By Nithin Sridhar
The Aryan Question: Part 7
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 the previous installment of ‘The Aryan Question’, NewsGram carried the ‘first segment’ of the exclusive interview of Shrikant G. Talageri, independent scholar and author of many books dealing with Aryan issue, including two books analyzing the evidence present in the Rigveda titled ‘Rigveda: A Historical Analysis’ and ‘Rigveda and Avesta: The Final Evidence’.
Read the first segment of the interview with Shrikant G. Talageri: Rigvedic people originally lived east of Saraswati, later expanded westwards during oldest books period
In this ‘Seventh Installment’ of ‘The Aryan Question’ series, here is the ‘second segment’ of the interview.
Interview with Shrikant G. Talageri-2
Nithin Sridhar: Various homelands have been proposed for the supposed Proto-Indo European language that is considered as the mother of Indo-European languages, including Sanskrit ranging from Central Asia and Pontic steppes to India. What is your view on this issue? Can you share regarding the process by which linguistics arrive at the supposed homeland?
Shrikant G. Talageri: There was no concept of “Aryans” anywhere in the world till around 200 years or so ago, and no such race or people were known or recorded anywhere in the world before that date. In 1583, a European traveler and scholar, Filippo Sassetti, first noticed that the languages of northern India bore an uncanny resemblance to the languages of Europe. Much later, in 1786, the colonial scholar Sir William Jones established that the languages of northern India, Iran, Central Asia and Europe are related to each other.
All this (and the subsequent detailed studies by scholars) led to three logical conclusions: (1) All these languages belong to one Language Family [Originally this was called the Aryan language family, but today this is called the Indo-European language family, with 12 branches: from the west, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Iranian and Indo-Aryan, and two extinct branches Anatolian and Tocharian]. (2) All these languages originated from 12 dialects of one hypothetical ancient ancestral language, which is called “Proto-Indo-European”. (3) This Proto-Indo-European language was originally spoken in a small area, which may be called the Original Proto-Indo-European Homeland, and the different dialects spread to their historical habitats (from Sri Lanka and Assam in the east to Iceland and Ireland in the west) by the migrations of the Aryan or Indo-European language speakers.
At first, it was believed that Vedic Sanskrit was itself the ancient ancestral language and India the homeland, but certain factors made them abandon that theory:
- The discovery (after detailed linguistic analyses) that Vedic Sanskrit was not the original ancestral language and that Vedic itself had evolved considerably from the original proto-language (which was artificially reconstructed from a comparison of all the available Indo-European languages). [For the record, let me emphasize that they are right on this one point, however unpalatable it may be to “Hindu sentiments”].
- The (completely wrong, as we have seen) analysis of Rigvedic geography and history which made the scholars believe that the Vedic texts depict an expansion from the northwest into the rest of northern India.
- The fact that large parts of India were populated by speakers of non-Indo-European languages: the Dravidian languages in the south and the Austric (Kol-Munda) languages in east-central India, which were interpreted as remnants of “pre-Aryan” languages of India.
- A (simplistic) prejudice that the Original Homeland should necessarily be located somewhere in a central area within the Indo-European speech-area (stretching from Sri Lanka and Assam in the east to Iceland and Ireland in the west).
Therefore, although other locations such as Anatolia have also been proposed by some scholars, the mainstream theory is that the Indo-European Homeland was in South Russia (the Pontic-Caspian steppes). All data have been sought to be forcibly fitted into this theory, and in the process, a majority of historical, logistical, textual, archaeological, and linguistic facts and factors have been firmly swept under the carpet in order to promote this theory. On the basis of this purely hypothetical and utterly unsubstantiable proposition, we have the theory of “Aryans” coming into India from “outside” as a dominant factor in Indian history and politics.
On the other hand, I have proved in my books that the Indian homeland history outlined by me fulfills every single criterion and answers every single objection.
NS: You have argued in your books that Vedic Aryans specifically belonged to the Bharata Clan of the Puru Dynasty. Can you shed more light on this and how you arrived at this conclusion. Please also briefly share about various clans and groups of people mentioned in the Rigveda and their geographical location.
SGT: According to the Puranas all the peoples of ancient India are descendants of a mythical Manu Vaivasvata and his ten sons. But the hypothetical descendants of only two of these “sons” play a prominent role in Puranic history: the Aikshvakus (the “Solar race”, descendants of Ikshvaku) and the Ailas (the “Lunar race”, descendants of Ila/Sudyumna). The Ailas, more prominent, are divided into Five Tribes: the Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu, Anu and Puru.
According to the AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory), all the above (real or hypothetical) tribes and peoples are descendants of the Vedic Aryans who invaded or immigrated into India around 1500 BCE and composed the Vedas, and Vedic Sanskrit (with perhaps some vaguely proposed “other” Vedic dialects unrepresented in the records) is the ancestral form of all Indo-Aryan languages.
The Indian writers and thinkers who oppose the AIT also believe that Vedic Culture was the ancestral culture of all Indians and Vedic Sanskrit the ancestor of all Indo-Aryan (or even of all Indian!) languages. Therefore, in effect, they also accept that the Vedic Aryans were the ancestors of all the above tribes and peoples, or, to put it in another way, that all the above tribes and peoples constituted sections among the Vedic Aryans.
If we do not get our perspective clear on this point, we will be completely handicapped in effectively countering the AIT. Let us look at the facts: the geographical area of the Rigveda extends from westernmost U.P. and adjoining parts of Uttarakhand in the east to southern and eastern Afghanistan in the west. Strictly speaking, in present-day political-geographical terms, this includes the whole of northern Pakistan, adjoining areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, but, within present-day India, only the state of Haryana with adjoining peripheral areas of western U.P and Uttarakhand. If we accept this, then who are the people who were living in the rest of present-day northern India (outside Haryana and its peripheral areas) during the age of composition of the Rigveda? The AIT supporters have their “answer” to this: those people were the original “non-Aryan” (Dravidian, Austric, or whatever) indigenous people of India, who were also the earlier inhabitants of the Rigvedic area (Haryana and west) before the Aryan invaders took over that area from them! But (without resorting to escapist tactics like ignoring the actual data in the Rigveda and deciding that the area of the Rigveda was “the whole of India”) the AIT opponents do not have any logical answer to this question.
But the Puranas give the answer. The descriptions in the Puranas about the locations of the Five Aila tribes in northern India clearly place the Purus as the inhabitants of the Central Area (Haryana and adjacent areas of western U.P.), the Anus to their North (Kashmir, etc.), the Druhyus to their West (present-day northern Pakistan), and the Yadus and Turvasus to their South-West (Rajasthan, Gujarat, western M.P.) and South-East (eastern M.P. and Chhattisgarh?) respectively. The Solar race of the Ikshvakus are placed to their East (eastern U.P, northern Bihar).
This clearly shows that the Purus were the inhabitants of the core Rigvedic area of the Oldest Books (6, 3, 7): Haryana and adjacent areas, and they, and in particular their sub-tribe the Bharatas, were the “Vedic Aryans”. Their neighboring tribes and people in all directions were also other non-Vedic (i.e. non-Puru) but “Aryan” or Indo-European language speaking tribes. The Puru expansions described in the Puranas explain all the known historical phenomena associated with the “Aryans”: the expansion of Puru kingdoms eastwards explains the phenomenon which Western scholars interpreted as an “Aryan movement from west to east” (the area of the Rigveda extends eastwards to Haryana and westernmost U.P., the area of the Yajurveda covers the whole of U.P., and the area of the Atharvaveda extends eastwards up to Bengal), and their expansion westwards described in the Puranas and the Rigveda explains the migration of Indo-European language speakers from the Anu and Druhyu tribes (whose dialects later developed into the other 11 branches of Indo-European languages) from India.
But the direct evidence comes from within the Rigveda itself, where the other (non-Puru) tribes are clearly not part of the “We” of the Rigveda: The word Ikshvaku occurs only once (in X.60.4) as an epithet of the Sun. The Five Tribes are repeatedly referred to in the Rigveda, and all five named together in I.108.8. But the Yadus and Turvasus (Turvashas in the Rigveda) are every time mentioned together (as one mentions two distant peoples), and they occur mostly in references to two specific historical incidents which describe them as living “far away” and having to cross several rivers to reach the Vedic area, and they sometimes figure as allies and sometimes as enemies. The Druhyus and Anus everywhere (in the few non-geographical references to them) figure as enemies.
But the Purus are found referred to throughout the Rigveda in the first-person sense. They are the “We” of the Rigveda: in IV.38.1 and VI.20.10, the Purus are directly identified with the first person plural pronoun. All the Vedic Gods are identified as the Gods of the Purus: Agni is described as being like a “fountain” to the Purus (X.4.1), a “priest” who drives away the sins of the Purus (I.129.5), the Hero who is worshipped by the Purus (I.59.6), the protector of the sacrifices of the Purus (V.17.1), and the destroyer of enemy castles for the Purus (VII.5.3). Mitra and Varuṇa are described as affording special aid in battle and war to the Purus, in the form of powerful allies and steeds (IV.38.1,3; 39.2). Indra is described as the God to whom the Purus sacrifice in order to gain new favors (VI.20.10) and for whom the Purus shed Soma (VIII.64.10). Indra gives freedom to the Purus by slaying their enemies (IV.21.10), helps the Purus in battle (VII.19.3), and breaks down enemy castles for the Purus (I.63.7; 130.7; 131.4). He even addresses the Purus, and asks them to sacrifice to him alone, promising in return his friendship, protection and generosity (X.48.5), in a manner reminiscent of the Biblical God’s “covenant” with the “People of the Book”, the Jews. In VIII.10.5, the Ashvins are asked to leave the other four tribes (the Druhyus, Anus, Yadus and Turvasus, who are specifically named) and come to “us”.
The area of the Sarasvati river was the heartland of the Vedic Aryans. It was so important that it is the only river to have three whole hymns (apart from references in 52 other verses) in its praise: VI.61; VII.95 and 96. Sarasvati is also one of the three Great Goddesses praised in the apri suktas (family hymns) of all the ten families of composers of the Ṛigveda. As per the evidence of the Rigveda, the Sarasvati was a purely Puru river, running through Puru territory, with Purus dwelling on both sides of the river: “the Purus dwell, Beauteous One, on thy two grassy banks” (VII.96.2).
The identity of the Purus with the Vedic Aryans is so unmistakable, that the line between “Puru” and “man” is almost non-existent in the Rigveda: Griffith, for example, sees fit to directly translate the word Puru as “man” in at least five verses: I.129.5; 131.4; IV.21.10; V.171.1 and X.4.1. In one verse (VIII.64.10), the Rigveda itself identifies the Purus with “mankind”: “Purave […] manave jane”. The Rigveda actually coins a word purusha (descendant of Puru), on the analogy of the word manuṣa (descendant of Manu), for “man”. In his footnote to I.59.2, Griffith notes: “Puru’s sons: men in general, Puru being regarded as their progenitor“, and again, in his footnote to X.48.5, Griffith notes: “Ye Purus: ‘O men’ – Wilson“, and likewise in his footnotes to VII.5.3 and X.4.1.
The identity of the Purus with the Vedic Aryans is impossible to miss: Prof. Michael Witzel points out that it is “the Puru, to whom (and to … the Bharata) the Ṛigveda really belongs” (WITZEL 2005b:313), and affirms that the Rigveda was “composed primarily by the Purus and Bharatas” (WITZEL 1995b:328), and even that the Bharatas were “a subtribe” (WITZEL 1995b:339) of the Purus. Southworth even identifies the Vedic Aryans linguistically and archaeologically with the Purus.
The only two unfriendly references to Purus, in this case clearly to sections of non-Bharata Purus who entered into conflict with the Bharata clan or sub-tribe, who are the Vedic Aryans proper of the Rigveda, are in VII.8.4 which talks about “Bharata’s Agni” conquering the (other) Purus, and VII.18.3 which talks about conquering “in sacrifice” the scornful Purus (who failed to come to the aid of the Bharatas in the Battle of the Ten Kings). The Bharatas are undoubtedly the unqualified heroes of the hymns in the Family Books 2-7 (all but one of the references to the Bharatas appear only in the Family Books: I.96.3; II.7.1,5; 36.2; III.23.2; 33.11,12; 53.12,24; IV.25.4; V.11.1; 54.14; VI.16.19,45; VII.8.4; 33.6): in many of these verses even the Gods are referred to as Bharatas: Agni in I.96.3, II.7.1,5; IV.25.4 and VI.16.19, and the Maruts in II.36.2. In other verses, Agni is described as belonging to the Bharatas: III.23.2; V.11.1; VI.16.45 and VII.8.4. There is not a single reference even faintly hostile to them.
Significantly: 1. Bharati, the deity of the Bharata subtribe of the Purus is one of the three Great Goddesses (like Sarasvati) praised in the family hymns of all the ten families of composers in the Rigveda. 2. Of those ten families of composers, while nine are priestly families, the tenth is a family exclusively consisting of composers from the royal dynasty of the Bharata subtribe, whose apri sukta is X.70.
Most significant of all is the use of the word arya (which everyone acknowledges as the word by which the Vedic people referred to themselves) in the Rigveda in the sense of “belonging to our community/tribe”. It is used only in reference to Bharata kings like Sudas and Divodasa, never in reference to non-Puru kings. Non-Puru patrons (mainly of the Atri and Kanva rishis) are never called arya. Even when non-Puru kings like Mandhata, Purukutsa and Trasadasyu are praised to the skies (Trasadasyu is even called a “demi-god” or “ardha-deva” in IV.42.8-9), it is only because of the help rendered by them to the Purus (referred to in I.63.7; IV.38.1, VI.20.10; VII.19.3), and they are never called arya. And the Rigveda even clearly specifies that arya means Puru, in I.59.2 (vis-a-vis I.59.6) and VII.5.6 (vis-a-vis VII.5.3).
The word arya is found in 34 hymns, of which 28 are composed by composers belong to the Bharata family and the two families directly affiliated to them, the Angirases and Vasishthas, and 2 more by the Vishvamitras who were also affiliated to the Bharata king Sudas before being supplanted by the Vasishthas. One more within the Family Books is by the Gritsamadas (note that the Gritsamadas are descended from an Angiras rishi). Only 3 hymns are by rishis not affiliated to the Bharatas, and the references to aryas in those three hymns are interesting:
One hymn (IX.63) is by a composer from the most neutral and apolitical family of rishis in the Rigveda, the Kashyapas, and the word arya is used twice in the hymn in the only cases in the Rigveda where it has a purely abstract rather than personal or tribal meaning. The other two hymns are by Kanvas, who (alongwith the Atris) are politically active rishis not affiliated solely to the Vedic Aryans (Bharatas and Purus) but closely associated with other tribes as well. In one (VIII.51.9), the composer expresses neutrality between aryas and dasas, and in the other he refers to the Bharata king Divodasa as arya.
Most interesting of all a) 9 (IV.30, VI.22,33,60, VII.83, X.38,69,83,102) of the above 34 hymns refer to aryas as enemies (8 of them jointly to to arya and dasa enemies)! All the nine hymns are by Bharatas or the two families of rishis closely affiliated to them, the Angirases and Vasishthas. b) Further, 7 more hymns (I.100,111, IV.4, VI.19,25,44, X.69) refer to jami (kinsmen) and ajami (non-kinsmen) enemies, all 7 being composed by Bharatas and Angirases. c) And one more (X.133), by a Bharata composer, refers to sanabhi (kinsmen) and nishtya (non-kinsmen) enemies.
This has no logical explanation in AIT interpretation except to say that the Aryans must “also have fought amongst themselves”. But the explanation is clear: it is Bharata Purus as the Vedic aryas fighting against non-Bharata Purus as the enemy aryas. Finally, the Rigveda tells us in the Vishvamitra hymn III.53 (which records the ashvamedha performed by Sudas on the eastern banks of the Sarasvati, after which he is described as expanding his kingdom in all directions) that the Bharatas, when they set out to do battle, do not differentiate between those who are close to them (i.e. kinsmen) and those who are distant from them (non-kinsmen).
As per the AIT, the “Aryans” or “Proto-Indo-European” language speakers who migrated to different parts of the world and produced major civilizations (Indian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Hittite, Mitanni… ) everywhere, were a faceless, nameless, identity-less people in their unknown Original Homeland, and although they resided together in that Homeland at a point of time (around 3000 BCE or so) when the other major civilizations of the world (Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese) were leaving us coherent archaeological and literary records, these “Aryans” left us no records at all of their history in their Homeland. However, as we saw, that is completely wrong. The core of that history is recorded in the Rigveda and the Puranas, and the “Aryans” in their Original Homeland had names and identities
NS: The supposed wars between Devas and Dasyus in the Rigveda have often been interpreted as Aryan-Dravidian racial wars. What is your view on this?
SGT: The wars are not supposed to have been between Devas and Dasyus, but between Aryas and Dasas/Dasyus (later mythologized as wars between Devas and Asuras, or Gods and Demons). These are interpreted as racial wars between Aryans and Dravidians.
However, “Aryan” and “Dravidian” are linguistic terms and can only be used in that sense. Can you, for example, claim that the enemies of Rama in the Ramayana were Chinese? Obviously not, because Ravana, Vibheeshana, Kumbhakarna, Indrajit, etc. are not Chinese-language names. But they are not Dravidian-language names or Austric-language names either. They are purely Sanskrit or “Aryan” (Indo-European) names. Yet many so-called scholars blatantly brand the battle in the Ramayana as a war between “Aryan” Rama and “Dravidian” Ravana. The same is the case with the Rigveda. Not a single enemy (or friend for that matter) with a Dravidian, Austric, Sino-Tibetan, Semitic, Andamanese, Burushaski, Red Indian, African or Australian-aboriginal or any other demonstrably “non-Aryan” name is found in the Rigveda. All the names are either undeniably or arguably “Aryan”. So how can anyone claiming to be a serious scholar or writer claim to find “Aryan-Dravidian” wars recorded in the Rigveda? That so many of them do shows the intellectual level of their arguments.
In ancient India the word arya (whatever its ultimate etymology) was originally used in the sense of “belonging to our community/tribe”. The Rigveda, since it was a book composed by Purus, refers to the Purus (including enemy Purus) as arya, and to all non-Purus (even friendly ones) as dasa. Each of the other tribes (Anus, Druhyus, Ikshvakus,Yadus, etc.) referred to people from their own tribe as arya, and if religious texts of that period composed by them had survived, the Yadu texts, for example, would have referred to Yadus but not to Purus, as arya, and likewise with the others. The Iranians, in their texts and inscriptions also described themselves as airya, although to the Rigveda the Iranians were not arya but dasa.
In fact, while all non-Purus were dasas in the Rigveda, the particular dasas of the Rigveda were the proto-Iranians: this was recognized long ago by Dr Ambedkar, who in his essay “Who were the Shudras“, clearly states about dasa that “there is no evidence to show that the term is used in a racial sense indicative of a non-Aryan people” and that “it was the word of abuse used by the Indo-Aryans for the Indo-Iranians“.
The Iranians, as members of the Anu tribes to the immediate west, were the non-Purus geographically closest to the Purus (the Yadus and Turvasus were far to the south, the Ikshvakus far to their east, and the Druhyus were beyond the Anus), and they were the particular non-Puru dasas of the Rigveda. As most scholars have recognized, the conflicts between the Vedic people and the proto-Iranians were responsible for the term asura (originally meaning God as in Iranian Ahura and Teutonic Aesir) becoming a word for “demon” in India and daeva a word for “demon” in Iranian.
The direct proof is there in the Rigveda: there are only 3 hymns in the Rigveda where the dasas are not referred to in hostile terms, but in fact in friendly terms, and in 2 of these hymns the patrons (named in the hymns) have been identified by western scholars as having proto-Iranian names: Kashu Chaidya in VIII.5 and Prthushravas Kanita in VIII.46. (The patron in the third hymn VIII.51, Rushama Paviru may also likewise have been a proto-Iranian).
(To be Continued)
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