On S. Farmer, also on invasion

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat Apr 14 00:43:57 UTC 2001

Let me come to the aid of S. Farmer, my "cohorts and alter boy" (sic, NS
Rajaram et al.) !    --

Avid readers of this list may recall that S.Farmer and I have exchanged
some heated arguments about the first writing down of Vedic texts, about a
year ago. In the meantime, however, we have even collaborated in writing a
much decried paper (decried only by 'patriotic'/nationalistic people, that

Why? Simply because we like to listen to each other's points of view. We
both bring in items that are not (prominent) in the background of the
other. Thus, we have been going on about topics such as canonization, now
Panini etc., for a long time (off list). Simply because we learn from each
other. S. Farmer has helped me to rethink a number of my major positions
and even more so on details, and so I hope so have I, with regards to his
positions. And, we will continue to do so at the 3rd Harvard Round Table on
the Ethnogenesis of  South ands Central Asia in May. (We will report on
interesting results here.)

This is of course precisely what this list should be about. Unfortunantely,
it has been hijacked, all too often, by vested interests, with barrages of
messages on irrelevant or non-Indological topics. Or by those who  -- in
contrary to the stated goals of the list --  have only very superficial or
no knowledge of the field whatsoever.  (It is not enough to have been born
in Tierra del Fuego to be a specialist of that remote land, its history,
anthropology, linguistics, etc. You recall Prof. Raman's distinction of
Exo- and Endo-Indologists).

Naturally, this attitude and  decrying it has annoyed people on both sides,
from time to time, and I have contributed my share. I apologize for some
ascerbic messages but, as the British say  so eloquently: I do not suffer
fools lightly.


Which brings me to the never-ending "invasion". Apart from the fact that
this 'debate' has been going on since the times of Dayanand Sarasvati and
Aurobindo, it also has been repeated several times on this list, as today's
quote of C. Minkowski's1994 message indicates. (NB: why has he stopped
writing to the list? see below!)

It should be pointed out, however that the Indological position has changed
considerably since Dayanand's and certainly so since Mortimer Wheeler's
time.  Those who care will see that Indologists have begun to modify their
position already about 1950 (e.g. FBJ Kuiper), befofe teh archaeologists or
others did  so, and that we now have a host of possible scenarios for the
introduction of Indo-Aryan into the subcontinent.

This is generally *not* understood by the more 'patriotic'  discussants.
They insist on an either/ or, which -- to me -- looks rather 'Semetic'
(sic! their favorite term): where is India's famous 'tolerance', or let us
put it this way: her receptiveness for multiple explanations?

For example, I have recently been maligned on another list simply for
pointing out several such concurrent scenarios, all of which may have
applied over the Vedic period, at different times, and in different parts
of the Northwest and beyond. The Rgveda should be tested against all of
them. (Listed already in my very much hated 1995 paper:
Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters In: The Indo-Aryans
of Ancient South Asia. G. Erdosy (ed.), (Indian Philology and South Asian
Studies, A. Wezler and M. Witzel, eds.),  vol. 1,  Berlin/New York: de
Gruyter 1995, 85-125 -- cf. also the companion piece:  Rgvedic history:
poets, chieftains and polities. G. Erdosy (ed.), The Indo-Aryans of Ancient
South Asia, 307-354.

Curiously, my detractors have not read there on the other scenarios
discussed, other than that of straighforward IA invasion and conquest
(which I did not promote), and on my criticism of past history writing or
the vicious circles of the unchecked use of information by
archaeologists/linguists -- which actually was the topic of our 1991
Toronto conference and the reason why A. Wezler and I published that
paradigmantic volume of IPSAS.

They merely picked out my criticism of the present wave of nationalistic
rewriting of Indian history of 2600-500 (BCE, that is!).    Oh, well.

I think in our present discussion it is important to stress that, in the
case of the Indo-Aryans, we do not simply have language take over  (for a
more or less peaceful one covering a very large territory, note Suahili:
from Zanzibar to E. Congo., from Kenya to N. Mozambique..)
but we also have the take-over by local people of the *whole set* of
spiritual culture (complicated IE/ IIr poetics!, ritual, religion, etc. --
something that did, by and large,  not happen in the Suahili case), and
also the take-over of some material culture (complicated chariot building,
import of horses, dress, hair style, but also rather primitive ritual
implements & pottery, etc.). We need a model that covere all such changes.

C. Ehret's "elite kit" and a post-Indus, opportunistic shift to more
pastoralism will work best here.  No big wave of "invaders" is necessary
then, just some Afghani tribesmen who chose to stay in their winter
quarters in the Indus,  instead of going back to the Afghani highlands (as
they  did in Avestan times and as they still do.)

Such a group could  set off a wave of change, with adaptation (and further
change!) of the dominant elite kit, all across the Panjab and beyond...
(See forthcoming EJVS 7-3).

This type of discussion has not even begun on this list.  Much of it is put
in strangely absolute terms, such as: how can a small number of peopl
'convert' a  'large' number of local poeple to a new language...  But, such
mechanisms are known, and they do not depend on the number of people who
instigate the change...

Think of the (Renrew type, elite dominance) case of few hundred French
speaking Norman knights in England after 1066, which changed the country's
dominant language to French --- only to revert to a very much changed
Anglo-Saxon a few hundred years later. Many other scenarios could be

Hope this helps.

navavarSa-zubhakaamanaa  & ditto, for  Passover  &  Easter!


S Bhatta <attahb at REDIFFMAIL.COM>:
>Of late I have been intrigued by the postings of Dr. Steven Farmer.
>Dr. Farmer admits he is not a Vedicist, is not proficient in the grammar and
>language of Sanskrit (Vedic or otherwise), but has concluded that,
>nevertheless, he is qualifiied to post on Vedic matters, Indological
>matters, in
>that he is a Comparative Historian
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:  http://www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs

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