Indo-Aryan im-/e-migration discussion and beyond

Jan E.M. Houben JHOUBEN at RULLET.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Sun May 31 17:34:59 EDT 1998


The recently flaring-up of the email discussion on Indo-Aryan im/e-migration
(focused on horses and rivers), has shown several things, among them: quite
diverging starting points; and: lack of understanding of each other's position;
but above all: an implicit agreement on matters of method: good philology means
reading all relevant sources; good archeology means well-described findings;
good extrapolations from "direct data" are backed up by parallels in other
cultural areas or by social or socio-linguistic theories.

Is there a way to proceed the discussion and to make it more fruitfull for all
participants, no matter his/her expectations, hopes, emotional attachments
etc.? In my view, there is such a way: a focus on improving the method and the
data (the latter being again based on method).

It could also be more fruitful to focus on part-problems rather than directly
on the far-away Indo-Aryan im-/e-migration problem. One part-problem which is
important both in an immigration-scenario and in an emigration-scenario is the
problem of the age of the Vedic literature. A focus on this closer-to-home
issue could be more directly fruitful and provide a better view on the im/e-
migration problem.

So how old is the Vedic literature really? Each statement about this should
probably be indexed according to the evidence and estimates on which it is
based. The two periods of urbanization are now archeologically well
established, and, both in im- and in the e-migration scenarios, in between
these periods some Vedic acculturated Aryans must have been around in the north
of the Indian subcontinent. A large number of fixed Rgvedic hymns are
presupposed by all Yajurvedic texts, but the former know of barley rather than
rice, while the latter employ rice in offerings they prescribe. The collection
of Rgvedic hymns must have been largely closed before the corresponding
transition (otherwise we would have a few hymns referring to rice-offerings),
though some variations in ordering and redaction remained possible. In later
times the Rgvedic hymns are fixed in more and more precise ways (zAkalya,
preceding pANini). But in the Vedic hymns themselves, the creation of NEW hymns
(according to authentic and traditional techniques) is highly valued. So if we
go back in time, there is more and more room for an increased entropy in the
Rgvedic hymns, and there must be a *melting point* when TECHNIQUES of composing
are fixed, but only few hymns as available now have been petrified. To
determine this melting point and to associate it with an archeological context
will be an important task of cooperating Vedic philologists and South Asian
archeologists, whether working from an im- or e-migration background.

My initial view which I am ready to modify if good arguments are presented, is
that the melting point of Rgvedic hymns may well be somewhere between the two
urbanization periods, while the nature of the techniques of composition seem to
link it with other IE-traditions.

s'ubham astu, JH



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