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Neither Aryans migrated into north-west India, nor did Tamils migrate into South India: Michel Danino

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By Nithin Sridhar

The Aryan Question: Part 5

The Aryan question continues to remain highly controversial and multidimensional in nature. In order to unravel the nitty-gritty of the issue, NewsGram interviewed various scholars who have researched various aspects of the issue in depth.

In this ‘fifth installment’ of ‘The Aryan Question’, NewsGram brings an exclusive interview of Michel Danino, independent scholar, educationist, and guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, who has authored books and papers on the issue, including The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati (Penguin India, 2010). He is also a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Interview with Michel Danino

Nithin Sridhar: You have been researching the origins of River Sarasvati for many years. Can you share with us why River Sarasvati is so important for understanding ancient Indian history? What is its relevance in the debate on the Aryan issue?

Michel Danino: The Sarasvati River is important at two levels. One, as a river, since it is praised as such in the Rig-Veda, India’s oldest text; it is clear that a number of the Rig-Vedic hymns were composed in the region where the river flowed. It was part of the Vedic landscape, just like Sindhu (the Indus) or its tributaries; together they formed the Saptasidhava (the “seven rivers”). However, the Sarasvati is the only one of those rivers that disappeared, hence the search not only for the river’s location but for the causes of its disappearance. Secondly, the river was so revered that it was turned into a goddess with the additional symbolic meaning of inspiration, then speech, therefore, knowledge, therefore, education, the arts, etc. Sarasvati is thus an important symbol in Indian culture.

Michel Danino
Michel Danino

If the river’s identification has become controversial, it is only since the 1980s, when it became clear from the archaeological evidence that the river dried up in its central basin around 1900 BCE. In that case, how could Aryans supposedly arriving about 400 years later describe the river as of “mighty waters”, flowing “unbroken” “from the mountain to the sea”? There is a chronological impossibility. The Rig-Veda was composed while the river was in full flow, and on the basis of current archaeological evidence, this would take us before 2600 BCE (when the river first broke up near what is today the international border in western Rajasthan). Of course, proponents of the Aryan invasion/migration theory will not accept this.

NS: You have identified the River Sarasvati mentioned in the Vedas with the dried bed of the Ghaggar-Hakra River. Can you briefly explain the evidence that has helped you to arrive at this identity? What bearing does this identification have on the whole debate surrounding Aryan migration?

M Danino: The Sarasvati’s identification with the dry bed of the Ghaggar-Hakra of Haryana, Punjab, northern Rajasthan and the Cholistan is not mine at all. It was first made by the French geographer Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin way back in 1855! It was soon endorsed by almost all European Indologists (such as HH Wilson, F Max Müller, Marc Aurel Stein, Louis Renou), geographers and geologists (such as RD Oldham), and later archaeologists (Stuart Piggott, Mortimer Wheeler, and Aurel Stein again, not to speak of recent ones like RAllchin or GL Possehl and numerous Indian archaeologists). Today’s critics of this identification conceal this longstanding consensus as they dishonestly want to create an impression that the identification is a recent “Hindutva” theory. It is no such thing.

The reasons for the identification are very simple: 1) In its tenth and final mandala, the Rig-Veda has a hymn “in praise of rivers” (the famous Nadistuti Sukta) which lists Sarasvati between the Yamuna and the Sutlej; 2) later literature, from the Brahmanas to the Mahabharata not only confirms the river’s location but records its gradual retreat; 3) there is in Haryana a small “Sarsuti”, a tributary to the Ghaggar, and also an old tradition that the Sarasvati’s source is nearby in the Shivalik Hills. These are precisely the points that the nineteenth-century scholars used to reach their conclusion.

Also Read: Interview with Dr N Kazanas: Vedic Sanskrit older than Avesta, Baudhayana mentions westward migrations from India

NS: Some Aryan migration proponents argue that the Rigveda refers to two different Sarasvati rivers. They identify the one referred to as “Naditama” in older portions of Rigveda with Helmand in Afghanistan, and the Sarasvati mentioned in Nadisukta and other later portions of Rigveda with the Ghaggar. Another argument forwarded to support Helmand hypothesis is that ‘Samudra’ refers to ‘lake’ and not ‘ocean’. What is your view on this?

M Danino: The linguistic argument that the Helmand had an ancient Avestan name, “Harahvaiti”, which is cognate with “Sarasvati”, proves nothing, since we might just as well turn it around and propose that this is evidence of a migration out of India. Or, if we get a little less obsessed with migrations, we could see it as a sign of cultural interaction. In any case, there is nothing to show that the Rig-Veda refers to one river in its older hymns and to another in the Nadistuti Sukta — this is an artificial device imposed on the text to get away from the chronological implications I referred to above. The absurdity becomes clear if you consider that the Ghaggar had long dried up by the time (1500 to 1200 BCE) the Aryans are supposed to have reached it: why should they transfer the name “Sarasvati”, a river they extolled, to what had by then become a puny seasonal stream?

As regards “Samudra”, the word can indeed be used in principle for any sizeable water body, but in many passages, it clearly refers to the ocean. Thus the legend of Bhujyu, rescued from a storm in the “billowy Samudra” by the Ashvins. There are many mentions of seven rivers meeting the Samudra, of waves, ships, storms, etc. In fact, HH Wilson plainly stated in 1866 that the Rig-Veda’s hymns were “familiar with the ocean and its phenomena”; Max Müller agreed, writing in 1882 that “the word Samudra shows in by far the larger number of passages the clear meaning of ocean.” It is silly to deny this simply to portray Aryans as freshly arrived from landlocked Afghanistan!

Ghaggar river flowing in Haryana. Photo: www.niticentral.com
Ghaggar river flowing in Haryana. Photo: www.niticentral.com

NS: Can you briefly explain the salient features of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization? Also, share about the time period, urbanization, and the eventual decline of it.

M Danino: It was the first urban civilization of the Indian subcontinent. After a few millennia of slow and gradual developments, by 2600 BCE cities came up over much of the Northwest. They did not boast pyramids, imposing temples or colossal statues, but displayed planning to an unprecedented degree in the Bronze Age; Mohenjo-daro also had a remarkable drainage system. Harappans were primarily manufacturers, craftsmen and traders (of course agriculturists too). The cities appear wealthy enough, though not ostentatiously so. It is now clear that by 1900 BCE (a little earlier or later depending on the region) the whole civilization disintegrated and cities were either abandoned or reverted to semi-rural settlements. The current consensus is that climatic and environmental changes (including the drying up of the Sarasvati at about the same time) played a major role in this.

NS: Contrary to the assertions of AMT proponents that Indus civilization was a non-Vedic, non-Aryan civilization, you have argued that there is continuity between Indus civilization and the later Vedic civilization in the Gangetic plains. Can you shed more light on this? What similarities can be observed between the two civilizations?

M Danino: I never speak of “Vedic civilization”, only of “Vedic culture”, and there is no proof that it is “later” — that is no more than an opinion, albeit the dominant one. What I have done is to add my bit to the body of evidence of numerous bridges and commonalities between Harappan and Vedic cultures, many of which have been pointed out for decades, and to the enormous Harappan legacy to the Gangetic civilization of the first millennium BCE. For instance, fire altars are unmistakable at sites like Kalibangan, Lothal and Banawali; Harappan figurines point to some practice of yoga and meditation; Harappan units of weight and length, as well as auspicious proportions, survive, as do several important symbols, concepts of iconography and craft techniques. And much more. The so-called break between the two cultures is, again, an artificial device imposed by the Aryan scenario.

Also Read: Interview with B. B. Lal-1-No evidence for warfare or invasion; Aryan migration too is a myth

NS: The absence of horses and chariots in Harappan sites has been pointed out as being definite evidence of the Indus civilization being Non-Aryan, Non-Vedic civilization. You have extensively written refuting it. Can you summarize your observations?

Horse figurine from Mohenjo-daro. Photo: http://archaeologyonline.net
Horse figurine from Mohenjo-daro. Photo: http://archaeologyonline.net

M Danino: This is a poorly constructed argument as it misrepresents the evidence at every step. Very briefly, it is incorrect to state that the horse was unknown to Harappans: horse bones or teeth have been identified at over a dozen sites (even at a couple of pre-Harappan sites) by the best archaeozoologists so that even conservative archaeologists like Piggott or Wheeler accepted the animal’s presence. The argument also incorrectly implies that with the supposed coming of the Aryans, evidence of the horse should become widespread — quite the contrary, relics of the animal remain few and far between. The horse is also rarely depicted in art until the Mauryan Empire. Finally, 25 years ago, the respected British anthropologist Edmund Leach protested at the misreading of the Rig-Veda that would have a Vedic society full of horses; he pointed out that the animal was, on the contrary, used as a “prestige animal” that would rather point to its rarity. In fact, a century ago, Sri Aurobindo had warned that just as ‘go’ in the Rig-Veda means both a cow and light, ‘ashva’ refers both to the horse and to speed or energy, and many passages were misread by taking the word at its literal meaning. Of course, our Aryan proponents have no use for such nuanced points and continue to bludgeon their “no horse” argument.

NS: The presence of speakers of Brahui (which belongs to Dravidian family of languages) in Balochistan has been used to point out that Dravidian speakers were in North-West India and after the influx of Aryan speakers, they migrated into South India. What is your view on this?

M Danino: One more methodologically flawed argument. Way back in the 1920s, the French linguist Jules Bloch demonstrated that Brahui reached Baluchistan recently, perhaps at the time of the Islamic invasions and probably from central India. This thesis was more recently endorsed by the noted linguist Murray Emeneau, and still more recently by H.H. Hock. Finally, the linguist and mathematician Josef Elfenbein confirmed it using a different approach. It is completely illegitimate to see the language as a “relic” from the Harappan times; the argument, still misused today to establish that the authors of the Indus Valley civilization were “Dravidians,” has no linguistic validity.

NS: Do we find any archaeological pieces of evidence in South India or any literary pieces of evidence in old Tamil Sangam literature that speak about a migration of Dravidians into South India or the interaction between Aryan and Dravidian speakers?

M Danino: There are no references to a northern origin of Tamil speakers in the Sangam literature and no animosity against northern Indians. On the other hand, its earliest layers are already quite familiar with the Vedas and important themes of Hindu mythology, for example, Ganga or the Himalayas are objects of reverence. As regards the archaeological record, just as it has failed in the North to document the supposed arrival of the so-called Aryans, it is completely silent in the South about a migration from the north. Archaeology has no need and no use for the invisible Aryans, which is why most archaeologists have quietly shown them the door.

Also Read: Interview with B. B. Lal-2- Vedic and Harappan are respectively literary and material facets of same civilization

NS: The invasion/migration theory was first hypothesized to explain the commonalities between Sanskrit and certain European languages. In the case of non-invasion, non-migration scenario, how would these commonalities be explained?

M Danino: There are quite a few alternative scenarios, which surprisingly have received very little attention. “Surprisingly” because the failure to trace Aryans — let us now call them Indo-European speakers, a better term anyway — in north India is repeated in central Asia and also Europe; bioanthropology (the study of skeletal remains) and most recent genetic studies have also failed to discern the arrival of a new people in the 2nd millennium BCE.

Alternative linguistic models include (1) models of language propagation that do not require population movement but only contact (such models have been in place since the 19th century); (2) models of a “broad homeland” for Indo-European languages, in which they evolved by convergence rather than divergence from a proto-language (which, in this case, need not have existed at all); (3) models that do accept such a proto-language but put it at a much more remote period, 7000 BCE or beyond, which allows time for more complex interactions; (4) Out-of-India models, in which the proto-language originated from the subcontinent. Let us also note that a few professional linguists go further: “The very idea of an ‘Indo-European’ language family on which Indology is based is scientifically indefensible. IE linguists ignore vast amounts of data that do not fit with their classification. Sanskrit shares some features with Greek and Latin but it also shares equally important features with Afro-Asiatic. Indology as a discipline can be useful if it frees itself from the yoke of IEL [Indo-European linguistics]” (A. & R. McMahon, 2005). Clearly we are far from a linguistic consensus.

NS: Can you briefly summarize the protohistory of India, in the light of currently available archaeological, literary, linguistic, and genetic evidence?

M Danino: We should honestly acknowledge that current data remains insufficient for a complete picture; for instance, only about 10% of the Mature (or urban) Harappan settlements have been excavated. However, there is no reason to assume a discontinuity between the Harappan or Indus civilization and the later Gangetic civilization, as the Aryan model demands: cultural and biological continuities between the two are now numerous and well-documented. The archaeological continuity goes back to 7000 BCE or so at Mehrgarh (Baluchistan) and possibly Bhirrana in Haryana (though much more work needs to be done there).

The literary evidence is more difficult. Since the Rig-Veda does not mention rice, cotton, bricks, cities or ruins, and refers to the Sarasvati as flowing “from the mountain to the sea”, some scholars have been tempted to place its most ancient hymns at a period prior to the Mature Harappan phase (2600-1900 BCE), that is, about 3000 BCE or earlier. That is also what scholars like Tilak and Jacobi had suggested (going back to 4000 BCE, in fact) on astronomical grounds, and we have more such astronomical arguments by now. Of course, the mainstream view remains that the Rig-Veda cannot be older than 1500 BCE, but it has no convincing replies to the many paradoxes that this late date raises.

More in the Series:

Interview with B. B. Lal-1-No evidence for warfare or invasion; Aryan migration too is a myth

Interview with B. B. Lal-2- Vedic and Harappan are respectively literary and material facets of same civilization

Interview with Rajesh Kochhar: Rigvedic people not Harappans, Naditama Saraswati is Helmand in Afghanistan

Interview with Dr N Kazanas: Vedic Sanskrit older than Avesta, Baudhayana mentions westward migrations from India

Next Story

India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Delhi University Students Win the Enactus World Cup 2017

India wins the Enactus World Cup 2017

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Delhi University
India wins Enactus World Cup 2017. Twitter.

New Delhi, Sep 30: After an extremely tough competition between different students across the world in the Enactus World Cup 2017, Team India, represented by Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies (SSCBS), Delhi University emerged as the winner. The winning projects were project UDAAN and Mission RAAHAT.

Supporting the Government of India’s Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, RAAHAT strives to effectively eliminate open defecation and provide safe sanitation in the urban slums; whereas, UDAAN aims at narrowing the digital divide between rural and urban India by setting up computer centres.

The Delhi University college team was led by the college’s faculty advisor, Anuja Mathur and student president of SSCBS Student President Aditya Sharma. The winning projects included 34 more members. The Enactus India and Enactus SSCBS were presented the Ford Better World Award of USD 50,000.

Also Read: Three Indian Women on Fortune’s Most Powerful Business Women

President and Global CEO, Enactus, Rachael A. Jarosh congratulated the Indian for winning the world cup and called the projects- RAAHAT and UDAAN, inspirational success stories of Enactus students, who are sowing businesses. She said that the projects address the real world challenges efficiently and innovatively. Enactus India President Farhan Pettiwala said that the two projects created by Delhi University students contribute to the country’s betterment, as they support the Government’s civil and social agenda.

Enactus is an international nonprofit organisation, with 72,000 students from 1,700 universities in 36 countries, which held its annual global event in London from September 26 to 28. A selected group of 3,500 students, business, government leaders and academicians across the globe were present at the event. Participants for the final competition round are qualified from over 72,000 university students. Each team has about 17 minutes to present their projects of entrepreneurial action.

Enactus works to nurture the entrepreneurial skills of students, and to address fundamental, social and economic challenges by developing innovative and experiential learning opportunities for students.

-by Megha Acharya of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.