Indo-Aryan im/e-migration: Horse argument

Edwin Bryant ebryant at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri Mar 20 21:31:59 EST 1998

On Fri, 20 Mar 1998, N. Ganesan wrote:

> Horses increase dramtically after 1000 BC. Let me explain:
> 1) Take North Indian sculptures in Sanchi, etc.,
> 2) Evidence from classical Tamil sangam works. Critically,
> they are dated to 200 BC to 200 AD.
> So from Vedic times (1200 BC? or 1000 BC?), horses in India
> increase a lot.

Apart from Hastinapur, Pirac, Stacul and one or two other places, what
references do you have for horses in the North in the *pre*-Mauryan period
(say, 1500-500 BCE) that would suggest that the horse increases
dramatically during this period (this is info I am still trying to fine
tune for my research)? I am presently under the impression that it is
quite sparse (but can easily check with Meadow's if you don't know)
despite the fact that the horse-centered Indo-Aryans were very much
present during this period.  Likewise, evidence of the chariot does not
occur till the Mauryan period, a full millennium after the chariot-using
Indo-Aryans were undoubtedly in the subcontinent.  So the sparsity or lack
of horse and chariot remains might not be so easily equatable with the
absence of the Indo-Aryans.

To restate this, if indeed there is no chariot, and little horse, evidence
from 1500-500 BCE when the Indo-Aryans *were* in the subcontinent, how can
we hold the absence of chariot and horse (or, at best, a few contested
evidences of the horse) in a still earlier period as evidence of their
absence? It is important to note such problems with argumenta ab silentio
in the arch record.

> PS: I will hardly consider Dr. B. B. Lal as unbiased.
> He is now a theorist of Indigenous Aryan school. One of the main
> speakers in "Revisiting Indus Saravathi age" seminar in
> Atlanta. This seminar organizers were S. Kak, David Frawley,
> and Vishva Hindu Parishad.

Well, I was also at this seminar and Lal's paper had nothing to do with
the Indig. Aryan school. He had long argued on the basis of the horse
bones found at Hastinapur (and the PGW found there and at other Epic
sites) that the Aryans had introduced the horse into the subcontinent when
they entered. He has only recently began to reconsider this long-held
position (see the brief appendix of his 1997  book where he calls for a
reexamination of all the evidence).  The fact is, apart from Ratnagar,
R.S.Sharma, R. Thapar, Jha and a few other historians and archaeologists
(usually, but not exclusively, connected with JNU or Delhi U), you'll be
hard-pressed today to find many archaeologists and historians in India who
are not reconsidering things.

I'm not sure considering them all biased is useful.  They have a point of
view based on the archaeological (and textual) record. Naturally this
point of view needs to be in dialogue with linguistics.  I have noted the
paucity of historical linguistic dept's in Indian universities in a
previous post. Whatever we may think of this point of view, it needs to be
addressed in a non-dismissive, respectful and scholarly fashion (in my
opinion).  As I have repeatedly said, this is not exclusively a Hindutva
discourse.  Many scholars are understandably uncomfortable about
unquestioningly inheriting a version of their ancient history that was
assembled for them by their erstwhile colonial masters.  I suggest we be
more sensitive to the 'post-colonial' dimension to such 'reconsideration'
(even though it coexists and sometimes overlaps with blatant Hindutva

Besides, how are we going to stereotype Western archaeologists such as
Shaffer and Kenoyer who share similar opinions with their Indian
colleagues but have absolutely nothing to do with Hindutva or
Neo-Hinduism?     Regards,    Edwin Bryant.

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