Thursday, October 26, 2023

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