Dating the Veda: Using the Horse and Planets

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Jan 19 10:47:55 EST 2000

Let me be blunt, finally: Do we have to react to any crackpot theory?
If so, we can stop reading, teaching, researching...
I answer, one more time here, then : tuuznIM bhaviSyAmi.

Dr. Kalyanaraman wrote:
>>> Do languages of NW (including Gujarat, Sindh) reliably distinguish
>>>between the ass/donkey (Equus asinus) and the hemione (E heminous),
subspecies Khur [Sanskrit doen't seem to.]
>> Of course it does...
>Vedic doesn't seem to distinguish so finely, using as'va as a generic term to
>connote the equus family...
>Here is a quote from Rigveda Khilasukta 1.5 (Bhandarkar Oriental Series No.
>27, 1995 by Usha R. Bhise; ....:
>va_sa_tyau citrau jagato nidha_nau dya_va_bhu_mi_ s'r.n.utam rodasi_m me
>ta_vas'vina_ ra_sabha_s'va_ havam me s'ubhaspati_ a_gatam su_ryaya_m saha
>Trans. As'vina_ having shining equus are the wonderful treasures of the world.
>O Heaven and Earth, please listen (to me), Rodasi_ (listen to me). Those
>As'vins have braying-equus. O lords of beauty attend to my call along with

It is well known (since Coomaraswamy, JAOS c. 1941) that the Azvins, as a
lower class of gods (with dubious human connections as doctors, see
Filliozat, Medicine),

*ride horses*  and *drive a chariot drawn by donkeys* (cf. RV 1.34.9;
8.85.7; 1.116.2), while pakka/proper gods (and Ksatriyas) do not ride
horses but *drive horse-drawn chariots.*

(Even the Mesopotanians (c. 1750 BCE) made fun of a king who boasted that
he had rode a horse over a long distance...)

Many details in H. Falk, Das Reitpferd im Vedischen Indien. Die
Indogermanen und das Pferd. [Akten des Internationalen interdisziplinaren
Kolloquiums. Freie Universitat Berlin, 1.-3. Juli 1992, Bernfried Schlerath
zum 70.Geburtstag gewidmet], ed. by B. Hansel, Stefan Zimmer et  al.
Budapest 1995, pp. 91-101

The quote above (ra_sabha_s'va_ )  lists both! There is, after all, a
Dvanda compound in Sanskrit. Here turned into a Bahuvriihi:  'the Ashvin
who possess horses and donkeys' ... (NB cannot check the accents here as
they are not quoted).

And, the passage alludes to Suuryaa's marriage procession (RV 10.86.13-17).
Note that all of this is mythology. Only the Ashvins/Suuryaa ride on a
three-wheeler (which is = manas!)

I still want to see such a chariot in real life, or a Vedic three-wheeler
(tricakra)  in archaeology. Or did the Vedic Indians (the Ashvins?) also
invent, in addition to all sorts of superhuman tools & weapons, the
obnoxious, fuel spluttering Tempo  (riksha, sam-lo) ???

For the three-wheeler see RV   :
1.118.2 Ashvin's chariot; (A. asked for milk giving cows,temparamental
horses (arvant)
1.157.3 Ashvin's chariot having quick horses (jIra-aZvaH) -- this could
speak in your favor but remains isolated (next to 1.191.5, both hymns by
the same poet, Diirghatamas Aucathya! Maybe he had another concept than the
other poets) -- Note that jIrAzva- is also used of Agni (Again by
Diirghatamas and in 2.4.2).-- More evidence outside *myth* and *one poet*
is required!!
1.183.1 Ashvin's chariot with 3 seats, 3 wheels, ...
4.36.1 Rbhus' chariot 'without horses'... (anazvo jaato..rathas) --the
8.58.3  Ashvin's chariot  at dawn
10.41.1 Ashvin's chariot in the morning
10.85.14  Ashvin's chariot for Suuryaa's marriage (with one hidden wheel)


Vedic people are keen observers of nature, after all, and we, too,
depending on our background,distinguish *inside* a group/species and do not
lump fishes and whales together.

Those who want to lump horses and asses together have to do two (or more)

(1) check all (Vedic) passages where azva 'horse' and
khara/gardabha/raasabha 'donkey' and parasvant/gaura? 'hemione' and
azvatara 'mule' are used without distinction. (cf. above!)

Horse and donkey are clearly distinguished at RV 3.53.24. (na gardabham
puro azvaan nayanti); note 3.53.5 (with Geldner's comment!!);  (interesting
also 1.164.21 horse instead of donkey;  and  compare between 8.55.3 and

(2) check all passages where words for neighing (krand, etc.), braying (nu,
ciit kR, khara-naada etc.) are used. Also, cf. maa 'to bellow', raa 'to
bark'.  They are distinguished.

(3) Also, are  donkeys hunted?  hemiones ridden?  These areas are
fundamentally separate for the Vedic Indians (graama :: araNya).

Only then can they maintain that azva = caballus, hemionus, asinus.
If not, we can trust our lexicographical pitaraH.

>Many more such instances can be cited.
Please do.

>Methinks, this verse substantiates, as rightly surmised by Dr. Vidyanatha Rao,
>the use of the word as'va as a generic term which can be qualified as the
>poetics demand, to connote a hemione or asinus or caballus...

Nope.  See above.

As I said, we have to look for real asses elsewhere.
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