SarasvatI etc.

Yaroslav V. Vassilkov yavass at YV1041.SPB.EDU
Sun May 24 09:38:20 UTC 1998

1) S.Subrahmanya (May 24) quotes an article by J.Harmatta on "Proto-Indian"
names and terms in Babilonian, Mitanni and Hittite documents  - and considers
this data to be a "clear evidence of Indian Vedic (not Indo-Iranian!) names
and vocabulary showing up in the West Asia long before the time you (Prof.
Witzel) say the RV was compiled"... Having added to it the dubious date of the
catastrophe which changed the flow of SarasvatI, S.Subrahmanya concludes:
<"Because of this evidence, I think that the dating of the RV to 1500-1200
<is a gross underestimation".
        I don't understand the logic of this argument, because most rich
and important Mitanni evidence is dated exactly by XIV century B.C. In what way
does it contradict the dating of the oldest stratum in the RV by 1500 B.C.?
1400-1300 is not "long before" 1500 B.C. at all. (The Kassite material
is a bit earlier, but scanty and doubtful).
        What is more important, in the paper by Harmatta the Aryans of
Mitanni and Babilonia are called "Proto-Indians". S.Subrahmanya missed the
chance to fight against this term. Because when the term was coined, it
meant nothing but "Indo-Aryans before their coming to India" (that is why
"proto-"). And Mitanni Aryans, at least, are considered by specialists to be
"Proto-Indians" in this very sense. By the way, for several decades nobody
called them "Indo-Iranians" (the Proto-Indo-Aryan identity of their language
is too evident). And as I have mentioned once already in this discussion,
there are even much more earlier (3rd-2nd mill. B.C.) traces of the
Proto-Indo-Aryan language in another geographic region - Volga and Ural
(on many Proto-Indo-Aryan loanwords in Volga and Perm' Finno-Ugrian
Languages see, e.g.: A.J.Joki. Uralier und Indogermanen. Helsinki, 1973).

        2) S.Subrahmanya says: "The reason there are more sites on the
SarasvatI is precisely because it was comparatively more stable than the
rivers in the Punjab..."
        It is not necessarily so. On the contrary, in Turkmenia archaeologists
could see that the concentration of small ancient sites in one locality is
naturally connected with the shift af a river bed which forced the population to
change the place of their settlements.
        The real reason why there are more sites on the Sarasvati is rather
a fact that Sindh and Punjab form one large alluvial plane, and the sites
of the ICV and earlier periods are buried under many meters of alluvial soil.
It was only the upper part of the great tell (mound) of Mohenjo-daro that
could be seen
on the surface, and it was only by chance that such an important site as
Mehrgarh was discovered due to a river changing its course and making a fresh
cut deep in the soil. Prof. Witzel hinted at this circumstance in one of his
postings, but it was ignored by the opponents. I understand the enthusiasm
of some Indian scholars after Mughal's reconnaissance, but it is still
probably too hasty to speak of the "SarasvatI civilisation".

        3) S.Subrahmanya says: "Archaeological evidence shows that there
has been a continuous cultural evolution"...
        Archaeological evidence shows us death, complete extinction around
1700 B.C. of the IVC in its urban form, and then gradual disappearance of
the "Late Harappan" among new and quite different cultures (such as
Painted Grey Ware, Pirak and others).

        4) Here are the concluding remarks of one of S.Subrahmanya's recent

<Exactly, there is continuity of cultural traits in the SIVC from before and
<after the "supposed migration of Aryans". Also:
<1. We dont know what the actual religion of SIVC people was.
<2. We dont really know much about the culture of the Aryans either.
<   There is zilch archeological/textual evidence of migration
<   from central asia into India.
<3. The little that we do know about religion is just what
<   we have from the Rgveda
<4. We also know that there is a cultural continuity in the SIVC.

<So how can one postulate a migration ???
<The only evidence that is claimed to show a migration into India
<is the so called "Linguistic evidence".

        I am sorry to say it, but every line here, in my opinion, contains
an error. There is large literature on "the continuity of cultural traits"
between IVC and later traditional Indian culture, but all competent scholars
agree that there are practically no parallels between the IVC and early
Indo-Aryan ("Vedic") culture. Paradoxically, but the IVC mythological
heritage suddenly reappears in Mediaeval Hinduism - apparently due to the
penetration into the Sanskrit "Great tradition" of many archaic
autochtonous cultural elements which preserved the IVC heritage for several
      How can we say that "we dont really now what the actual religion of
SIVC people was"? Did several generations of scholars studying IV culture
work absolutely in vain? We can not yet read the texts, but there is enough
pictorial material (images on the seals, statuettes etc.) and other archaeological
evidence to conclude that the IV people practiced the archaic cults of
fertility, performed calendar rites (including probably the sacred
marriage rite), that female deities, goddesses played a prominent part in
this religion, that among their sacred animals were rhinoceros, tiger,
peacock, crocodile, scorpion and others, never mentioned (as sacred
objects) by the Vedas. If there are some scenes depicted on the seals, they
either with the themes of Sumerian or Elamite art, or with later Hinduism,
but never with the Vedic myths. Generally speaking, the IVC religion is
of different type as compared with the Vedic religion: it resembles
rather the religions of ancient Middle East.
      Or is it true that "we dont know much about the Aryan culture"?
We know quite enough to see that it was quite different from the culture
of the Indus valley in so many respects (the "horse" aspect is only one
among dozens of them). We can not recognise any Vedic myth in the art of
IVC: but there are so many parallels in the closely related Iranian
(Avestan) culture and even in some more distantly related Indo-European
cultures. But in order to be able to see all these connections, one has
to master "the so called 'Linguistic evidence'", as S.Subrahmaniam prefers
to call it, - i.e., the science of comparative and historical linguistics
which is the basis of all humanitarian knowledge in the modern world. And
if one of the parties in the discussion does not consider this science a
pramAna - then we have no common ground and this fruitless debate is to
be stopped, the sooner the better.

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