Thursday, September 22, 2022

Why Indo-Europeanists have a duty to face the Out-of-India Theory

(Pragyata [on-line magazine from Delhi], 21 September 2022) Last week, after years of Corona intermezzo, the Indogermanische Gesellschaft (German: “Indo-European Society”) reconvened for a working conference in the charming Dutch city of Leiden, since long reputed for its Oriental Studies. It was sharply focused, no parallel sessions and all papers dealing somehow with the conference theme: the “Secondary Homelands of Indo-European”. This was indeed worth a brainstorming session bringing together the best minds in the field. Further, the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (“German Orientalist Society”) has resumed its regular conferences, so after five years it is holding its Orientalist Conference right now in Berlin, which is where I am writing this article. It includes numerous parallel sessions on all parts of Asia and the Islamic World, among them a long session on Indo-European linguistics. Here there is no thematic focus, but something useful may still come out of it. Debating the homeland Thus far, the debate had concerned the Primary Homeland, or simply the Homeland. When the India-based Jesuit missionary Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux sent his memorandum on the kinship of Sanskrit, Latin and Greek from India to the Academy in Paris in 1767, the Indo-European language family was born (later made known in India by William Jones in 1786), and the hunt for its homeland could take off. The Bible-thumpers insisted on Armenia. That is where Noah’s Ark had landed, and the Indo-Europeans were taken to be the descendents of Jafeth, one of Noah’s sons. But the role of the discovery of Sanskrit in the realization of its kinship with (and the mutual kinship of) most European languages was widely taken to indicate India. Sanskrit was apparently the oldest form of Indo-European, with e.g. 8 cases of the noun instead of 5 in Greek and 6 in Latin, or 3 numbers instead of 2, with Latin and Greek having only a few relics of the missing locative and instrumental cases and of the dual number. Modern linguists would therefore call it an elder sister of the other languages, back then people concluded that Sanskrit had to be the mother of the others, the origin. The French freethinker Voltaire was among the leading European minds who welcomed the idea of an Indian origin for European culture, if only because as an ex-Christian he wanted to diminish the Church’s claim on Europe. Though the term “Out-of-India Theory” (OIT) was only coined ca. 1997 (by the American Indologist Edwin Bryant), the idea had been launched by Europeans some 250 years ago. For about sixty years, India remained the favourite among the possible homelands. The tilting point came in the 1830s, esp. after August Schlegel had proposed the Caucasus area. The nail in the Indocentric hypothesis’ coffin came with the launch of Linguistic Paleontology ca. 1860, which located the homeland in a colder zone and to the west (on the assumption that words for cold-climate flora and fauna pointed this way, whereas in fact, India too has islands of cold climate near the mountains, and has bears, wolves, otters and birch trees too); and by the discovery of war episodes in the Rg-Veda which were interpreted as depicting white invaders subduing the dark natives (see below). In India this choice for a peri-Caucasian homeland necessitated a later influx into India, which became known as the Aryan invasion (hence Aryan Invasion Theory, AIT). Nowadays many philologists squeamishly insist on calling it an “immigration”, as if a change in language and religion of the then-largest human civilization could have come about (as the excavations indicate) without power struggle. Well, suit yourselves: after all, an invasion is also a form of immigration, so no objection to reading “AIT” as “Aryan Immigration Theory”. Some Indians saw the bright side: the AIT upgraded them from colonial underlings to the cousins of their British overlords. In the USA, some Hindu immigrants even used it in Court to upgrade themselves from the “Coloured” to the “White” category. But still it became most popular among those Indian communities most loyal to the colonial power, most anti-nationalist, like on the one hand the Sikhs (who identified themselves with the Aryan invaders, even physically looking like how we imagine the Vedic sages), on the other the Dravidianists and the Christianized tribals (who identified themselves as the non-Aryan natives entitled to compensatory privileges). The second, anti-Aryan tendency has gained strength after Independence, while the pro-Aryan tendency has withered away, in parallel with the post-Nazi opinion shift in the West. Many Indians remained skeptical of such an invasion (though without developing a theory of how the other Indo-European languages ended up in Europe, such as the OIT), e.g. Aurobindo Ghose and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, but this was henceforth kept out of public debate. Meanwhile many English-speaking Indians accepted it, mostly out of awe for Western scholarship which had proven itself path-breaking in many fields. This included even anti-colonial champions such as Congress president Bal Gangadhar Tilak (who thought up his own version in his 1903 book Arctic Home in the Vedas) and chief Hindu Nationalist ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his still-influential manifesto Hindutva (“Hinduness”, 1924). It may be needed to emphasize this, as misinformed Westerners have been tutored to identify the rejection of the AIT with Hindu nationalism. In 2015, Mallikarjuna Kharge, parliamentary leader of the oppositional Congress Party, scolded some high-caste North-Indian adversaries: “You Aryans don’t belong in India”, a very common rhetoric. It is often sharpened for use against the Brahman caste: Brāhmaṇ sālā, deś choḍo! (“Brahmin brother-in-law [a common term of abuse, implying: ‘I slept with your sister’], leave the country”), with anti-Brahmanism having become in many details the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism. While European scholars have delinked Indo-European history from all possible political connotations (at least consciously), in India the political misuse of the AIT has continued till today. Political dimension It is because of this divisive use of the AIT that when scholars ca. 1990 started challenging the AIT, the Hindu nationalist movement jumped on the bandwagon. As a result of this political embrace of the non-AIT (which need not imply the OIT), Western scholars have developed the reprehensible habit of referring to the non-AIT spokesmen and even the OIT defenders (they don’t know the difference) as “Hindu nationalists”. Thus, in an incident between Hans Hock and Shrikant Talageri which I greatly deplore, Hock, who had distinguished himself by his scholarly engagement with the OIT, scolded Talageri as, of course, a “Hindu nationalist”, as if that made his newer arguments unworthy of dealing with. It so happens that I have written my PhD dissertation and several books about religio-politics in India, and dare to claim some expertise in the matter. The difference between the realities on the ground and the Hindu nationalist movement’s international reputation is breath-taking and certain to become a case study in academic malpractice once the power equation that has made this possible, changes. Thus, when in the mid-1990s the Hindu nationalist BJP (Bhāratīya Janatā Party, “Indian People’s Party”) threatened to come to power, terrible predictions were made about what it would do, like “throwing all Muslims into the ocean”. But in 14 years of being in Government (1998-2004 and 2014-present) nothing of the sort has happened. Indeed, the hard figures about victims of religious violence, as opposed to the swollen media rhetoric, shows that the Muslims are far safer in India today than under anti-Hindu-nationalist Prime Ministers like Indira Gandhi (and a hundred times safer than Hindus in Pakistan or Bangladesh). But no fulminator against “Hindu fascism” is known to have retracted his assessment even after having been proved wrong. Apart from stating that much here, I will leave this topic for a different occasion. It is only relevant here to explain how non-specialists in Indian religio-politics, such as the Indo-European linguists, are massively falling for a distorted view of it, with implications for their own choices within their field of expertise, i.c. boycotting the OIT. There are a few problems with this boycott, though. Firstly the identification of the non-AIT (and a fortiori the OIT) with Hindu nationalism is not true, a consideration that ought to count for something among scholars. There is at most an overlap between the historiographical and the political position, but with many exceptions on both sides. Thus, one of the anti-AIT pioneers, Bhagwan Singh (The Vedic Harappans, 1995), was a Marxist, and the whole rejection of the AIT has an obvious anticolonial dimension. Oh, and speaking for myself: I am neither a Hindu nor a nationalist. At any rate the OIT predated any use by any political movement. Admittedly there is this bizarre conspiracy theory abroad (equally among the rank-and-file of India’s anti-AIT camp as in the OIT camp) that a politician sits down to contemplate how to pester his opponents, and then – eureka! – comes up with the plan of concocting a scholarly theory, which moreover manages to fool and instrumentalize the legitimate scholars of the field. Perhaps academics feel themselves far above such a conspiracy theory, yet that is what they are guilty of when identifying the OIT with one of India’s political currents. Secondly it is not relevant. Whether a position is correct or not is independent of who utters it. It is unbecoming for a scholar to attack the person behind an argument and pretend that he thereby has debunked the argument. Indeed, that is the AIT camp’s own position: they defend the AIT (that’s what they implicitly do by espousing any of the peri-Caucasian homeland theories) eventhough it was espoused and ideologically instrumentalized by both the British colonialists and the Nazis. After all, on the abstruse homeland question these worthies might have been right for once. So for what we can see, the AIT party doesn’t seem to be troubled by the political associations of the AIT, and never even to think of them. If some Indo-Europeanists misinformedly declare that the OIT is too politically tainted for their tender attention, let them reflect on the more far-reaching political uses of the AIT which they embrace without a second thought. There is also a non-political reason for boycotting the OIT. In her review of the only book ever that brought together pro-AIT and pro-OIT viewpoints, The Indo-Aryan Controversy by Edwin Bryant and Laurie Patton (eds., 2005), Stephanie Jamison lambasts the very idea of a debate: it wrongly gives a platform to a superstitious theory comparable to Biblical Creationism, the OIT camp are flat-earthers which a scholar can only ignore. This shameless advocacy of cancel culture, moreover for a theory that was long the most accepted one, is an attitude that has gained ground among professional Indo-Europeanists, as I have had to personally find out many times. A consequence is for instance that Joanna Nichols and Claus Peter Zoller have, after Shrikant Talageri pointed out the pro-OIT implications of their findings (that the pattern of lexical borrowing in West-Asian languages from Indo-European indicated that this family came from the east, Bactria or so; c.q. that the Bangani dialect in North India shows a substrate of a kentum Indo-European language similar to the family’s westernmost branches), declared that their findings remain valid but not these pro-OIT implications. In India this is being laughed at as an Inquisition-like or Stalinist-like recanting. Europeans in India The Indian homeland theory is not a recent “concoction by Hindu nationalists”, as ignorant opinion-makers tend to claim. It was a European invention cherished by many Europeans for linguistic and sometimes also ideological reasons. Among them, the pioneers had been Europeans living in India (Coeurdoux, Jones), a significant detail. In Europe before 1800, India was a mystery land in the distance, not yet demoted to a mere colony, but not figuring in people’s everyday consciousness either. In the popular Mercator projection of world maps, India looks smaller than Scandinavia, though in both surface and population it is larger than Europe as a whole. It was easy to side-line and ignore India, except for those living there. Once the OIT lost ground to the peri-Caucasian Homeland theories, it was still Europeans living in India who came to its defence (most prominently Mountstuart Elphinstone, 1841). And after the OIT was revived in the 1980s, it was again Westerners living part-time or full-time in India who elaborated it, but this time along with native Indians. This European phenomenon of “forgetting India” (as the French scholar Roger-Pol Droit calls it is his book title L’Oubli de l’Inde), even among experts of a language family that is half-Indian, was much in evidence at the Leiden conference. It was only discussed in the last 3 papers (of 30), after the actual Homeland discussions had focused on the choice between Armenia and the Yamnaya culture of the steppes. Only in the final lecture was the OIT even mentioned, but at least this mention was fair and objective. Why the OIT was revived It fell to Prof. Martin Kümmel, the leading light in the Indo-Iranian section of Indo-European Studies, to present an overview of the state of the art. He explained the OIT cursorily as mainly stemming from an absence of evidence for an invasion, but noted that most linguists reject the theory. This is in general accurate. The OIT became viable again when ca. 1990 leading Indian archaeologists (and a few non-Indian ones like Jim Shaffer and Diane A. Lichtenstein) went public with their finding that Northwest India, where they were excavating the Harappan cities, showed no trace whatsoever of a foreign influx, neither in the form of the battles most likely to make such a huge take-over possible, and not even by a peaceful discontinuity in material or religious culture, esp. one traceable through Central Asia. This may be contrasted with the well-attested Aryan invasion of Europe, where the influx of the cattle-raising and presumably IE-speaking populations from the steppe is marked by new pottery, burial styles and other archaeological evidence. The dean of Indian archaeology, Braj Basi Lal (deceased last week at 101), who had supported the AIT for decades, changed his mind: he started declaring the Harappan landscape and Vedic literature to be “two sides of the same coin”. Contrary to common opinion, he found numerous similarities between the archaeological testimony from Harappa and Vedic culture. At any rate, these AIT rejecters are people of the same academic rank as the Western linguists who scorn their position; it will not do to “pull rank”. But note that only few of these AIT-skeptical archaeologists took the next step: from negatively denying an immigration into India to positively affirming an emigration. For many Indians, their horizon stops at the Khyber Pass: they are not interested in whether anyone came from outside or went outside. Indeed, many mistrust the emigration theory as a Western ploy to somehow, even after having to give up the immigration scenario, still have a connection with India: the “foreign hand”! Most of them don’t really care; it’s just that on their home turf, they find no trace of the Indo-Aryan invasion that the Westerners are so sure about. Most of the archaeologists, including the naturalized Frenchman Michel Danino, happen to work on the already very extensive topic of the Subcontinent’s archaeology and won’t speak out about what lies outside their expertise. They are satisfied to see the greatness and creativity of India getting ever more recognition at the expense of scenarios of foreign importation. Rejecters of the AIT may be counted in many millions, and some, like the late physicist Navaratna Rajaram, have unchained a titanic rhetoric in the effort, with lots of perceived colonial racism and Biblical superstition conspiring to deny Indians their homeland; even with a show of contempt for the idea itself of a homeland or a language family. They found an ally in the AIT-skeptical Cambridge anthropologist Edmund Leach who highlighted the colonialist background of the AIT, and more recently the Indian adaptation of the Woke wave is put to use to ideologically criminalize the AIT. Even so, Out-of-India theorists are only a handful. For some twenty years after the turning-point of the early 1990s, the late linguist Satya Swarup Misra and the “bank clerk” and self-taught Vedic philologist Shrikant Talageri were the only Indians to develop an Out-of-India scenario. Talageri was not only to intervene in linguistic debates, lacking in specialism but making a rarely effective use of his common sense; he also, and most uniquely, made his mark by presenting the literary testimony of the RgVeda. He showed something that the Indo-Europeanists had deemed impossible, viz. that the later stages of the dispersal from the Indo-European homeland were not separated from history by a millennial abyss, but were actually described by eye-witnesses in human language. No indirect evidence from linguistics, archaeology or genetics, as others have developed, but an explicit mention by human beings like us. While many Hindu traditionalists see the Vedas as eternal and beyond history, an actual lecture of the Vedic hymns teaches that they are very human literature, complete with intertextuality, language evolution, man addressing the gods (as opposed to the Quran or the Biblical Ten Commandments, where it is God addressing men), discernable temporal layers, and numerous references to material circumstances, wars, weddings, genealogies and the rest. They are not history books but nonetheless contain a lot of historical information. The Orientalists Edward Hopkins and Hermann Oldenburg had mapped out the layeredness of the Rg-Veda, and Talageri takes this further. Among the few, exceedingly nit-picking attempts to counter him, the pride of place is invariably for the allegation that he is but an “amateur”. Well, those who want to lambast his reconstruction of Vedic history will first have to prove the top-ranking professionals Hopkins and Oldenburg wrong. In an extremely detailed reading of the Rg-Veda which I cannot hope to summarize here, he manages to decipher numerous aspects of Vedic tradition, such as the lexical and other linguistic changes over time, or the sequence in geographical shift. Thus, the oldest books are familiar with the Ganga in Inner India, but know nothing about Afghanistan, while the later books show a westward shift in perspective. This is the very opposite of what the AIT would make you expect. Most linguists don’t accept the OIT, as Kümmel correctly reports. But then, most linguists by far don’t know the OIT. They rely on vague hearsay, mostly from hostile sources. The minimum that they could do is familiarize themselves with Talageri’s path-breaking work. This starts with his books The Rigveda, a Historical Analysis (2000) and The Rigveda and the Avesta: the Final Evidence (2008); but poverty-stricken or niggardly scholars can now download most of his updated or newer work from his page ( or his blog spot ( We can have a more in-depth discussion once this essential preliminary has been fulfilled. It is only in the last decade that Talageri is getting a few followers. Often these are academics from wildly different fields who started out by ludicrously misunderstanding the stakes of the controversy, but who have grown during the debate, e.g. the physicists Raj Vedam and Abhijit Chavda, retired bureaucrat Sanjay Dixit, or bio-medical scientist Premendra Priyadarshi. Other pioneers of the revived OIT have been Westerners, principally retired Sanskrit professor Nicholas Kazanas from Greece. There are no departments of Indo-European Linguistics in Indian universities, and no Indian seems to have been motivated to master the subject himself, so that those who do want to speak out on the linguistic aspects often make fools of themselves. But the entry of genetics into the debate has provided a more welcoming atmosphere for the more science-savvy Indians. The contribution of genetics The star guest at the Leiden conference was David Reich, the pioneering geneticist from Harvard. Indians may know him from his book Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018) and its claim that an influx of genetically distinct people entered India from the northwest in 2000-1500 BC, seemingly an independent and unexpected confirmation of the extant AIT. This prestigious book was politically instrumentalized for an attack on Hindu nationalism by journalist Tony Joseph in Early Indians (2018), itself the object of a rebuttal by Shrikant Talageri: Genetics and the Aryan Debate (2019, with foreword by the present writer). Mind you, David Reich need not have been wrong. Having now met him for a few conversations, I certainly wouldn’t suspect him either of prejudice or of incompetence; it will take a very thorough job to find him wrong. But like Martin Kümmel on Indo-European linguistics, his fault may lie in what he does not address. His Indian critics mainly hold it against him that the genes characteristic of the Yamnaya population have been found at an earlier date and in greater variety in India. (Against this, it is argued that this is true for the overarching R1a haplogroup, emerging 22,000 years ago probably in India, while the more specific R1a1 emerged outside India; I leave it to the legitimate geneticists to fight this out.) Secondly, there may well have been a foreign influx, as there have been many in Indian history, such as the Scythians, Greeks, Huns, Kushanas and Turks. But all of them (and the Syrian-Christian and Parsi refugee communities) have linguistically assimilated, even when retaining their separateness in religion. None of them kept its language, let alone impose it on the natives. So invasionists have some explaining to do about what made these Aryan invaders so dramatically different. Anyway, one invasion more or less won’t make the difference, for the influx of a language clearly does not follow from the influx of a genetically definable human community. And there is a third problem with the support for the Aryan Invasion Theory from genetics. We will discuss it separately at the end. In Leiden, Reich presented more recent work, pertaining to a debate between several peri-Caucasian homelands. He sees the Yamnaya culture, generally considered the Indo-European homeland, as only a “secondary homeland”. For those who read carefully, he had cursorily already said so in his 2018 book Who We Are and How We Got Here: Yamnaya was a settlement for people coming from south of the Caucasus, Armenia or even northern Iran. At the 2017 German Orientalist Conference in Jena, linguist Paul Heggarty had already made a similar suggestion, though he thought more of Anatolia as the ultimate homeland. It just goes to show how even linguists are not too sure of their linguistically-derived homeland theories, easily disagreeing, changing their minds or giving in the non-linguistic innovative hypotheses. (The homeland of the Afro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan and Uralic families are also still in dispute; about the latter, a speaker in Leiden defended the Ob basin in Siberia as the homeland.) The OIT, of course, had always thought of Yamnaya as but a secondary homeland, consisting of locals mixed with immigrants from India (or from a linguistically Indianized territory to the east, esp. Bactria); but nobody here took this possibility in consideration. The finding that made waves this time was that genetically, the Anatolians (Hittites, Luwians) proved to be related to the Armenia-based people of some 5500 years ago, but not to the Yamnaya people. So these Armenians may have moved to both Anatolia and the steppes, and in the latter mixed with locals and produced the ultimate Yamnaya type that was to invade Europe. So the Yamnayans were only a subsection of the Indo-Europeans, distinct from at least the Anatolian branch. Many papers at the Leiden conference (less in Berlin, where the focus remained purely linguistic) took the genetic findings concerning the local populations of their topic into account. Thus, a paper on the Indo-Europeanization or Celticization of the British Islands acknowledged that linguists over generations had reconstructed a Hamito-Semitic substrate influence in island-Celtic: immigrants from North Africa or traders from Phoenicia had settled in (or remained in contact with) the British Islands, and imparted some of their language to incoming Celtic. But this was wiped off the table: no more Hamito-Semitic influence, not because those linguists had been proven wrong, but because its presence is not confirmed (yet) by the newest genetic date, which show no Mediterranean genes. Here we wonder if linguists are not going too far in subordinating their own discipline to the “harder” discipline of genetics. After all, genes don’t speak, and gene-carrying people are known to have changed language. After 1945, all courses on Indo-European Linguistics have emphatically warned against identifying languages with physical traits. A century ago, the confusing notion of the “Aryan skull type” misled people, and after 1945 a sharp distinction between Linguistics and Physical Anthropology was maintained. But today this has resurfaced as the “Aryan gene” – that’s what Indian papers on the pro-AIT side called the Yamnaya-associated R1A1 gene during the 2018 debate over Tony Joseph’s version of David Reich’s findings. In their ivory towers Western scholars think the political misuse of the AIT is a thing of the pre-war past, but in India it certainly isn’t. Linguists bending over backwards to please the physical anthropologists in 1900 or the geneticists today are only a particular case of a more general problem of research method. When two bodies of evidence, generated by different disciplines, point in different directions, the solution is not to suppress one type of evidence in favour of the other. It is not to make one discipline crawl and swallow its own conclusions to appease the other. All while rechecking both types of evidence to make sure that they really constitute evidence, the scholarly mind will endeavour to do justice to both and to reconcile them. If this means conceding that we aren’t there yet, and that against our grain we have yet a lot of work to do, then so be it. The testimony of the RgVeda In contrast with the linguists’ enthusiasm for the new science of genetics, and already longer for European archaeology, we notice a radical disinterest in several other relevant disciplines. Some Indian archaeology has been used in the past, particularly the seeming contrast of the excavated Harappan cities with Vedic culture. But more recent archaeological developments are being completely ignored. The principal one is the absence of archaeological traces of the invasion. Certainly there are no signs of a military conquest, which is why some scholars wax indignant when others describe their position as an Aryan “Invasion” Theory. But the word “invasion” does not pertain to the manner of a take-over by foreigners, but to the very fact of the take-over. The Indo-European invaders are thought to have imposed their language and religion on the largest conglomeration of people at that time: such a feat deserves the term “invasion”. At any rate, the archaeologists find no trace of it. Even anti-OIT champion Michael Witzel admits that there is no archaeological evidence for it “yet”. The evolution of a single person’s view on this proves important, too. Prof. BB Lal, who died last week aged 101, was the only archaeologist ever who could be cited as furnishing proof of the “Aryans” in India. In the 1950s he had explained the Painted Grey Ware that he had dug up in post-Harappan cities of Northwest India as characteristic of the Aryan invaders on their way deeper into India. Around 1990, as the rejection of the AIT became more common around him, he rethought his findings and concluded that he had only tailored (not to say force-fitted) his findings to the AIT paradigm he had interiorized from his mentor, Sir Mortimer Wheeler. He had applied the reigning paradigm but not proven it. Ever since, a number of publications of his, culminating in his book The Rigvedic People (2015), have documented the essential oneness of the archaeologically attested Harappan cities and literarily attested Vedic culture: “Harappa and the Vedas are but two sides of the same coin.” Earlier the Indo-Europeanists considered the Rg-Veda as a goldmine of relevant historical information. Though hymns to the gods, the Vedic texts contain much historical information in passing, such as the level of technology and the surrounding natural data suggesting to place them in Bronze Age (3300-1500 BC) Northwest India. In particular, they describe several battles, and these teach us about the ethnic landscape. The early translations suggested that these battles pitted white invaders, naturally victorious, against the dark aboriginals. This became one of the nails in the coffin of the original OIT: if the linguistic evidence was non-committal on the homeland question and allowed for an Indian homeland, it nonetheless became untenable to insist on this Indian homeland if the Indians themselves testified that they had come as invaders. But at least, the indubitably good side here is that it proves the early Indo-Europeanists to be interdisciplinary: they took extra-linguistic (i.c. literary) data seriously. But that was not the case in every relevant respect, and today less so than in the 19th century. Thus, no translator back then or today has accounted for the repeated presence of the Iranians in the Rg-Veda, esp. in the Battle of the Ten Kings and the Vārṣāgira battle. The unmistakably Iranian names of the hostile kings and tribes and the unmistakably Zoroastrian references in the description of their religion make you wonder how a whole series of translators has been able to pigeonhole them as “black aboriginals”. Even within the invasionist paradigm with its likeness to the then-ongoing colonization, scholars should have thought of the fact that the colonial powers fought each other as often as they fought the natives, so that here the enemies of the Vedic section of the supposed Aryan invaders could have been an adjoining section of the same invader group, such as the Iranians. (And incidentally, this Vedic mention also revolutionizes our insight into the role of Zarathuštra Spitama within Zoroastrian history: not the great reformer who created the distinctive Mazdean doctrine but the hereditary court priest of king Vištāspa’s Kavi dynasty, who inherited an anti-Deva, anti-Indra and without-yajña tradition already several generations old, but who became famous by first putting it into hymns.) This complements the Avestan data about 16 Iranian countries: these are the different regions of present-day Tajikistan and Afghanistan, plus as the second Hapta-Hendū, Sanskrit Sapta-Sindhū i.e. present-day Panjab, and as the first Airyānam Vaēja, “expanse of the Aryans”. There is no mystery about this, it is Kashmir. The Avesta describes Hapta-Hendu as too hot, and after the Sahara desert, Panjab in the dry season is indeed the hottest region in the world; while Kashmir is called too cold, and for South-Asians Kashmir is indeed unusually chilly. In Vedic literature, while the Vedic Paurava tribe lives in Haryana, their Ānava sister tribe lives in Kashmir; and after their joint and successful counter-attack against the Druhyu tribe located in Panjab, it is the Ānavas who take over Panjab, chasing the Druhyus to Afghanistan. But as the Paurava-Bhārata king Sudās encroaches on Panjab, it is these Ānavas or proto-Iranians who unite to throw him back, but are defeated in the Battle of the Ten Kings and chased in their turn to Afghanistan. Here you see two literarily attested phases of emigration from India, arguably part of the disintegration of Proto-Indo-European unity. When I confronted Prof. Kümmel with this perpetuation of the “black aboriginals” scenario, he simply denied this. In India they would now lambast him as an incorrigible racist and all that, but I sensed this was based on something real. To be sure, in India’s Reich-triggered debate of 2018-19 I have seen numerous times how the hostile Dāsas and Dasyus (both Sanskrit versions of Iranian terms) of the Battle of the Ten Kings were still identified as the dark aboriginals. In Western popular and second-hand literature this continuation of imagery from the 19th and 20th century is also still common, and where the enemies are not identified, at least no acknowledgment or correction of the old translators’ consequential error is forthcoming. Yet there is indeed one important break-away from this old consensus within the scholarly world. In Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton’s 2014 RgVeda translation, the recentmost of its kind, this notion of black opponents is preserved, but with reference to Hans Hock’s 1999 paper on the Vedic use of colours (a rare instance of the genuine AIT-vs.-OIT debate that took place around the turn of the millennium), the authors specify that this doesn’t refer to skin colour. As Hock points out, “black” is very commonly said of enemies. Thus, in World War II the British called the Indian freedom fighter and Axis collaborator Subhas Chandra Bose “a black”. So it constitutes progress if the enemies are no longer describes as “black-skinned”. But the result of all these obsolete “white conquers black” translations has not been corrected, in fact it has gone completely unchallenged. It served as proof from the horse’s mouth for the Aryan invasion when that hypothesis was still in the process of being established, and now that this proof has fallen away, the Aryan invasion still goes unquestioned. Moreover, in the specific episode of the Battle of the Ten Kings, even this correction of the meaning of “black” isn’t good enough. Here the description of the enemies as “black people” (janāḥ-asiknīḥ, RV 7:5:3) is a pun referring to the river basin where they come from: as “people from the Black River”. Asiknī is the Vedic name of the Chenab in present-day Pakistani Panjab, the river just west of the Paruṣṇī, present-day Ravi, where the battle takes place, with the Vedic Bhārata tribe coming from Haryana in the east. The mistranslation as “black aboriginals” for what is really the “proto-Iranian tribal coalition” is, given the career of the Aryan invasion of India as the paradigm of the racist worldview (explicitly espoused by Adolf Hitler in his 1920 booklet Warum Sind Wir Antisemiten?), one of the most consequential mistranslations in history. Vedic chronology A non-linguistic type of information full of consequence for the homeland question is Vedic chronology. Every Indo-Europeanist wanting to give an opinion on how North India “became” Indo-European ought to familiarize himself with it. Here it is well worth reviewing how Friedrich Max Müller’s estimate of 1500 BC for the fabled Aryan invasion into India succeeded in becoming the orthodoxy. It was at once criticized by Max Müller’s own pupil Moriz Winternitz, who judged it unrealistic to cram the entire cultural and philosophical evolution from early Vedic to the Buddha in a few centuries. Max Müller himself ended up admitting that it really was only a guess, and even threw his arms up in the air to muse that we would never know the date. We are skeptical of such premature pessimism, but strongly agree that 1500 BC was only a baseless guess. Yet for lack of a systematized alternative, it became the orthodoxy, and still is. There was no relevant archaeology then, but here science has advanced. Spoked-wheeled chariots have been discovered in Sanauli near Delhi, and dated to ca. 2000 BC. They are mentioned in the Rg-Veda, but only in its latest, tenth book, which is centuries younger than the other books, quite distinct in language and worldview. The earlier books know of the slow (and often large) ox-drawn carts, but the swift horse-drawn chariot is confined to the youngest layer. So: much of the Rg-Veda can be dated to the early 3rd millennium, only the 10th book near its end. The drying-up of the Saraswati river, since then a seasonal rivulet named Ghaggar, has been dated by geologists to 1900 BC. In the post-Vedic Mahābhārata epic, we see it in this rivulet state, with one of the heroes going on pilgrimage to the site where it definitively dries up in the desert. As a consequence of the Saraswati's dessiccation, many people have moved to the east (Greater Magadha), the west and even far west (furnishing the Sanskrit elements in the Kassite and the Mitannic language) and locally upland to smaller rivers, where they had newly founded the cities central to the epic: Hastināpura, Soniprastha, Indraprastha etc. In the Rg-Veda, by contrast, the Saraswati is still an ocean-going river, the life-artery of the Vedic civilization, praised as the river par excellence; clearly well before 1900 BC. (The treatment of the Saraswati evidence forms an interesting case study in the stonewalling of putative pro-OIT evidence by AIT militants, typically outsiders to Indo-European studies such as comparative historian Steve Farmer: they lambast the equating of the Vedic Saraswati with today’s Ghaggar as a paranoid Hindu-nationalist concoction, when actually it was established by a string of Western scholars since the 1850s, in tempore non suspecto. A case study in how this debate has been poisoned by endless political imputations.) A really objective measuring rod for Vedic chronology is provided by astronomy. True, archaeo-astronomical data are often injudiciously used by an intellectual fringe, e.g. the description of an eclipse would apply quite regularly, so the claim that it points to a particular date only betrays ignorance or over-enthusiasm. This is why the Indian debates about the Mahābhārata war’s astro-dating are hilarious to watch. But there is one very big hand on the cosmic clock that offers a reliable though vague chronology: the precession of the equinoxes. The equinoxes move through the constellations (or vice-versa: the stars move past the equinoxes) at the rate of 1° per ca. 71 years, full circle in ca. 25,772 years. When an equinoctial or solstitial point coincides with a particular star, it won’t do so again for the next 25 millennia. The later Vedas and the Brāhmaṇas, decidedly a younger corpus than the Ṛg-Veda, contain several references to the Pleiades constellation on the Equinoctial axis (Atharva-Veda 19:7, Taittirīya Saṁhitā 4:4:10, Maitrāyaṇi Saṁhitā 2:13:20, Kathaka Saṁhitā 39:13, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 2:1:2:3), which took place in the 23rd century BC. The Kauśītaki Brāhmaṇa 19:3 indicates the same period by means of a different astronomical pointer, viz. the star Regulus on the summer solstice point. An ancillary work of the Vedas, the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa (“Veda-Ancillary of Stellar Science”, at that time meaning astronomy though nowadays used to refer to astrology), conventionally dated to 500-200 BCE, actually dates itself twice to ca. 1350 BCE, viz. by explicitating which stars are on the winter solstice and spring equinox points: Dhaniṣṭha solstitial, Bharaṇī equinoctial. Note that the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa is a manual of observational astronomy, drawing attention to phenomena your eyes can see and which have a role in the ritual you are setting up. It definitely doesn’t deal in reminiscences, as opponents have argued; moreover, a reminiscence bridging the centuries between the Vedic and the conventional Max Müller dates would point to a great astronomical acumen that would in turn support the astro-information they recorded. This is an explicitly post-Vedic and very post-Rg-Vedic text, so the Vedic corpus was already complete by the time, some 1500 BC, when the Aryan Invasion Theory has the Aryans only arrive in India. It is one of more than a dozen precessional pointers in Vedic literature broadly defined, which prove completely consistent: the absolute-chronological astro-sequence never violates the known relative-chronological literary sequence. (Next, they also get coordinated with archaeological data like the appearance of chariots and of iron implements, two types of evidence that happen to be in flux due to new discoveries, unlike the precessional data.) Moreover, not one of them supports Max Müllers widely-accepted chronology. We have derived some amusement from reading the mental and verbal acrobatics which conformistic scholars try out to neutralize this inconvenient evidence. The frantic attempts by leading Indian historians like Romila Thapar to refute or cancel this astronomical evidence at least shows that they realize its importance and understand the threat it poses to the conventional chronology. By contrast, Western scholars have so far preferred to ignore this pertinent evidence. Well, not all of them. In a book that every Indology student gets to read, the Vedic Index by AB Keith & AA MacDonnell, 1912, the authors acknowledge that locating the star Maghā/Regulus on the Solstice, as the Kauśītaki Brāhmaṇa does, strictly refers to ca. 2300 BC, where indeed it belongs, but in their conclusions shift it to 800 BC, fully 1500 years later than what the Brāhmaṇa text and elementary astronomy tell us. Me thinks it is unbecoming of scholars to cavalierly shift an attested date around like this. Likewise, David Pingree, who counts as an authority on ancient astronomy, moves the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa down from 1350 BC to 500 BC or even 200 BCE, pleading that the evolution rate of language necessitates this denial of the astronomical information. So this is the ignore-the-evidence mentality that we are up against. But the astronomical data from the source text fails to support the scholars’ low and AIT-friendly estimate. Suppose the rate of linguistic change does indeed point the Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa to a date no less than a millennium later than its own chronological self-testimony. Then the scholarly attitude is to acknowledge that different types of evidence are in conflict; that the supposed linguistic evidence contradicts the astronomical evidence. Let this sink in, and next you can explore ways to either falsify one of them or to reconcile them at a higher level of understanding yet to be reached. What is not acceptable is to simply suppress one type of evidence and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Yet that is what has been done for more than a century to protect the low invasionist chronology. Against this we find that, as historical evidence goes, it provides strong support to Shrikant Talageri’s higher chronological estimate. A consequence of this higher Vedic chronology concerns David Reich’s claim that there was a genetically identifiable influx from Eastern Europe into India in ca. 1700 BC. I know that some Indian geneticists dispute this, but not being competent in genetics, I will not press this point. Let there have been an influx. Through the Khyber Pass, so many invasions (all in the nature of military conquest) have taken place since; no big deal if one more can be identified. Note that all of them have linguistically assimilated, even when preserving their religious separateness. They lost their mother tongue, and a fortiori, they failed to impose it on the natives, quite in contrast with what the Aryans are claimed to have done. At any rate, we don’t mind an influx of people ca. 1700 BC. But one thing we know for sure (and this is the third problem for Reich’s theory): this influx was not what brought the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European into India. With the RgVeda having been composed inside India starting more than a thousand years earlier, 1700 BC was simply too late for an Indo-Europeanization. If this comes as a shock to all those who had thought that the AIT has now finally been proved by genetics, they have the option of proving all the evidence for a higher Vedic chronology wrong. But this they will only be able to do after familiarizing themselves with this part of the OIT. Conclusion It is possible to pull a horse towards a pond, but not to make the horse drink. The Indo-Europeanists who have ignored the OIT challenge for decades are at liberty to continue doing so. There is no punishment even if they end up being proven wrong: the pro-geocentric near-consensus that stalled the Copernican revolution towards heliocentrism was never punished either. At most the die-hard geocentrists live on in our memory as misguided; and hardly even that, for no one ever thinks of them. No one with what the Indian Constitution calls the “scientific temper” would want them to suddenly drop their AIT certainties and adopt the new line of the OIT. No, the invitation is for them to study the evidence for the OIT themselves and form their own judgment.
Read more!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Prof. B.B. Lal in the major debates

(Shorter version in First Post, 15 Sep 2022) Now that Prof. Braj Basi Lal, the Dean of Indian Archaeology, has left this world at 101, it is fitting to highlight the most striking among his many achievements. For seven decades he was in the forefront of India’s archaeological research, even charting new ground in our knowledge of the less-known Ganga Civilization (From the Mesolithic to the Mahājanapadas: The Rise of Civilisation in the Ganga Valley, Aryan Books International) in 2019, at age 98. But his place in his history has been made by two issues with an importance far beyond pure scholarship: the Ayodhya temple/mosque controversy and the Indo-European (‘Aryan’) invasion debate. In the 1980s, when the present writer studied Oriental Philology and History in Leuven University, he took Prof. Lambert Isebaert’s course of Indo-European Linguistics, and once asked him if there was any proof for the generally assumed Southwest-Russian homeland of the Indo-European language family. Isebaert said that this had been proven by archaeology. Another professor in Leuven, the leading Dutch Indologist Pierre Eggermont, spoke in the same vein, and also named his source: Prof. Braj Basi Lal’s 1950s’ exploration of the Painted Grey Ware (PGW). This was a type of pottery that Lal explained as typical of the Aryans penetrating deeper into India (starting with Lal: ‘Excavation at Hastinapura and other explorations in the upper Ganga and Sutlej basins’, Ancient India (Bulletin of the Archaeological Survey of India), 1950-52, no.10-11, p.5-151; and ‘New Light on the ‘dark Age’ of Indian History: Recent Excavations at the Hastinapura Site, Near Delhi‘, Illustrated London News, 1952). Thirty years later, he had not fundamentally changed his mind yet (‘The Indo-Aryan hypothesis vis-à-vis Indian archaeology’, EPHCA, Moscow, 1981). So when, around that same time, I heard my professors quote him as a source of authority, they were simply reproducing the state of the art. Indeed, till today, Lal’s invasionist interpretation of his own PGW findings is still being cited as proof of an Aryan invasion, e.g.: ‘Lal considered PGW to be intrusive’ (SV Pradhan: The Elusive Aryans, 2014, p.67), and we heard the same opinion at the annual conference of the European Archaeological Association, Maastricht 2017. This decades-long exclusive appeal to Lal’s finding at least confirmed that in the intervening decades, no other ‘proof’ has materialized. Even today, that state of the art has not been strengthened by any new evidence. The elusive Aryans fail to show up in the archaeological record. And the state of the art has evolved since then, because crown witness BB Lal realized that his invasionist explanation was only an interpretation, viz. a force-fitting of the data into the reigning paradigm, the one he had absorbed from his mentor, invasionist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Later he came to understand that he had merely developed an application of the paradigm, not an independent proof of it. So now we have to face the complete absence of archaeological evidence for an Aryan immigration. An invasion of the military type has long been ruled out (as opposed to Europe, where an “Aryan” or Indo-European military conquest emanating from the Black Sea coast has been confirmed by all manner of archaeologically attested material and cultural innovations), but a peaceful influx under the radar yet replacing the thickly-populated Subcontinent’s language and religion as well. Even Invasionist champion Michael Witzel confirms that no archaeological proof for the Aryan invasion has been found ‘yet’. This explains why most leading Indian archaeologists are no longer shy about their skepticism of the invasion scenario. Since the 1990s, Lal has published a number of books detailing the archaeological evidence for a full continuity between the Harappan cities, such as The Saraswati Flows On: the Continuity of Indian Culture (2002), The Homeland of the Aryans. Evidence of Rigvedic Flora and Fauna, and Archaeology (2005), and culminating in The Rigvedic People: ‘Invaders’/’Immigrants’? or Indigenous? Evidence of Archaeology and Literature, (2015, all through Aryan Books International, Delhi). Thus far, Lal’s efforts have not yet made a dent in the dominance of the invasionist paradigm: ‘An ostrich-like attitude is perpetuating the Aryan invasion myth’. (in Bal Ram Singh: Origin of Indian Civilization, Delhi/Dartmouth MA, 2010:23-36) But the Indo-Europeanist establishment cannot keep on stonewalling the accumulating archaeological and other evidence forever. They can look the other way when their only archaeo-supporter turns away from their Aryan invasion scenario, and even when his younger colleagues, together with scholars from other fields, find new evidence against it. But the truth has a way of finally asserting itself. We have already seen it in the Ayodhya temple/mosque controversy. In the 1970s, the same BB Lal came up with archaeological evidence for the temple, of which remains formed part of the foundations and the pillars of the Babri Masjid. This was the first scientific confirmation of a commonly accepted tradition (also by the local Muslims and the British) about a pre-existing Rama temple at the mosque site. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered Lal to keep silent about it. But once the ‘Eminent Historians’ started roundly denouncing the existing consensus, among scholars Lal’s evidence was highlighted, together with a growing body of documentary evidence. Yet, the media kept the old consensus and the new evidence for it for some more years out of view; they stonewalled Lal’s evidence just as the Indo-Europeanist establishment is still doing, or even decried him as a ‘born-again Hindu nationalist’. Unfortunately for the Eminent Historians, truth bypassed their efforts at suppressing it, and now judgments by Uttar Pradesh’s High Court (2011) and the Supreme Court (2019) have definitively confirmed that Prof. Lal had been right all along. A similar end of the affair seems to be in store for the Aryan immigration debate. Here Lal is instrumental in a return to the assumption of an Indian Homeland of the Indo-European language family, common in Europe in the half-century around 1800. As the leading linguist from Leiden, RSP Beekes (Vergelijkende Taalwetenschap, = ‘Comparative linguistics’, Utrecht 1990, p.73), wrote: ‘When the IE family was discovered and people sought its land of origin, they at first thought of India’. The Out-of-India Theory is not some far-fetched novelty, but stood at the cradle of the very notion of an Indo-European language family. It is to Prof. Lal’s eternal credit that he has played a crucial role in restoring the true story with new evidence.
Read more!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The non-retributive Karma theory

(Abstract of my lecture at the World Conference on Logic and Religion, 4-8 November 2022) Everyone nowadays has heard of the retributive Karma doctrine. Internationally, and among Western-influenced Indians, it doesn't have a very good reputation, for it is deemed to justify injustice. In many classical sources, this is precisely what it does. Thus, when Śākyamuni’s friend general Bandhula and his sons are sentenced to death for high treason, his widow consoles her daughters-in-law that while their husbands were ostensibly innocent, they must have earned this punishment through a wrongdoing in a past life. This way, any injustice can be justified as the consequence of an unseen past sin. Indeed, the very earliest scriptural introduction to the karma doctrine already does this. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad introduces jointly the doctrine of reincarnation and the doctrine of karma. It says that a fortunate birth in a high caste is the consequence of past good behaviour, an unfortunate birth in a low caste or as an animal the consequence of past bad behaviour. In all anti-Hindu literature, the link between the karma doctrine and social injustices like Untouchability is emphasized. An even more fundamental objection to this retributive karma doctrine is that it implies that the universe is just. The conspicuous fact that many good people end in misery while many evil-doers flourish, is nullified here by the unproven hypothesis that this misery is explained by past evil and this good fortune by past good. Isn’t this wishful thinking? No sudden good fortune is innocent anymore, it all becomes part of a universe-spanning calculus of reward and punishment. There are two alternatives to this widely-believed retributive karma doctrine. One is to preserve reincarnation but drop the "action at a distance" between good or evil acts performed in one life and attraction of good or bad fortune in a next life. Outside India, many reincarnation beliefs are ignorant of a karma doctrine, both ancient ethnic (Druze, Amerindian, Celtic) and among modern reincarnation researchers (Ian Stevensson, Erlendur Haraldsson, Hans ten Dam). Kṛṣṇa's explanation to Arjuṇa that dying is but an illusion, like taking off old clothes to put on new ones tomorrow, does strictly not posit an "ethical causality" either. The other alternative is the non-retributive karma theory. The purpose of this paper will be to analyse and evaluate this lesser-known understanding of karma. The non-retributive understanding of karma shares with the retributive variant that it extends the field of causality: the former gives it a psychological dimension, the second an ethical one. It fits the Buddhist theory that a life is conditioned by the quotum of desires, including negative desires, i.e. fears, with which you die. Hence the focus in some Buddhist schools on purifying the thoughts you will entertain in your dying moments: they will determine the contents of your next incarnation. For an example in a non-Buddhist source: when Ambā gets consumed with a desire for revenge upon Mahābhārata hero Bhīṣma, she is reborn in circumstances where she can join the enemy army and thus kill him. Here your quotum of good or evil committed is of no consequence, there is no reward or punishment. (In the debate on karma and the problem of evil, as recently in Philosophy East & West, it essentially cuts short the debate, or at least is one of the extremes within it: no relation!) Yet there is a precise connection between past and next lives, viz. your sum total of desires determines the contents of a next life; that's why desire is the motor of reincarnation, and is the target for destruction in Buddhist meditation. This version of karma is a "law of conservation". To be sure, Buddhism is not exclusively wedded to this more subtle theory of karma. Common Buddhists are just as much into the more vulgar retributive version, and even the Buddha himself was. An illustration is the Buddhist story of the Śākya-hatya. When his own tribe is being massacred by the soldiers from Kośala, the Buddha explains that this is a just punishment: in a past life, the Śākyas were villagers who heartlessly refused to throw fish that had landed on the dry during the hot season, into the remaining rivulet; so now they get punished. The soldiers back then were those fish, who now take revenge. So that is the hypothesis of reward and punishment at work. But it is not over yet. The soldiers go home and camp out on the riverside. That night, the rainy season starts, the river overflows, and the sleeping soldiers get drowned. Karmic reason: in their past lives they had begged to be thrown in the water, and now they have gotten what they had asked for. That is the "law of conservation" version of karma, a desire having effect at a distance. But the two versions are conceptually distinct, and purists may fully reject the retributive version while accepting the non-retributive version. The modern age with its positive valuation of rationality favours such an outcome: an automatically just universe may satisfy our wishes but is unproven and unlikely, while a law of conservation might be scientifically tenable even if applied to desire.
Read more!

Vedic sages versus the Apauruseya doctrine

(Abstract of my lecture at the World Conference on Logic and Religion, 4-8 November 2022) Most believing Hindus, some erudite ones citing the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā school or Śaṅkara for authority, will tell you that the Vedas are apauruṣeya, "non-human", super-human, of divine origin, revealed, uncreated, as old as the universe. They divide scripture into Śruti, "that which is heard (from a divine source)", viz. the Vedas in the broad sense; and the 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 Śāstras. This is actually a mirror-image of the Islamic view of the Qur’ān: abiding since creation 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 and Sīra do not have that divine status, but function nonetheless as the basis for unchangeable Islamic law. The difference between really existing Dharma and Dīn, effective Hinduism and Islam, is not as radical as often thought. However, this Hinduism, though making a claim on the Vedic Ṛṣis, viz. that they were passive receptacles of divine revelations, would be unrecognizable to the Ṛṣis themselves. The Vedic text itself serves to verify this. The Qur’ān (or 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. Thus, the very first hymn of the Ṛg Veda is Oṁ agnim ile, "I worship the Fire", i.e. man as subject, the Fire god as object. In the Gāyatrī Mantra, "we" implore the Sun god to awaken our minds. In the Mṛtyuñjaya Mantra, "we" worship the Three-Eyed One. The relation between the composer and the deity is essentially that of a suitor singing a serenade under his beloved's balcony. And yes, 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"). Thus, after the victorious Battle of the Ten Kings, seer Vasiṣṭha ascribes his patron Sudās's victory to the magical effect his own hymns have had on the battle-relevant god, storm-god Indra. Moreover, the hymns themselves refute their eternality by regularly referring to a pre-Vedic age: to the "Ṛṣis from the past", to past battles (e.g. against the Druhyus with the help of Aikṣvāku king Māndhātā, within living memory of the Vedic project’s initiators, king Bharata and his court-priest Ṛṣi Bharadvāja), to ancestors like Manu and Ilā. The Vedas, by their own testimony, are located in history. Given the flora, fauna, rivers and the level of technology they describe, they can be pinpointed as composed in Bronze-Age Northwest-India. From there and then, a number of historical events have found their way into otherwise religious poetry. The aim of this paper is to explicitate and elucidate how the transition was made from this human practice of poetry enshrined as an ever-growing corpus of hymns into the adoption of this corpus as a legacy from the gods and therefore a source of divine authority. This provides one of world history's best examples of an "invented tradition", reinterpreting the earlier tradition and absorbing it into a new worldview. Parallel developments in Christian and Confucian civilizations will very briefly be considered. In practice, the Vedas derived an enormous prestige from 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 the fact that they became the backbone around which many new sciences grew (Vedāṅgas, Upavedas, some of them worldwide firsts, e.g. linguistics and branches of mathematics). It also made them fit as the glasses through which to see 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, they were elevated ever higher. By the time the illiterate Dark Age ended, ca. 300 BCE, a new tradition had been invented that divinizes the Vedas. Hindu traditionalists won't welcome this account, but on the bright side, it implies that their Ṛṣi ancestors were creative geniuses, rather than passive receptacles of voices from above.
Read more!