Indo-Aryan migration vs Indigenous origin - scholarly debate

S Krishna mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 16 01:59:46 UTC 1998

Charles Poncet says:
>> >
>Talking about scholarship and the sometimes inevitable overlap with
>"political" issues, what do you guys make of the contention, recently
>expressed in a book by David Frawley and Georg Feuerstein, that the
>whole idea of an Aryan invasion is a western invention and that the
>Indus civilization essentially disappeared because of a change in the
>course of the Sarasvati river ? I found the book entertaining and
wellargued, if at times a little manichean, because they too seem to
discardanything that won't fit with the point they want to make, but
thedebunking of the "invasion" I found convincing because it does seem
thatthe alledged "invasion" was never proved by much, if anything.
>Am I wrong ?

I would like to make a few comments and ask a few questions about this

1. First and foremost, this book reads not like a scholarly text, but
more like an introduction to ancient Indian culture aiming at
over-anglicized Indians, NRIs who want to know about their roots and
ABCDs who are trying to learn about themselves. The best verification
of this lies in the injudicious use of photographs and their mystifying
titles: Page 33 has a picture of "South Indian Shaiva priests performing
a rain making ceremony around a fire altar"( reminds me of captions in a
tourist guide), Page 46 refers to "South
Indian temple"( these scholars donot know and possibly don't care about
the four+ different cultures found in the South),a  feature also
repeated on Page 16 refering to  a "South Indian priest". Page 187
etches the figure of "Om"( not sure why a scholarly text has to outline
"Om", a symbol that is known to anybody and everybody interested in
ancient India) and Page 129 gives us the text of
the gAyatri mantra ( very novel if viewed from the POV of an Indian
cut off from India, not novel from the POV of an Indologist/Samskrt
scholar). While they are not wrong in any of these places, it gives the
impression that the writing suffers from imprecision and is aimed
largely at a un-scholarly audience.

2. Page 115 makes the claim( un referenced) that the earliest settlers
of Srilanka came from Gujarat. This is something I find strange, since
all texts that I know off talk about descent of the Sinhalese from
East Indians i.e. Bengalis/Oriyas/Biharis; some people also claim that
the name "Sinhala" is from Vijaya Sinha, the king who sailed with 700
men from Tamralipti in Bengal to Srilanka to establish a kingdom. Has
anybody seen this Gujarati origin in any other text?

3. Page 129 says "The concept of one million did not become common in
the west until the nineteenth century" quoting C.W.Ceram. Now, in the
18th century, the mathematician Euler refers to infinity a few times
and the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Kepler have certainly dealt with
these kinds of distances(I remember seeing a numerical working of
Kepler's third law by either him or his disciple). Etymologically, the
word "million" goes back to atleast the 14th century...I am not sure
of how much weight one can attach to the sayings of this Ceram.

4. Pages 139-142 talk about the "Dravidian puzzle", a very appropriate
name since I'm left genuinely puzzled after reading what these gentlemen
have to say. They talk about the creation of Tamil by Agastya, which I'm
afraid is in the realm of myth for if one were
to accept this story, one would also have to accept things like Agastya
asked the Vindhya mountains to bow down till his return; Agastya went
south to counterbalance the weight of people going north
to attend Sri Rama's wedding( or was it the coronation?)..I'm not sure
of how Subhash KAk( an electrical engineer) accepts this kind of stuff
without question, more so when he criticizes "myth being passed off as
history".It must also be pointed out that the creation of Tamil is also
attributed to Siva himself( Sumathi Ramasvami of UPenn quotes a poem to
this effect in her new book "Passions of the tongue"); I'm not sure of
what is so sacrosanct about the agastya story other than it fits into
their theory.

5. They claim that "Dravidian languages have borrowed 50% of their
vocabulary from Sanskrit". This is incorrect of many dialects/
historical periods of Tamil. In classical Tamil, prof Hart doesn't put
the percentage of Skt words at higher than 5%, Drs Illakuvanar and
M.Varadarajan give a even lower figure. This figure of 50% may be true
of maNipravALam literature, but is not true even in modern spoken Tamil
where sociologists claim that the average Rural Tamil speaker uses not
more than 5% Sanskritized Tamil vocabulary. In Kannada and Telugu,
modern day Dalit poetry uses a very low percentage of Sanskrit words,
due to their sub-altern nature. In mediaval/classical Kannada, there are
tracts like the dAsara padagaLu which use samskrtized kannaDa
attributable to the fact that many composers,( with exceptions like
kanakadAsa) were Brahmin, there are other tracts like the veerashaiva
vacanas which are unsamskrtized owing to the nature that many
non-Brahmins coming from unsamskrtized backgrounds contributed to this
genre. This figure of 50% can be arrived at only in
Mylapore/Triplicane/TNagar Tamil or Udupi/Mandya Kannada or Konaseema
Telugu:-), a clear case of sociological bias.

6."There have been attempts to characterize Shaivism as South Indian"
(Page 142) implying that this is a mainstream argument. Not true AFAIK
I know; this was the theory of Suniti Chaterjee( who derives "Shambhu"
from Tamil "cempu") and is not mainstream. IT is interesting that Skanda
worship, attributed to Dravidian culture, is overlooked by these

7. They claim that the word "Nostratic" was coined by Holger Pederson
in 1924 and imply that the Dravidian-Aryan linguistic theory is being
replaced by the newer "nostratic" theory..this does injustice to the
fact that Monier Williams was the first one to propound the theory
of all languages being descended from Sanskrit and Messrs Campbell,
Caldwell refining/changing this theory. BTW, what was the name given by
Monier-Williams to his theory?( since nostratic is of 20th century

8. Page 138 is very interesting. It says that through frequency
ocuurences, Subhash Kak has proved that the Brahmi script and
Indus script are almost identical. The next paragraph reveals that
the texts have to be longer for decipherment. I think there is a
contradiction between the two; for if one has so many frequencies
with Brahmi, then even with few datapoints, one should read Indus stuff
with the rules of Brahmi and come up with something intelligible, which
apparently isn't the case here. It reminds me of the joke about a person
saying that he had made a million dollars, but in a dream:-)

  I would be grateful for any discussion,pointers, answers to my


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