Pattanaik’s Vedic People

In Swarajya,  Devdutt Pattanaik writes

These Aryans entered the Indian subcontinent around 4,000 years ago, a period when the cities of the Indus-Saraswati valleys had already declined. These cities were first established as early as 8,000 years ago, as per current evidence, but after thriving for nearly 3,000 years, had collapsed following climactic change and poor agricultural patterns. The Aryans brought horses and PIE language with them, but not quite the Vedas.

In the Indus Valley and dry river beds of Saraswati, in the decaying brick cities, as they mingled with local people who had memories of the great Saraswati river that once flowed in this region. The Aryans refined old hymns, composed new hymns that eventually were compiled to form the Rig Veda, in a language we now know as Vedic, or pre-Panini, or pre-classical, Sanskrit. This language has nearly 300 words borrowed from the Munda language, considered as a pre-Vedic Indian language, indicating local influence. It is key to note that the hymns speak of no Eurasian homeland, But there is clear awareness of the river Saraswati. One can speculate that the hymns were composed in North West India, generations after the actual migration.

This version serves two purposes

  1. Complies with the time lines of PIE migration to India
  2. Makes vedas kind-of Indian origin, even if the Vedic people were not.

This is a tricky feat, but is it true?

Settlements of Ancient India (from a California 6th grade textbook by TCi)
Settlements of Ancient India (from a California 6th grade textbook by TCi)

The above picture is from a California 6th grade history textbook. It is not a reference book, but definitely the most controversial one. The book’s authors write, “India’s early townspeople lived along the Indus River and the ancient Saraswati River”.

This Saraswati is a major obstacle in PIE theory because it is clear that Vedic people were aware of Saraswati as a mighty river. They have also made it clear that they knew where the river was located.

इमं मे गङगे यमुने सरस्वति शुतुद्रि सतेमं सचता परुष्ण्या |
असिक्न्या मरुद्व्र्धे वितस्तयार्जीकीये शर्णुह्यासुषोमया ||
तर्ष्टामया परथमं यातवे सजूः ससर्त्वा रसयाश्वेत्या तया |
तवं सिन्धो कुभया गोमतीं करुमुम्मेहत्न्वा सरथं याभिरीयसे || (10.75.5-6)

They do not claim that it was the memory of the natives they were incorporating. They wrote as if they saw the river flowing majestically.

At the same time, the maximum number of sites of the Harappan civilization were along the banks of Saraswati as the picture above shows. The civilization started its decline when the rivers went haywire due to tectonics or weakened monsoons.  Thus if Vedic people were aware of Saraswati, then they would have been living in the region while the river was not a muddy, silty river.

In a 2010 paper, Professor Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, who has been excavating at Harappa for three decades wrote that even though the Indus script has not been deciphered, he thinks more than one language was spoken in the settlements. The language families that co-existed include Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan and Indo-Aryan. Paul Heggarty, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in a 2013 paper writes that Indo-European speakers may have reached Mehrgarh much earlier than 4000 BCE. The model that these studies present is not of a civilisation dominated by one language as imagined by Dravidian politicians and textbook historians, but an Indus-Saraswati region which was cosmopolitan.[In Pragati: An earlier date for Indo-Europeans in Northwest India]

But this is not acceptable because it violates the lakshman rekha of Aryan Migration dates. Few theories have been proposed to solve this. One of them, by Edward Thomas, suggests that the Saraswati did not flow in Punjab, but in Helmand in Afghanistan. There is a river called Harahvaiti, linguistically similar to Saraswati which the Aryans would have seen this river on their long march to India.  Another theory by Prof. Irfan Habib goes one step further: according to him the river never existed, except in the imagination of rishis. The whole point of all these theories being that Ghaggar-Hakra is not Saraswati (similar to it can be a Buddhist temple or a Jain temple or  a tea stall, but not a Ram temple). All these theories have been demolished in Michel Danino’s book, The Lost River.

Mr. Pattanaik also writes about an ancestral homeland and Aryan migration. But where is the homeland these days?

“The Indo-European homeland has been located and relocated everywhere from the North Pole to South Pole, to China. It has been placed in South India, Central India, North India, Tibet, Bactria, Iran, the Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, Lithuania, the Caucasus, the Urals, the Volga Mountains, South Rusia, the steppes of Central Asia, Asia Minor, Anatolia, Scandinavia, Finland, Sweden, the Baltic, western Europe, northern Europe, central Europe and eastern Europe.”[In Pragati: Where is the Indo-European homeland these days?]

Now it is simpler: we just need to pick from three homeland theories. The first one — the Anatolian-Neolithic — proposes that Indo-European originated in Anatolia and spread through Europe along with the spread of farming. The second theory suggests that the homeland was not in Anatolia, but to the south of the Caucasus. The spread of the language did not happen with the spread of farming, but at a much later date. The third one suggests that the homeland was located between the Volga and Dnieper (The Pontic-Caspian) during 4500–3000 BCE.

One possibility is that the language did not spread through invasion or the current favourite — migration — or due to elite dominance, but due to demic diffusion. Peter Bellwood looked at the farming hypothesis and coupled it with new archaeological discoveries in the Gangetic plains, and proposed last year that Indo-European speakers arrived in North-West two millenia earlier than expected. This gave possibility to the development of Vedic language in the region and not in Central Asia. It also provided the ability for the language to spread slowly rather than suddenly.[In Pragati: Where is the Indo-European homeland these days?]

Did Aryans bring horses to India along with PIE?

But if the Indo-Aryans bought the horses shouldn’t we see an explosion of horse remains and depiction of horse in art after 1500 B.C.E? In fact horse remains are rare even after 1500 B.C.E. Also, it is around the Mauryan period – around 350 B.C.E — that the depictions of horse and lion gains popularity[2]. Thus the time period 2000 – 1500 B.C.E was not significant regarding the arrival of horse in India. So much for that.[The Aryan Debate: Horse]

It is not easy to speculate and come up with a simple theory. For every point, there is a strong counter-argument. Here is some more evidence

There is also evidence of tree worship in Harappan times as mentioned in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. The core of the Vedic religion was sacrifice and fire altars have been found in several Indus sites. In Kalibangan seven rectangular fire altars have been found aligned north-south beside a well which parallels the six Vedic dishnya hearths.[Book Review: In Search of the Cradle of Civilization]

If we are speculating, why not come up with a Dravidian Invasion Theory (DIT)? We know that Dravidians were not part of the humans who migrated from Africa. The founder population of India included the Onge, living in the Andamans. Why don’t we propose that the Dravidians invaded their lands and drove them out of the mainland. Any takers?

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for a nice article, JK.

    A request to please correct the pada-s that you’ve given in the RV 10.75.5-6 mantra-s:
    – स्तोमं in place of सतेमं (first line)
    – श्रृणुह्या in place of शर्णुह्या (second line)
    – तुष्टामया प्रथमं in place of तर्ष्टामया परथमं (third line)
    – सुसर्त्वा in place of ससर्त्वा (fourth line)
    – त्या in place of तया (fourth line)
    – क्रुमुं in place of करुमुम् (fourth line)

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