Vedic tradition is
only one tradition in the Indo-Aryan religious landscape, a key element
in Shrikant Talageri’s reconstruction of ancient Indian history: just as
Sanskrit is not the mother of all Indo-Aryan languages, the Vedas are not
the wellspring of the whole of Hindu tradition.114
goes into great detail in showing how the IE trifunctionality model does
apply throughout the Vedic and Puranic worldview, in fact far more splendidly
than in any other IE culture.115 Thus, the
first function is juridical-religious and corresponds with sattva,
the transparent and truthful quality in the Hindu triguNa or three-qualities
model; the second function is martial-political and corresponds with rajas,
the passionate and energetic quality; the third function is production
and consumption, corresponding with tamas, the quality of materiality
and ignorance. This threesome also corresponds with the trivarga
(“three categories”) model, where dharma or religious duty is sAttvika,
artha or striving for worldly success is rAjasika, kAma
or sensuous enjoyment is tAmasika, though there is a fourth (nirguNa,
“quality-less”) dimension, viz. moksha, liberation. Likewise
for the three states of consciousness: dreaming, waking, sleeping, surpassed
by “fourth state”, turIya, the yogic state. This scheme can
then be applied to the Hindu pantheon, e.g. Brahma the creator is rAjasika,
Vishnu the maintainer is sAttvika, Shiva the dissolver is tAmasika,
or the white mountain goddess Parvati is sAttvika, the tiger goddess
Durga rAjasika, the black devouring goddess Kali tAmasika.
IE elements in Hinduism could be cited to the same effect, such as the
numerous correspondences in epic motifs between Hindu and European sagas,
which Sergent discusses at length. But the interesting ones for our
purpose are those which already existed in the Harappan civilization.
5.5.2. The liNga
Sergent goes quite far in indo-europeanizing the alleged aboriginal contribution
to Hinduism. He even asserts that “the linga (or Shiva’s phallus)
cult is of IE origin”.116 An
important detail is that Aryan linga worshippers venerated the liNga
by itself, not in the liNga-yoni combination common in Hindu shrines,
for “the yoni cult is without IE parallel”.117
Sergent makes a distinction between the sculpted stone phallus and the
unsculpted variety. The first type is attested in the Harappan area
and period, as well as in Africa and the Mediterranean, while the second
type is common -in historical and contemporary Hinduism.
linga worship in the Harappan cities, we find conflicting presentations
of the facts, with Sergent assuming that the same Mediterranean-type phallus
worship flourished, while no less a scholar than Asko Parpola claims the
exact opposite. Parpola contrasts the “earliest historical (1st-2nd
century BC) liNgas”, which are “realistic”, with the “abstract form
of the Harappan conical stones”.118 If Parpola
is right, the Harappan linga cult was more akin to the classical Hindu
form than to Mediterranean phallus worship. However, the crucial
point of comparison in this case is not Harappa but the Indian tribals.
of the Indo-Mediterranean school claim that the cult of phallus-shaped
stones is unknown among the indigenous (though in many cases historically
dravidianized) tribal populations of India, implying that the Dravidian
immigrants brought it from abroad, first to the Indus Valley, next to the
whole of India. The same claim, that the untainted tribals are unattracted
to the urban Hindu depravity of phallus-worship, has often been made by
Christian missionaries as an argument in support of their doctrine that
“tribals are not Hindus”. But is this true?
of all, many Indian tribals do practise linga worship. Pupul Jayakar
(whose work is admittedly coloured by AIT assumptions) situates both Shiva
and the liNga within the culture of a number of tribes, e.g. the
Gonds: “There are, in the archaic Gond legend of Lingo Pen, intimations
of an age when Mahadeva or Shiva, the wild and wondrous god of the autochthons,
had no human form but was a rounded stone, a lingam, washed by the
waters of the river Narmada. Even to this
day there are areas of the Narmada river basin where every stone in the
waters is said to be a Shiva lingam: ‘(…) What was Mahadev doing?
He was swimming like a rolling stone, he had no hands, no feet. He
remained like the trunk (of a tree).’ [Then, Bhagwan makes him come out
of the water and grants him a human shape.]”119 Till
today, Shiva or a corresponding tribal god is often venerated in the shape
of such natural-born, unsculpted, longish but otherwise shapeless stones.120
same time, female yoni symbols are common enough among Indian tribals,
esp. inverted triangles, the origin of the Hindu plural-triangle symbols
called yantra, venerated in such seats of orthodoxy as the Shankaracharya
Math in Kanchipuram, where celibacy is the rule and thoughts of fertility
unwelcome. In a palaeolithic site in the
Siddhi district of Madhya Pradesh (10th or 9th millennium BC), a Mother
Goddess shrine has been found containing well-known Hindu symbols: squares,
circles, swastikas and most of all, triangles.121 A
participant in an excavation in Bastar told me of how a painted triangular
stone was dug up, and the guide, a Gond tribal, at once started doing pUjA
before this ancient idol.122 Such is the
continuity of indigenous Indian religion across eleven thousand years.
these two-dimensional triangles constitute a different symbolism from the
three-dimensional ring-shaped or oval-shaped sculpted yoni symbols used
in the liNga-yoni combination. Sergent sees these sculpted
yoni symbols as part of the Dravidian tradition with African links, while
the triangles, like the unsculpted linga stones, might be older in India
than even the Dravidian invasion as imagined by Sergent.
separate from these abstract triangles and unsculpted stones, explicit
sexual imagery is also common among the “untainted” tribals: “When
the Bhils, primitive people of western India, paint their sacred pithoras,
they include in an obscure corner a copulating man and woman. When asked
to explain, they say, ‘without this, where would the world be?’”123
When they want to express the fertility process, they do so quite explicitly,
and they don’t have to make do with a shapeless stone. Conversely,
when they do choose to use a shapeless stone, it must be for a different
purpose. Therefore, it is logical that the tribal liNga cannot
be equated with the sexually explicit sculptures of the ancient Mediterranean
tribals, Vedic Hindus worship unsculpted liNgas without explicit
sexual connotation. Most Hindus will reject
the Western interpretation of their idol as a phallic symbol, and the quoted
details of tribal liNga worship tend to prove their point, as would
the abstract uses of the term liNga (“sign”, “proof”, one of the
terms in a syllogism).124 The
pebbles picked up from the Narmada river are hardly phallus-shaped, in
contrast to the phallic pillars in the Mediterranean. When Hindus
object to the purely sexual reading of their symbols by Western authors,
the latter, irritated with the “refusal of prudish Indian hypocrites to
face facts”, retort that “after all, anyone can see that this is
explicit sexual imagery.”125 Sometime in
the 1980s, the two interpretations confronted when some people in the Philippines
considered renaming their country as Maharlika, reportedly a local
variation on MahAliNga used by traders at the time of the hinduization
of Southeast Asia, on the plea that Sanskrit, unlike English and Spanish,
was not “an imperialist language”. Western-educated people objected
that they could hardly be citizens of a country called “big penis”, a problem
of which the Maharlika proponents had not even thought. The
renaming was cancelled.
both conflicting interpretations have their validity, and linga worship
in India is probably a syncretic phenomenon. If “phallus worship”
was scorned in the Rg-Veda (in the much-discussed verses where the enemies
are abused as shishna-devAh, “those who have the phallus for god”)126,
we do not perforce have to deny, as most anti-AIT authors do, that this
concerned non-Aryan people who worshipped phallic stones. There
were non-Aryans in many parts of India, though these phallus worshippers
may equally have been Indo-Aryan-speaking cultists. We have at any
rate a testimony for an ancient religious dispute. A clue has perhaps
been given in Sergent’s information that the lone liNga (“objects
which are interpreted as phalli”)127
has been found in the northern half of the Indus-Saraswati civilization,
the yoni-liNga couple with ring-shaped yoni stones in its arguably
the point for now is that the alleged tribal and Vedic Aryan forms of linga
worship are very similar. If this linga worship was IE, as Sergent
claims, and if it is an age-old Indian tribal tradition at the same time,
may I suggest that the Indo-Europeans discovered or developed it in India
itself. Could this be an instance of what should be the Holy Grail
of non-invasionist scholars, viz. a case of decided continuity between
native tribal and IE cultures, distinguishing both together from imported
cultures such as that of the Dravidians?
5.5.3 Harappan and Vedic
accounts of Hindu history acknowledge that classical Hinduism has included
elements from the “Indus civilization”. Thus, the unique water-supply
system in the Indus-Saraswati system and the public baths so visibly similar
to the bathing kuNDs still existing in numerous Indian cities have
been interpreted as early witnesses to the Hindu “obsession” with purity.
Though open to correction on details, this approach is not controversial.
However, it runs into difficulties when items are discovered which are
not typical for the Indian IE-speaking culture alone, but for the whole
or larger parts of the IE-speaking family of cultures: how could these
have been present in Harappa when the IE contribution was only brought
in during or after Harappa’s downfall by the Aryan invaders?
culture which the Harappans shared with the later Hindus is often cited
as a pre-IE remnant which crept into Hinduism. However, this is also
attested (with local differences, of course) among such IE tribes as the
Romans and the Germanic people, and may therefore be part of the common
IE heritage. Of course, a general concern about cleanliness is not
a very specific and compelling type of evidence. More decisive would
be a case like the famous Harappan seal depicting the so-called Pashupati
(Shiva as Lord of Beasts), long considered proof that the Shiva cult is
indigenous and non-Aryan. It is found to have a neat counterpart,
to the detail, in the horned god Cernunnos surrounded by animals (largely
similar ones and in the same order as on the Pashupati seal) on the Celtic
Gundestrup cauldron made in central Europe sometime in the last centuries
BC. So, this Harappan motif may well be part of the common IE heritage.
very general trait, the absence of distinct temple buildings in the Harappan
cities constitutes a defect in the AIT postulate of a Vedic-Harappan cultural
opposition. The fact that no temples are attested
is a common trait of Harappa, of some ancient IE cultures (Vedic, Celtic,
Germanic), and of that other acclaimed centre of Aryanism, the South Russian
Kurgan culture, where “no real sanctuaries have ever been found; they probably
had open sanctuaries”.128 It contrasts with
Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures and with the bhakti cult in later
Hinduism, which venerates the deity as if it were a human person and consequently
gives the deity a house to live in: a temple. Harappans, Vedic Aryans
and contemporary Indian tribals have this in common: they worship without
more specific example: fire plays a central role in most historically attested
IE religions, most emphatically in the indo-Iranian branches. A fire-cult
was present in the Indus-Saraswati civilization, and it resembled the practices
of the Vedic people who are supposed to have entered India only centuries
later, and to have brought this particular tradition with them from their
IE homeland. The presence of Vedic fire-altars in several Harappan
cities (Lothal, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi) has been noticed by a number of
authors, but is somehow always explained away or ignored. Parpola
admits as “quite plausible” the suggestion (made to him by Raymond and
Bridget Allchin) that they form an Indo-Aryan element within Harappan civilization,
but he explains them as imported by “carriers of the Bronze Age culture
of Greater Iran, who had become quickly absorbed into the Indus Civilization,
culturally and linguistically”.129
Sergent admits that “the Indian Vedic fire altar seemed to have borrowed
its construction principles from the Indus civilization”, all while “the
very idea of the fire cult was Indo-Iranian”.130
This falls neatly into place if we equate proto-Harappan with Indo-Iranian:
the idea of a fire cult was taken along by the emigrating Iranians, while
the Indo-Aryans stayed on in the Indus-Saraswati region to develop their
altars’ distinct Indian style of construction.
rate, how deeply had these Aryan fire-worshippers not penetrated the Harappan
civilization, that they had installed their altars in patrician mansions
of three of the largest Harappan cities, all three moreover very far from
the northwestern border? Indeed, in the Harappan cities on the Indus
itself, to my knowledge at least, no such fire-altars have yet been found;
if they were imported from outside, it seems they came from the east, which
would bring us back to Shrikant Talageri’s thesis that IE originated in
the Ganga basin and entered the Harappan area from there. Leaving
aside this question of ultimate origins, the very fact of the Vedic fire-altars
in the Indus-Saraswati culture is a serious problem for the AIT.
5.5.4. More on Harappan
have already seen, the stellar cult is common to the Harappan and Vedic
religions. This is explained by Asko Parpola as the effect of borrowing:
the barbarian invaders adopting the religion of the empire they just conquered,
somewhat like the Heathen Germanic tribes did when they conquered the Christian
Roman empire. In fact, the whole of Vedic and core-Puranic literature
has been explained as essentially translations of non-Aryan Harappan traditions.
A similar explanation is given for the “soma filter”, often depicted on
Harappan seals, and of which an ivory specimen has been discovered by J.M.
Mahadevan proposes that “the mysterious cult object that you find before
the unicorn on the unicorn seals is a filter. (…) Since we know that the
unicorn seals were the most popular ones, and every unicorn has this cult
object before it, whatever it represents must be part of the central religious
ritual of the Harappan religion. We know
of one religion whose central religious cult [object] was a filter, that
is the soma [cult] of the Indo-Aryans.”131
If this is not an argument for the identity of Vedic and Harappan, I don’t
know what is. Yet, Mahadevan dismisses this conclusion citing the
well-known arguments that the Vedas know of no cities while Harappa had
no horses, so “the only other possibility is that a soma-like cult (…)
must have existed in Harappa and that it was taken over by the Indo-Iranians
and incoming Indo-Aryans.”
of the unicorn: Prof. R.S. Sharma defends the AIT pointing out that
the unicorn/ekashRNga is popular on Indus seals and in late- or
post-Vedic literature but is not mentioned at all in the Rg-Veda.132
Within the AIT, this would seem to be an anomaly: first the Harappans had
unicorn symbolism, then the Vedic-Aryan invaders didn’t have it, and finally
the later Aryans again had it. The implied and slightly contrived
explanation is that native unicorn symbolism went underground after the
Aryan invasion, but reasserted itself later. But this pro-AIT argument
is circular in the sense that it is dependent on the AIT-based chronology,
viz. of the Rg-Veda as post-Harappan. Its force is dissolved (along
with the anomaly) if the possibility is considered that the Rg-Veda was
pre-Harappan, with the unicorn an early Harappan innovation attested in
both the archaeological and the late-Vedic literary record.
has developed the theory that there is at least one clearly identifiable
Hindu deity whose trail of importation from abroad we can follow. In
the Bactrian Bronze Age culture, deemed Indo- n if not specifically Indo-Aryan,
ample testimony is available of the cult of a lion goddess, known in Hinduism
as DurgA, “the fortress”, and who is “worshipped in eastern India
as Tripura, a name which connects her with the strongholds of the
Dasas”.133 Politicized Indian invasionists
usually claim goddess worship as a redeeming native, non-Aryan, “matriarchal”
and “humanist” contribution to the “patriarchal” and “oppressive” Hindu
religion, but now it turns out to have been brought along by the Bactrian
invaders: how one invasionist can upset another invasionist’s applecart.
Parpola himself reports elsewhere that the same lion or tiger goddess was
worshipped in the Indus-Saraswati civilization as well. Discussing
“carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran” as having been “quickly
absorbed into the Indus civilization”, he finds support in “the famous
Kalibangan seal showing a Durga-like goddess of war, who is associated
with the tiger”.134 whether this shows an
early Bactrian penetration of India as far as the Saraswati riverside remains
to be seen; other scenarios are possible. For now we retain Parpola’s
confirmation of a common religious motif in a Harappan city and an Aryan
those few colleagues who have paid attention to the elements of continuity
between Harappa and Aryan India, Sergent fads to discuss the most plausible
conclusion that could be drawn from all this material: that Harappan and
post-Harappan or Aryan are phases of a single civilization.
5.5.5. The impact of East-Asian
mythology, or some of its branches, has certain motifs and stories in common
with mythologies of non-IE cultures. Some of these are a common heritage
dating back to long before a separate IE linguistic and cultural identity
some myths can be shown to have been transmitted in a fairly recent time,
e.g. the Excalibur myth known to most readers through the King Arthur saga
has an exact parallel in a North-Iranian myth, with the sword being drawn
from the stone (a poetic reference to the mystery of metallurgy, transforming
shapeless ore into metal implements), making its bearer invincible, and
finally getting thrown into a lake. This
is not because of a common IE heritage of the Celtic and Iranian communities,
but because in the 2nd century AD, Sarmatian mercenaries in the Roman army
were garrisoned in Britain and, well, told their story.135
Through Mongolia and Korea, elements of this myth have even reached Japan
when the supremacy of the sword was established there. So, myths
are not necessarily witnesses from the night of time. Their invention
and transmission can sometimes be dated.
case of the transmission of East-Asian myths into Hindu tradition, by medium
of the Munda-speaking culture of the eastern Ganga basin, the apparent
date might pose a problem. Some contributions are fairly late: “The
puja, that extremely common and important practice of covering the
gods’ idols with flowers and perfumes, is rather late in India, and succeeds
wholly different practices: could that also be an East-Asian substratum?”136
On the other hand, Sergent mentions several apparently East-Asian contributions
to Vedic and Puranic lore which point to the ultimate beginning of those
of IkshvAku, founder of the Solar Dynasty of Ayodhya, whom the Puranic
genealogies place several dozen generations before the Rg-Vedic seers,
literally means “bitter gourd”. Likewise,
Sumati, wife of the Ayodhya king Sagara, produces offspring with the aid
of a bitter gourd. Sergent, following jean Przyluski, attributes
this to the Southeast-Asian mythic motif of the birth of humanity from
a bitter gourd:. “The Austro-Asiatic myth has visibly been transposed
in the legends of Sumati and Ikshvaku”.137
birth of Vyasa’s mother Satyavati from a fish equally refers to a Southeast-Asian
myth, unknown in the IE world. The Brahmanas have a story of Brahma
or Prajapati, the Creator, taking the form of a boar and diving to the
bottom of the ocean to extract the earth and bring it to the surface.138
This myth of the “cosmogonic plunge” is widespread in Siberia, among the
native Americans, and among some Southeast-Asian peoples, but is foreign
to the IE mythologies and to the Vedic Samhitas. The same is true
of another innovative mythic motif appearing in the Brahmanas: BrahmANDa,
the cosmic egg which, when broken, releases all creatures.
explains that the Rg-Veda could not yet know these myths, just as it had
not yet adopted items of Munda vocabulary, because its horizon was still
confined to the northwest. But once the Vedic Aryans settled in the
Ganga basin, they started assimilating the mythic lore of the Munda people,
also immigrants, but who had settled there earlier. So, this seems to confirm
the classic picture of the Aryans moving through North India from east
sure, even the non-invasionist school accepts that the Vedic tradition
spread eastwards during and after the Harappan period, just as it spread
to South India in subsequent centuries; but it maintains that the Ganga
down to Kashi or so, already had an Indo-Aryan (but non-Vedic) population.
This population was obviously exposed to influences from its eastern neighbours,
immigrants from Southeast Asia. And their non-Vedic, partly borrowed
traditions were incorporated in later Vedic and especially in Puranic literature.
By contrast, the IE-speaking people living to the west of the Vedic Puru
tribe, those who migrated to the west and formed the other branches of
IE, were not exposed to this Austro-Asiatic lore, which is why their mythologies
have not adopted elements from Southeast-Asian myths, just as their languages
have not borrowed from Munda (or if they have, those words or those mythic
motifs would be pan-IE and not recognizable as borrowed).
one of flood survivor Manu Vaivasvata’s immediate successors, was indeed
a historical figure, and if his name really refers to an Austro-Asiatic
myth, then that would prove either that Manu and
his crew had come from the southeast (but then why hasn’t the bitter gourd
myth become a an-IE myth?), or that the Mundas were already in the Ganga
basin at the beginning of IE history as narrated in the Puranic genealogies
(6776 BC?).139 In that case, shouldn’t non-invasionists
be able to find more points of contact between IE and Munda, linguistically
too? How exactly should we imagine the beginning of IE history in
India, in what cultural and linguistic environment?
one could imagine that the Aryans overran the Indus basin, then Afghanistan
and beyond, because they had been pushed to the west by invading Mundas
from the cast: if the idea of the fierce Aryans being put to flight by
the fun-loving Mundas seems strange, remember that the invasion of the
Roman Empire by the fierce Germanic tribes was partly caused by their being
pushed westward by the Slavs. For another question: does this evidence
of Munda contributions support the mainstream indological position that
the entire Puranic history of the Vedic and pre-Vedic age in Ayodhya, Kashi
or Prayag is but “reverse euhemerism”, i.e. the transformation of myth
into tabulated history, so that Ikshvaku and his clan never existed except
as projections by aryanized Mundas of their gourd-god onto the ancestry
of their conquerors? This is worth a discussion in its own right,
but an important point certainly is that Ikshvaku is mentioned in the Rg-Veda
(10:60:4), possibly referring to the dynasty rather than its founder.
5.5.6. Some caveats to
is a large subject, and numerous myths are not well-known even to aficionados
of the subject. This way, it sometimes happens that a Hindu myth
gets classified as non-IE because it is not reported in any other IE mythology,
only to show up in some far corner of the IE world upon closer scrutiny. Sergent
provides one example. Everyone knows the Hindu myth of the “churning
of the ocean” with which the gods and demons jointly produce the amRta
the immortality drink. Sergent assures us
that this myth “has no parallel in the IE world”140,
that it “is ignored by Vedic India and the IE world outside India”141
but present in Mongolian mythology and in the Kojiki, a kind of
Japanese Purana. Yet, he also informs us
of a lesser-known Germanic myth in which the god Aegir chums the ocean
to make the beer of the gods.142 But that
one finding, even if it is in only one (but certainly distant) corner of
the IE world, completely nullifies the earlier statement that the myth
“has no parallel in the IE world”. It is in fact possible that the
Mongolian version (which is closer to the Germanic one, with a single deity
doing the churning) and the Japanese version have been adapted from an
IE original, just like the Excalibur myth.
eastern contributions to Hindu tradition are not exclusively from the Mundas. The
RAjasUya ceremony described in the Shatapatha Brahmana has an exact
counterpart, not in Rome or Greece, nor in Chotanagpur or Japan, but in
Fiji. The latter coronation ceremony has been analyzed into 19 distinct
elements, and practically all of them are found in the RAjasUya.143
This island culture is part of the vast expanse of the Austronesian language
family. As we have seen, a number of scholars have pointed out remarkable
lexical similarities between IE and Austronesian. Unlike in the case
of the Mundas, contacts of the Indo-Europeans with the Austronesians are
hard to locate even in theory, unless we assume that the Austronesians
at one time had a presence in India (and even then, India is a big place).
if a myth or religious custom is attested in India but not in the other
IE cultures, this need not mean that the Indians have borrowed it from
“pre-Aryan natives” or so. It can also mean that the other Indo-Europeans
have lost what was originally a pan-IE heirloom. All of them have
started by going through the same bottleneck, passing through Afghanistan,
immediately plunging themselves into a very different climate from India’s
permanent summer, so that they had to adopt a very different lifestyle.
And as they moved on, the difference only got bigger. Of practically
all IE myths attested in some IE cultures, we know that they have been
lost in other (generally in most) IE cultures; it is statistically to bib
expected that some myths have survived only in the Hindu tradition.
And because of the full survival of Pagan religion in India plus the long
centuries of literacy, it is in fact to be expected that a much higher
percentage than the statistical average has only survived in India.
So, probably, some myths attested only in Hinduism are purely IE, and if
they are also attested in a non-IE neighbouring culture, the possibility
remains that the latter has borrowed it from the Indo-Europeans.
5.5.7. Harappa, teacher
separate from the importation of Southeast-Asian myths through the Austro-Asiatic
population of the Ganga basin, Sergent also notes similarities between
Harappan and Chinese civilizations unrelated to Munda lore. An important
myth is that of the cosmogonic tortoise, the Chinese symbol of the universe;
also the vehicle of Varuna, god of world order, and the form which, in
the Shatapatha Brahmana, Prajapati takes to create the world. A
tortoise-shaped construction forms part of the Yajur-Vedic fire altar,
and the tortoise has also been depicted in a giant sculpture found in Harappa,
indicating a similar myth.144 The tortoise
as a cosmogonic symbol may well be one such mythic motif which is purely
IE yet not attested in the non-Indian branches of IE. There is no
indication for a foreign origin, and the tortoise’s association with the
Yamuna river (like the crocodile with the Ganga, the swan with the Saraswati)
adds to its indigenous Northwest-Indian character.
also mentions the common origin of the Chinese and Hindu systems of 27
lunar mansions (Xiu, Nakshatra), which we have already considered.
He admits that it could only have originated in an advanced culture, and
that this was not Mesopotamia. He also notes
that the Nakshatra system starts with the Pleiades/kRttikA,
which occupied the vernal equinox position in the centuries around 2,400
BC, exactly during the florescence of the Indus cities.145 So,
Harappa is the best bet as originator of this system, which spread to China
and later also to West Asia. Sergent wonders aloud whether the similarities
should be attributed to Harappa being “the teacher of China, whose civilization’s
beginning is contemporaneous”.146
us that the Nakshatra division of the heavens in unknown in other IE cultures,
and in this case I would not speculate that they had known it but lost
it along the way: the system was invented long after they had left India. This
simple fact that there already was IE history before the genesis of the
Nakshatra system also explains another fact he mentions: “The Rg-Veda doesn’t
allude to it, except in its 10th mandala, the youngest one according to
most indologists.”147 And even the youngest
book only mentions “constellations” (RV 10:85:2), a concept known to all
cultures, without specifying them as lunar mansions. At any rate,
it is only at the end of (if not completely after) the Rg-Vedic period,
well after the European branches of IE had left India, that the Nakshatra
system was devised. This indicates once more that the Rg-Veda was
is confirmed once more by, another fact related by Sergent: “Another aspect
of the continuity between Indus and historical India is marked in the personal
names: the oldest in Vedic India are in perfect conformity with Indo-European
customs and highlight mostly the attributes with which an individual (or
his family) adorns himself. In a later period
astral names appear in India, which is foreign to the customs observed
elsewhere among the Indo-Europeans”.148 Exactly:
the Rg-Vedic people lived before the heyday of astronomy in Harappa and
before the starry sky acquired a central place in the late-Vedic “and”
in the Harappan religion.
5.5.8. The Harappan contribution
is remarkable that Sergent has identified the Oriental origin of so many
Hindu myths, that he has identified the Dravidian and even African origin
of so many Hindu customs (including even the purity concept underlying
post-Vedic caste relations)149, yet he has
said relatively little about specifically Harappan contributions, eventhough
these should logically have made a much larger impact. After all,
the Harappans were more numerous, more advanced and more literate than
the Mundas, and it is in their territory that the invading Aryans settled
before scouting around in the then peripheral and relatively backward Munda-speaking
be sure, Sergent devotes a chapter to the Harappan heritage in Hindu civilization.
Thus, the weights and measures found in Lothal are the same ones which
Kautilya has defined in his Arthashastra.150
Personally, I would add that apart from being an important fact in itself,
this continuity may also be symptomatic for a profounder continuity pertaining
to fundamental cultural traits. Thus, the same search for standardization
visible in the decimal measurements and in the orderly geometrical lay-out
of the Harappan cities is evident in the rigorous structure of the Vedic
hymns; in the attempt in the later Vedic literature to categorize all types
of phenomena in neat little systems (from verbal conjugation classes listed
by the grammarians through the Manu Smrti’s artificial genealogy of the
occupational castes in society to the Kama Sutra’s varieties of sexual
intercourse)151; and in the laborious ritual
and architectonic details laid down in Brahminical texts for the proper
construction of Vedic altars.
correctly notes that statuettes of mother goddesses have been found in
large numbers in the Harappan cities, that mother goddesses are equally
common in popular Hinduism, and that these are very uncommon in the historic
IE religions. He also adds that in Europe, mother goddesses originated
in the neolithic Old European culture, and remained popular all through
the IE Pagan period to be picked up for christianization as Our Lady, suggesting
a parallel: in India like in Europe, the popular pre-IE mother goddess
survived and even asserted itself against the male-dominated IE official
IE religion was not hostile to the goddess cult: when the Church sought
to win over the devout by accepting their goddess worship in a christianized
form, most of Europe had been IE-speaking for several thousand years.
All memory of a pre-IE period had vanished, yet these Celts and Romans
and Germans venerated goddesses. In their mythologies, goddesses
played only a supporting act, but this is the same situation as in Puranic
Hinduism, in which goddess worship is widespread eventhough most myths
have the male gods in the starring roles. It is like in real life:
men need to dramatize their importance with all kinds of heroism, women
simply are important without making such fuss over it. The Virgin
Mary is by far the most popular Catholic saint, still present on every
rural street corner around my village, much more popular than Jesus and
His Father, yet the parts about her in the New Testament and the stories
confabulated about her are very few. Therefore, our view of IE religion
may be distorted by the fact that we rely on textual sources and myths,
which belong to the public and official part of the religion; while by
contrast, of Harappan religion we only have cult objects, showing us religion
as it was lived by the people.
mentions the association of gods with animals as their respective “vehicle”
(vAhana: Vishnu’s eagle, Shiva’s bull, Saraswati’s swan etc.) as
an element of Hinduism which is commonly attributed to the pre-Aryan Harappans. But
he minimizes this contribution, pointing out that such associated animals
are common throughout the IE pantheon, e.g. Athena with her owl, Wodan
with his raven, Jupiter who can appear as an eagle, Poseidon as a horse,
Demeter as a cow.152 In one case, the correspondence
is even more exact: like Hindu goddess Saranyu (mother of the Ashwins),
Celtic goddess Epona is imagined as either mare or rider.
more astronomy-based amendments to IE customs are mentioned as effects
of Harappan influence, e.g. the fixation of the goddess festival (which
existed in other parts of the IE world as well - see that the Indo-Europeans
had goddess cults of their own?) at the autumnal equinox. Very significant
is the “stellar vestment”: the shirt worn by the famous Harappan “priest-king”
shows little three-petaled designs (also in evidence on other Harappan
depictions), which Sergent, following Parpola, interprets as depictions
of stars, exactly like in the scriptural description of the tArpya
coat which the king must wear at some point in the RAjasUya ceremony. In
post-Harappan centuries, Mesopotamian kings are known to have worn such
stellar vestments, and the China court ritual was likewise full of celestial
see happening in the Harappan period is that a particular IE culture transforms
itself under the impact of the florescence of what I would call a first
scientific revolution; there is no indication of a foreign impact.
Sergent has the facts under his own eyes without realizing their significance:
“Shiva, Varuna, Yama, Durga-Parvati, we already said it, are deities of
IE origin, the rituals concerning fire, soma and the person of the
king are equally of IE if not Indo-Iranian origin. But
it is now obvious that the Indo-Aryans, upon arriving in India, have amply
harvested the Harappan heritage and included its ritual customs (construction
of hearth-altars, rites inside buildings, use of the stellar vestment,
ritual baths, fixation of feasts on the stellar equinoxes…) in their own
religion.”154 Well, building facilities had
been vastly improved, astronomical knowledge had been developed, so these
innovations are not a matter of syncretism, merely of material and intellectual
continuity was there? Apart from numerous material items, we note
Harappan depictions of men wearing a tuft of hair on their backheads like
Brahmins do, and of women wearing anklets. Some pictures suggest
the notion of the “third eye”. Most importantly, the Harappan people
have remained in place: “the Italian anthropologist has emphasized not
only that the skulls of Mohenjo Daro resemble those
of today’s Sindh and those of Harappa resemble those of today’s Panjab,
but even that the individual variability is identical today to what it
was four thousand years ago.”155 Though
Sergent considers it exaggerated to say that “the Indus civilization is
still alive today”, I would comment that it is not very exaggerated.156
point for now is that we really have seen very little evidence of the incorporation
in Vedic tradition of elements which are foreign to it and which are traceable
to the Harappan civilization. Compared with the limited but very
definite list of items borrowed by Hindu tradition from Eastern cultures,
the harvest in the case of the Harappan contribution is of a different
type, larger but murkier. In spite of the ample archaeological material
(quite in contrast with the zero objects identified as Vedic-age Austra-Asiatic),
we don’t get to see a sequence of “now it’s in Harappa, and now it enters
Vedic tradition”. We don’t get to see that clear contrast between
Harappan and Vedic which most scholars have taken for granted. What
we see is on the one hand plenty of elements which are simply in common
between the Vedic and Harappan cultures, and on the other certain late-Vedic
innovations which constitute a departure from the common IE heritage but
which are perfectly explainable through internal developments, particularly
in proto-scientific knowledge and material control of the environment.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.402.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.323-324, with reference to Jarl
Charpentier: “Ueber Rudra-Siva”, Wiener Zeitschrift zur Kunde des Morgenlandes,
23 (1909), p. 151-179.
Talageri: The Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, Ch. 14.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.252-278.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.139.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.139.
Decriphering the Indus Script, p.221.
Jayakar: The Earth Mother, Penguin 1989 (1980), p.30. Remark that
the Gonds are Dravidian-speaking tribals, which complicates the picture:
are their customs to be treated as the heritage of native tribals who adopted
the immigrant Dravidian language, or as Dravidian heritage?
shapeless stones associated with Shiva are comparable to the Black Stone
in the Kaaba in Mecca, the central idol of the ancient Pagans of Arabia,
which was dedicated to Hubal, a male moon-god resembling Shiva. For this
reason, Indian authors have suggested some kind of kinship between the
pre-Islamic cult in Mecca and the Shiva cult. This theory is critically
discussed in Sita Ram Goel: Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them,
vol.2, 2nd enlarged edition (Voice of India, Delhi 1993, appendix 2.
Jayakar: The Earth Mother, p. 20-22.
Van Alphen, of the Etnografisch Museum, Antwerp; personal communication,
Jayakar: The Earth Mother, p.36.
a serious discussion of the profound meanings of linga worship, see Swami
Karpatri & Alain Danièlou: Le mystère du culte du
linga, Ed. du Relié, Robion 1993.
for a more academic variation: “The Brahmans succeeded in concealing the
alcoholic and sexual-orgiastic character of the adoration of the phallus
(lingam or linga) and transformed it into a pure ritualistic temple cult”,
according to Max Weber: The Religion of India, Munshiram Manoharlal,
Delhi 1992 (ca. 1910), p.298. These Westerners’ attitude is like that of
the man in the joke, who visited a psychiatrist and was made to do the
Rorschach test (i.e. revealing your psychic depths by saying what you “see”
in shapeless ink blots). He described all kinds of sexual scenes,
but when the psychiatrist diagnosed him as “sexually obsessed”, he protested:
“Sexually obsessed, me? But it’s you who is showing me these
7:21:5 and 10:99:3.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 139; emphasis added.
Gimbutas: “Proto-Indo-European Culture: The Kurgan Culture during the Fifth,
Fourth and Third Millennia BC”, in George Cardona et al., eds.: Indo-European
and Indo-Europeans, p. 191.
Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and
ethnic identity of the Dasas”, Studia Orientalia, Helsinki 1988,
p.238, quoted in K.D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, p.222-223.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 161.
Mahadevan interviewed by Omar Khan, Chennai, 17-11998, on
Indus and the Saraswati”, interview with R.S. Sharma published on
from 2-12-1998 onwards.
Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: textual-linguistic and
archaeological evidence”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South
Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and
ethnic identity of the Dasas”, Studia Orientalia, Helsinki 1988,
p. 238, quoted in K.D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, p.
M.M. Winn: Heaven, Heroes and Happiness. The Indo-European Roots of
Western Ideology, p. 34-35.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.483, n.639, with reference to
Louis de la Vallée Poussin: “Totémisme et végétalisme”,
Extrait des Bulletins de la Classe des Lettres et des Sciences Morales
et Politiques, 1929, 3me série, XV, p.4-9, who emphasizes the
similarity with devotional practices among the Kol tribe and among the
Semang, a tribe in Malaysia. The more common explanation is that
pUjA came from the south.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.386, quoting Jean Przyluski:
“Un ancien peuple du Pendjab: les Udumbara”, Journal Asiatique 208, 1926,
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p-372, citing Taittiriya Brahmana
7:1:5:1-2 and Shatapatha Brahmana 14:1:2:11.
parallel argument could be made from the commonly assumed etymology of
GaNgA, a name already appearing in the oldest part of the Rg-Veda
(6:45:31), viz. as an Austro-Asiatic loan cognate to Chinese kiang/jiang,
“river”. This would mean that the Munda presence in the (western!)
Ganga basin well precedes the beginning of the Vedic period, and that they
were either the first or the dominant group, so that they could impose
their nomenclature. However, Zhang Hongming: “Chinese etyma for river”,
Journal of Chinese Linguistics, January 1998, p. 1-43, has refuted
the derivation of Chinese kiang from Austro-Asiatic, arguing among
other things that the reconstructed Austro-Asiatic form is *krong,
still preserved in the Mon-Khmer languages (even the river name Mekong
appears unrelated; I once heard Prof. Satyavrat Shastri explain it
as a Cambodian sanskritism from MA GangA). This makes the
Munda origin of GaNgA less likely. A third language family
may be involved, or an obscure IE etymon. How about Middle Dutch
konk-el, “twist, turn, whirlpool”?
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 116.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.378-379.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.378-79, with reference to Georges
Dumézil: Le Problème des Centaures, Paris 1929, p.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.381, with reference to Shatapatha
Brahmana 5:3-5, and Arthur M. Hocart: Kingship, OUP 1927, p.76-83.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.116, with reference to John
Marshall: Mohenjo Daro and the Indus civilization, London 1931.
date, approximately, has been accepted by jean Filliozat: “Notes d’astronomie
ancienne de l’Iran et de l’Inde”, Journal Asiatique 250, 1962,
p.325-350; Albert Pike: “Lectures on the Arya”, Kentucky 1873; and A.L.
Basham: The Wonder That Was India, London 1954, according to Bernard
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.422, n.65. We’ll stick to this
date for the present discussion, but not without mentioning that Asko Parpola
(Decipherment of the Indus Script, p.206, p.263-265) himself gives
reasons for thinking that Aldebaran had been the starting-point earlier,
which would push back the birthdate of the Nakshatra system to ca. 3054
BC, the time of the pre-Harappan Kot Diji culture.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.380.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.118.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.121.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.483, n.639: “As the same importance
of purity is found in other societies, e.g. Semitic societies including
even Islam and sub-Saharan Africa, it is not impossible that we have here
another substratum: that of the ex-Dravidians of North India [Sindh-Gujarat],
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 1 13.
Cyrus Spitama, central character in Gore Vidal’s historical novel Creation
puts it: east of the Indus, everything is counted. Witness the 64
skills, the 24 categories plus the 1 spectator of Samkhya (“numbering”)
cosmology, the 4 noble truths and the noble 8-fold path of the Buddha,
the 8-limbed yoga of Patanjali, the 4 stages of life, Jawaharlal Nehru’s
“5 principles of peaceful coexistence” etc.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 1 15.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.121, with reference to Asko
Parpola: Deciphering the Indus Script, p.201-218.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.124.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 128, quoting Mario Cappieri:
“Ist die Indus-Kultur und ihre Bevölkerung wirklich verschwunden?”,
Anthropos 60:22,1965, p.22.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.128. The quoted phrase, which
Sergent dismisses in footnote (p.425, n.146) as “a Hindu nationalist myth”,
is from Dharma Pal Agrawal: L’Archéologie de l’Inde, CNRS,
Paris 1986, p.2.
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