Thursday, October 26, 2023

This book review by the late NS Rajaram of my books Asterisk in Bhâropîyasthân and Return of the Swastika must be from 2007 or 2008. More precise publication data are welcome. RajaramReview > > Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan, Koenraad Elst, Voice of India, Rs 325 > > Return of the Swastika, Koenraad Elst, Voice of India, Rs 400 > > Koenraad Elst's 'new' books, Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan and Return of > the Swastika, are filled with reproductions of extensive quotes from > his own earlier writings and opinions, which in turn might themselves > be quotations of still earlier quotations. Sadly, I could not find > anything new and pathbreaking in either of the two books. > > The first book deals with the Aryan invasion theory, which is now a > dead issue. The second, on the other hand, is a collection of > commentaries (vyakhyanas) on miscellaneous issues, including personal > disputes. The result of his approach is "commentaries multiplied > beyond necessity to the point of opacity". > > Elst's Asterik... is supposed to be an updated version of his earlier > Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate. It is somewhat idiosyncratic and > excludes major developments like: (a) maritime symbolism in the Vedas, > now supported by marine archaeology; (b) the impact of findings in > natural history and genetics on prehistory; and, © the Vedic-Harappan > relationship of which Harappan language and script are a part. > > Those unfamiliar with the field may believe that Asterisk... > represents the latest research on the subject. It is, however, not the > case. The book is a commentary mainly on topics that engaged > researchers some 50 years ago. Part of Elst's agenda seems to be to > rescue philology (or IE linguistics) from oblivion. This puts him > squarely in the Witzel-Farmer camp. > > This agenda is doomed to fail. First, Elst must answer the question > raised by statisticians Kruskal, Dyen and Black in their 1978 paper > that demolished the classification scheme used by Witzel-like > linguists. (See my book Saraswati River and the Vedic Civilisation, > 2006, Aditya Prakashan, for a brief discussion. The just released > book, Hidden Horizons, by David Frawley and Rajaram, has more on > natural history.) > > What we need today is a "natural history" of the evolution of language > and not just rehashing of old IDEAS with new terminology and clever > rhetorical flourishes. This cannot come from soft fields like > linguistics and IE Studies with their pseudo-discipline called > historical linguistics. > > Again, I want to highlight the fact that despite its tone, Asterisk... > skirts important questions while discussing issues that have been > either demolished or made irrelevant. For those interested in a more > scholarly discussion of these issues by workers actively engaged in > research, I recommend the two-volume Early Harappans and the > Indus-Saraswati Civilisation. (Kaveri Books, New Delhi.) It was > sponsored by the National Museum, New Delhi, and edited by DP Sharma, > head of the Harappan Gallery in the National Museum. It has articles > by a wide range of experts approaching from different angles. > > Since Asterisk... is concerned with the Aryan invasion question, it is > surprising that Elst has completely missed the main point that the > subject now is no longer the invasion but the Vedic-Harappan > relationship. This has been the subject of several conferences and the > two-volume work referred to earlier. Natural history and genetics have > shed a great deal of light on the pre-Harappan and even pre-Vedic > periods, going back to the Ice Age, but there is no hint of it in > Elst's writing. > > With this blind spot, Elst has also completely missed the obvious - > that the Harappan language and script question is part of the > Vedic-Harappan relationship. If Harappan archaeology is part of the > Vedic milieu, how can the language be something totally unrelated to > each other? Elst's comment that he finds the readings in our book (The > Deciphered Indus Script, Jha and Rajaram) "too solemn" to be > convincing, is little more than prejudice. By this I suppose he means > it is too full of religious symbolism. The same is true of the > Harappan iconography, which invariably accompanies the writing on the > seals. > > In the face of this preposterous position, the writer's views on the > language and script are worth nothing. Not that it matters, for he has > no competence in the field. Several eminent individuals and > organisations are taking our account of the evolution of writing, and > not just the decipherment, more seriously. (In addition to the > two-volume work mentioned earlier, one can refer to Peter Watson's > book, IDEAS.) > > Strangely, Elst has little substantive to say on the Vedic-Harappan > relationship, to which we devoted three full chapters in our book. > This makes me suspect that he has only selectively scanned a few words > and sections of that book that he can use to support his preconceived > positions. This too puts Elst squarely in Witzel's camp, though I have > to admit that Steve Farmer is more thorough, despite being stubborn at > times and often taking wrong stand on important issues. > > The two books will appeal to those who like Elst's discursive and > polemical style of writing, but one must not expect anything new in > them. Repeating old IDEAS and arguments, he is generally out of depth > when it comes to primary sources and new data. > > At the same time, this takes nothing away from Elst's earlier work on > Ayodhya and negationism. They remain valid and valuable. > > -- The reviewer, a scientist and historian, has recently written, > along with David Frawley, a book, Hidden Horizons: 10,000 Years of > Indian Civilisation >
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Saturday, September 16, 2023

Open letter to the editors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited

(SENT FROM KÖLN ON 12 SEPTEMBER 2023, PUBLISHED IN PRAGYATA, DELHI, ON 13 SEPTEMBER 2023) Open letter to the editors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited Dear Doctores, Congratulations upon the successful completion of your editing of a collective scholarly book of seemingly historic significance. It is not without regret that in this letter, we will have to deal with a stain on the fair face of this book. A review in The Wire In the Indian paper The Wire (1 June 2023) we come across a review of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited (Cambridge University Press), the book you have edited: “New Book on Indo-European Migrations Says ‘Out of India’ Theory ‘Firmly Refuted’”. We have downloaded the book and are presently reading it thoroughly with an eye on addressing the evidence offered in it. But meanwhile, this review already merits a review in its own right, especially your own statements quoted and instrumentalized in it. The Wire review is not exactly disinterested; it is not some piece of scholarly feedback. The fighting agenda of The Wire publishers and the article’s writer (viz. “The Wire staff”) already comes out in their very first sentence: “The authors of The Indo-European Puzzle Revisited use the examples of the Out of India theory [OIT] and Nazi German nationalism to warn against the political misuse of new genetic research that has impacted our understanding of the Indo-European migrations.” Clearly the 41 scholar-authors have addressed a much wider field than the OIT (and thus far, in the actual research part of the book, we haven’t even seen them addressing the OIT at all), but that is the one point of interest for The Wire, the only one that warrants devoting a review to the book. They have never shown any interest in Indo-European (IE) research; they merely try to safeguard the political advantages that the Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory (AIT) has conferred on them, as it once did on the Nazis. To what extent the Nazi angle is brought up in the actual papers remains to be seen, but for the reviewers this introductory passage is the book’s foremost message: criminalizing the OIT through association with National-Socialism. The occasion for the review article is this: “A new book on Indo-European migrations has cautioned against the misuse of new genetic findings for political and ideological reasons, including by citing an example from India. (…) It is edited by well-known archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen, linguist Guus Kroonen and geneticist Eske Willerslev and the contributors include familiar names J.P. Mallory, David W. Anthony and Alexander Lubotsky.” Is there currently a problem of “misuse of new genetic findings for political and ideological reasons”, a replay of what happened with skull-measuring a century ago? We haven’t heard of it, neither in The Wire nor from you, gentlemen. In all the jargon of aDNA and R1a1, we haven’t noticed anything that could nurture a sense of superiority. The only known case of ideological instrumentalization in this context, viz. of the then-recent genetic findings by David Reich, is a 2018 book by the Indian journalist Tony Joseph, Early Indians: the Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From. (It was answered in detail, and his ideological intentions mapped and connected with his stance on history, by Shrikant Talageri: Genetics and the Aryan Debate: “Early Indians”, Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault, 2019.) But Joseph’s book was an attack on the OIT, and an argumentation in favour of the AIT. Unless you had intended to warn against the AIT, this fact seems to militate against your stated objective. Since it is you who are quoted as making this allegation, perhaps you can explain this apparent contradiction; in your book you have missed the opportunity. All the names summed up here are familiar to us as supporters of a non-Indian homeland theory. Except for Eske Willerslev, whose work is little known to non-geneticists. A first look in the not-so-scholarly Wikipedia tells us that in his work, IE migrations are only a minor focus of interest, but still he is cited there as, surprisingly, refuting the Yamnaya-centric received wisdom: his research group “further showed that in contrast to Europe, early Bronze Age expansion of Yamnaya into Asia had limited genetic and linguistic impact in either Central Asia or in South Asia, contrary to earlier claims by the [David] Reich group from Harvard. The paper thereby challenges the so-called ‘Steppe Hypothesis’ for early spread of the Indo-European languages that seem to explain the early expansion of Indo-European languages into Europe but not Asia.” As a direct challenge to the established Yamnaya-centric view, this wouldn’t exactly fit into the Wire narrative. We too think the Yamnaya influence in South Asia is limited at best. Linguists cherish the view that the linguistic influence was decisive but have so far not been able to prove that, hence their enthusiasm when genetics seemed to provide such proof. But clearly there is no consensus on that yet. As you must have heard, from the Indian vantage-point non-Indian homeland theories are all variants of the over-arching Aryan Invasion Theory, nowadays squeamishly called Aryan Immigration Theory by its advocates. It is not forbidden to espouse a hypothesis, but for concluding with such a grim allegation against a rival hypothesis it would have been in the fitness of things to research this other hypothesis first before pontificating on it. But to judge from your output or even from your book’s index, you are conspicuously non-conversant with it. Mind you, though groomed in perfect ignorance of the OIT, AIT-observant scholars do often unknowingly produce insights propitious to the OIT. We already found several in the scholarly papers making up this very book. For your information, among this handful of people who have elaborated versions of the AIT (rather than the millions who applaud or support it), two of these authors are fairly popular in the small world of OIT researchers: Mallory because in his long career he has shown a level-headed awareness of the relativity of the Homeland question, contrasting with the Indian AIT party’s cocksure claim that there is a scholarly consensus about the Homeland question against which it is futile to posit any alternative, such as the OIT; and Kristiansen because he has painted a vivid picture of the disruptive and violent character of Europe’s Indo-Europeanization. For what little Indians know about this European part of our topic, Kristiansen’s work serves in summary to prove that Europe shows, both archaeologically and genetically, what an “Aryan invasion” looks like; and thereby contrasts with India, where this population replacement scenario and this disruption in material culture traceable to outside origins are absent. Painting a realistic picture of this Aryan invasion of Europe emphasizes a contrario the glaring lack of proof for an Aryan invasion of India. Hence, Prof. Kristiansen, your good reputation in the minuscule world of OIT pioneers. A strange debate The strange phenomenon characterizing the Homeland debate is that it is completely one-sided. There are shrill tirades against the OIT from several Indian political movements, and curt condescending remarks by Western academics, like the one we are addressing here. The only exceptions are a few papers ca. 2000, most notably by Michael Witzel and Hans Henrich Hock, and less well-known, ca.1840, when a first OIT/AIT debate took place, with Veda translator Alexandre Langlois and historian Mountstuart Elphinstone defending the OIT against the then-rising tide of the AIT. Since then, there are just no argumentations against actual claims developed by Out-of-India theorists. The term “OIT” in outbursts against it, including your own remark, is not an ad rem critique of a rival hypothesis after studying it, but merely a label imposed on a straw man. Looking around for explanations, we think first of all of the fact that many of you academics have no scholarly respect for non-academics, like the skepticism your colleagues of yore had against non-entitled discoverers such as Michael Faraday or Heinrich Schliemann. It is the reaction we hear most often from back-benchers at Indo-Europeanist conferences, to the extent that they know of the OIT at all. But it is a mistake, again stemming from a basic ignorance about the OIT, this time about its crew. To get our own case out of the way first: after a few brief stints as visiting professor at minor Indian universities, we are back to the status of “non-affiliated Oriental philologist and historian”, eking out a meagre living with free-lance political journalism. Though fully qualified for this debate, with thirty years of experience in the thick of it, this lack of status is often held against us, esp. by laymen and sophomores. More consequential is how some AIT champions express their disdain for the OIT’s mastermind, “bank clerk” Shrikant Talageri. Alright, nothing to do about it, his academic status (though Doctor Honoris Causa) is inversely proportional to the brilliance of his analysis, and socialites who merely go by status feel emboldened to look down on him. Scholars, who go by knowledge, ought to behave differently, but let’s say the time hasn’t seemed ripe for that yet. Since many in your camp insist on disparaging an opponent for his lack of status, instead you could have started with addressing legitimate “but” AIT-skeptical professors from top Indian universities, who are of the same academic rank and by now similarly numerous as the crusaders for the AIT. You could for instance take your pick from the Archaeology faculty at top institution IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Gandhinagar. When we participated in a Harappa conference there last February, we witnessed all kinds of technical quarrels, as is normal among scholars (disputant doctores), but saw no one stand up to defend the Aryan immigration scenario. Among this faculty is Michel Danino, a naturalized French Jew, author of a book significantly titled The Invasion that Never Was. (Normally we don’t specify whether someone is Jewish, but it’s you who chose to throw the Nazi label around against an array of scholars, among whom are also Jews.) In the introduction to the collective book The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia (1995), editor George Erdosy already wrote that a contrast of views on the Aryan Immigration Theory was crystallizing along the border between linguists (pro) and archaeologists (contra). Apparently the linguists among you have succeeded in starkly ignoring the archaeological input for a full 28 years, all sermons about interdisciplinary cooperation notwithstanding. Or even longer, for it mainly was American professor James Shaffer, not exactly a “Hindu nationalist”, whose 1984 paper on the archaeological assessment of the hypothesised Aryan invasion threw the gauntlet against AIT complacency. He noted that already for more than half a century, well-financed excavations in the Harappan area had been looking for traces of the Aryan immigration (whether violent, as the archaeologists had expected, or under the radar, as they were later forced to postulate), but no trace had appeared. Indian archaeologists were becoming skeptical but the signal for them to gradually go public with this, at least in India to start with, was Shaffer’s statement. Most older OIT champions are converts from the AIT. The most important conversion to the Out-of-India position was by the dean of Indian archaeology, Prof. BB Lal, deceased last year at age 101. As we personally learned in our student days from leading Indologist Pierre Eggermont, it was Lal who first added an archaeological scaffolding to the linguists’ hypothesis of an Aryan immigration. In the 1950s, he had mapped out the newfound Painted Grey Ware in the Mahābhārata cities, and theorized that this must be typical for the Aryans on their way deeper into India. From the 1980s onwards, he understood that this had merely been an application of the Aryan Invasion paradigm, not proof of it as he and the AIT crowd had believed. The last decades of his life he wrote several books against the AIT, summing his position up as: “Vedic and Harappan are two sides of the same coin.” Pray, why can the mature BB Lal, with many other feathers in his cap (e.g. identifying the Harappan script’s now-unquestioned writing direction), be cavalierly ignored while the young BB Lal could be trumpeted as the decisive voice of archaeology in the Homeland debate? Those in India who clamour that “Western scholars have disproven the OIT”, are misinformed. The Wire staff, who make this claim, have clearly not read your book beyond the introduction. Those authority-exuding “Western scholars” have never addressed the OIT, only lambasted or at best ignored it. This conduct was explicitly advocated by leading Sanskritist Stephanie Jamison in her review of the only book that gives both sides of the argument a hearing, The Indo-Aryan Controversy edited by Edwin Bryant and Laurie Patton in 2005: she lambasts the very idea of a debate, likening the OIT to Biblical Creationism, unworthy of scholarly attention. In India, numerous people ascribe to “racism” the Western scholars’ wilful blindness to the ever-growing amount of OIT evidence. This is on the face of it very anachronistic, perpetuating the image of “Aryan race” theorists from a century ago, unaware that non-racism has become a matter of (not even enforced) consensus in Western universities. And yet, there are serious remains of the Western disdain for India typical of the colonial age at work here. We wonder whether any of you would dare to put it in cold print, but in colloquial interaction with dozens of participants in Indo-Europeanist conferences, we have noted that the argument of Indian academics supporting the OIT carries no weight with them because they disdain Indian universities per se. We expect that the ongoing geopolitical shift towards Asia is about to cure this. The crucial work in IE linguistics and till recently for the OIT has not been done by Indians secure in their Indianness, nor by Europeans ignorant of India, but by Europeans living in India. It all started from the 16th century onwards with several European travellers to India whose attention was drawn by linguistic similarities between their own and the native languages: Filippo Sassetti, Thomas Stephens s.j., Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn, Jean Calmette s.j. The official birth of the IE theory in Europe was the arrival in the Paris Academy of a systematic treatment of the Greco-Roman-Sanskrit kinship by Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux s.j. (1767), a Catholic missionary living in Andhra; and for India, the “philologer” speech by William Jones, a judge living in Kolkata (1786). When the OIT was elbowed out by the AIT, it was Europeans living in India who defended it, most permanently (scripta manent) Mountstuart Elphinstone in his History of India (1841). Today a prominent role is being played by the French-born archaeologist Michel Danino, and somewhat by ourselves, frequently in India since 1988. The reason is that, unlike most Indians, we can’t ignore the non-Indian branches of IE, and unlike most Europeans, we can’t ignore India: we are fully aware of its magnitude and importance. Europeans can hold week-long conferences about Historical Linguistics where India is hardly ever mentioned, even when discussing a language family of which half the speakers are in or from the Subcontinent. This forgetfulness about India was established when India was temporarily a mere colony, contrasting with the 17th-18th century when India was a wealthy mystery land in the distance. It will take a full mental decolonization before India is given its due again. Narratives of exclusion In spite of all the obvious lack of scholarly interest in the OIT, you people have recently confronted the OIT, no matter how briefly, but certainly very sharply. At least, The Wire quotes you: “‘We must be aware of the huge popular interest in the new genetic results, and the need to constantly and critically debate their dissemination… where complex knowledge can sometimes be transformed into dangerous stereotypes’, the book says in its introduction. (…) It continues: ‘One of the most destructive political misuses of the past has been in constructing nationalist narratives of exclusion.’” This is very true, only it is not the OIT against which this can be held. It is AIT champion Mallikarjuna Kharge, the then leader of the Congress parliamentary party and now its party chairman, who said on the floor of the Lok Sabhā (India’s House of Commons) in 2015: “You Aryans don’t belong in India!” Just last week, Udhayanidhi Stalin, State Minister in Tamil Nadu (seconded post factum by Karnātaka State Minister Priyank Kharge), stated, citing the AIT, that “Sanātana Dharma (= Hinduism) is like mosquitoes, malaria and dengue, like Covid-19, it must be exterminated”. Doesn’t that comparison of a targeted group with vermin remind you of another “Aryan”-monger’s fulminations? These calls to exclusion are not from some Twitter troll nor from some tattooed alcoholic SiegHeiler, but from top politicians. They are but recent examples of a discourse that goes back uninterruptedly to British days, starting with the British collaborator Jotirao Phule in the 19th century, and spawning characters like mid-20th-century Dravidianist leader EV Ramaswamy Naicker (invoked by Stalin as his inspiration), who actually preached violent methods: “If you see a snake and a Brahmin, kill the Brahmin first.” He expressly rejected the belief of “hate the sin, love the sinner”: for him, ending the sin required killing the sinners. Therefore he is on record as calling in so many words for a genocide of the Brahmins. An innocent-seeming fruit of this current is the AIT-based pseudo-Sanskrit neologism Ādivāsī, “aboriginal”, designating India’s Tribals (°ca. 1930). This is a one-word disinformation campaign painting the non-Tribals as immigrants. In fact, some Tribals aren’t even aboriginal: the northeastern Nāga, incidentally a native designation effectively meaning “tribal”, have immigrated from Southeast Asia only a thousand years ago, a short time for those making a fuss about Aryans allegedly immigrating some 3500 years ago. But the main point about this term is its intentional implication that the non-Tribals are immigrants/invaders. In his speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist par excellence, unthinkingly uses this AIT-laden word. Interestingly, in the British period this politicized AIT had both pro-“Aryan” varieties, such as among the Sinhalese (Sri Lanka’s Indo-European-speakers in a sea of Dravidian-speakers) and Sikhs (after 1857 mostly a collaborator community, who even visually looked like how the Vedic seers get depicted in historical movies and comic-strips); and anti-Aryan varieties such as the anti-Brahmin and Dravidianist movements. The first variety withered away after Independence, the second kept on flourishing, permeating public discourse and in Tamil Nadu even forming the State Government for decades on end. For more than a century, the AIT has been used to demand the exclusion of non-Tribals, of North-Indians, of Upper-Caste people. But maybe this can also be said, though only for a more recent period, about the OIT? That would be a case of the “symmetry fallacy”, the lazy assumption that the opposite side must be behaving the same as this side. But let us give it a fair hearing. Are there any cases of OIT-minded scholars who deduce doctrines of exclusion? A good test case: leading AIT skeptic, geneticist Dr. Gyaneshwar Chaubey from Banaras Hindu University, has recently shown that the so-called aboriginal Munda speakers have in fact immigrated from Southeast Asia in the 2th millennium BC (just when you people assume that an Aryan immigration from the Northwest was taking place). Neither he nor his supporters have ever hinted that the Munda people, including the present-day Indian President, Mrs. Droupadi Murmu, are therefore somehow unworthy of their Indianness. Indeed, such an anti-immigrant stance would go against the grain of Hindu society’s traditional practice of extending hospitality to newcomers, such as the Malabar Jews, the Syrian Christians, the Parsis, the Armenians, the Baha’i, the Tibetans, and during World War II even a group of Polish Jews that had been rejected everywhere else. There is not one example that you or the Wire editors have cited, nor could cite, of an OIT-based attempt to exclude any Indian population group; whereas there are very many where the AIT has been put to such use in India. Not to mention cases well-known to you in Europe, where Jewish and even Indian-originated Indo-Aryan-speaking Gypsies were excluded for their degree of Aryanness. It is therefore only normal that from around 1990, any Indians who loved their country (“Hindu nationalists”) flocked to the OIT, or at least to the non-AIT, once news reached them that the pro-AIT consensus was not that solid after all. Note this distinction between anti-AIT and pro-OIT. In the 21st century, most people identifying as Hindus (people like the Wire editors may have Hindu names but rarely identify as Hindu, just as few contemporary Europeans will identify as Christian, whereas outsiders still call them that) strongly reject the AIT, but don’t care about the IE family’s other branches, hence about their link with India through a migration either way. Before that, Hindu nationalists like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar accepted the AIT, covered as it was in the prestige of Western science. It was also of little importance especially to nationalists, as the founding myth of many nations consists in a conquest or immigration. Bal Gangadhar Tilak even thought up his own version of it, with the Homeland being in the Arctic. But once the AIT started tottering, they collectively apostatized from it. At any rate, first there was a shift among scholars, only in a reaction to this did Hindu nationalism get involved. Only a negligeable minority of Brahmin casteists, who had been tutored to link their assumption of caste superiority with their presumed Aryan-invader origins, has weakly defended the AIT in the early years of this debate (today we don’t hear them anymore). And while they are certainly Hindu, they can’t be counted as “Hindu nationalists”. Typical for the latter is precisely that they try to erase fissures within the nation, which in India means the rejection of caste, while they treat caste-attached traditionalists as a nuisance. Thus, check the example of at once the most hate-evoking face of Hindu nationalism: Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, had been an anti-caste activist. His case against Gandhi was that the latter had condoned the Partition of India, whereas he himself had preferred an undivided India – which would necessarily have been a multicultural India. No matter how much many Hindus disliked or resented Muslims, they preferred to live under one roof with them rather than being excluded by them from a Partitioned-off part of the Motherland. The whole notion of Hindu nationalism is rather more inclusive than Europeans with their memories of two World Wars would give it credit for. In India, “nationalism” is a term hallowed by the Freedom Struggle. Mahatma Gandhi was a nationalist. Its second connotation is anti-separatism. The most serious separatist movements in recent memories have been in East Panjab and Kashmir, both characterized by the most extreme form of “cleansing” and exclusion, viz. killing thousands of non-Sikhs c.q. non-Muslims. By comparison, “nationalism” rings rather benign to Indian ears. But whatever one can say for or against the Hindu nationalists and their ideology, they have not contributed anything whatsoever to the research undermining the AIT or supporting the OIT: not creatively nor even institutionally or financially. To the extent that social policies presuppose the AIT (reservations and legal privileges for the Tribals and Dalits), the presently ruling Bhāratīya Janatā Party (BJP) has simply continued them. And given their organizational culture of anti-intellectualism, actually meddling in high-brow research questions is just beyond them. It is seriously insulting that papers attacking the OIT systematically describe the scholars concerned as “the Hindu Nationalists”. Have scholarly papers on the Homeland question ever introduced you not as “linguist Guus Kroonen” but as “Groenlinks/Green-Left activist Guus Kroonen”; or not “archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen” but “Sweden Democrat Kristian Kristiansen”? Even if true, this categorization would still be insulting. In the present case, worse than insulting, it is simply untrue. Among scholars, this ought to make it a serious reason for course-correction. And even worse than this: it is not based on any empirical data. It has the status of gossip. There are anti-AIT or pro-OIT researchers to whom this label could not possibly apply, like Indian Marxist Bhagwan Singh, author of The Vedic Harappans (who finally took issue with the AIT’s colonialist thrust; 1995). Likewise Athenian Sanskritist Nicholas Kazanas or Russian archaeologist Aleksandr Semenenko, two outspoken skeptics of Hindu chauvinism, or Russian linguist Igor Tonoyan-Belyayev; or indeed ourselves, neither nationalist nor Hindu. Let alone those who have never explicitly joined the anti-AIT camp but have contributed evidence eagerly cited against the AIT. And let alone those who really are Hindu nationalists, but whose work is methodologically impeccable all the same, e.g. Dileep Chakravarty. Note also that practically all aforementioned critics of the AIT, both Indian and foreign, have gone through a process of conversion. While their ideological commitments remained roughly the same, their position on the Homeland changed in the light of new or of freshly-reconsidered evidence, illustrating how a stance in the Homeland debate, about prehistoric events, is independent from ideology. One explicit Hindu nationalist in our circles is mastermind Shrikant Talageri, but not the way you imagine. He is India’s most perceptive critic of the so-called Hindu-nationalist party presently in power, the BJP, because for him this is an ideal, a principle, and not a label for a political party that has become completely untrue to it. Unlike the academic supposed-experts whose hearsay you have reproduced, he actually knows his subject, the people involved, their history, their stated goals, and their actual performance. But even he did not develop his OIT insights from his ideological moorings but through a process you as scholars should be familiar with: he noticed that the data did not add up to the established paradigm. This process is described passim in his books and additionally in his blogs, easily accessible but seemingly an impenetrable desert to academics. The Holy Grail of genetics The Wire staff further summarizes your contribution thus: “‘Where the original PIE speakers lived has been long contested: some say they lived in the steppes of what is today southern Russia, while others say they lived in what is today Turkey. But the authors of Revisited say that evidence from breakthrough genetic studies in 2015 points towards the former as the PIE homeland. At the same time, they believe that the results of these genetic studies must be used to dispel racist theories that were spread about the Proto-Indo-Europeans. If there is anything that the recent interdisciplinary biomolecular studies have shown, it must be that the once-dominant Eurocentric and supremacist perspectives on the Indo-European homeland are not supported by any genetic or linguistic evidence’, they say in the book.” Leave aside that the shifting sands in the over-all picture developed by the young science of genetics don’t warrant such precocious cocksureness about its provisional conclusions, and that this passage shows the familiar disregard for the contribution by some geneticists who happen to be Indian, the real question raised by this passage is: do you really recognize this as the meaning of your recent output? Having gone through a similar curriculum as you all, we thought that after World War II, all courses of Indo-European studies shunned the “supremacist” vantage-point, and even emphatically repudiated it. There is nothing that recent discoveries or new insights could add to this. Repudiating the supremacist distortions was necessary, but it is a station we have long passed. Are you really still busy proving that point? Aren’t you flattering yourself by claiming to have pin-pricked supremacist perspectives that had been taken care of by an earlier generation? But leave aside supremacism, at least the word “Eurocentric” still applies, quite literally. Here we don’t mean that people who situate the Homeland in Europe deliberately do so because of some Eurocentric prejudice. Maybe the founders of the US-based Journal of Indo-European Studies could have been suspected of such an attitude, viz. by critics like Stefan Arvidsson or Jean-Claude Demoule; but they are long dead. (On second thought, these critics might even be read as raising suspicions against the whole Indo-Europeanist discipline, including you.) A dwindling handful of Euro-Nationalist ideologues in the French Nouvelle Droite might also think this way, but they are amateurs without any influence on this debate. Indeed, in view of new findings, scholars like David Reich and Paul Heggarty have effortlessly moved their putative Homeland south of the Caucasus, i.e. outside Europe (though still outside India). We only mean that those who, with The Wire, insist on locating the Homeland in Eastern Europe, espouse an objectively “Eurocentric” position. This is especially striking since their explicit goal is to deny Homeland status to a region of Asia. About the theories that were developed in Germany to support nationalist ideologies, the Wire staff says: “In the pre-war period, the prehistoric spread of the Indo-European languages was increasingly attributed to the superiority of an alleged Indo-European-speaking ethnolinguistic unity, which, despite all linguistic evidence to the contrary, was claimed to have developed… in North Europe. The question of Indo-European linguistic origins was integrated into nationalist theories of German ethnic origins, which demanded a North European centre of spread.” While no big deal, this passage bespeaks a poor grasp of the relevant research. Gustaf Kossinna’s attempt, ca. 1910 (in “pre-war”, which war is meant?), to apply the budding science of archaeology to the Homeland question did not conflict with the then state of linguistics, still very fluid. Even now linguists have a hard time determining the Homeland, so what could this decisive “evidence” have been back then? The sub-discipline of Linguistic Paleontology, then not questioned yet, did argue for a northern (the “bear” argument) and a western (the “beech” argument) Homeland, criteria which Kossinna’s choice for the German-Danish borderland certainly satisfied. The Wire’s invocation of “linguistic evidence to the contrary” in 1910 is sheer bluff. Kossinna proved wrong, but that’s a risk every launcher of new hypotheses takes. Even during his lifetime, the general preference (crystallized in Gordon Childe’s 1926 book The Aryans: a Study of Indo-European Origins) clearly shifted back to Eastern Europe. Some academics who landed in the Nazi camp (pun unintended) would accept this while others stuck to the German option, as some post-War scholars have continued to do. But all of them taught variations within what Indians call the Aryan Invasion Theory. Yes, the Nazi scholars were all with the AIT (even Heinrich Himmler’s expedition to Tibet looking for lost Aryans was a disappointment: unlike the dolichocephalic Aryans, the Swastika-wielding Tibetans proved to very broad-skulled). The Wire dilates upon half-understood data from a far-away continent a century ago to fill up the space logically reserved for incriminating data from contemporary India, which remain glaringly absent. Your attack Coming closer to the point, The Wire informs us: “In the introduction, the book advises caution against nationalist theories about the Proto-Indo-Europeans from outside Europe: ‘Here we should mention the rise of an ‘Out of India’ model of Indo-European languages during the last generation, motivated primarily by Hindu nationalism. These are the same kind of forces that used the model of Gustaf Kossinna to support a Nazi racist ideology nearly one hundred years earlier. However, the Out of India model has been firmly refuted by recent aDNA [ancient DNA] results, and it has little or no support in historical linguistic research … [It] should serve as a warning example of the political impact of nationalism, even in the present.’” “Firmly refuted”? On the shifting sands of the fast-evolving discipline of genetics, nothing is “firm”. Very conflicting hypotheses are being proposed by different geneticists; it is a lively and interesting scene. But “firm”, certainly not. This is a misrepresentation of the state of the art. But there is something even more fundamentally wrong here. So you claim that the OIT was “motivated primarily by Hindu nationalism”? That is both a conspiracy theory and a lie. Conspiracy thinkers always suspect a sinister intention behind seemingly innocent facts. You say Hindu nationalism generated the OIT, exactly like numerous Hindu nationalists claim racism generated the AIT. Come to think of it, you two deserve each other. But what a funny concept: a political activist tries to strengthen his position by thinking up a scholarly theory, so good that even the specialists in the field run away with it. Whenever you hear an argument about isoglosses or mitochondrial DNA, don’t get fooled by the puppet-show, there’s a “racist” c.q. “Hindu nationalist” puppeteer behind it pulling the strings. As for “lie”, your claim is first of all untrue. The OIT 1.0 was thought up by Europeans together with the very realization that an Indo-European family exists (1767). The French freethinker Voltaire was one of the first to hear of it. He gave it wide publicity (and trend-settingly, he at once instrumentalized it ideologically, viz. to diminish the role of Christianity in making European civilization, which had first of all come from India), and others spoke similarly, such as Immanuel Kant. These are not marginal Hindu nationalists but the cream of European Enlightenment thinkers. For about half a century, it remained the default assumption, the dominant Homeland hypothesis, most explicitly in Friedrich Schlegel’s book Language and Wisdom of the Indians (1808). The main alternative back then was the Bible-based Armenian Homeland theory: from the Ark came Noah’s son Jafeth, the purported progenitor of the Indo-Europeans. (Ironically, it is to Armenia, south of the Caucasus, that David Reich and Paul Heggarty have recently, on genetic c.q. linguistic grounds, moved the putative Homeland.) The critical decade was the 1830s, when the AIT definitively gained the upper hand. By the mid-19th century some further seeming successes had cleared the field completely for the new peri-Caucasian Homeland theory. It would still have to compete with other attempts, esp. the North-European Homeland, but till today, whether Yamnaya or the Southern Arc, this central area of the Indo-European expanse (halfway between Sri Lanka and Iceland, between Tarim and Portugal) has remained the great favourite. Secondly, the OIT 2.0 was again the work of non-Hindus and non-political Hindus. It started in the 1980s with an archaeology-based (rather than a traditionalist scripture-based) higher chronology for the Vedas as per the book Karpāsa by KD Sethna, a Parsi. Then followed the repudiation of the AIT as still lacking the least bit of archaeological evidence (later admitted by AIT champion Michael Witzel: “no archaeological evidence yet”), by US archaeologists James Shaffer and Diane Lichtenstein; and likewise by the British anthropologist Edmund Leach. In this early stage, Hindu nationalism played no role at all. In the 1990s some Hindu amateurs (typically expatriate scientists dabbling in history) monopolized the attention. In the main, they were still far more AIT-rejecter than OIT-creator. This is another point that AIT polemicists like you fail to understand: the difference between anti-AIT and pro-OIT. Only a handful of scholars thought in terms of an emigration from an Indian Homeland, but millions upon millions of Hindus rejected the AIT. They didn’t give a damn about the story behind the non-Indian branches: being nationalists, their horizon stopped at the Khyber Pass. Moreover, they suspected that the emigration scenario was a wily trick from Westerners to somehow maintain a connection with India and thus keep a colonial foot in the door. When two books elaborating the OIT came out, Talageri’s The Rigveda and the Avesta: the Final Evidence (2008) and our own Asterisk in Bhāropīyasthān (2007), the most blistering reviews they received were not from AIT zealots but from a very vocal AIT opponent, space scientist NS Rajaram. Here was a stereotypical Hindu nationalist, given to heavy rhetoric and colourful anti-Westernism (though US citizen). Your Nazi allegations seem quite odd here, though: he made them himself about your kind. He was full of anti-colonial discourse about Western “racism” and all that. Together with fellow Hindu-American physicist Subhash Kak and with American convert David Frawley (and seconded by several India-loving US Orientalists) he brought some interesting facts about ancient Indian science to light, not compatible with the AIT’s low chronology. Alas, this crowd failed to understand the basics of the debate, such as the whole notion of an IE language family, e.g. by claiming that Sanskrit-related words in Lithuanian or Albanian were a matter of borrowing, or by rejecting the Indo-Aryan/Dravidian divide. Rajaram’s prominent presence on the early internet seems to have fixed a furious image of the OIT (in fact the non-AIT) in Westerners’ minds. When we hear all today’s hate speech against the OIT, it sounds like they are still fulminating against long-dead Rajaram. Time has stood still in the AIT champions’ mind. To be sure, till today some vocal and increasingly knowledgeable AIT skeptics continue to walk in his footsteps, such as ML Raja, with degrees in Medicine and History (in India most historians and philosophers first obtained a Science degree before following their hearts’ desire in the Humanities). His understanding of the IE framework and of the Homeland question’s stakes and history is still very poor, but his array of anti-AIT arguments has become very rich and remains largely unanswered. That AIT-minded authors have never even taken cognizance of these arguments is no excuse, at least not for scholars. But they concern only the affirmation or refutation of the AIT; the OIT specifics are another hypothesis. An incipient systematization of the AIT critiques resulting in a real OIT was pioneered by Sanskrit professors SS Misra and Nicholas Kazanas. The great breakthrough came with Shrikant Talageri’s book The Rigveda, a Historical Analysis (2000), along with its 2008 sequel just mentioned. In the oldest Vedic texts he discovered enough factual data to reconstruct ancient history. After that, once the OIT had become a specific narrative, a number of new faces flocked to it and extended the OIT-directed research to other disciplines, e.g. Premendra Priyadarshi’s work on the genetics of human, zoological and botanical emigration. This included outsiders from Russia, Italy and elsewhere, most notably Aleksandr Semenenko who is finding more matches between Vedic data and material findings, and filling an important gap in the OIT case: positive archaeological data for an Out-of-India emigration, as distinct from the absence of evidence for an immigration. So there you have the growing but still very small OIT crew. So what they have alleged is firmly untrue. It is very rare that we accuse people of telling lies. We are aware of the many influences on what people say: wishful thinking, peer pressure etc., and most ordinarily, hearsay. All on the background of degrees of ignorance, a factor of the human condition diagnosed by Socrates as the root of all evil. Often there are mitigating factors, so why spoil a (potentially) good discussion by bringing out the big guns and accusing people of lies? A lie is a consciously uttered untruth. You people were not somnambulating when you wrote what you wrote; to that extent this untruth was certainly a conscious one, for which you bear full responsibility. Only, you may really have believed it, which would make it a mistake rather than a lie. Though we don’t have your word for it, we will assume that this lie is not your own. As babes in the wood of India’s raw AIT/OIT confrontation, you have borrowed it from sources you have innocently trusted, and of which The Wire is quite representative. Thus, what has gone on between you and The Wire is a classic case of what, in our research of Indian political life, we have called the circular argument of authority. First India’s usual suspects feed Western intellectuals misinformation about India, then the Westerners start selling this hearsay as privileged inside information, and finally their authority-laden words are quoted back to the Indian public. When we prepared our doctoral dissertation on the Hindu political movement, the first thing we noticed was the veritable abyss between the extant academic literature on it and the reality on the ground. Having researched several more books on this topic and the disinformation techniques determining the reporting about India’s political relations, we are now convinced that the last few decades’ main corpus of research literature on this topic will become a laughing-stock once the power equation that fosters such disinformation has lapsed. But that’s all we will say about it for now: you people have better things to do than pondering India’s ideological cauldron, try finding the Homeland instead. Godwin’s law in academe You have unilaterally chosen to burden this old debate with references to the National-Socialist movement. Most of us thought that Adolf Hitler and fellow ideologues like Alfred Rosenberg were laymen, whose opinion is not really worth a scholar’s consideration, at least not for arriving at the answer of his research questions. But you brought them in to criminalize a whole school of scholars, of no lesser rank than you. We have not so much chosen to draw attention to your intemperate attack because it is slanderous: to stay in the kitchen of India’s controversies, you have to be used to the heat of violent language or what they now loosely call “hate speech”. We could have consoled ourselves once more that this is just par for the course. But in this case, the slander is of an exceptional gravity. In contemporary Western culture, accusing anyone of anything Nazi is the single worst allegation you can make. This point really must be emphasized: it is you, not us, who have soiled this debate with off-topic Nazi references. As we have often found out: when an outsider dares to criticize an established authority, the whole establishment gangs up against the critic to shift the blame for the commotion to him. It is all very feudal in character: when a premodern earl’s son broke a precious vase, not he but the footman got the blame (that’s the story of our own bans from the Religion in South Asia list and from the Indology list). So let’s be clear, it is you who have claimed that Misra’s, Talageri’s, Kazanas’s and others’ OIT is a replay of the Nazis’ stance on the “Aryan” question, no less. Would you dare to repeat this to their faces? There is also a human side to this conflict, but you have benumbed yourselves to this dimension by keeping the demonized OIT scholars at a distance. From our student days we remember an incident where allegations flew between professors until the Dean of the Faculty forced them to reconcile. Here such mechanism seems unavailable because of the lack of human relations. The water still seems to be too deep. Neither you nor the sources you have parroted have been able to underpin this allegation with any incriminating facts. In fact, all the trouble we take here to explain matters is a generous gesture of goodwill towards you, for it is not up to us to do any explaining. Those who utter an allegation are ipso facto guilty of slander unless they prove their point, or retract it and apologize. So far, no such proof. In the present power equation, you have no pressing need to³ retract or apologize: most of the establishment in the West and part of it in India will only, if this polemic ever gets any publicity, praise you as champions in the struggle against ugly vicious history distortion. They will ignore anything argued here against the standard hate narrative and use that very narrative to demonize us. The last thing they will countenance is a climbdown from their high horse of false indictment. We have no power to shame, let alone to force, people into doing what we think they ought to do. And even if we had, we’d choose not to use it. It’s only a matter of honour. No one can be forced to do the honourable thing. As free speech absolutists we also don’t believe in punishing people for failing to do the honourable thing. Honour has no use; you just have it, or you don’t. We’ve been here before. In 1993, Sheldon Pollock, one of the tallest Western Indologists, ludicrously wrote that National-Socialism was but applied Pūrva Mīmānsā, the most orthodox of Hindu philosophies. We took the trouble of drawing attention to this scandalous slander and refuting it, but this has made no difference at all. He didn’t even pretend to any scholarly objectivity but declared candidly that this way he wanted to contribute to the anti-Hindu struggle then crystallizing around the demolished Ayodhya temple. He and most academic and journalistic India-watchers worldwide pretended this temple had never existed, though evidence for it was accumulating and in 2003 the temple remains were excavated. None of them ever admitted to having been wrong. (You will understand why not everyone is impressed by claims of “academic consensus”.) Perhaps this precedent is relevant for our present dispute: accumulating evidence countered by “Nazi” slander… And Hitler in all this? So, suit yourselves. But we should not walk away from this dispute without reminding everyone where the Nazis, whom you chose to bring in, stood in the Homeland debate. For them, the AIT was a cornerstone of the racist worldview. First, the dynamic White Europeans went all the way to the land of the indolent Brown natives, and conquered it. Then like proto-Nazis they installed the caste system as a kind of racial Apartheid. (At that stage they still produced lofty philosophies, which explains the handful of Nazi takers for the tall light-skinned Buddha or the caste-conscious Bhagavad Gītā.) But they still fell for native charms and racially mixed somewhat, thus losing much of their superior qualities and becoming the dirty superstitious Hindus we know. Fortunately for them, their cousins in distant Britain had preserved their racial purity and generously came over to provide the benighted ex-Aryans with good governance. The Nazi use of the Swastika also fits in with the AIT. Hindus in the West often have to hear that “Hitler borrowed the Swastika from Hinduism”. The true story is different. If Hitler had believed it was Hindu in origin, he never would have chosen it. He rarely talked about Hindus, and only contemptuously. Instead, he was aware of the Swastika’s frequent occurrence in Troy and Greece (of which he was an admirer) and in the Baltic (where many Nazi Party rank-and-file had gone to fight the Bolsheviks in 1919-20), so he deemed it European. Next, the Aryan invaders had taken it along during their conquest of India, whence it then made its way to India’s Buddhist “colonies”. So it is as a European symbol that Hitler glorified the Swastika. This, by contrast, is what he thought of the Hindus: “We know that the Hindus in India are a people mixed from the lofty Aryan immigrants and the dark-black aboriginal population, and that this people is bearing the consequences today; for it is also the slave people of a race that almost seems like a second Jewry”. (For the German original, see: There you have it: according to Hitler, the Aryan invasion explains the state of the Hindus today. Or rather “Aryan immigration” (Einwanderung), for then already he followed the current fashion of avoiding the toxic-masculine term “invasion”. He really was one of yours. Yours sincerely, Dr. Koenraad ELST Köln (Cologne), 12 September 2023 PS: note that Köln is not only where today the Indogermanische Gesellschaft’s conference is taking place; it was also the city of the remarkable anti-Nazi statesman Konrad Adenauer, after whom the undersigned was named.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2023

A Reply to Rainer Stuhrmann's Die Zehnkönigsschlacht am Ravifluss

(This abstract was sent in, spring 2023, to the call for papers for the annual conference of the International Association for Comparative Mythology, summer 2023 in Saloniki, Greece. Though it would have constituted a great leap forward in the mythologists’ understanding of the Ten Kings’ Battle, it was predictably rejected by anti-OIT crusader Steve Farmer c.s.) Abstract 1. Historicity We agree with Rainer Stuhrmann (2016) and the early Veda translators (who largely based on it the scenario of the then "Aryan invasion") on the essential historicity of the Ten Kings' Battle, and on Vasiṣṭha’s Seventh Maṇḍala’s information about the battle’s course. While the Ṛg-Veda contains lots of myth, this episode, though ideologically streamlined, is about historical facts. But in the hallowed tradition of controversy, we want to take issue with other parts of Stuhrmann’s thesis. 2. Facts of the battle In the RV, the direction of king Sudās’s offensive is plainly east-to-west. This fits the wider context, where he, like his father Divodāsa, is based in the Sarasvatī basin. (Stuhrmann reconnects with a long tradition of scholars identifying the Sarasvatī with the present-day Ghaggar in Haryāṇā, after a decade-long intermezzo of it being pooh-poohed as a recent concoction.) Sudās has reached the third river westwards from there, the Paruṣṇi, and the Ten Kings are coming eastward from the fourth, the Asiknī. 3. The dark-skinned Natives, or…? There’s no indication whatsoever that either party is more indigenous than the other. At most Panjāb was invader territory for the Bhāratas from Haryāṇā, but no area outside India is indicated. None of the kings’ or tribes’ names is Dravidian, or Munda, or any known language – except Iranian. Many (Kavi, Kavaśa/Kaoša, Dāsa/Daha, Dasyu/Daŋhyu, Paktha, Parśu etc.) are well-known Iranian names. Vasiṣṭha’s description of their religion as “without Deva”, “without Indra” and “without yajña/fire-sacrifice” exactly matches Mazdeism. Though Stuhrmann and all translators before him have missed it, Sudās obviously defeated an Iranian-dominated alliance. Those who insist they came from outside, could liken it to the colonial wars: after defeating the natives, the colonial powers fought each other. But the text itself nowhere indicates that they came from outside.
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Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Vedas as Influential Literary Achievement

(Summerhill [bulletin of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies], summer 2023, paper version of a lecture I have given at the IIAS in autumn 2022) Abstract: Most Hindu traditionalists claim that the Vedas are a revealed scripture, not made by human hand, apauruṣeya. This is an object of ridicule for modernists, both outsiders and Hindu reformists. But for devout Hindus too, it can be problematic, for a closer look at the content of the Vedas shows that the Ṛṣis themselves didn’t see it that way. History vs. blind belief Most Hindu traditionalists claim that the Vedas are a revealed scripture, apauruṣeya, “not made by human hand”. Some of the great Hindu thinkers, such as Śaṅkara, insist on this divine origin very much. In this respect, even the egalitarian anti-caste Ārya Samāj, socially reformist, was traditionalist. Generally it is not known as traditionalist but as fundamentalist: its “back to the Vedas” as an instance of the common viewpoint of all fundamentalists, “back to the sources”. Unlike the traditionalists, it rejected post-Vedic practices, such as idol-worship and untouchability, and scriptures such as the Purāṇas. But it didn’t think through the fundamental assumptions of Hinduism, which then were mostly traditionalist. So, it equally continued to assume the revealed origin of the Vedas. This contrasts with the view of the Indologists and of everyone who would stumble upon a book full of hymns: these hymns are poetry written by human poets. In the disastrous attempts by California Hindus to introduce more Hindu-friendly amendments in the state’s social science textbooks in 2005-6 (see Elst 2012:137-155), one demand was to replace the term “poetry” for the Vedas with “scripture”, on a par with the Bible and the Qur’ān. “Scripture” is a status that the believers attribute to a book, whereas “poetry” as a characterization of the Vedic hymns is just descriptive, factual. Even if revealed, they visibly remain poetry. But alright, it then also has the status of scripture. Yet, if Hindus claim their religion to be “scientific”, as they often do, they ought to do better than such primitive a-dime-a-dozen claims for a supernatural origin. Why should we take issue with this belief? The first reason is the one behind every scholarly paper: la verité est bonne (French proverb: “Truth is a good thing”), it will do no harm to set the record straight on a belief that animates millions. Let’s find out the true story and let the chips fall where they may. The second reason is the one that triggered this research: we have noticed that this belief is the enemy of historical investigation of Vedic society and culture. In reply to Shrikant Talageri’s historicization of the Vedas (Talageri 2020a), Prof. Narahari Achar argues from scripture that neither the Vedas nor other ancient sources give a historical analysis. Mostly they don’t, and even those few that deliberately did try to write a historical account (say, Thucydides, or Kalhaṇa), still fell short by modern standards. From a poetry book, a fortiori, you wouldn’t expect any better. Historians are the last to read religious poetry as a factual account, yet they remain interested in it. What they hope to find in there are meta-data, historical information not intended as such by the writer but nonetheless present because all writers unwittingly let on much about their circumstances. Traditionalists, however, are allergic to historical readings of Vedic episodes. The Ārya Samāj’s translations avoid all history-related word meanings (discussed in Talageri 2000:406-412). Followers of Sri Aurobindo too prefer profound symbolic readings. Hence the Hindu protests against the first Orientalist translators of the Vedas and now against Shrikant Talageri for their mining the Vedas for historical data. Thus, Talageri (2000, 2020b) notes that most traditionalists reject not only the notion of “pre-Vedic” but also the discerning of successive historical layers within the Vedas, the key to lots of data about the geographical east-to-west gradient crucial in the “Aryan” homeland debate. Traditionalists pull up their noses for something as mundane as the early history of the Indo-European languages, a mere 6000 years ago. This language family’s homeland location, a question not arising from Vedic literature itself, is at most a very fleeting concern. It didn’t exist until the 18th century and won’t survive the 21st, given that the advances in linguistics and archaeology and the emergence of genetics have brought the resolution to this question very close – in all, too ephemeral to sacrifice the belief in the supernatural Vedas to. This argument would be unassailable if the supernatural provenance of the Vedas were true; but we will show reason why, even for Veda devotees, this hypothesis is baseless. Apauruseyatva imputed to the Vedas Let us first verify how believing Hindus say that the Vedas are apauruṣeya, "non-human“. This means that they are of super-human or divine origin, revealed, uncreated, as old as the universe. Thus, a cathechism-style introduction to Hinduism teaches: “The real name of our religion is Vedic dharma. In ancient days it was just called Dharma. Our religion has its roots in the Vedas, which are our original scriptures. (…) Another name for our religion is Sanatana Dharma.” (Vedalankar 1978:7) Sanātana (Dharma) means “eternal (normative system)”, and if it is deemed synonymous with “Vedic”, it implies that the Vedas are eternal. The position of this paper is just the opposite: Hindus carelessly use the two terms interchangeably, but they are different in meaning: “Vedic” refers to a literary corpus that can be located in a specific time and place, non-eternal. For modern outsiders to the Vedic tradition this will not be very sensational, but we will argue that even for Vedic practitioners this ought to be evident as soon as they look into the Vedas’ contents. Note that if “our religion” is Hinduism, it is quite an assertion to say that its real essence is “Vedic dharma”, for this is not so obvious. If you visit a Hindu home or temple, you will see a lot that is not Vedic, starting with mūrtipūjā, idol-worship. In spite of lavish lip-service, few Hindus know the Vedas. In terms of books (or their derivative plays, dances, music and films), their favourites are the epics, the fable collections and the Purāṇas. And even the specialists of Vedic recitation have rarely contemplated the contents of what they recite. The Vedas are the most prestigious tributary to the Hindu stream, but it would be very partisan and unhistorical to reduce Hinduism to Vedic dharma. Anyway, this is how the author (of Ārya Samāj persuasion) pictures the mechanics of this divine revelation: “The Vedas have not been created by men. In the very beginning God revealed unto the Rishis the knowledge of the Vedas. (…) When these Rishis sat in meditation, God gave them the knowledge of the Vedas.” (Vedalankar 1978:32) Traditionalists divide scripture into Śruti, "that which is heard (from a divine source)", viz. the Vedas in the broad sense (Saṁhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka, Upaniṣad); and Smṛti, "that which is remembered" (and of which no divine origin is claimed, though in practice it is also treated as unquestionable authority), viz. the Itihāsa-Purāṇa literature and the Dharma Śāstras. According to Annie Besant and Bhagavan Das: “The Śruti, consisting of the four Vedas, is the final authority in the Āryan religion, and these four Vedas form in their entirety the Veda, the perfect knowledge, revealed by Brahmā, seen by the ṛṣis, and clothed in words by them to benefit the Āryan peoples.” (Besant & Das 2000:2) In this view, the Vedic composers or Ṛṣis were not Mantrakāra, “verse maker”, but Mantradṛṣṭā, “verse seers”. Modern authors often show a certain embarrassment about this apparently irrational claim, yet try to save it. Thus: “The rishi or rishika received the revelation of wisdom from the supreme plane termed as parame vyoman in RV and transcribed it into poems with appropriate words and metres. Thus there is no contradiction between the traditional view that the Veda is apaurusheya, not composed by a human being, and the modern view that the rishis are the poets of RV since the verses came out of their mouth. This is clear from the RV itself.” (Kashyap 2012:12) What follows are a few claims by 20th-century authors like Sri Aurobindo, and only one from the Veda itself: the phrase“dadarśa vācam”, “he saw the word” (RV 10.71.4), from the fag end of the (literally millennial) composition span of the Ṛg-Veda. This Vedic phrase is not a straightforward description of the genesis of Vedic verses. The entire hymn is, at any rate, a human composition addressed to the “god” Jñāna, “wisdom”, though poet Bṛhaspati Aṅgiras also addresses himself. He never pretends that some divine source is putting words into his mouth or that he himself “sees words”. He only makes the point that some see a word, some hear a word, but don’t “get” it, while a rare individual seizes upon “her”, the word, who then “gives herself like a loving wife to her husband” (in itself a beautiful way to describe the poet’s extraordinary openness to inspiration). In case this verse does describe the way a Vedic poet encounters the words he puts in verse, it only fits the scenario we envision to reconstruct the slow evolution from purely human poetry via this late-Vedic verse to the post-Vedic belief in revealed hymns. A rather authoritative commentator is the late Kanchi Shankaracharya, Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati. He explains: “The Vedas are called anādi – without a beginning in terms of time. That is to say, anything previous to it or older than it does not exist.” (Chandrashekharendra 1991:3) But he starts by doubting this: “How can this be accepted? A book has necessarily to have an author; at least one, if not more.” (Chandrashekharendra 1991:3) This sounds promising, but the sequel doesn’t lead to the answer modern rationalists expect. The choice is only between “as old as” or “older than” creation: “If the Vedas came into being with the first creation, they cannot be said to be without beginning.” (Chandrashekharendra 1991:5) He finds the solution for this strange conundrum in a late-Vedic verse (Western Orientalists limit the term Veda or Śruti to the Saṁhitās, but Indians include the Upaniṣads in them): “Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.10 says the Vedas are Īśvara’s exhalation.” So “they coexist with Him” (Chandrashekharendra 1991:6), the Vedas inhere in the Divine every moment of its eternal existence. But since we didn’t create our breath, it existed from as soon as we were born, and likewise the Vedas exist for as long as God exists: “even He cannot be said to have created them. They have always existed together.” (Chandrashekharendra 1991:6) So, sort of eternal. By the way, having been written long before a wave of theistic devotionalism submerged Hinduism, this Bṛhadāraṇyaka phrase doesn’t contain the word Īśvara which a 20th-century commentator imputes to it. It merely says that, the way smoke emanates from fire, the Vedas together with the natural sciences have all emanated, but doesn’t say whence. If this late-Vedic verse had made a distinction between the Vedas on the one hand and on the other hand history, the natural sciences and all compositions agreed to be of human origin, we could have categorized it as typical for the transition period between the fully creative Vedic period and the static exalted post-Vedic belief in apauruṣeyatva. But we don’t even have to that: in spite of the 20th-century attempt to enlist it in the apauruṣeyatva doctrine, it actually fails to exalt the Vedas above the undoubtedly human compositions. It treats all books as essentially the same kind of composition, viz. by a human author. Philosophical basis The term apauruṣeya is usually translated as “non-human”, “impersonal”. It does not come from the Vedas themselves, not at all, but from the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā school of philosophy, centuries younger than the youngest book that could reasonably be called Vedic: “The Mīmāṁsakas hold that the Veda is self-subsistent, eternal and ‘Śruti’ or divine revelation.” (Anirvan 2018:11-12) In the intervening centuries, the Vedas had been extolled, with a class of people set apart just to memorize them and pass them on unchanged to the letter; with the best of sciences (grammar, mathematics, astronomy) growing up around them; and with kings in distant parts of India invited Brahmin communities and settling them in privileged agrahāras to add Vedic lustre to their dynasties. If anything in the surroundings of an ancient Hindu approached the divine, this was it. The idea of divinizing them or at least their provenance caught on among intellectually unsophisticated minds, and finally also among the cream of Hindu philosophers, Śaṅkara and the others. So the authority for the apauruṣeyatva belief can be traced back in writing at least some 2200 years: to the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā school, the most Veda-centric of the Hindu philosophical schools. In the foundational Pūrva Mīmāṁsā Sūtra, sage Jaimini sets out to prove: “The unquestionable validity of ‘Vedic injunction’ as the only means of knowing Dharma.” (PMS 5) Yet he admits something that was already opined by (no, not ugly ill-wishing foreigners or incomprehending Orientalists, but) his Hindu contemporaries: “According to some people, the Vedas are the work of human authors; being, as they are, named after man. Also because we find (in the Veda the mention of) many non-eternal things.” (PMS 27-28) He waves these objections off by breezily claiming: “But the eternality of the word has already been established.” (PMS 29) So let’s check the preceding passage he refers to. They merely assert (questionable) claims about the word, as a generic category, never specifying Vedic as distinct from other texts: “(The word) must be regarded as eternal.” (PMS 18) But none of the reasons given for this bizarre claim is convincing. Thus it is asserted: “What is perceptible [by the ear] is not what is spoken of.” (PMS 22) In modern linguistic terms (incidentally inspired on Pāṇini): the signifier (le signifiant) differs from the signified (le signifié). Of course the word “water” does not equal the element water, but linguists don’t deduce the eternality of any object from this. Or because the word exists before it is uttered and still exists after having been uttered. (to sum up PMS 13) By this standard, your car is eternal, for before you take it out on a ride, it already existed, and after you park it, it goes on existing. Or: “We meet with (texts) indicative of the eternality of words).” (PMS 23) We don’t think that highly of the longevity of texts, but they can indeed last longer than their composition or recitation. More pertinently, though, by making a claim about “the” word, any word, this fails to differentiate between fleeting human compositions and the supposedly very special, divine Vedas. If this proves the Vedas are uncreated, it does the same for all profane writings. The Qur’ān as apauruṣeya This apauruṣeyatva doctrine is actually a mirror-image of the Islamic view of the Qur’ān: abiding since creation (if not earlier) in God's bosom, the Qur’ān is rained down on humanity at a time and place of God's choosing. Next to the Qur’ān, the Hadīth (traditions about the Prophet’s sayings and doings) and Sīra (the Prophet’s biography) do not have that divine status, but function nonetheless as the basis for unchangeable Islamic law, Šarī’a. In Hinduism the Śāstras have a similar status. The difference between really existing Dharma and Dīn, effective Hinduism and Islam, viz. Śāstra and Šarī’a, is not as radical as often thought. The exclusive claim of Islam has no counterpart in Vedic tradition, that much is radically different; but its attitude to the supernatural is similar. Part of its scripture has a supernatural origin; and part of it has a human origin (and is thus a bit more negotiable) but is nonetheless normative. And this did not come about under Islamic influence, but stems from a common layer in human nature, a pan-human tendency to idealize and absolutize anything deemed spiritual, a tendency well-attested in many cultures throughout history. Yet, the difference is unmistakable for those who care to read the source texts. The Qur’ān (or likewise, the Biblical Ten Commandments) takes the form of God speaking to his prophet or to mankind. By contrast, the Vedic hymns take the form of a human composer addressing or describing a Deity. Ṛṣis are not receptacles Traditionalist Hinduism makes a claim on the Vedic Ṛṣis, viz. that they were passive receptacles of divine revelations. However, this assertion would be unrecognizable to the Ṛṣis themselves: they created these “revelations”. The Vedic text itself serves to verify this. Unlike Mohammed for the Qur’ān, at least according to Islamic doctrine, the Ṛṣis were authors of the Vedic hymns. They all mention themselves as the agentive minds behind the hymns and the worship proceedings which they captured in words or in which they were employed. The very first hymn of the Ṛg-Veda is Oṁ Agnim ile, "I worship the Fire” (RV 1.1.1): The poet as subject, the personified Fire or the Fire god as object. Likewise hundreds of others, e.g.: “I worship Heaven and Earth, parents of the Gods.” (RV 7:53:1 and again 7:43:1) The first hymn was probably put first on purpose, but is not considered the oldest. Since Hermann Oldenberg (1888), and made widely known in India by Shrikant Talageri (2000:38), not the first but the sixth book is considered the oldest. The hymns within the book are not necessarily in chronological order, but its first hymn belongs at any rate to the oldest generation of hymns. Well, its composer Bharadvāja starts with: Tvaṁ hyAgne prathamo…, “You, Agni, are truly the first…” (RV 6.1.1.) God spoken to, man speaking. His second hymn, likewise directed to Agni, likewise opens with Tvam hi… , “You truly”, and credits him with giving na, “us”, our food and all the rest. (RV 6.1.2) In the third hymn, the poet describes his own devotion to “you, Agni”, and implores Agni for protection. (RV 6.1.3) (Of Bharadvāja we don’t have much biographical detail except in much later post-Vedic literature, esp. in the notoriously fanciful Purāṇas. The extant contemporary writings on the Vedic Ṛṣis, such as Sastry 1980, Nagar 2012:86-96, and Mishra 2022, are typically based on these divergent later accounts and conflate the original sages with their descendants who carry the same name; they lack a critical investigation of what we can reliably know about these sages. Anyway, we plead for more scholarly attention to the individual histories of the Vedic sages, esp. Bharadvāja as the first of them, given their crucial importance for Hindu history.) For some more stray examples from later hymns, consider one showing how the composers valued their compositions as precious gifts to the deity addressed: “Agni, Creator, to you who are wise, acquainted with the past, I address, oh sage, these soliciting mysterious words, ever-to-be-recited poems, together with praises and prayers.” (RV 4.3.16) Or they illustrate the principle of “feeding the gods”, how it is sacrifices by humans that give life to the gods: “For you, Agni, these sweetest words; for you, may this invocation be a blessing to the heart. You are the one these songs fill with power.” (RV 5.11.5) Or they ask “you”, the deity, to purify “our” thoughts: “God Savitā, impel the ritual! Impel for good fortune the lord of ritual! Divine Gandharva, purifier of thought, purify our thoughts!” (YV, Taittirīya Saṁhitā 4.1.7) Witness especially the two most famous Vedic hymns: in the Gāyatrī Mantra, “may You, the rising Sun, awaken our minds” (RV 3.62.10); or in the Mṛtyunjaya Mantra: “we worship the tryambaka deity” (RV 7.59.12). The composers are sometimes quite explicit about their own effort to complete and perfect their poems: “A thought have I imagined, like a workman.” (RV 3.38.1) This refers to the craftsmanship needed, and the hard work of fashioning verses: as any poet knows, composing poetry is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭha even praises himself for having, through his perfect hymns, swayed the god Indra into supporting his employer, king Sudās, so that the latter wins the Battle of the Ten Kings (in the only hymns that takes a living human being as presiding deity, viz.: Vasiṣṭha and his sons): “Vasiṣṭhas, through your prayers did Indra defend Sudās in the War of the Ten Kings.” (RV 7:33:3) The hymns themselves regularly refer to a pre-Vedic age, impossible if they are uncreated. Thus, to the "Ṛṣis from the past” (RV 1.1.2); to past battles, e.g. against the Druhyu tribe with the help of Aikṣvāku king Māndhātā (RV 1.112.13, RV 8.39.8, RV 8.40.12). within memory of the Vedic project’s initiators, king Bharata and his court-priest Ṛṣi Bharadvāja; or many times to more distant ancestors like Manu and Ilā. For a final example, consider the concluding verse of the Īśa Upaniṣad: “Oh Agni, lead us along the auspicious path to prosperity, oh god who knowest all our deeds. Take away from us deceitful sins. We shall offer many prayers unto thee.” (IU 18) The Upaniṣads, the philosophical prose concluding the Vedas, though later and from a period when the Vedic hymns were already being idealized, continue the position taken by the hymns: when mentioning a deity, they do not pretend to be spoken by this deity (1st person), but instead are human utterances about (3rd person) or towards (2nd person) the deity. Criticism For the modern scholarly view, we can start in the introduction to philosophy by Prof. Chandradhar Sharma, who says point-blank that “the orthodox view that the Vedas are authorless and eternal (…) cannot be philosophically sustained”. (1987:16) One indication is human fallibility, presumably not applicable to God. The Vedas do contain mistakes. Not many, but enough to prove their humble human origin. Thus, the Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad (1.4) evokes an impression of increasing chaos, a familiar lament. As an example how not only sinful men but even the stars have started disobeying natural law, it mentions that Dhruva (Thuban or Alpha Draconis), the Pole Star in ca. 2800 BC, is falling away from the North Pole. The name Dhruva, “fixed”, was clearly given at a time when it was indeed on the Pole and didn’t seemed to move in a night time, whereas the other stars all circled around the Pole. But because of a perfectly natural movement called the precession, less visible than daily rotation or yearly revolution, no Pole Star is forever. Precession is a cycle of around 25772 tears, or 1° per ca. 71 years, so it takes sophisticated astronomical knowledge to become aware of it. The Maitrāyaṇīya writer clearly hadn’t, so he give a wrongly negative interpretation to a movement that was perfectly compliant with ṛta, natural law. Would God have made this mistake? One of the proofs is the intertextuality (quotations and other deference to earlier texts) present in Vedic literature, possibly even with the oldest hymns quoting passages of irretrievable pre-Vedic texts, but at any rate verifiably with later Vedic texts quoting earlier Vedic texts. This is sometimes to repeat their meaning, sometimes to give novel interpretations to old phrases set in stone, and sometimes even to disagree with what some ancestor had said. Prof. Daya Krishna (1990:63-94) gives a number of examples of later hymns borrowing from earlier hymns, or the Yajur-Veda and Atharva-Veda reproducing mantras from the Ṛg-Veda, or the Upaniṣads from the Saṁhitās. Thus, the Puruṣa section of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (3.11-21) is an obvious and explicit reference to the Vedic Puruṣa Sūkta (RV 10.90). It partly restates the hymn’s verses literally, but also shifts the focus to the deity Śiva, equated with the cosmic man, and the typically Upaniṣadic concept of the colourless Self (Ātma). Another famous passage from the Ṛg-Veda concerns two birds: “Two birds associated together and mutual friends take refuge in the same tree, one of them eats the sweet fig; the other, abstaining from food, merely looks on.” (RV 1.164.20) This imagery is copied in the Mundaka Upaniṣad 3.1.1-2 and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 4.6-7, and there becomes the master image of the choice between savṛtti and nivṛtti, worldly involvement vs. renunciation; or between jīva, “soul”, the entity wandering through life and facing all its challenges, and ātma, “Self”, the unchanging core of our being. This was to remain a major theme throughout Hindu philosophy. These are just a few examples of the common phenomenon of Vedic intertextuality. Does God, by definition the highest authority, deal in quotations, which are an appeal to higher authority? A specific case of intertextuality is later Vedic passages referring to earlier ones to disagree with them. It is often said that the Buddha rejected Vedic ritualism, as part of the now-common assertion of Buddhism’s separateness from “Hinduism” or at least from the Vedic tradition. But this is in fact one of the cases where the Buddha simply continues a trend started in the Upaniṣads, i.e. in the concluding part of the Veda itself (“Vedānta”). To put it in well-known terms, the Upaniṣads replace (or at least, shift the focus from) karmakāṇḍa, the ritualist half, to highlight jñānakāṇḍa, the wisdom half. Thus, in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.1.4 ff. the senior sage Sanatkumāra explains to the junior sage Nārada that the Vedas are called nāma, “a mere name”, together with (and on the same footing as) a string of worldly sciences. Then he assures him that there is something higher than this “name” category, and enumerates a number of things successively higher, such as saṅkalpa (decisiveness) and prāṇa (life breath). This chapter is not one of the most logically cogent in the Upaniṣads, but at least it testifies that the Vedas are not given the unique reverence due to a uniquely divine revelation. The Mundaka Upaniṣad 1.1.5 lists the four Vedas along with the auxiliary (undoubtedly human-originated) sciences or Vedāṅgas as aparavidya, “non-supreme science”. It contrasts all of these, including the Vedic hymns, with the roadmap to the akṣara, the “immutable” or absolute, which is paravidya, “supreme science”. To drive home this point further, the Mundaka Upaniṣad 1.2.7 compares Vedic sacrifices or yajñas to leaky boats: “These ships of sacrifice (…) are inferior in merit, transient and fleeting.” Would God, or whatever we call the supernatural power that supposedly gave us the Vedas, first reveal a doctrine that He had carried with Him for ages, and then within a few centuries (a mere blip on a divine time-scale) repudiate His very own message? Actually we do find this situation in the Islamic system, where Allah is said to have “abrogated” some Qur’ān passages with later ones of a different or opposite thrust. But if we take a sober outsiders’ look, we see this “abrogation” doctrine for what it is: a transparent attempt by apologists to keep up the postulated divinity of a text though it bears the hallmarks of authorship by an human composer who changed his mind under changing circumstances. Similarly, the world evolved in the Vedic age and new human insights gave rise to new texts of a different thrust. Finally, we have a few cases of intertextuality with non-Vedic texts. The overlaps with the Mahābhārata are a bit trivial, but are to be noted, for they confirm the Vedic situatedness in space and time. Thus, the youngest person mentioned in the Ṛg-Veda is Śantanu, who is the stepfather of the Veda editor (Veda-Vyāsa, né Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana). The youngest in the Yajur-Veda is Veda-Vyāsa’s biological son Dhrtarāṣṭra, which tallies well with the tradition that Veda-Vyāsa gave the definitive form to the Vedas, or at least to the Veda-Trayī of Ṛg-Veda, Sāma-Veda (which mostly repeats from Ṛg-Veda, but now set to music) and Yajur-Veda. The Atharva-Veda took a few generations more, for the youngest person mentioned there is Veda-Vyāsa’s great-great-grandson Parīkṣit. A far more sensational case of external intertextuality concerns the Vārṣāgira battle mentioned in RV 1.100. It lists the main protagonists of the battle, which took place on the Afghan side of the Bolan Pass (a sequel to the Battle of the Ten Kings mainly discussed in RV 7.18, 7.33 and 7.83). This battle and the main protagonists likewise figure in the Iranian scripture Avesta, mainly Yašt 5.109-113 and Yašt 9.30, and they match (fully discussed in Talageri 200:208-231, esp. 216). It is extremely exceptional to find a battle this early where we have the version of both the warring parties. Finally we must mention a very fundamental critique, for which we can as yet only quote a personal communication from the nonagenarian art historian Dr. Lokesh Chandra. According to him, the term Śruti is usually subject to mistranslation, it should be “that which can be heard; fame, glory”. Indeed, whereas the Śāstras are discretely used for learned reference in judicial proceedings among specialists, the Vedic hymns were recited in public or included in publicly-conducted rituals. They were heard from afar. It is not impossible that this down-to-earth use of the description “heard” was subsequently reinterpreted in a supernatural sense. The latter interpretation has become the accepted one since more than two thousand years, but that doesn’t make it authentic. Vedas in history The Vedas, by their own testimony, are located in history. Their flora (no sequoias or pine trees), fauna (no giraffes, penguins or kangaroos), rivers (no Yellow River or Mississippi) and level of technology (no stone fist-axes nor automobiles) indicate a particular window in space-time. Unambiguously, their cradle was in Bronze-Age Northwest-India. From there and then, a number of historical events found their way into otherwise religious poetry. All the arguments we have ever heard against the historicity of the Vedas (which cannot annul the Ṛṣis’ own primary testimony anyway) are based on post-Vedic sayings making the same claim that the traditionalists still make, nothing more. Thus from the Manu Smṛti: “But from fire, wind and sun, He [= Prabhu, the Lord] drew forth the threefold eternal Veda, called Ṛk, Yajus and Sāman, for the due performance of the sacrifice.” (MS 1.23) Mind you, already in the Ṛg-Veda, the Ṛṣis’ distant ancestor Manu was known as a lawgiver, and the notion of “Manu’s Law” may already have existed. But it was malleable, evolved with the times (as still explicitly permitted in the concluding part of the presently-available Manu Smṛti), but the historically-attested version bears the imprint of the social conditions ca. two thousand years ago. It is absolutely not a contemporary testimony of the Vedas’ genesis, and anyway, its florid formulation seems just a manner of speaking, not a denial of the Vedas’ composition by human hand. In a general sense, it is of course true that the Manu Smṛti, the Bhagavad Gītā and other post-Vedic literature took this new narrative of uncreated revealed eternal Vedas and ran with it, making it into an unquestioned tradition. Yet, with all due respect for those authority-laden books, their claim is and remains in conflict with the much older evidence from the Vedas themselves, and wrong. Among the reasons not yet discussed, we might mention that explaining the hymns as supernaturally induced does injustice to the divine character of the gods: if these have to dictate to the poets the hymns of praise to themselves, they are narcissistic. If a girl is given a serenade by a suitor below her balcony, she is not going to dictate to him which praises to sing. On the contrary, she wants to be surprised by what new imaginative phrases he comes up with. The relation between composer and deity is indeed that of a lover singing a serenade under his beloved's balcony. Just as the suitor hopes to sway her and make her favour him, the poet hopes to influence the deity towards his side ("do ut des"). It is absurd to think that the girl has dictated the lyrics of the song of praise to the suitor: “Tell me how uniquely beautiful I am. Sing how my eyes are as deep as the ocean! Compare me to a summer’s day!” On the contrary, she wants to get impressed with the novel imagery he has managed to invent. Similarly, it is absurd to think that the gods have dictated the hymns in praise of themselves to the composers. How was the transition made from human hymnal poetry into a legacy from the gods? In practice, the Vedas derived an enormous prestige from: 1) the quality of the poetry, at a time when mastery of the possibilities of language was the highest art form (cfr. the pre-Islamic Arabs, who as nomads had no sculpture or architecture worth the name, but had a cult of singing and poetry); 2) the discipline of learning the hymns by heart, the whole edifice of their mnemotechniques and the social support by a Brahminical class set apart for it, and 3) the fact that they became the backbone around which many new sciences grew (Vedāṅgas, Upavedas, some of them worldwide firsts, esp. linguistics and some branches of mathematics). They peacefully conquered India, because kings in eastern and peninsular India invited Brahmin communities to settle in their domains, encouraging their immigration with the gift of privileged neighbourhoods (agrahāras), all in order to add the prestige of the Vedic tradition to their dynasty’s fame. This way, the Vedas and their language acquired a new role as the glasses through which to see all the accruing non-Vedic components of Hinduism (e.g. mūrtipūjā), serving as vault over these and providing them with a conceptual framework and technical language. As their origin disappeared on the horizon but their glory became ever more conspicuous, the Vedas were elevated ever higher. A new narrative gained ground, allotting them a divine origin. Invented tradition This evolution provides one of world history's best examples of an “invented tradition”. The term was launched by the British Marxist philosopher Eric Hobsbawm, ca. 1980. An invented tradition is fairly recent but falsely claims ancientness. Or more charitably, it reinterprets earlier tradition and absorb it into a new worldview. By the time literacy was popularized (we won’t speak out on the common assumption that it was “revived”), ca. 300 BCE, a new tradition had been invented that continues the centrality of and veneration for the Vedas, but overlays this with a newly-added doctrine of their supernatural provenance. An invented tradition projects the present norms onto the past, or norms valid in a recent past onto a more ancient past. Its votaries homogenize the past into a single screen, denying any specific time-depth to different phases. They do in time what we all do in space when looking at the stars: we see no space-depth, these stars all look homogeneously far, whether 4 or 4,000 light years away. In doing so, the invented-traditionalists deny changes that have taken place at some historical point in the past. This takes the form of grafting onto the ancient past far more recent traditions. When Marxists speak of an invented tradition, they usually insinuate a sinister motive for imposing this false account of the past. The oppressor class misuses its cultural power to misinform the oppressed classes, all the better to seduce them into accepting their subaltern position. In this case, however, we see no reason to posit such an ulterior motive. The Hindu mind innocently tends towards divinization, as exemplified by the cases of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. The heroes Rāma and Kṛṣṇa started out as ordinary human beings: born from a mother like everyone (as attested by their respective birthplaces, still centres of pilgrimage), they both experienced love and intrigue, war and flight and victory, mourning and joy, doubt and compromise. They died an all-too-human, meaningless death: drowned in a flood c.q. shot in a hunting accident. Yet a few generations later, they got elevated to the status of Viṣṇu’s incarnation, in recognition of their role as upholder of dharma in the human world (magnified in the retelling), the human counterpart of the deity’s role in the pantheon as Preserver. Next, temples are dedicated to them, on the same footing as temples to the immortal gods. Though we consider the apauruṣeyatva doctrine a mistake, we need to emphasize its relative innocence, for it contrasts with a similar and related invented tradition that is not so innocent: the attribution of a divine origin to the institution of caste. Caste was absent in the Vedic age, as affirmed by Orientalists like Frits Staal (2008:53-55) and even Marxist historian Shereen Ratnagar (in Thapar 2006:166). On its fundamentalist revaluation of the Vedas, the 19th-century reform movement Ārya Samāj based its seemingly very modern rejection of caste, taking Vedic society as model for its projected casteless society. Next, patrilineal caste appeared during the long millennium when the Mahābhārata was being edited. This may be exemplified by the case of Veda-Vyāsa, sage par excellence and son of sage Parāśara, but his mother belonged to a fishermen community. This patrilineal system prevailed till at least the Buddha’s lifetime (he had to deal with a conflict in his friend Prasenajit’s family when son Virūdhaka discovered that his mother was not a proper kṣatriya: no problem according to the aged Buddha, but intolerable for the young prince). Then the new norm of endogamy appears in the upper class, and this gradually gets generalized to all of Hindu society by ca. 300 CE, when geneticists find that it has developed a box-type division in separate communities. (Biswas 2016) Traditionalists will at this point tend to minimize the caste problem, pointing out e.g. that outsiders typically fail to understand how, before being an exclusion-from, caste also is a belonging-to, a solidarity network. Alright, the issue is complicated, but it remains true that the new caste structure of society privileged certain communities. It clearly served the power interests of certain emerging castes, while demeaning others. It is too late now to get worked up over social evolutions taking place thousands of years ago, but we may frown when we still see an (admittedly shrinking) group justifying caste stratification and distorting history to that end. Invented-traditionalists tend to dehistoricize caste. They deny its gradual rise, and claim it as eternal and intrinsic to Hinduism. (Today, it certainly serves the interests of the Christian Missionaries and anti-Hindu Leftists who pontificate that “there is no Hinduism without caste” – in perfect unison with the Hindu invented-traditionalists.) This invented tradition on caste differs from but piggy-backs on the apauruṣeyatva tradition. They argue that caste was divinely ordained, and that this is clear from its legitimation in the God-given Vedas. We just argued that caste is absent there, yet they always point to the Puruṣa Sūkta (RV 10:90) as the basis for caste. This hymn appears at the very end of the Ṛg-Veda, and according to many scholars including Friedrich Max Müller it is an even later interpolation, put there precisely to create Vedic legitimacy for caste. This would make it a very wilful case of invented tradition, fielded deliberately with an oppressive intent. However, no matter what the hymn’s provenance, a close reading shows surpringly that it doesn’t contain the defining elements of caste at all: hereditary profession and endogamy. It merely sums up four functional layers in society, hierarchically arranged like the body parts from head to toe, which you find in any developed society. This is simply the application of the corporatist, “body-like” model to the social world, after the hymn had likewise applied it to the natural world. This again is a comparison you find in many cultures: the skull corresponding to the heavenly vault, the eyes to sun and moon, the bones to the mountains, the bloodstream to the rivers, the feet to the earth. In Roman society too, the upper-class negotiator Menenius Agrippa (ca. 500 BC) persuaded the rebellious lower classes with the corporatist metaphor: all parts of society have to work together and accept each other’s specificities, just like the parts of the body. Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, would repeat it (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Then with that passage as a lead, the Catholic Church through Pope Leo XIII (encyclical Rerum Novarum 1891) would declare corporatism the “social teaching of the Church”, upholding the harmony model against the then-rising socialist model of class struggle. But here you see the poison of invented traditions again. The terms used had not been casteist in the mind of the writer, but had meanwhile become caste terms. For at least sixteen centuries, 4th till 20th, these four varṇa (colour, quality) groups had a hereditary monopoly on certain professions, and refrained from intermarriage. These defining traits of caste (hereditary profession and endogamy) got back-projected onto the Puruṣa Sūkta, hence on the Vedas, hence on the gods who had supposedly authored the Vedas. This went effortlessly: every Hindu in 800, or 1800, who heard about a Brāhmaṇa or a Śūdra, was bound to think of caste, and was likewise bound to associate the Vedic source with divine revelation. This is how bad history, including invented traditions, can lead to grave problems. It can absolutize them, turn them into a matter of divine volition, no less. But this also shows how good history can relativize them and make them manageable again. Conclusion The assumption that the Vedas are of supernatural origin, apauruṣeya, is demonstrably in conflict with various types of testimony in the Vedas themselves. Oddly, for people who hold the Vedas in such quasi-divinizing awe, the invented-traditionalists turn out to go against this Vedic testimony. We invite them to briefly interrupt their devout Veda recitations for a critical reading of the Vedas, to clear up their confusion. They won't welcome this refutation of their fond belief. They may associate our observations with despised ideological movements like Nehruvian secularism, materialism and atheism. But look at the bright side. Hindus too are called to develop the Constitutionally-ordained “scientific temper”, which was never contradicted by any Hindu religious dogma. The apauruṣeyatva belief was never un-Hindu, only a mistake, as happens once in a while to human beings. Moreover, if traditionalists care about ancestry, this refutation of their cramped belief ought to gladden them. It implies that their Ṛṣi ancestors were not passive receptacles of voices from above, but creative geniuses. Surely this quality is still lurking somewhere in their own genes. Bibliography Achar, BN Narahari, 2020: Revisiting the Chronology of Rigveda and the exact identity of Vedic Aryans, Anirvan, 2018: Veda Mīmāṁsā, vol.1, Akshaya Prakashan, Delhi. Besant, Annie, and Das, Bhagavan, 2000 (1940): Sanātana Dharma. An Advanced Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics, Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai. Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, Sri, 1991: The Vedas, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. Elst, Koenraad, 2012: The Argumentative Hindu, Voice of India, Delhi. Biswas, Premankur, 2016: “Genetic study suggests caste began to dictate marriage from Gupta reign”, Indian Express, 16 February 2016. 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