1. Horse and 2. Dice in India

Edwin Bryant ebryant at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Mar 22 21:59:21 EST 1998


On Sat, 21 Mar 1998, Yaroslav V. Vassilkov wrote:

>         But can we really say that *the horse has always been imported* while
> since the Vedic period Sanskrit literature constantly mentions horse-breeding
> in the North-West of the subcontinent? The first such mention one can probably
> find in the Nadiistuti of the Rgveda (X.75.8) where the Sindhu river is called
> *svazvaa, surathaa* and *vaajiniivatii* - *famous for its fine horses, good
> chariots* and *rich in race-horses*. After that we can see that in many
> sources different regions of the North-West (Sindhu-Sauvira, Gandhara, Kamboja)
> are described as well-known centers of horse-breeding (see, e.g, Mbh. V.46.13;
> VI.86-3-4; VII.137.3; XII.36.11).

The areas listed above, along with other areas outside of India mentioned
in the artha sastra (2.30.29), were known for breeding horses in the
Vedic, Epic and Mauryan periods. These horses were imported into the
subcontinent from these places (it was very difficult to
successfully breed horses in the plains).  As Trautman notes: "it
has yet to be determined why exactly India has never been
self-sufficient in horses...whatever the reason, the stock has
always had to be replenished by imports, and the imports came from
westward in the ancient period: Kamboja...Bactria...Central Asia
generally...It is a structure of it's history that India has
always been dependent upon western and central Asia for horses."
(India: History and Thought, p. 261)

Although horses could be bred in the NW of the subcontinent, the horse
(Caballus Linn) is *not* native to this area.  The khur (equus hemionus
khur) is, but this is not the Vedic steed.  The arrival of the
domesticated horse (caballus Linn) is therefore (quite reasonably)
correlated with the arrival of the Indo-Aryans.  One Indigenous Aryan
response to this (as outlined by, say, Talageri whom I quote in a previous
post) is that the arrival, domestication and utilization of the horse need
not imply the arrival of a new linguistic group.  This whole assumption
is being questioned.  But more on this in response to George's posting
which has just popped into my box.

>         By the way, I think that the participants in the debate on the spread
> of horses in India quite undeservedly ignored the archeological materials
> of the *megalithic* culture which at some sites (e.g. on the territory of
> historical Vidarbha) can be dated now as early as the beginning of the I
> mill. BC.

Along these lines, horse bones from the Neolithic site Hallur, in
Karnataka by the archaeo-zoologist K.R.Alur are also relevant *if* his
identification is correct (he insists they are caballus Linn).  The dates
for these bones are 1500-1300 BCE.  Meadows might well have the same
problem with these claims as with the others from the North, but if there
is any validity to them, such findings would also problematize the idea
that the incoming Indo-Aryans were supposedly introducing the horse into
the Northwest (during, or even later than, this time frame).  Regards,
Edwin



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