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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Jainas and Buddhists in Ayodhya

(Pragyata, 16 August 2022) The recent upheaval about a Hindu temple for Thalaivetti Muniyappan (“Muni Baba with the broken head”) in Salem TN, apparently a patched-up and restored Buddha statue, and therefore taken away from its worshippers by Court order with the prospect of giving it to the Buddhists (see ch.25), reminds us of a similar line of argument in the Ayodhya debate of 1990-91. Then, the anti-temple party claimed that, if at all there had been Islamic aggression against Hinduism, surely the Hindu repression against Buddhism had been no better. Some even argued that the destroyed Rama birthplace temple had itself been built in replacement of a Buddhist temple. This was just the typical tactics of the Eminent Historians or their less scholarly followers in those days: absolutely any claim (including mutually contradictory claims) that could serve as a hurdle to the Hindu rights to the site would do. They never mustered any evidence for a Buddhist or Jaina presence at the contentious site. The wealth of archaeological evidence dug up on multiple occasions since then does not contain any such evidence either. The resulting picture is that Vaishnava, Shaiva, Jaina and Bauddha places of worship existed peacefully side by side. And all of them were destroyed on the same footing by the Islamic invaders. Thus, one of the main Jaina sites, the birthplace temple for Ādināth, the first Tīrthaṅkara, was destroyed by the general who had conquered the city in 1193, Shah Zuran Ghori. For Islam, all non-Muslims, whatever the fine distinctions between them, are equally fodder for Jihad and hellfire. This stark equality in the Kāfir (unbeliever) status and the concomitant treatment is another fact that the mendacious nitpicking about a Brahmanical-Buddhist conflict seeks to cover up. The Jaina and Buddhist sites in Ayodhya are largely the topic of a book by archaeologist Lalta Prasad Pandey: Ayodhyā, the Abode of Rāma and the Dharmakṣetra of Lord Buddha and the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras. A Historical and Critical Study. Published in 2009, it never received the attention it deserved. So, inspired by recent events in Salem, we will now look into it. As an expert, Pandey is aware of the limitations on our knowledge of the city: "Archaeology depends also on chance discoveries. Therefore, without having the entire city of Ayodhyā dug on a larger scale, its antiquity and full period of life can never be known. Archaeological excavations of the bed of the Sarayū are also required, because the city, situated on the bank of a turbulent river like Sarayū, may have been washed away. (...) An aerial view of the site and its surroundings gives an impression that the course of the river has certainly shifted from its old site inundating the city situated on its bank." (p.6) Indeed, “it is difficult to prove the exact place where Rāma was born (…) As a historian, the author would not like to stress upon this point too much. Rāma was born no doubt in Ayodhyā (…) different localities of a city move from one part of the city to the other. Constructions are destroyed by time and they are rebuilt, but they may change their places.” (p.90) So, don’t conclude too fast that this cannot be the city that contained the Solar Dynasty’s palace, where prince Rama must have been born. There’s still so much to discover in Ayodhya. From the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa onwards, when the Vedic horizon widens from Haryana into wat is now eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, the late Vedic literature regularly mentions the kings of Kośala (Ayodhyā and Śrāvastī), starting with Para Atnāra and Kṣemadhanva in the sixty-eighth Solar/Aikṣvāku generation after Manu, or seven generations after Rama. But the city of Ayodhya itself is already mentioned in the AtharvaVeda 10:2:32 (quoted p.83, repeated in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka), where it seems to function as the city par excellence, here serving as a model for the human body: “Nine gates (navadvārāḥ) and eight crossings (aṣṭacakrāḥ) has Ayodhya, city of the Gods.” For this proverbial usage, it already must have been a prominent city. The Buddhist literature speaks of a flood at the site, causing emigration, and then the construction of a new town on the outskirts of Ayodhya, Sāketa, at the command of the young king of Kośala, Prasenajit, a friend of the Buddha. The renewal of a city by building a new city on its outskirts in a common event in history, e.g. Old Delhi expanded to New Delhi. Once the city was flourishing, “the association of the Buddha with this city is also known. It is stated that he had lived in its garden, called Añjanavana, many times. It is here that he had delivered his sermon called the Sāketasutta.” (p.16) Other Buddhists too lived or visited there, already during the lifetime of the Buddha. It’s where he had discussions with Kakudha Mendasīra, Kuṇḍalīya, Sāriputta Moggalana, Aniruddha and the nun Jaṭilagāhikā. Later Buddhist philosophers who worked there include Aśvaghoṣa, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu. Similarly with the Jainas: “The Ādipurāṇa and the Vividha Tīrthakalpa, texts of the early medieval period, describe it as one of the great centres of Jaina religion” (p.16), locating at least the first (Ṛṣabha or Ādināth, p.68) and the fourth Tīrthaṅkara there, probably five of them, while Pārśvanāth and Mahāvīra visited the town. Jaina philosophers like Acalabhānu also lived there. Prof. Pandey details the town’s general history, like how it was occupied by the Indo-Greeks and liberated by Puṣyamitra Śuṅga, or how Kaniṣka, both I and II, waged war against the king of Sāketa. He also gives all the archaeological information, such as the apparent decline and revival of Ayodhya, or how Sāketa goes as deep as the Northern Black Polished Ware, one layer younger than the Painted Grey Ware characterizing the Mahābhārata sites and Ayodhya proper. For those prosaic data, we refer to the book itself. Let us rather focus on what this says about the interaction between the different sects of Hinduism broadly defined. One thing we learn is how the supposedly superstitious Brahmanism is confirmed by the supposedly rational Buddhism. The Jātaka stories about the Buddha’s past life famously contain his embracing of Rama as an earlier incarnation (as well as an older relative within the Solar dynasty, the Buddha himself being a royal prince) of the Buddha. Here we see, by the way, the origin of the integration of the Buddha into the series of Vishnu’s incarnations together with Rama: far from being some Brahmanical concoction swallowing the Buddha against his will, it is actually suggested by the Buddha himself. If he is a reincarnation of Rama, and Rama is reinterpreted as Vishnu’s incarnation, then automatically he too becomes Vishnu’s incarnation. (p.35) Less well-known is the Māndhātājātaka: the Buddha had also been the Ayodhya king Māndhātā in a past life. This Solar king militarily helped the Lunar Paurava tribe against the Druhyu tribe shortly before the oldest hymns in the ṚgVeda. This is about as deep as you can get into the Indian past. But by the Buddha’s day and later, he had merely become a proverbially powerful king and serves as such in the Puranic literature as well as in the Buddha’s own narrative. Several other kings of Ayodhya also figure in earlier-incarnation stories. This confirms that at least the Buddhist tradition was always in dialogue and interaction with the Vedic and Itihāsa-Purāṇa traditions. To make a long story short, the really striking part of this book is what remains absent. Though Jainas, Buddhists, Vaishnavas and Shaivas lived cheek by jowl here, their debates never spilled over into violent conflict. The destruction that Salar Masud Ghaznavi, Shah Zuran Ghori and Zahiruddin Babar brought to Ayodhya over a mere religious doctrine was new to them. Lalta Prasad Pandey: Ayodhyā, the Abode of Rāma and the Dharmakṣetra of Lord Buddha and the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras. A Historical and Critical Study, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi 2009.
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Open Letter to Audrey Truschke

(In late 2020, I promised women’s rights campaigner Prof. Madhu Kishwar a contribution to her debate on Audrey Truschke’s work denying Aurangzeb’s anti-Hindu atrocities and temple destructions, which in that stage of the polemic focused on the specific insults she suffered as a woman. But this half-finished Open Letter got lost in my pile of unfinished writings; sorry to all concerned. After my finally sending it in, her website published it on 29 August 2022.) Dear Audrey Truschke, Welcome to the club. Welcome among those who bear the consequences of uttering their opinions. In a paper posted on, published in the Woke magazine The Revealer (14 July 2020), you tell us of your own suffering at the hands of Hindu male Twitterati. It is called Hate Male, a rather predictable pun on Hate Mail. About what happens at your own Twitter account I don’t know much, as you have excluded me from it, exclusively because of my unwelcome opinions (i.e. not because of foul language), but I do know through numerous other channels that you are indeed hated in Hindu circles. Ever since your whitewash of the rock-solid and first-hand evidence of Aurangzeb’s numerous temple destructions (Aurangzeb: the Man and the Myth, Viking/Penguin, Gurgaon 2017), and additionally your recent denial of the rock-solid evidence for Islam’s extermination of Buddhism in South Asia, you are now among the proverbial hate figures for Hindu activists, up there with Wendy Doniger, Michael Witzel and Sheldon Pollock. The effect is not limited to the people who have actually read your book: they are only few and hardly overlap with those who send you hate mail and other criticism. But all of them know a few of your tweets, a quicker way to get to know your thoughts. So they know that you have tried to make Sita call Rama a “misogynistic pig”. They also know that when challenged, you attributed this to the American Sanskritist Robert Goldman’s Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa translation. Goldman himself, though not a friend of political Hinduism, had to intervene and rebuke your self-serving claim, clarifying that he had neither used the slur “pig” nor the anachronism “misogynistic”. You will understand that neither your lie about the Ramayana nor your heartfelt insult to Rama endears you to the Hindus. Your victimhood Then again, don't complain too much about that atrocious victimhood of yours. Compare your situation with the world around you: at the present rate of exclusion for dissidents, with even Nobel Prize winners sacked from their posts for wrongthink, you are very fortunate to have a secure US university chair and the support from your institution. Your enemies are not among the power-wielders whose actions have consequences for your career; they only consist of people you already looked down on, and who have no power to hurt you in any way. They only have foul but impotent words to trade, not good enough for turning your colleagues against you, let alone force your employer to sack you or all other employers to shun you. Even their so-called “death threats” are but verbal outbursts, ten a penny, not the kind of warning that would be given by a genuine revenge killer who means business. There are quite a few people who face direr consequences for what they have said. The Satanic Verses affair in 1989 with death threats against Salman Rushdie and effective assaults on his translators and supporters (including a non-lethal knife attack on a Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz), assaults on the Danish Mohammed cartoonists and the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo editorial board in 2015 showed that the West is not immune from the repression against candid freethinkers. But the problem is far more tangible in the erstwhile Third World. Assuming you are not racist, you won’t look down on those cases just because the “offending” writers weren’t white, right? Recent murders of dissident writers took place in Bangladesh, Nigeria, India and other countries. On Krishna Janmasthami, a Muslim thought it funny to lampoon Krishna in a cartoon, bad in taste but not illegal. (This part you may not find in the general media, where an iron rule is that reporting of Hindu-Muslim confrontations must hide away any Muslim initiative and only start when Hindus react, as if a history of WW2 were to start on D-Day with the Anglo-American “aggression” against Nazi-defended Europe.) A Dalit Hindu reacted in a civilized way: not with rioting but with a counter-cartoon, viz. on Mohammed. Since the local Muslim grievance brigade couldn’t find the ad hoc cartoonist at once, they hit him in the next best way: they attacked the house of his relatives, including a Congress MLA, and set it on fire. To top it all, as punishment for being the target of a murder attempt, not the criminal attackers but the “offending” Hindu was arrested and jailed for “triggering” violence, and in the secularist media he was denounced and lampooned rather than becoming the beneficiary of solidarity. Now if all that had happened to you, with your family home set on fire and you yourself rewarded with jail time, then you would be in a position to complain. So, before you start drama-queening and throwing allegations around, I suggest you imagine going through his ordeal. What a privilege, merely having to imagine it. [Postscript 27 August 2022: the last three months have seen seven Jihadi murders of Hindus who had merely tweeted their support for Nupur Sharma, ex-BJP spokeswoman who had been sacked by the Islam-appeasing BJP for truthfully quoting Islamic scripture. This was the implementation of an Urdu slogan faithfully summarizing Islamic law: Gustāx-i-rasūl kī ek hī sazā: sar tan se judā, “Insulting the Prophet has only one punishment: separating head from trunk”. Time to face up to your privilege that you don’t have to face such fate.] Yours is a luxury problem, and your fury about it will come across as quite pubescent among those who have suffered real exclusion, real cancel culture, real death threats, and in some cases actual attempts on their lives, failed or successful. Thus, you end your paper waxing indignant about having to censor your acknowledgments section in order to protect your informers from reprisals by vigilantes. Well, for thirty years now it’s been a routine for me to consider whom to acknowledge, as I have found out that your Hindu-bashing tribe is very vindictive and unforgiving of dissidence, and this not through impotent tweets (or through the ephemeral blackfacing of a victim you mention, an informer of James Laine’s anti-hagiography Shivaji), but through very consequential exclusions, seconded by a non-committed but intimidated and therefore compliant bourgeoisie. Why they have an aversion for you But alright, let’s commiserate: it is no fun being the target of hate mail. Before evaluating it as morally wrong, or at least contrary to the gentlemanly behaviour that I was taught, let us first note that for a Hindu nationalist, it is also strategically wrong. Your camp can get away with all kinds of misbehaviour, for you will always be shielded by the establishment and the mainstream media. Hindus, by contrast, are in the middle of an uphill battle; they cannot afford mistakes, or anything that could be used against them. It is also very counterproductive: instead of a debate on your Aurangzeb thesis, which for their camp is eminently winnable, they have only provoked a wave of renewed indignation against Hindu nationalism, especially after the public has absorbed your version of their position. Whereas the Aurangzeb skeptics merely uphold an eminently reasonable account confirmed already by prominent historians like Jadunath Sarkar and RC Majumdar, now they find themselves criminalized in the dominant account as ill-behaved trolls. So, hate mail. This is, of course, assuming that it is genuine. Those who follow the news closely, know by now that the most conspicuous hate crimes are self-inflicted and fake. Those who follow it only vaguely are taken in by the initial scandal: front-page news and the ensuing, grimly serious panel discussions to burn the indignation against the alleged hate group into the minds of the audience. But when the truth next comes out, it is only a little article tucked away on page 13, if at all that. Some of the hate mail you cite, esp. your opening shot with a Holocaust photograph, is just too good to be true. In contemporary Western culture, Adolf Hitler is the hate figure par excellence, without competition, and so haters on both sides have their discourse full of him. But that is mostly to paint their enemies with the Hitler brush (so-called Godwins), and thus criminalize them as deeply as possible, as indeed you yourself try to do here and on other occasions; but not to identify themselves with him. And then of all the hateful things a Hindu could have thought up against you, your critic would have chosen to identify himself with Hitler and you with his victims? I hope you don’t mind some skepticism here. But then again, it is not altogether impossible: there are indeed some rare Hindu conspiracy thinkers who used to think up their own stories but who, ever since the internet, are swallowing Western intrigues about the 9/11 false flag operation (which actually exonerates Aurangzeb’s religion as the culprit), the illuminati-controlled “deep state”, or indeed “the Zionist world conspiracy”. So, lacking any more direct evidence, I will assume for now that your story is true. But it remains a strange aspect of your story that this troll called you a Jew. There are some Hindus who know of your Jewish descent, if only because you yourself regularly bring it up. Among American white Christians, with their vicarious guilt trip, it would immunize you from criticism (though not among your woke African-American and Muslim companions, many of whom are brazenly anti-Semitic themselves), and we know how sensitive you are to criticism. But most Hindus situate you in another group, and unlike the Jews, this is a group all of them do mistrust: the Christian missionaries. Indeed, in a Twitter debate about you, someone cursorily called you a Jew, and someone else restated the Hindu consensus: “She is not a Jew at all. Through marriage she belongs to a Baptist missionary family.” The subtlety of ethnic Jewry being distinct from religious Judaism, so that there are Jewish-born Christians, is lost on most Hindus. For them, your ethnic provenance is not important (though you wish you could have blamed their “hate” on that), but your subscribing to the missionary project is. Your actual religious adherence is unknown to me, but among Hindus, you ought to know you are reputed to be part of the Christian missionary lobby. Hindus often are not very clear about these Western denominational issues, e.g. Wendy Doniger was also often accused of Christian missionary links even after she had clarified that she is Jewish. Unlike your ethnic origins, with which Hindus have no quarrel (as Israeli ambassadors to India keep repeating: “the only country where the Jews were never persecuted”), your religious adherence amounts for them to a declaration of war. What have the Baptist missionaries done in the Northeast and other parts of India? Simple: they have destroyed the native religion to make way for Christianity. This is, of course, the obverse side of the coin in which all Christian missionaries take pride and which they gladly communicate to their home sponsors: that they have turned a village or a community Christian. [Postscript 27 August 2022: Once in the business of history denial, you have chosen to extend it to your own tribe, the Christian missionaries and their atrocities against Hindus e.g. “After whitewashing Aurangzeb, Audrey Truschke moves on to downplay the Portuguese Inquisition of Goa and atrocities committed against Hindus”, OpIndia, 6 August 2022] As our king Clovis was told by his baptism father upon his conversion from Paganism to Christianity in 496: “Burn what you worshiped and worship what you burned.” (This was actually Christian self-flattery playing at victimhood, viz. implying that the Pagans had tried to destroy Christianity the way Christianity had been busy destroying Paganism: though not true, this was a common psychological mechanism, viz. projection.) Similarly, Christian missionaries have gone to India to burn every sign of Hinduism: in the past literally, today figuratively, but at any rate to destroy the native religion and replace it with their own. This is really a declaration of war issued by the Christian camp, no way around it, and nothing even-handed about it. If the natives react, as the Odisha tribals did after the murder of the conversion-hindering Swami Lakshmanada and his four assistents in 2008, this is not “hate” but self-defence. But let us return to your Hitler anecdote, where we have assumed for now that what you claim is true. Even then there is not only what you say but also what you hide. Having had a ringside view of the Aurangzeb debate and the rhetorical habits of the Hindu nationalists for thirty years, I know it is a hundred times more common in this debate to hear Hitler mentioned to a very different effect than the one you bring up. The Hindu activists don’t equate themselves to Hitler, as you would like us to retain; on the contrary, they denounce Aurangzeb as a proto-Hitler, and consequently his whitewashers as Holocaust deniers avant la lettre. You do your best to keep your American audience in the dark about this well-attested fact, but in India, the likening of the Muslim atrocities on Hindus to the Holocaust is very common, and so is the likening of Aurangzeb to Hitler. Imagine one of your colleagues defending Hitler in all seriousness, and the indignation you would feel; well, that is what you look like to numerous Hindus. You allege that “Aurangzeb serves as a dog whistle for Hindu nationalists who invoke him to rile up anti-Muslim sentiments and violence”. The name Hitler definitely serves as a dog whistle in many situations, viz. as a call to hate every “new Hitler” of the moment. The hatred against Saddam Hussein or Moammar al-Qadhafi was powered by the indignation about Adolf Hitler’s crimes and it justified invasions, occupations and mass bombings; any doubt about these disastrous policies was derided as a “new Munich”. The regular likening of Narendra Modi to Hitler by the Indian and American Left is not so innocent either. When you regularly make Nazi comparisons, it is to spew hatred and add the extra force of the Nazi reference to it. But the fact that you are a certified hater doesn’t annul Hitler’s crimes; the Holocaust did take place. While your use of that historical reference is malafide, it nonetheless refers to real events. Likewise, whatever motives you ascribe to the Hindus, the reference to Aurangzeb's crimes is and remains correct. And denying them is like denying the Nazi crimes. You are a negationist. Why you don’t convince them To be sure, Aurangzeb was not all bad. By saying that, I break ranks with these numerous Hindus who tend to lose all nuance when his name is dropped. About Aurangzeb’s character, not much negative can be said. Alright, he dethroned his father and killed his elder brother, but so many rulers have done similar things (e.g. the Buddhist emperor Ashoka also killed his brother and many other relatives, generals and ministers to grab the throne for himself) that we will look the other way for now. But unlike his hedonistic and drug-addicted father and grandfather, he was a pious and ascetic man, qualities which Hindus tend to applaud. He chided his father for wasting tax-payers’ money on what Aldous Huxley was to call the “expensive vulgarity” of the Taj Mahal, and gave the good example by earning his own living with making skull-caps and calligraphing copies of the Quran. He also did charity, even in his last will, for his hunger-stricken subjects, or at least the Muslims among them. He was to his own mind a do-gooder in the good sense of the term. Far too often, Hindus attack his character as the reason for his thousandfold temple destructions and his atrocities against the Sikh Gurus. But there is no reason for personalizing the issue, not in the demonizing sense nor in the psychobabble sense of: “Oh, what a paradox: he was a pious man, but also a bigot.” No, his asceticism and his bigotry were not contrasting tendencies, they could be traced to one and the same trait: his commitment to his religion. If that religion had been Hinduism, a pious man like he would still have been inclined to tyaj, to renunciation, but he would have had no reason for intolerance. By contrast, now that his religion was Islam, which e.g. encouraged the inter-Muslim charity that he practised, he was also bigoted and actively intolerant against Unbelievers, at least as soon as he “got religion”. I support attempts by historians to question the received wisdom: historiography in practice is an ongoing revision of the past. You could for example distinguish between different phases of Aurangzeb’s life. In his last years (he died at 91) he had become frail, introspective and full of doubts about his own record; gone was his self-righteousness. Not that he had started feeling for the Hindus, but he repented an unforeseen consequence of his anti-Infidel policies: they had provoked rebellions and thus shaken a hitherto stable Muslim empire. Even towards the Hindus, he was no longer as fierce as he used to be: his invitation to Guru Govind Singh for talks at the court, if not a trap, was more conciliatory than what he had done to the Guru in earlier years (cfr. infra). So there is nothing wrong in principle with your second look at Aurangzeb’s record. Only, an inspection of the data fails to support your whitewash. These unflattering data have not gone away ever since historians Jadunath Sarkar and RC Majumdar drew their less Aurangzeb-friendly conclusions. The Hindu reaction Some of your fans ask why, 4 years after the Aurangzeb publication, no scholarly refutation has been written yet. My position is that, in spite of the reasons that follow, a booklet in refutation is worth being written as a source of ready reference. It need not be bulky for, contrary to what your friends assume, there is little hard evidence in your book, nor even attempts thereto. It is mostly bluff about how generous Aurangzeb was, and exercises in avoiding the extant hard evidence of the opposite. Nor are your rhetorical tricks very sophisticated: whoever has followed the earlier Ayodhya debate can see through this standard secularist rhetoric right away. Admittedly, many of your critics are equally unsophisticated. Yet there is a simple remedy for this problem. Hotheads are not leaders: militant types, instead of staging their own impotent and counterproductive verbal attacks on you and your ideological tribe, would rather have rallied around their champion,-- if there had been one. That champion in this case is whoever takes the trouble of refuting your thesis in a counter-book, full of proper quotes and references. This is what Vishal Agarwal did against Wendy Doniger’s unjustly famous book The Hindus, An Alternative History: write an equally hefty counter-book detailing Doniger’s numerous errors of fact and symptoms of bias: The New Stereotypes Of Hindus In Western Indology (CreateSpace 2015). Hindu historians qualified to refute your work are just not sufficiently impressed with it, having seen variations on it before. I am not going to do it either, because in my life I don’t want to spend much time anymore on a simple topic like Islam. Everything about its theology and a lot about its history has already been said (partly by me), I leave it to a younger generation of historians to earn their spurs by filling the gaps remaining in Islamic history, before graduating to more interesting topics in their turn. Scanning your book, genuine historians soon notice that its claim of giving a fresh look into primary sources and thus overturning the extant consensus on Aurangzeb’s fanaticism is only bluff. They know that primary sources attest thousands of demolitions and now see only rhetoric in your book that cannot possibly be a match for them. There is no more direct documentary evidence than Aurangzeb’s own firmāns (decrees) for temple demolitions, and no more direct evidence in archaeology than the extant temple ruins resulting from these firmans. Your bluff cannot possibly overrule them. Thus, of Saqi Mustaid Khan’s chronicle Ma’asīr-i Ālamgīrī, you randomly claim “a noted tendency to exaggerate the number of temples demolished by Aurangzeb” (p.108), but you carefully hide that number, which is thousands upon thousands, since it is so extremely different from your own “at most a few dozen” (p.100) or even “just over a dozen” (p.107, following Richard Eaton); readers might get suspicious about your cavalier treatment of primary sources. So, a few publications refuting your thesis have finally seen the light of day. VS Bhatnagar’s book Emperor Aurangzeb and Destruction of Temples, Conversions and Jizya (Literary Circle, Jaipur 2017) was written before your name became a household name in India, and published almost simultaneously with your book. It doesn’t address your specific claims, it addresses Aurangzeb’s record that you make claims about. And from Aurangzeb’s own Court Chronicles, it cites many more temple destructions than you would even acknowledge as possible. It wipes your book away without even mentioning it. A long list of certified temple destructions and other acts of persecution was promptly given by Dimple Kaul and TrueIndology: “Aurangzebs tyranny and bigotry cannot be whitewashed. A counterview”, First Post, 6 May 2017. You had no answer. Therefore you were challenged on Twitter on historical specifics by TrueIndology. So you blocked him, then claimed that he had run away from the debate, and took the worn-out pose of pulling academic rank. Like a sophomore and unlike an accomplished scholar, you avoided the actual controversy by merely boasting about your having (and he not having) an academic post. A real scholar would have developed a healthy skepticism of his colleagues’ pretences and of his own knowledge’s limitations. You added insult to injury by alleging that he did not have the academic level to meet you in the debate from which you had blocked him. Details in “Five cases where TrueIndology exposed Audrey Truschke”, MyVoice/OpIndia, 18 April 2018. Not about the evidence itself but about your highly colonial attitude during the debate, Pawan Pandey wrote: “Dr. Audrey Truschke, western Indologists and their hidden motives”, First Post, 23 September 2020. In your woke circles this ought to carry some weight. It is indeed remarkable that the heralds of “decolonization” evince a completely colonial attitude to Hindus who take their own decolonization seriously. Busy-body, know-it-all, telling them what is best for themselves, even teaching them how to decolonize. Among Western Indologists, you, maybe not as a controversial person (“many of my colleagues associate me with public controversy, and I must now contend with my reputation as a troublemaker.”), but at least as an anti-Hindu campaigner, enjoyed a lot of sympathy, the guaranteed reward for any position that irritates Hindus. But even there no one could help you with supportive documents that simply weren’t to be found in the Aurangzeb files. [Postscript, 27 August 2022: Specifically in reaction to your work are: • François Gautier: “Why the fascination for Aurangzeb ? », Sangam channel, 2020; plus the Aurangzeb exhibitions at his Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum in Pune. • “Aurangzeb destroyed thousands of Hindu temples; no, he didn’t rebuild any”, MyIndiaMyGlory, 15 January 2021. • Neeraj Atri: “Aurangzeb: Sufi or tyrant”, Sangam channel, 15 April 1921. • Aabhas Maldahiyar: “Audrey Truschke, stop glorifying killers of Hindus”, Australia Today, 5 August 2021. • Aditya Kuvalekar (Prof., Univ. Essex): interview on Aurangzeb by Arihant Pawariya, Vaad channel, 28 August 2021. • Sandeep Balakrishna: “How Acharya Jadunath Sarkar wrote the majestic volumes of the History of Aurangzeb”, Dharma Dispatch, 23 April, 2022. • Sandeep Balakrishna: “Here it is: a ready reckoner of Aurangzeb’s industrial-scale temple destructions. A partial list of Hindu temples destroyed by the Mughal king Aurangzeb”, Dharma Dispatch, 23 May 2022. • Saurabh D Lohogaonkar: Whitewashing Tyrant, Distorting Narrative, EvencePub, Delhi, July 2022. • Saurabh D Lohogaonkar: “Whitewashing tyrant, distorting narrative”, Sangam channel, July 2022. • Saurabh D Lohogaonkar: “‘Aurangzeb – Whitewashing Tyrant, Distorting Narrative’: New book debunks distortions around the Mughal tyrant Aurangzeb”, OpIndia, 7 August 2022.] The Dhimma Seeing through your twisting of history doesn’t even require a thorough investigation of primary sources, the distortions can be of a general nature, immediately recognizable, e.g.: “Beginning in 1669, Aurangzeb levied the jizya on most non-Muslims in the empire in lieu of military service”. (p.88) This is a very common refrain among apologists: that non-Muslims were not really discriminated against, since Muslims had to render military service just as non-Muslims had to pay jizya. No, serving in the army was prized, because it meant being part of the ruling group, and gave access to the spoils of war. Often it also wasn’t mandatory military service but volunteer armies, with the common characteristic of excluding non-Muslims. In many societies, bearing arms is a privilege of the in-group, forbidden to oppressed groups. Later, Muslim regimes also induced non-Muslims into their armies, most notably the Christian-born Jannissaries in the Ottoman empire, but only after converting and indoctrinating them. Your attempt to whitewash this exclusion of non-Muslims from the army is not so innocent, certainly not for a historian. Under the Dhimma rules for non-Muslims, a non-negotiable rule was that it was forbidden to them to bear arms: this was not a favour to them, a relief from military service, but an element of their exclusion from power. Yours is a projection of modern equations, with conscripts unable to hope for more than to come home alive from the war, therefore trying to dodge the draft, whereas Islamic law provided the soldiers with the right to plunder. As you certainly know (though the trolls besieging you may not), the projection of modern states of affairs onto an ancient world where they didn’t obtain, is the cardinal sin in historiography. Let me remind you: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Anyway, the importance of this passage is that you yourself indicate a cut-off year, 1669. Until then, Aurangzeb largely abided by the compromise instituted by Akbar: the Moghul empire would be a Muslim empire, but less Muslim than empire, avoiding sources of fractiousness such as an all too open oppression that would provoke revolts. It had been decided on because Akbar wanted to get ethnic and sectarian lobbies within the Muslim ruling class off his back by attracting Hindu cooperation, and had more or less been continued by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. They profited from it, for instead of suppressing rebellions they could invest in the economy and in luxuries. Initially, Aurangzeb also continued this policy, and when he later strayed from it, aggrieved parties would remind him of it. But by 1669, he “got religion”, started to observe the Islamic rules more strictly, and therefore got harsher on the Pagans and their idolatry. As proof of his non-fanaticism, you cite a firman from 1659 prohibiting his men from further harassing the Brahmins of Benares. True, but that was still the period of Akbar’s compromise, not yet affected by Aurangzeb’s later Islamic radicalization. It cannot serve as refutation of his later iconoclastic commands. You write about this early period, when Aurangzeb resolved to walk in the footsteps of his “great ancestors”: “In Aurangzeb’s eyes Islamic teachings and the Mughal tradition enjoined him to protect Hindu temples, pilgrimage destinations, and holy men.” (p.102) It is only in your own words that the Moghul practice of turning a blind eye to the flourishing of idolatry, the single worst sin according to Islam, is “Islamic”; you never manage to quote any Moghul as saying this. And indeed, tolerating Hindu practices was part of Akbar’s compromise, not of Islamic teachings; orthodox figures like Ahmad al-Sirhindi saw through it and condemned it. But it was a success formula, it allowed for a peaceful prosperous empire, so Akbar’s successors didn’t really question it, until Aurangzeb did, not provoked by anything the Hindus had done, but convinced by Islamic teachings that wouldn’t be side-lined forever. At the end of his life, Aurangzeb also admitted the mistake which you try so hard to deny, viz. his anti-Hindu policies. This was not because he had suddenly developed pro-Hindu feelings, but because he realized that he had thereby provoked rebellions and thus destabilized a hitherto successful Muslim empire. On balance, he had rendered a disservice to Islam, not because he had disobeyed Islam (as apologists would like us to conclude, arguing that negative features like terrorism and iconoclasm “aren’t the real Islam”) but because in the real world, Islam has to co-exist with other forces, which ended up punishing a too principled loyalty to Islamic precepts. The Sikh Gurus and Aurangzeb Another significant fact about your Aurangzeb book that your more literate critics have noticed, is the absence of any mention of the Sikh Gurus contemporaneous with him: Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh. When you ask common Hindus what the name Aurangzeb means to them, it is usually two things: his massive destruction of temples, among which they will notably mention the Krishna Janmabhumi and the Kashi Vishvanath, and his cruelty to the Gurus. He had Guru Tegh Bahadur tortured to death for his refusal to convert to Islam, and he had all four of Guru Govind Singh’s sons killed. Your cosy presentation is simply irreconcilable with what the Gurus suffered at Aurangzeb’s hands. But maybe you mean that those narrations, so inconvenient to your own thesis, are untrue? Your name as a bold historian, without fear of controversy, would really have been made if you had chosen to refute these common narratives about the Gurus, and succeeded in doing so convincingly. It would have made you even more hated, but if your refutation were true, the historians’ admiration would have been assured. However, that is not what you chose to do. Instead, your entire Aurangzeb book does not mention the Gurus at all. It mentions the Sikhs as such, the Sikh rebellions and Ranjit Singh’s kingdom, but strangely not those among them who had to deal directly with Aurangzeb. You can only make your thesis persuasive by being very selective in the primary material you consider: you simply leave out what doesn’t suit you. Very indirectly, though, you do mention Govind Singh. On p.152, you thank Heidi Pauwels (whom I personally knew in the 1980s when we were students at Leuven University) for organizing “the panels on Aurangzeb at the 2014 European Association for South-Asian Studies Conference, held in Zürich, Switzerland”. I attended those panels. They discussed several Hindi poets as writing in praise of Aurangzeb. Of course, many Soviet poets wrote in praise of Josef Stalin, and they’d better. (Your own case can be be compared with the foreign poets like Louis Aragon who, under no compulsion but through ideological blindness, equally wrote in praise of Stalin.) But their crowning exhibit in Aurangzeb’s favour was Guru Govind Singh’s letter to him, the Zafar Nama. In spite of its name, “victory letter”, this letter is here and there quite toadyist in contents. Thus, in order to get away with his message of refusing the emperor’s invitation to the court (calculating the risk of a trap involved), the Guru had to also include some diplomatic flattery: six verses out of a hundred and eleven. So yes, he praises Aurangzeb a bit. But it takes an Islamophile Indologist to read this as a genuine expression of what Govind thought about Aurangzeb. Any normal human being would, when told of what had transpired between those two in real life, have concluded that very obviously, for the Guru, Aurangzeb was the most hated man in the world. This was, after all, the killer of his father and all his four sons. Temple destructions Aurangzeb gave “two orders to destroy the Somanatha temple in 1659 and 1706 (the existence of a second order suggests that the first was never carried out).” (p.107) In the first year he was not so fired up with anti-Infidel zeal yet. He did get it destroyed, though, even at the fag end of his life when he supposedly regretted his anti-Hindu policies. “In 1672 Aurangzeb issued an order recalling all endowed lands given to Hindus and reserving all such future land grants for Muslims, possibly as a concession to the ulama. If strictly enforced, this move would have been a significant blow to Hindu and Jain religious communities, but historical evidence suggests otherwise. The new policy on land grants lacked implementation, especially in the more far-flung areas of the kingdom.” (p.105) In those days, distances counted for something. Officials in far-flung areas calculated that they could get away with taking bribes in return for a blind eye to the continuation of idolatry. Thus, the Jagannath temple in Puri survived a commandment for demolition in exchange for a huge bribe to the Moghul Governor, and when Aurangzeb insisted, it was closed down but still not destroyed. Plus, a military crisis in the Deccan with the Marathas distracted his attention to more pressing matters. That Islamic policies were not fully carried out as decreed by Aurangzeb, does not mean that there is a milder Islam, nor that he had moments of increased tolerance, merely that there exist other factors in the world except ideology. To sum up, you admit that “Aurangzeb also oversaw temple desecrations” and that “there were probably more temples destroyed under Aurangzeb than we can confirm”, adding an estimate: “perhaps a few dozen in total?” (p.107) That’s not what the sources suggest, but for humorous purposes it’s a cute proposal. You really set a new record in apologetics by repeatedly asserting that Aurangzeb not only destroyed temple, but also protected many. From whom did they need protection? No one else is known to have raided Hindu temples under his reign than he or his lieutenants. Anyway, your reasoning is a great hint for trial lawyers: “Yes, Your Honour, the facts have been proven, my client did indeed commit these murders. But! Given the far larger number of people he left alive, all those people he could have murdered if he’d really had the murderer’s nature in him, you will consider his case benevolently.” The figures in historian Sita Ram Goel’s provisional list of nearly two thousand demolished temples in India (Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, part 1, 1990) has been around for more than thirty years already, a standing challenge to your negationist school. No attempt is in evidence to falsify even a single one of all those straightforward claims, not in others’ work nor in yours. By contrast, your claims about Aurangzeb have been challenged, both before you made them, and after. The Ayodhya debate and Indology The success of genuine scholarship in the Ayodhya debate, with the humiliating implosion of the anti-temple “Eminent Historians” on the witness stand during the Ayodhya trial (documented by Meenakshi Jain in her two Ayodhya books, and by Anuradha Dutt and S. Kumar: The Restoration of Ayodhya, 2020, but if you only follow the media, which have kept the lid on this episode, you may not even know about it), has made Hindu activists more self-confident. Around 1990, their Eminences rode a very high horse, making Ayodhya into the last stronghold of secularism and themselves its brave defenders. They already bit the dust in the Government-organized scholars’ debate of 1991 but were secure in the knowledge that, thanks to their captive media’s monopoly on the bottle-neck of the information-flow from India, the India-watchers worldwide would never hear about it, and that the few possible exceptions would not be willing or able to strike a discordant note. In India they continued to dominate the opinion sphere for more than a decade, forcing the political class to toe their line. Yet, their bluff against the scholarly evidence brought together by the scholars (only one of whom was linked to the Sangh, archaeologist SP Gupta) in 1991, gradually added to later and grandly confirmed by the Court-ordered ASI excavations of 2003, was scrutinized by the UP High Court. On the witness stand, each of them (well, the really big names managed to avoid questioning) collapsed and had to admit that their anti-temple posturing was based on no evidence at all. This is what will happen to you too in an authoritative scrutiny of your claims in favour of Aurangzeb and belittling the central passion of his life, the uprooting of Idolatry. The significance of the Ayodhya debate for the larger job of Indology and India-watching has so far been cleverly hidden. Here was a situation where practically the entire professional class was loudly proclaiming that there had never been a temple, lambasting little me for peddling a “Hindutva concoction”, yet being proven collectively wrong. After the High Court verdict of 2010 confirming the temple, two American professors privately congratulated me at the next Annual Conference of the American Academy of Religion; but nobody publicly apologized for misinforming the public on the basis of mere hearsay in their principal field of expertise. You also prove to be a worthy representative of Western Indology with your introductory sketch of India’s political landscape: “The BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, has controlled India’s central government since May 2014, and they have pursued an aggressive agenda of transforming India from a secular democracy welcoming of all faiths into a fascist state meant for martial-minded Hindus alone. During the last six years, anti-Muslim violence has risen sharply, freedom of the press has declined ruinously, and universities have been subjected to relentless assaults. History is a primary battleground for Hindu nationalists who want to rewrite India’s diverse past to justify their present-day oppression and violence, and historians like me get in their way.” This is indeed representative for the counterfactual image of India spread abroad by India-watchers and the media in the West. It is simply not true that the BJP has made India less secular or democratic, let alone “fascist”. While anti-Hindu violence has indeed risen (even more in Bangladesh, Pakistan and marginally the USA), the figures show that there has been no rise in anti-Muslim violence, on the contrary. In Indira Gandhi’s time there were street riots with thousands of victims; the Kalistani violence in the 1980s and early 1990s killed many thousands of Hindus (rarely mentioned in overviews of Indian communalism), many more than the death toll in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom by Congress secularists; Muslims committed an anti-Hindu pogrom in Godhra killing 59 Ayodhya pilgrims, thus triggering street riots killing some 200 Hindus and 900 Muslims. In recent street confrontations like over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019, such death toll had become unimaginable. The press is much freer than under Indira and continues its age-old number of attacking the Hindutva forces unfettered, then getting copied by the New York Times, the BBC and other media you take as Gospel. And no, the BJP had never rewritten the history textbooks. Indeed, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, a dyed-in-the-wool RSS man, declared on this question in 2018 that he was proud of never having changed a single chapter (“Not rewritten a single history chapter in 4 years: Javadekar”, India Today, 27 September 2018) ,-- an expression of the presently dominant ideology that your class hasn’t even noticed: BJP Secularism, distinctly focusing on burying its historical Hindu associations. This complete contrast between India’s reality and the fantasy world of the Indological analysis of the “communal” landscape could be laid at your door and summed up as mendaciousness, and that’s what many of your Hindu critics will certainly do. But I rather have the impression that, in spite of your self-flattery of being an attractor of controversy, you are essentially a herd animal merely swallowing and reproducing the dominant narrative peddled in your academic circles. Your performance as a university professor specialized in Indian communal episodes is dismal, but far from unique. To Hindu polemicists, I often have to point out that their view of the West suffers from anachronism, e.g. they explain the phenomenon of Hindu-bashing (with an infelicitous term: “Hinduphobia”) through the woke category of racism, flattering themselves as bold anti-colonial warriors. In reality, though racism was indeed very strong in the colonial period, anti-racism has meanwhile become the state religion in the West, and Hindu-bashing has other grounds than race. Proof: it does not extend to Indian Muslims or Christians, though they are of the same race. The reasons for Hindu-bashing are more complex than race, but lazy or conformistic minds will prefer the racial explanation. The India-watchers suffer from a similar anachronism. Numerous papers and books keep on appearing that explain the BJP’s policies in the 2020s through some quotes from RSS leader MS Golwalker’s book We, Our Nationhood Defined, written in 1938. In 1948 the police impounded all Hindutva publications (after the Mahatma murder), and Golwalkar himself forbade its republication afterwards. So 99,9% of Hindutva men have never read it (in publishing Golwalkar’s Collected Works in 2006, the RSS even left this book out, on the mendacious ground that Golwalkar had not been its writer), it is never quoted in BJP documents, yet your tribe pompously derives BJP policies from it. By contrast, the BJP’s real ideology, in which party members receive training, is called Integral Humanism (°1964). Because this sounds too innocuous, it is never even mentioned in most of the expert literature on Hindutva; as if the Labour Party were discussed without mentioning socialism. More generally, we could say that academic and media talk about the BJP has at its core of truth the Hindu party founded by Shyam Prasad Mookerjee in 1951, the way it was until his death in 1953. Back then it still aimed for a Hindū Rāṣṭra, but the Hindu content of its politics soon started decreasing. When party leader Deendayal Upadhyaya launched Integral Humanism, this was a correct move, presenting a kind of modern translation of the Hindu concept Dharma; but its main value for new leaders like Nana Deshmukh and AB Vajpayee was that it didn’t contain the word “Hindu”. Former party president Balraj Madhok protested against the party’s socialist and Nehruvian drift, and was thrown out. In 1977 the party merged into the new Janata Party, and when it was reconstituted in 1980 as the Bharatiya Janata Party, it shed its Hindu roots and the goal of Hindū Rāṣṭra. Significantly, it added a green strip to the party flag, an act of Muslim appeasement, the very thing the Jan Sangh had chided the Congress Party for. Then what about the Ayodhya movement, Hindu par excellence? This movement had been started by politicians of the Hindū Mahāsabhā and the Congress Party, and Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi worked towards the building of a new temple. But in 1989 the Eminent Historians came out with an Ayodhya statement that gave cold feet to middle-of-the-road politicians, and for two years the BJP captured the issue, using it to win the 1989 and 1991 elections, and then dropping it. The truth of the relation between the BJP and Hindu agitation was laid out clearly by BJP Justice Minister Arun Jaitley to the American Ambassador in 2004, when he dismissed it as merely an electoral ploy, immediately shelved after the elections. That is why (with the exception of MM Joshi’s clumsy rewriting of the history textbooks in 2002) neither Vajpayee nor Narendra Modi have fulfilled any item of the Hindu agenda. The seeming exception of the abolition of Kashmir’s privileged status (Art. 370) was only possible because this was formally not a religious issue, never mentioning the words Hindu and Muslim. Moreover, on the ground little has changed, contrary to promises, and stray Hindus are still being murdered there. You can check on social media that Hindus express their criticism of, or anger at, the Modi Government for its persistent betrayal of the Hindu cause. The future The political power equation that facilitates the partisan anti-scholarly conduct of your camp will not last forever. One day it will become feasible to do academic research on the strange phenomenon that an entire academic and mediatic guild has systematically disinformed the public about the communal situation in India, consistently for decades. Your own whitewash of Aurangzeb will serve as a significant piece of evidence. But don’t worry. It’ll take some more time (the BJP is not working on it), so you’ll have enjoyed your career and all the perks of your office. Nobody will be interested anymore in the yellowed pages of your negationist books. The dissertation about the India-watchers’ collective decades-spanning disinformation campaign will be read by the jury members and the fresh PhD’s mother, and then gather dust. After all, this is what has already happened: the false claim that the Ayodhya temple was a Hindutva concoction got exploded, yet the entire guild that ought to have been reduced to blushing and apologizing, managed to keep the news of its massive failure out of the information circuit. Conversely, the few of us who were proven right, will never be compensated for the slander, boycotts and cancelings we suffered. And speaking for myself, I also don’t believe in the retributive karma theory: no punishment in the next life for the negationists, no reward for those who held on to the historical truth against all odds. We’ll have to be satisfied with Benedict de Spinoza’s dictum: “Virtue is its own reward.” I certainly wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now. But let’s not dramatize it. As an ex-Christian, I join you in your Christian belief in conversion. You can leave your negationism behind, it’s easy. From a sinner against the principles of historiography, you can redeem yourself. There will be lots of joy in heaven.
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