6. Departing thoughts
6.1. SOME FALSE PROBLEMS
that the direction of the migration from the IE language family from its
Urheimat should be reversed, may still be hard to digest. Could several
generations of scholars have been collectively wrong? One of the
objections which I expect both laymen and academics to raise, is the magnitude
of the chronological revision needed to account for a scenario which makes
the Rg-Veda pre- instead of post-Harappan. The non-invasionist school
shifts the date of the Rg-Veda back a full two thousand years. Could
the scholars have been so wrong about such matters as the rate of change
of languages, that the length of the history of Sanskrit has to be increased
the methods used in estimating the age of the fragmentation of PIE into
the IE language groups is, or rather was, glottochronology, an extrapolation
of the observed rate of change in languages onto the preliterate past.
When comparing dictionaries or literary corpora of successive centuries,
one can count the number of words disappearing from or newly appearing
in a language; and likewise the phonological and grammatical changes.
Yet, it is very doubtful that the results obtained can reasonably be extrapolated,
except the unavoidable finding that the rate of change is very uneven.
Languages develop slower or faster depending on the cultural changes in
the speech community, on the rate of contact with other languages, and
on purely random factors. Thus, Greeks and Albanians both lived for
several centuries under Turkish rule, and this had, little effect on the
Greek language but made a tremendous impact on Albanian, which replaced
a large part of its vocabulary with Turkish words. Therefore,
19th-century calculations of the age of IE on this basis are no longer
relied upon: “glottochronology is a methodological deadlock”.1
it is easy to show that languages evolve more slowly than the standard
version of the AIT implies. Linear-B Greek is a thousand years older
than classical Greek, yet it is unmistablably Greek, not some half-way
stage between Greek and the other branches of IE. The Romance (and
likewise the Slavic) languages have gone their separate ways nearly two
thousand years ago, and yet they still have a whole lot in common.
It takes many centuries to arrive at the degree of difference as exists
between Indo-Iranian and the other branches of IE, and even centuries to
arrive at the known difference between Iranian and Sanskrit.
In a discussion
on the Aryan question, a friend of mine who is an AIT-believing philologist
remarked off-hand that the Indo-Aryan languages showed more internal change
(from Old through Middle to New Indo-Aryan) than the other IE language
groups. This may be true, if only because Old Indo-Aryan was much
more archaic and closer to reconstructed PIE than the oldest know Latin
or Slavic or Armenian (another reason being that modern Hindi or Bengali
are nieces rather than daughters of Sanskrit). it is especially remarkable
when you consider that the Indo-Aryan languages have lived in a comparatively
very stable linguistic environment, with little foreign impact; even Persian,
the court language in the 13th to 19th century in North India, has only
imparted some vocabulary but failed to influence Hindi grammar.
assume, then, that this impression of a relatively high rate of change
in Indo-Aryan is correct. The rate of change in Indo-Aryan would
not be abnormally high if its history is made two thousand years longer,
as the Indian critics of the AIT maintain. This would become perfectly
normal if the time span from Vedic Sanskrit to modem Hindi is found to
be twice as long as that from Homeric Greek to modem Greek, i.e. if the
Vedas are dated to before rather than after the golden age of the Harappan
context, the objection will also be raised of the incompatibility of the
non-invasionist chronology with the date of Zarathushtra, now commonly
assigned to ca. 1200 BC. However, this date of Zarathushtra is itself
based on the AIT, on the assumption that Zarathushtra was only slightly
younger than the Vedic seers. Move the date of the Veda, and Iranologists
will move the date of Zarathushtra accordingly. Moreover, the time
distance between the Avesta and the Rg-Veda is definitely longer than usually
assumed. Zarathustra writes in a language that is younger than Vedic.
the introduction to his authoritative translation of Zarathustra’s Gathas,
Prof. S. Insler writes: “The prophet’s hymns are laden with ambiguities
resulting both from the merger of many grammatical endings and from
the intentionally compact and often elliptical style…”2
Compared with Vedic, Zarathustra’s language was already eroded morphologically
and phonologically. Admittedly, such glottochronological argument
is in general not strong (modern Lithuanian has preserved Indo-Europeanisms
which Greek had lost 3000 years ago), but here we have two very closely
related languages, both in the same solemn and conservative style of religious
hymns. Moreover, Zarathustra also expresses a stage of religious
development that is quite post-Vedic (e.g. his reaction against animal
sacrifice, paralleled by the same development in post-Rg-Vedic India),
being in some respects a reaction against Vedic notions and practices.
I suggest Zarathushtra belonged to the Bactrian Bronze Age culture, while
the Rg-Veda belonged to the pre-Harappan stage (incipient urbanization,
no metal weapons yet) of the Indus-Saraswati culture.
agree with the Iranian traditions concerning the age of Zarathushtra?
Yes and no. Iranian literature has highly divergent accounts of the
age of Zarathushtra, ranging from 5,000 to 600 BC. One of the dates
is bound to be close to the actual date which will have to be decided on
the basis of external evidence, not least Zarathushtra’s relation with
6.1.3. The West-Asian
serious objection concerns the term Asura: in the Rg-Veda a word
for “god” (cfr. Germanic Ase, Aesir), in later Vedic literature
a word for “demon”, obviously parallel and causally related with the Iranian
preference for Asura/Ahura as against the demonized Deva/Daeva,
the remaining Hindu term for “god”.3 In
the Indo-Aryan diaspora in West Asia of the 2nd millennium BC, we find
quite a few personal names with Asura, e.g. the Mitannic general
Kart-ashura, 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.4 Bernard
Sergent explicitly deduces a synchronism between early Vedic and Mitannic-Kassite,
which tallies splendidly with the AIT chronology.
this can only be refuted at the level of hypothesis. it is perfectly possible,
even if not yet attested archaeologically or literarily, that along with
the Iranians, a purely Indo-Aryan-speaking group emigrated from India in
the Rg-Vedic period to seek its fortune in the Far West (it may be from
them that Uralic speakers in Central Asia borrowed the term Asura
along with Sapta, Sasar, etc.). It is these Indo-Aryan bands
of warriors who engineered the conquests of their Mitannic and Kassite
host populations. Considering that Vedic names are still given to
Hindu children today, thousands of years after Vedic Sanskrit went out
of daily use, and often in communities which speak a non-Indo-Aryan language,
it is quite conceivable that the Indo-Aryans in West Asia managed to preserve
their Vedic tradition from the time of their emigration until the mid-2nd
millennium BC. And if so, they had to preserve it in the form it
had at the time of their emigration, i.c. complete with the veneration
for Asura, the Lord.
6.1.4. Greater India
Indian scholars unnecessarily overstate their claims, usually to the effect
of magnifying the Hindu presence and role in the genesis of civilization
in general or specified cultural achievements in particular. Thus,
most of them used to be (and many still are) enthusiastic believers in
the initial assumption of the fledgling Indo-European philology that Sanskrit
was the mother of all other IE languages, rather than their sister. Western
scholars can at best smile condescendingly when they read the fairly frequent
claim that Hindus created the Mayan culture in Central America, not to
speak of Paramesh Choudhury’s claim that Chinese culture came from India.5
same spirit, the impression that the Kassites along with the Mitannians
were to an extent Indo-Aryan, has been incorporated in an Indocentric account
of IE expansion. Non-invasionists have made much of the presence
of Sanskrit names in the Kassite dynasty in Babylon. Yet, the reality
revealed by this evidence may be more complicated than is usually assumed.
We have information from Semitic Mesopotamians about the Kassite language,
and it was not Indo-Aryan. A number of known
Kassite words are apparently unrelated to any known language, e.g. mashu,
(“god”; yanzi, “king”; saribu, “foot”. They also seem
to have a formation of the plural unknown in IE, viz. with an infix, e.g.
sirpi, sirpami, “brown one(s)”, or minzir, minzamur,
“dotted one(s)”,6 Assuming
that the language described as “Kassite” and located by the Babylonian
sources in the hills east of Mesopotamia is indeed the language of the
Kassite dynasty (for language names sometimes change referent)7,
does this not refute the Indian connection of the Kassites?
to the relief of the much-maligned Hindu chauvinists, this state of affairs
suggests a third scenario, viz. that a non-IE population in Iran used Sanskrit
names referring to Vedic gods. Let the Kassites have spoken a non-IE
language.8 This would be the same situation
as in the Dravidian provinces: a non-IE-speaking population maintains its
own language but adopts Sanskritic lore and nomenclature. This would
mean that Vedic culture had spread as much to the west as we know it has
spread to the east and south, and that a part of western Iran (well before
its iranianization) was as much part of Greater India as Kerala or Bali
became in later centuries.
6.1.5. Simple and avoidable
search for Aryan origins, scholars have sometimes been misled by ignorance
of very down-to-earth facts. Let me give an example from my own experience.
The approach known as linguistic paleontology has tried to connect the
IE vocabulary with the flora and fauna of a particular region or climate
zone, but mistakes have been made concerning the Indian fauna. It has been
said that the otter (Sanskrit udra, Hindi Ud-bilAw) does
not exist in India, while the word otter is part of the original PIE vocabulary,
thus confirming that India cannot be the Urheimat. While I was pondering
this problem, the answer came from my little daughter: “Daddy, when are
we going to the zoo?” That’s where I learned of the simple fact that otters
do live in the rivers of the Himalayan foothills.
the salmon has been used to decide the Urheimat question, with the claim
that it only lives in the Caspian area (serving the interests of both the
Kurgan and the Anatolian Urheimat schools).9 The
IE word *laksos has retained its original meaning in German, Lithuanian,
Russian, Ossetic. It has also developed the general meaning “fish”
in Kuchi (Tokharic B); “reddish”, “white-spotted red” (i.e. salmon-coloured)
in some Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages; and in Indo-Aryan also “100,000”.10
The core meaning is undeniably the salmon, so if there is any validity
in linguistic paleontology, there ought to be salmon in the Urheimat.
Well, it so turns out that you do find salmon in some rivers of northwestern
worse when we come to inside knowledge of Hindu civilization, or to the
more technical aspects of this debate. Many advances made by scholars
in one discipline, or in one country, are not known to scholars working
elsewhere or in another discipline. I am sure that in this book, I must
have overlooked pertinent information which is publicly available but somehow
not within my horizon; and I see it happen to others as well. This
is where doubt and anxiousness come in handy: if you’re worried that you
may be wrong, you get motivated to scan all the sources of information.
where the prevalent self-assuredness in both camps is so counterproductive.
And of course, everyone should realize by now that we need an interdisciplinary
approach: the fact that Sir Mortimer Wheeler dug up Harappan cities did
not by itself give him the competence to interpret his findings in terms
of Vedic or non-Vedic culture. Linguists and archaeologists and other
experts in their respective fields ought to give a hearing to specialists
in neglected aspects of the evidence, starting with Vedic studies.
funny part of the problem is the numerous cases where scholars don’t see
the import of data even when these are presented to them. Thus, during
question time after his lecture, I heard a prominent invasionist scholar
explain to someone who brought up the evidence of the Saraswati having
dried up and thereby providing a terminus ante quem for the Saraswati-centred
Rg-Veda, that “the Saraswati didn’t disappear completely, for it is still
mentioned in Sutra texts ca. 600 BC”. He did not realize that the
whole chronology of Vedic literature is at stake here, and that the conventional
date of the Sutra literature should not be taken for granted. Indeed,
non-invasionists claim precisely that the Sutra literature was largely
produced during the Harappan period, before 2,000 BC, when the Saraswati
was still a mighty river. The thing to do here is not to address
stray remarks but to first acquaint oneself with the complete version of
history as conceived by the opposing side.
Haarmann: “Basic’ vocabulary and language contacts: the disillusion of
glottochronology”, Indogermanische Forschungen, 1990, p.35.
Insler: The Gathas of Zarathustra, in the series Acta Iranica,
3rd series vol.1, Brill, Leiden 1975, p.1 (emphasis mine).
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.211 and p.280, makes the very
popular mistake of seeing “the Asuras” as a separate class of gods next
to “the Devas”. In fact, the distinction and opposition between them
is a late-Vedic development connected with the Irano-Indian (or Mazdeic-Vedic)
conflict. In the Rg-Veda, Deva and Asura are as synonymous
as “God” and “Lord” are in Christian parlance.
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.210. In this context, though
assyriologists might reject it as just too obvious, something can be said
in favour of a link between Asura and the city name Assur,
whence the ethnonym Assyrian. Some Indian authors are at any rate
eager to read a Sanskritic origin in Sanskrit-sounding names like Assur-bani-pal.
Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.477, scornfully mentions
Paramesh Choudhury: Indian Origin of the Chinese Nation, and The India
We Have Lost: Did India Colonize and Civilize Sumeria, Egypt, Greece and
Europe? Strange theses indeed, but Choudhury’s more recent book
The Aryan Hoax shows a rare familiarity with contemporary scholarly thinking
on the Aryan question, which Sergent fails to acknowledge.
van Soldt: “Het Kassitisch”, Phoenix (Leiden) 1998, p.90-93.
the name “Frankish/French” originally refers to a Germanic language, roughly
Old Dutch, yet now refers to the Romance language spoken in a state founded
by the Frankish and Germanic-speaking king Clovis. Likewise, the
name “Hittite” of an IE language is in fact the same word as “Hattic”,
name of the pre-IE Anatolian language displaced by Hittite.
of my history teachers in secondary school, Father Koenraad, used to speculate
that the names Hatti and Kassi- are the same: fricative [h] or [x] corresponding
to occlusive [k], as between Greek kard- and Germanic heart,
and intervocalic [tt] softened to [ss], as in the Greek allophonic variation
thalatta/thalassa (“sea”) or in the softening of intervocalic [t]
from Greek demokratia to [s] in English democracy.
This hypothesis, while unprovable, is as good as any other: it is by no
means impossible that a tribe in the Kurdish mountains retained a language
cognate to that of the original Anatolians, even when the latter lost theirs
in favour of the incoming IE language now known as Hittite.
T. Gamkrelidze and V. Ivanov: Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans,
lAkh, Sanskrit laksha means “100,000”. The derivation may
be analogous to that of the Chinese character wan, “10,000”, which
depicts an ant, hence “bristling anthill”, “uncountably many”.
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