Dating the Veda: Using the Horse and Planets

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Jan 18 17:11:24 UTC 2000

> 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:

* horse = azva (Avest. aspa) (and many poetic names such as arvant, vaajin,
haya etc.)
* ass/donkey =  khara (Avest. xara), gardabha (cf. EJVS 1999), rAsabha (RV)
* hemione/wild ass/onager  = parasvat- RV, AV++ (both in connection with
sex, as typical for the ass until today... study Indian abuse terms!
gardabha > Panj. ... gadhA etc, etc.); cf. also  VadhS.  gaura (below)

* A mule, offspring of  donkey & horse, is azvatara ('more on the side of
the horse'):  why this name if there was no difference between horse and
donkey as has been maintained in a recent email??

The hemione may also be mentioned in VadhB (Soma section)  by gaura 'pale,
whitish', which fits the color of the wild ass/hemionus/onager quite well.
It occurs in a list of animals, always of lower quality, next to the 5
standard animals of the Veda: thus :
azva horse, gaura "?";
gauH cow, gavaya (wild buffalo, bos gavaeus),
avi sheep, uSTRa camel (!)
aja goat, zarabha (any horned wild animal)

The dictionaries, of course, take gaura as wild buffalo as well; -- in need
of detailed investigation...


Modern languages are  quite another point. Some 3000 ++ years time
difference. e.g., most have substituted Skt. ghoTaka for azva... etc.

Avestan: aspa
NW:     asp already in Alexander's biographers);
        wus'up (Nuristani/Kafiri)
        a'sp (Kohistani), and similarly, in other Dardic  languages (minus
Panjabi:        This and other New Indo-Aryan languages  have substituted
ghoRa etc (later Vedic, Skt. ghoTaka) for older azva:  W/E. Panj.  ghoRa
Sindhi: ?
Gujarati:       ghoRA;

Avestan:        xara; Skt. khara, gardabha
NW      kur, korU (Nuristani), Dardic :  khAr etc.; gadA, gada(Ro)
Panjabi:        khar; gadhA
Sindhi:         kharu, ?
Gujarati:       khar, gaddho
etc. etc.

Hemione/Onager/wild ass:
parasvant-, apparently not retained in modern languages which have  khor...
, probably from Skt. khara, but -o- would rather point to Skt. *khaura! ---
probbaly a mix (cross) of Skt. khara and gaura > gor-  (as in Sindhi goro,
Panj. gorA 'whitish etc.').
(cf.also Late Ved. khora 'lame'??? -- as a term of abuse)

> (1) E. asinus is native to North Africa and neighboring parts of Asia;
> (2)All domestic donkeys seem to be E. asinus;
> (3) E. heminous is native to Iran and NW India ... but never
>seems to have been domesticated.

What about the hemione (onager) in Iran/Mesopotamia? It *was* used as
draught animal early on. But given up when the horse was introduced from
the north early in the 2nd mill. BCE.

>Note that any reference to wild asses in India must be to the Khur.

If hemionus is intended.  Details/Summary  in R. Meadow 1999 (The
Transition to Agriculture in the Old World. The Review of Archaeology
(Special Issue ed. by Ofer Bar-Yosef) 19, 1998, 12-21 with earlier

> Herodotus must be saying that Indians in Darius' army used
> hemiones (also) to draw chariots.

Indeed, Her. 7. 86 has: hippoi kai onoi agrioi 'horses and wild donkeys' as
draught animals -- a study of  the Greek term is asked for ... Any
possessors of the Greek thesaurus CD ?? -- Strange for this period. The
Veda++ often talks of mule chariots...

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