The horse argument, part 2

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU
Tue Mar 31 13:29:47 EST 1998


"Yaroslav V. Vassilkov" <yavass at YAVASS.USR.PU.RU> 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?

In Jan/Feb 97, there was a discussion in this list about the alleged
difficulty of breeding horses in India. In spite of confident assertions
of such difficulty, attributed to the climate, horse-breeding (of local
breeds, naturally, not of thorough-breds:-) was alive and well in India,
including Central India and parts of the peninsula, as attested by one
of the references I gave.

>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. Here we can speak really in terms of MASS material,
>consisting of bone remains and innumerable articles of metal harness.

I will appreciate current references on this topic. Apart from a couple
of paras to a few pages in general books on Indian archaeology, the only
reference I have access to is Leshnik's ``South Indian `Megalithic'
burials''. What I find here only makes matters worse.

The ``articles of metal harness'' seem to be, for the most part, bits,
often snaffle bits, and in one case a curb bit. Now Hellenistic writers
clearly state that bits were unknown to Indians, presumably at the time
of Alexander. The type of control they describe as being in use in India
is based on a dropped nose band, with some sort of flat `cheek pieces'
with sharp points turned towards the inside to reinforce the action.
This kind of reining is known from early 2nd millennium BCE elsewhere,
but outside India true bits become the norm by 1200-1000 BCE. But in
North India, the evidence for bits is non-existent before the Greeks;
even the sculptures at Sanchi do not show depictions of bits; and the
Sanskrit word for bit `khalina' is most likely a borrowing from Greek.

Precise dating of the bridle pieces from these `megalithic' burials is
important. Leshnik assigns these dates of 3rd c. BCE to 2nd c. CE, and
attributes them to Greek/Saka influence and/or immigrants from Iran
coming in the mid-I millennium BCE. On the other hand, the earliest
burials are now given dates approaching 1000 BCE. If the bits are earlier
than 400 BCE, then we have a clear anomaly. Central and southern India,
presumably dominated by Dravidian speakers, who, it is said, did not
know of the horse till it was brought in by the `Aryans', are up-to-date
but the `horse centered Aryans' of North India are quite backward, and
managed to avoid leaving large scale evidence of the horse.

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