of the Aryan invasion
4.6. MEMORY OF THE URHEIMAT
4.6.1. Poetry vs. history
do not preserve any veneration, not even any mention, of an Urheimat.
Compare this with the Thora (the first five books of the Bible):
edited in about the 6th century BC, it gives a central place to Moses’
exodus from Egypt in about 1200 BC, and of Abraham from “Ur of the Chaldees”
in about 1600 BC. Similarly, in the 16th century, the Aztecs in Mexico
still preserved the memory of Aztlan (probably Utah), the country from
which they migrated in the 12th century. Postulating that the Vedic
people kept silent about a homeland which they still vividly remembered,
as the invasionists imply, is not coherent with all we know about ancient
peoples, who preserved such memories for many centuries.
the Vedas are a defective source of history. As religious books,
they only deal with historical data in passing. But that has never
kept the invasionist school from treating the Vedas as the only source
of ancient Indian history, to the neglect of the legitimate history books,
the ItihAsa-PuraNa literature, i.e. the Epics and the Puranas.
It is like ignoring the historical Bible books (Exodus, Joshua, Chronicles,
Kings) to draw ancient Israelite history exclusively from the Psalms,
or like ignoring the historians Livius, Tacitus and Suetonius to do Roman
history on the basis of the poet Virgil. What would be dismissed
as “utterly ridiculous” in Western history is standard practice in Indian
the same remark was already made by Puranic scholar F.E. Pargiter.41
It was dismissed by some, with the remark that the Puranas are even more
religious and unhistorical than the Vedas.42
However, that does injustice to the strictly historical parts of the Puranas,
mixed though they are with religious lore. No serious historian would
ignore the Exodus narrative simply because it also contains unhistorical
episodes like the Parting of the Sea and the voice from the Burning Bush.
should also make us skeptical towards the knee-jerk skepticism displayed
by historians when confronted with ancient historiography. Thus,
the king-list of the Chinese Shang dynasty (16th-12th century BC) was dismissed
as “obviously mythical”, but when in the 1920s the Shang oracle bones were
discovered, all the kings were found to be mentioned there: the “mythical”
dynastic list proved to be correct to the detail. Likewise, the first
Bible historians were skeptical of Biblical history, e.g. of the “obviously
wildly exaggerated” description of the huge city of Niniveh; but then archaeologists
discovered the ruins of Niniveh, and found that the Bible editors had been
fairly accurate in their description.
provides another important parallel with the Epics and Puranas: most historians
now accept the basic historicity of the Biblical account of Israelite political
history from at least king David until the Exile, yet it is almost completely
unattested in non-Biblical documents, just as ancient Indian history as
narrated in the Epics and Puranas (and glimpsed in the Vedas) is practically
unattested in non-Indic literature. The non-attestation of Israel’s
history in the writings of its highly literate neighbours is more anomalous
than the non-attestation of early Indian history in the writings of other
literate cultures, which were more distant from India geographically and
linguistically than Babylon was from Jerusalem. So, if Biblical history
can be accepted as more than fantasy, the same credit should be given to
the historiographical parts of the Epics and Puranas.
4.6.2. Value of the Puranas
spite of the low esteem in which they are held, the Puranas are essentially
good history. More than 30 years ago, P. L. Bhargava has already
demonstrated that the dynastic lists which form the backbone of Puranic
history cannot be dismissed as legend or propaganda.43
His first argument is that the oldest names of kings, though mostly Indo-Aryan,
are often of a different type (e.g. absence or paucity of theophoric names,
like in ancient Greek or Germanic) than those common at the time of the
Puranic editors, who show their unfamiliarity with the obsolete names by
sometimes misspelling or misinterpreting them. This would not be
the case if they had made them up.
against those who think that court historians may have concocted genealogies
and ancient claims to the land for their royal patrons, Bhargava points
out that the Puranas do not locate any dynasties in those areas which are
reasonably assumed to have been non-Aryan originally but which were dominated
by Indo-Aryan dynasties (or Dravidian-speaking dynasties claiming an “Aryan”
ancestry) at the time of the Purana editors, e.g. parts of Bihar, the east
coast (Utkala, Kalinga, Cola), and the south (Pandya, Kerala): “This
clearly means that the lists are all genuine and the later Puranic editors,
in spite of their failings, never went to the extent of interspersing imaginary
genealogies with genuine ones.”44
argument is similar to one of Irving Zeitlin’s arguments for the authenticity
of the Biblical account of the conquest of Palestine by the Israelites.45
Zeitlin shows that the land conquered by Joshua according to the Biblical
narrative did not coincide with the Promised Land as promised by Jahweh
to Joshua (it falls short of the promised area while also comprising some
non-promised territory); a purely propagandistic narrative intent on legitimizing
the later extent of the Israelite kingdom or on glorifying Jahweh’s reliability,
would have made Joshua acquire the exact territory promised by the Lord.
many names from the Puranic lists also show up in other sources, including
the Epics, the Jain Agamas, the Sutras, and earliest of all, the Vedas.
Of course, persons are sometimes shown in a rather different light in different
sources, and there are differences on details between the different Puranas
as well as between the Puranas and the other sources; but that is exactly
what happens when authentic events (such as a traffic accident) are related
by different witnesses.
4.6.3. Dynastic history
in the Puranas
Talageri takes up the argument where Bhargava had left it, and proceeds
to demonstrate that the fragmentary Vedic data and the systematic Puranic
account tally rather splendidly.46 The Puranas
relate a westward movement of a branch of the Aila/Saudyumna clan or Lunar
dynasty from Prayag (Allahabad, at the junction of Ganga and Yamuna) to
Sapta Saindhavah, the land of the seven rivers. There, the tribe
splits into five, after the five sons of the conqueror Yayati: Yadu, Druhyu,
Anu, Puru, Turvashu. All the rulers mentioned in the Vedas either
belong to the Paurava (Puru-descended) tribe settled on the banks of the
Saraswati, or have come in contact with them according to the Puranic account,
whether by alliance and matrimony or by war. Later, the Pauravas
(and minor dynasties springing from them) extend their power eastward,
into and across their ancestral territory, and the Vedic traditions spread
along with the economic and political influence of the metropolitan Saraswati-based
the eastward expansion of the Vedic horizon, which has often been read
as proof of a western origin of the Aryans, is integrated into a larger
history. The Vedic people are shown as merely one branch of an existing
Aryan culture, originally spanning northern India (at least) from eastern
Uttar Pradesh to Panjab. The approximate and relative chronology
provided by the dynastic lists allow us to estimate the time of those events
as much earlier than the heyday and end of the Harappan cities.
history reaches back beyond the starting date of the composition of the
Vedas. In the king-lists, a number of kings are enumerated before
the first kings appear who are also mentioned in the Rg-Veda. In what remains
of the Puranas, no absolute chronology is added to the list, but from Greek
visitors to ancient India, we get the entirely plausible information such
a chronology did exist. To be precise, the
Puranic king-list as known to Greek visitors of Candragupta’s court in
the 4th century BC or to later Greco-Roman India-watchers, started in 6776
BC.47 Even for that early pre-Vedic period,
there is no hint of any immigration.
4.6.4. Emigrations in
more: the Puranas mention several emigrations. The oldest one explicitly
described is by groups belonging to the Afghanistan-based Druhyu branch
of the Aila/Saudyumna people, i.e. the Pauravas’ cousins, in the pre-Vedic
or early Vedic period. They are said to have moved to distant lands
and set up kingdoms there. Estimating our way through the dynastic
(relative) chronology given in the Puranas, we could situate this emigration
in the 5th millennium BC. It is not asserted that that was the earliest
such emigration: the genealogy starts with Manu’s ten successors, of whom
six disappear from the Puranic horizon at once, while two others also recede
m the background after a few generations; and many acts of peripheral tribes
and dynasties, including their emigration, may have gone unnoticed.
But even if it were the earliest emigration, it is not far removed from
a realistic chronology for the dispersion of the different branches of
the IE family. It also tallies well with the start of the Kurgan culture
by Asian immigrants in ca. 4500 BC.
the Anavas are said to have invaded Panjab from their habitat in Kashmir,
and to have been defeated and expelled by the Pauravas in the so-called
Battle of the Ten Kings, described in Rg Veda 7:18,19,33,83. The
ten tribes allied against king Sudas (who belonged to the Trtsu branch
of the Paurava tribe) have been enumerated in the Vedic references to the
actual battle, and a number of them are unmistakably Iranian: Paktha
(Pashtu), BhalAna (Bolan/Baluch), Parshu (Persian), PRthu
(Parthian), the others being less recognizable: VishANin, AlIna, Shiva,
Shimyu, BhRgu, Druhyu. At the same time, they are (except for
the Druhyus) collectively called “Anu’s sons”, in striking agreement with
the Puranic account of an Anava struggle against the Paurava natives of
Panjab. Not mentioned in the Vedic account, but mentioned in the
Puranic account as the Anava tribe settled farthest west in Panjab (most
removed from the war theatre), is the Madra (Mede?) tribe.
tentatively identifies the other tribes as well: the Druhyu as the
Druids or Celts (untenable)48; the
Bhrgus as the Phrygians (etymologically reasonable); the AlInas
as the Hellenes or Greeks (shaky); the Shimyus with the Sirmios/Srems
or ancient Albanians (possible), etc. It is hard to prove or disprove
this; all we can say is that along with the Iranian tribes, there may have
been several non-Iranian tribes who emigrated from northwestern India after
the Battle of the Ten Kings.
are attested, of individuals, families as well as whole tribes. The
Vedic character Sarama calls on the Panis to go far away and to the north;
assuming that the Panis are not some kind of heavenly
creatures, this presupposes that the northward exit was a well-known route,
and perhaps a common trail for exiles, outlaws and refugees (just as in
the colonial period, an Englishman who had lost all perspectives in his
homeland could always move to Australia).49 Vishvamitra’s
sons, fifty in number, dissented from their father and left the country,
after which they are called udantyah, “those of the northern border”.50 A
group of Asuras are said to have fled across the northern border, chased
by Agni and the Devas, who mounted guard there.51
4.6.5. Migration history
of other IE tribes
branches of IE have a clear migration history, even if no literary record
has been preserved. It is commonly accepted that the Celtic and Italic
peoples were invaders into their classical habitats. The Celts’ itinerary
can be archaeologically traced back to Slovakia and Hungary, and Germany
still preserves some Celtic place-names.52
In France, Spain, and the British Isles, a large pre-IE population existed,
comprising at least two distinct language families. Of the Iberian
languages, only a few written fragments have been preserved. Etruscan
is extinct but well-attested and fully deciphered, though we don’t know
what to make of the persistent claims that it was a wayward branch of the
IE Anatolian family. The Basque language survives till today, but
attempts to link it to distant languages remain unsuccessful. At
any rate, this area witnessed a classic case of IE expansion, resulting
in the near-complete celtization or latinization of western and southern
Baltic and Slavic cover those areas of Europe which have been claimed as
the Urheimat: Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, South Russia.
In the case of the Germanic peoples, there is no literary record (but plenty
of archaeological indications) of an immigration, nor of the replacement
or assimilation of an earlier population. The Baltic language group,
represented today by Latvian and Lithuanian, once covered a slightly larger
area than today, but there is no literary memory of a migration from another
area. However, many Balts today will tell you that they originally
came from India. Before this is declared to be an argument for an
Indian Urheimat, it should be verified that this belief really pre-dates
the 19th century, when it was the prevalent theory among scholars throughout
Europe. The folklore avidly recorded by nationalist philologists
in the 19th century could well contain not only age-old oral traditions
of the common people but also some beliefs fashionable among those who
recorded them. The Slavic peoples have expanded to the southwest
across the Danube, and in recent centuries also (back?) to the east, across
the Ural mountains. The farthest in time that human memory can reach,
Ukraine and southern Poland seem to have been the Slavs’ homeland.
from the Germanic, Baltic and Slavic countries started claiming their own
country as the IE Urheimat, this certainly was not in contradiction with
facts known at the time. But these Urheimat claims were only based
on a weak argumentum e silentio: the first written records of these
peoples are comparatively recent, several millennia younger than the break-up
of PIE, and the true story of their migratory origins has simply been lost.
This is not to deny that they may have preserved traditions of their own
migrations for as long as the Israelites, but apart from the erosion wrought
by time, it is christianization which has generally put a stop to the continuation
of the traditional tribal knowledge. And where Christian monks stepped
in to collect and preserve remnants of the national heritage (as in Ireland),
it was too late: stories had gotten mixed up, the people who remembered
the traditional knowledge were dying out, the thread had become too thin
not to be broken,
Greeks took their classical habitat from an Old European population is
not in doubt, but there is no definite memory of their immigration.
Perhaps the myth of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, located in Georgia,
should be read as a vague indication of a Greek migration from there, overseas
to Thracia, whence the Greek tribes entered Greece proper in succession.
But an actual immigration narrative is missing.
4.6.6. Iranian Urheimat
branch of IE which has preserved a relatively unambiguous record of its
migration, is Iranian. The Iranians once controlled a much larger
territory than today, after the Slavic and Turkic expansions. The
Cimmerians and Scythians spread out over the steppes between Ukraine and
the Pamir mountains; of this branch of the Iranians, only the Ossets in
the northern Caucasus remain. The Sogdians in the Jaxartes or Syr
Darya valley and even as far east as Khotan (Xinjiang) made important contributions
to culture and especially to Buddhist tradition. An unsuspected wayward
branch of the Iranian family is the Croat people: till the early Christian
era, when they were spotted in what is now Eastern Europe, they spoke an
Iranian language, which was gradually replaced by Slavic “Serbo-Croat”.
They call themselves Hrvat, apparently from Harahvaiti, the name
of a river in Western Afghanistan, which is merely the Iranian form of
Saraswati. In an Achaemenid inscription, the Harahvaita tribe
is mentioned as one of the tribute-paying components of the Iranian empire.
The migration of the Croats from Afghanistan to the western Balkan (and
likewise, that of the Alans, a name evolved from Arya, as
far west as France) could be the perfect illustration of the general cast-to-west
movement which the Indian Urheimat hypothesis implies.
are fairly clear about their history of immigration from Hapta-Hendu
and Airyanam Vaejo, two of sixteen Iranian lands mentioned in the Zoroastrian
scripture Vendidad. To the extent that
they are recognizable, all sixteen are in Bactria, Afghanistan or northwestern
India. Iran proper is not m the picture, nor is the Volga region whence
the Iranians are assumed to have migrated m the AIT. Their religious
reformer Zarathushtra, whom modern scholarship dates to the mid-2nd millennium
BC, lived in present-day Balkh in Afghanistan, then a more domesticated
land than today.53 Afghanistan was a half-way
station in a slow migration from India. The Iranians may have brought
the name of the lost Saraswati river along with them and given it,
in the phonetically evolved form Harahvaiti, to a river in their
new country; similarly with the name Sarayu, the river flowing through
Ayodhya, becoming Harayu, the old name of another river in western
Iranian homelands Airyanam Vaejo, described as too cold in its 10-months-long
winter, and Hapta-Hendu, described as rendered too hot for men (i.e.
the Iranians) by the wicked Angra-Mainyu, are Kashmir and Sapta-Saindhavah
(Panjab-Haryana) respectively.54 They are
considered as the first two of sixteen countries successively allotted
to the Iranians, the rest being the areas where the Iranians have effectively
been living in proto-historical times. This scenario tallies quite
exactly with the Vedic and Puranic data about the history of the Anavas,
one of the five branches of the Aila/Saudyumna people: from Kashmir,
they invaded Sapta-Saindhavah, but were defeated by the Paurava
branch (which composed the Rg-Veda) and driven northwestward.
who deny this scenario have had to invent a second “land of seven rivers”
as the common Indo-Iranian homeland, from which the Iranians’ Vedic cousins
took the name but not the memory into India; or to interpret the Avestan
river-name Ranha (correlate of Sanskrit RasA, the Puranic
name of the Amu Darya or Oxus) as meaning the Volga.55
It is a safe rule of scientific method that “entities are not to be multiplied
without necessity” (Occam’s razor), and therefore, until proof of the contrary,
we should accept that the term Sapta Saindhavah and its Iranian
evolute Hapta Hendu refer to the same region historically known
by that name. Both Indian and Iranian sources situate the break-up
between Indians and Iranians, Deva- and Asura-worshippers, in Sapta-Saindhavah.
Before such a concordant testimony of all parties concerned, it is quite
pretentious to claim that one knows it all better, and that they separated
in Iran or Central Asia instead.
is that some branches of the IE family have no memory of any migration,
some have vague memories of their own immigration into their historical
habitat, the Iranian branch has a distinct memory of migration from India
to Iran, and only the Indian branch has a record of emigration of others
from its own habitat.
4.6.7. Rama in the
India, it is sometimes claimed that the Avesta contains the names of the
Hindu hero Rama and of his guru Vasishtha. This was suggested by among
others, Prof. Sukumar Sen and Illustrated Weekly journalist O. K.
Ghosh, who tried to use this hypothesis as “proof” that Rama could not
have been born in Ayodhya, locus of a Hindu-Muslim controversy involving
Rama’s birthplaces.56 The word rAma
appears in Avestan, e.g. thrice in Zarathushtra’s GAthA-s (29:10,
47:3, 53:8), but apparently only in its proper sense (“joyful, pleasant,
peaceful”, whence the derivative A-rAm, till today the Persian and
Urdu word for “rest”). This means that it is not referring to the
name of an individual called RAma, whether Ramachandra son of Dasharatha
or another. The same is true in the even older YaSna GAthA-s
and in the much younger Pehlevi writings (Denkart, Vendidad), where derivatives
of the root rAm appear in their proper sense.
does exist a royal name RAmateja, carried by at least two kings
of Media in the 8th-7th centuries BC (unless this form is Indic rather
than Iranian, which could be explained as a late remainder of the Indic
Mitanni presence in the same area which later became Media, or today’s
Kurdistan). In the regular Zarathushtrian prayer, RAm is seemingly
used as a personal name: every day of the month is dedicated to one of
the ferishta-s, sort of angels (the Amesha Spenta-s or aspects
of Ahura Mazda, and their hamkar-s or co-workers) who are personifications
(yazad-s) of values, e.g. Bahram (<< VRtraghna) is
the yazad of victory, Ashtad of rectitude etc., and RAm is
the yazad of joy, invoked in prayer on the 21st day of the month.
Though used as a personal name, this instance too may have nothing to do
with the Rama from Ayodhya.
the oldest Avestan texts, the word vahishta also appears, the equivalent
of VasishTha, but this again probably not as a personal name, but
rather in its proper sense of “the best” (whence behesht, “he best
[state]”, paradise). That at least is the view of accomplished iranologists.57
Admittedly, translating the ancientmost Iranian texts is even trickier
than the already difficult Vedas, but I have as yet no reasons to insist
on a different translation than the established one.
Sukumar Sen and his translator (for the Illustrated Weekly). O.K.
Ghosh, found it useful to interpret Avestan rAma and vahishta
as personal names because they thought it would confirm the Aryan invasion
theory, by putting all the Ramayana characters and places in Iran-Afghanistan.
Others think that it would rather confirm the Indian origin of the Iranians,
giving them a memory of the indisputably Indian characters Rama and Vasishtha.
I think that either explanation is possible once the reading of Rama and
Vasishtha as personal names is accepted. Therefore, nothing is lost
if we return to the non-personal reading.
Pargiter: Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, London 1922, p.v.
Majumdar: Concise History of Ancient India, Delhi 1977, p.89, and
D.K. Ganguly who quotes him approvingly: History and Historians in Ancient
India in the Vedic Age, p-139-140. Not that I recommend Bhargava’s
book as an introduction to the Puranic history, for it imposes grossly
arbitrary “corrections” on the geographical data so as to fit them into
a kind of Invasionist framework. He is a mild example of the school
which claims that Puranic history actually took place alright, but in Central
Asia or thereabouts rather than in India; and that Puranic historians simply
transferred it to an Indian setting. As if an American were to write
national history by transferring the Battle of Hastings and the War of
the Roses from a British to an American setting.
Vedic Age, p.139.
M. Zeitlin: Ancient Judaism, Polity Press, Cambridge 1991 (1984),
ch.4, particularly p.125ff. Zeitlin’s thesis is that the Biblical account
of the conquest is quite factual. The thesis is controversial not
because actual discoveries plead against it, but because it is ideologically
uncomfortable. After the Holocaust, it is painful to accept the Biblical
account because what it describes is a genocide in the full sense of the
term, eliminating all the men, women and children of the conquered parts
of Canaan. Liberal theologians of Judaism and Christianity would
greatly prefer a more peaceful version.
Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, p.304ff.
Naturalis Historia 6:59; Arrian: Indica 9:9.
etymology of Druid is as follows: do-ro-vid, i.e. Celtic do,
“very”, plus ro (from *pro, as in Latin, cfr. Sanskrit pra),
“very”, plus IE vid, “know”, hence “very very knowing”. For
a full discussion, see Françoise Le Roux & Christian-J. Guyonvarch:
Les Druides, Editions Ouest-France, Rennes 1986, appendix 1.
Brahmana 33:6:1. My attention was drawn to this passage by L.N. Renu:
Indian Ancestors of Vedic Aryans, p.28.
Brahmana 1:2:4:10. Thanks again to L.N. Renu: Indian Ancestors,
p.31-32. Renu also draws attention to a type of evidence which we cannot
elaborate on: the continuity between the four-syllable folk-metre which
is mentioned in the Shatapatha Brahmana 4:3:2:7 as “prevalent earlier”
(before being reduplicated to the standard eight-syllable metric unit of
Vedic verse) and which according to Renu (p.24) “belongs to the pre-Samhita
days” but is “still popular amongst the tribal folk in India”. Continuity
between tribal and Vedic culture is one of the most important demonstranda
for non-AIT theorists.
is claimed that the Druids had a tradition tracing their own origins “to
Asia in 3903 BC”, quoted for what it is worth in Harry H. Hicks & Robert
N. Anderson: “Analysis of an Indo-European Vedic Aryan head - 4th millennium
BC”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, fall 1990, p.426, from W.
Morgan: St. Paul in Britain, published in 1860.
Cambridge History of Inner Asia (p.15) puts him in the period 1450-1200
BC, others go as far back as 1800 BC. It is to be kept in mind, however,
that this dating is partly based on the AIT, including the assumption that
Zarathushtra must be roughly contemporaneous with the vedas. It is
also disputed that the Gathas were written by Zarathushtra: just as the
Thora was attributed to Moses but written much after his death, die Gathas
may have been written long after Zarathushtra.
the Zoroastrian evil spirit’s name Angra-Mainyu, later Ahriman,
we can recognize the names Angiras, one of the principal clans of
Vedic seers, and Manyu, “intention”, one of the names of Indra,
and addressed in Rg-Veda 10:83-84. Coincidence?
Jean Haudry: Les Indo-Européens, p.118. Remark that in other
contexts, Rasa can also mean the Narmada river, and also the mythical river
which surrounds the world. Oxus and Narmada were apparently the borderline
rivers of the Indus-Saraswati civilization.
Ghosh: “Was Rama an Iranian?”, Illustrated Weekly of India, 27-2-1993,
with reference to Sukumar Sen: RAm ItihAser Prak-kathan (Bengali:
“Introduction to the History of Ram”).
thanks to Prof. Wociech SkalmowskI, who teaches Persian and Iranian at
Catholic University, Leuven.
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