L. Suresh Kumar-LSK l_s_k at NETZERO.NET
Wed Dec 20 03:38:18 UTC 2000

----- Original Message -----
From: navaratna rajaram
Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 02:06 AM
Subject: Re: My HINDU article on Vedic origins

The Hindu, December 19, 2000


> From  time  immemorial India's ties  with East and Southeast Asia have
been much closer than with Central Asia or Eurasia. Ancient India must
be   re-examined  taking   this  and   other  scientific   facts  into

N.S. Rajaram


There  is now  an  active  debate concerning  Vedic  Aryans and  their
relationship  to  the Harappan  Civilization.  The  debate is  focused
mainly  on  the origin of the  Aryans- whether they were indigenous to
India or if they were invaders from outside who entered India from the
northwest  in  the second  millenium before  the Common Era. Beginning
about  the middle  of the nineteenth century, or roughly from the time
the  British  established control over  all of  India, it has been the
official  position that  the Vedas  and the  ancestor of  the Sanskrit
language were brought by invaders from Central Asia or Eurasia or even
Europe.  This  is the famous Aryan  Invasion Theory that is now at the
center of historical debate.

More  than  anything, the Aryan  Invasion Theory (AIT) shows that each
era views history in the light of its own beliefs and experience. As a
product  of the  European colonial period, it is only natural that the
AIT  should embody certain Eurocentric biases. In addition, the theory
was  created  at a  time  when  Indian  archaeology  was still  in  an
embryonic stage, and scientific data from fields like biology, ecology
and  others  was virtually non-existent.  Scholars had little to go by
beyond  the new  field of Comparative Linguistics made possible by the
European  discovery  of  Sanskrit  and its  close  affinities  to  the
languages of Europe.

This  led  them to postulate  a common ancestral language (proto-Indo-
European)  and a common ancestral home they called the Aryan Homeland.
It is now called the Indo-European Homeland. These Aryan invaders were
said  to have entered India and subjugated the natives, imposing their
own  language  and culture upon  them. These original inhabitants were
said  to be  Dravidians, who were driven south by the invading Aryans.
The  Vedic  literature, the Rigveda  in particular, was interpreted in
the light of this theory.

Beginning  in  the early  decades of  the twentieth century, technical
data   also   became   available,   especially   from   archaeological
excavations, notably of the Harappan or the Indus Valley Civilization.
It  was natural  that there should have been attempts to fit these new
findings  to  the already  existing Aryan  Invasion Theory- an attempt
that  still continues. It was suggested that the Harappan Civilization
was  'Dravidian', which  was  destroyed by  the  Aryan invaders.  This
creates  a permanent divide between Harappan archaeology and the Vedic
literature.  But it  was  not  long before  scholars  began to  notice
serious  difficulties. Without going into technical details, these may
be  summarized  as follows: the Harappans,  the creators of one of the
greatest material civilizations of antiquity have no literature, while
the  Vedic Aryans,  the creators  of  the greatest  literature of  the
ancient world have no archaeological existence.

This  is  all the more  puzzling when  we recognize that the Harappans
possessed  writing, while  the Vedic Aryans were said to be illiterate
who  depended on memory for preserving their literature. And yet it is
the literature of the illiterate Aryans that has survived in abundance
while the literate Harappans have vanished without a literary trace.

New data, new problems

As  more technical  data became  available, scholars  began to  notice
serious  contradictions  between data  and  the  theory. For  example,
genetic  studies  showed that  the presence of  any genetic input from
Eurasia  or Europe  in the  Indian population  was negligible  to non-
existent.  Further,  this insignificant imprint  was the same in North
and  South India,  which  flies  in the  face  of the  Aryan-Dravidian
division.  A scientifically  more acceptable  explanation is  that the
physical  differences  among Indians  is the  result adaptation to the
environment  by natural  selection. This  takes tens  of thousands  of
years  and not  centuries or  millennia.  All this  suggests that  the
Indian  population  is very ancient  and not  the result of any recent
migrations or invasions.

There  is  now a  new dimension to  this scenario. Throughout history,
going back untold millennia, India's ties with East Asia and Southeast
Asia have been much closer than that with Central Asia or Europe. This
was  interrupted by  three centuries  of European  colonialism in  the
region,  leading to  a Eurocentric version of history being imposed on
it.  (The  Aryan Invasion  Theory was  a key part  of this.)

In   recent   years,   scholars   have   begun   to   reexamine   many
assumptions  of the  colonial  period, looking  in  particular at  the
physical  and biological  imprint in  the  region. This  has to  begin
with  the  recognition that Indian climate  as well as flora and fauna
are  closely  related  to  those of  Southeast  Asia.  In  particular,
Indian  cattle  (Bos Indicus)  are  domesticated  versions related  to
the  wild  cattle of Southeast Asia  known as the Banteng (Bos Banteng
or Bos Javanicus).

Similarly,  the  Indian horse is a  special breed, close to an ancient
equid  known  as Equus  Sivalensis (the 'Siwalik  Horse'). This or its
close  relative appears  to be the horse described in the Rigveda- and
not  the Central  Asian or the Eurasian variety, which is anatomically
different. (The Rigveda describes the horse as having thirty-four ribs
like the Sivalensis, while Central Asian breeds have thirty-six.) Thus
the  widely  held belief that horses  were unknown in India until they
were brought from Central Asia has no scientific support.

It is a similar story when we examine the human imprint on the region,
especially the genetic evidence. As several experts like Manansala and
Kennedy  recently pointed  out, the skeletal record shows that in most
ways  the Indian population is quite unique. Genetic studies lead to a
similar  conclusion- that  the Indian  population is  very ancient  to
which  the contribution  of  Eurasian strains  is  negligible to  non-
existent. It is a different story when we compare Indian and Southeast
Asian  populations.  Paul Kekai  Manansala  points  out: "The  overall
genetic picture indicates a very old biological relationship, probably
extending  in part  at least to the original migration out of Africa."

The  current understanding is that Africa was the original home of the
entire  human  population now  distributed  all  over the  world.  The
overall genetic picture of Indians is that they are closely related to
the  Southeast Asians,  going  back  tens of  thousands  of years.  In
contrast, their links to Eurasia or Europe find no scientific support.
As  a  result, one thing  can safely  be asserted: Indians are ancient
inhabitants  of  India and  Southeast Asia (or  Greater India) and not
recent immigrants.

Maritime background

> From  all this it  is safe to conclude that in order to understand the
origins  of  the Vedic civilization,  and its history, it is necessary
first to drop the west-northwest bias that has dominated discourse for
nearly  two centuries.  One of  the keys  to this  is recognizing  the
maritime background of Vedic civilization. In this context it is worth
recording  that the  Rigveda is preeminently an Indian document. While
there  are occasional  references to the lands beyond the Indus, these
are  greatly  exceeded by references  to oceans and maritime activity.
Prayers  for the safety of ships and navigators occur in many parts of
the  Rigveda.  This again shows  a southern rather than a northwestern

Recognizing  this will allow scholars to break free of the shackles of
the  northwest, particularly the Aryan Invasion Theory, which has been
a  major obstacle  to a rational study of India. The next logical step
is  to explore links between the Vedic Civilization and movements from
the  south,  and the  resulting exchanges of  people and ideas between
different  regions. Ecological changes, notably the ending of the last
Ice Age contributed to it in a major way, in the form of two momentous
developments.  First, rising sea levels led inhabitants of the coastal
regions,  and possibly also from now submerged regions, to move to the
interior  and the north seeking safer ground. Next, the melting of ice
caps  in the  north  resulted in  the  release of  the  rivers of  the
northern   plains-making   this  formerly   arid  region  fertile  and

These  two epochal events are encapsulated in the two most significant
myths  of  ancient India- the Flood  Myth of Manu and the Indra-Vritra
Myth.  The Rigveda appears  to be the product of the mix of two groups
of  people:  tribes and  ruling families that  inhabited the north and
poets and sages from the coastal regions and the south - some possibly
from  beyond the  seas - who brought with them their maritime memories
and experiences. This explains why the Rigveda, though composed in the
Sarasvati   heartland,  abounds  in  oceanic  symbolism  and  maritime
activity. But soon the distinction between the northern rulers and the
southern sages came to be blurred as the two groups became intermixed.

It  is therefore  no  accident that  two of  the  most important  seer
families of the Rigveda - the Vasishthas (and the brother Agastya) and
the Bhrigus - should have strong maritime connections. It is important
also to know that the south or the peninsular India and beyond was not
unknown  to  the Vedic people,  especially the seer families. But much
information  about  it has  been overlooked or  misread in attempts to
make data fit the northwestern orientation of scholars over the better
part  of  two centuries.  Even so-called 'nationalistic' scholars like
Tilak  and  Savarkar have not  been able to  escape its hold. The main
point  is that in studying the Vedas, science demands that we pay much
greater attention to the south and southeast than has been the case so
far. This calls for a fairly radical reorientation.

Southern contribution

Recognizing  the  southern  contribution  to  the  Vedic  civilization
clarifies  many  literary, linguistic  and  historical  issues in  the
ancient  texts.  It is  inconceivable that these  poets and sages, who
brought  with  them the  oceanic imagery  and the maritime experiences
that  pervade  the Rigveda did  not also bring linguistic elements and
spiritual  ideas that  went into the Vedic language and literature. It
becomes  clear that  many ancient  peoples and  even places  have been
grossly  misidentified in attempts to fit history and geography to the
idea  of an  'expansion of Aryans' from the northwest to the south and
southeast.  For  example, the Ramayana  has been misinterpreted as the
expansion  of Aryan  civilization into the peninsula. In reality, what
Rama  found in the south, even in Lanka, was a Vedic civilization. The
Uttarakanda  of  the Ramayana  is a goldmine  of information about the
southern,  largely maritime  people known as the 'Rakshasa'. The river
Narmada appears to have served as the boundary between the 'spheres of
influence' of the Rakshasas of the south and Ikshvakus and Bharatas of
the  north, with  the Yadus  somewhere  in between.  And the  Rakshasa
leaders  often  retreated to  Rasatala - the  'nether lands' (or 'Down
Under')  -  when  threatened.  This  Rasatala  was  probably  part  of
Indonesia or some other region of Monsoon Asia.

So,  what  we have is not  any 'expansion of Aryans from the northwest
and  the  north', but  a  free  exchange  of  people and  ideas  among
different regions- much as it has existed throughout history including
today.  And this included lands beyond the oceans. It was interrupted,
as  previously noted,  during the  period European  domination of  the
region.  Naturally  enough, they looked  at history and culture of the
region  through Eurocentric  glasses. This  is the  'history' that  is
still  being followed by most establishment Indologists, especially in
the  West, though it is giving way under the impact of archaeology and
a more rational approach to the study of the primary literature.

In  summary, bringing  this  southern reorientation  of ancient  India
appears  to resolve  many of  the  puzzles and  paradoxes that  plague
current   theories  that   try  to  explain  the  Vedic  and  Harappan
Civilizations  in terms of invasions and/or migrations. This is not to
suggest   that  a   southern  origin  for  the  growth  of  the  Vedic
Civilization  should  replace the  current version.  All that is being
suggested  is  that it is  an important  but sadly neglected area that
merits serious study.

Of  one thing  we can  be certain:  trying to  explain the  origin and
growth  of  the Vedic Civilization  in terms of migrations/invasions a
few  thousand  years ago runs  into formidable scientific and literary
obstacles.  We should  learn from  this experience  and first  build a
scientific foundation that makes use of all data available today. Only
then can we hope to recover the history of that hoary age based on the
records  they left behind. As Albert Einstein said: "A theory must not
contradict empirical facts."


About  the  author: N.S. Rajaram is  the author with Natwar Jha of the
book  The  Deciphered Indus Script.  They are  now working on the two-
volume Magnum Opus of Harappan Inscriptions.

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