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THE ARYAN QUESTION REVISITED
Transcript of lecture delivered on 11th October 1999,
at the Academic Staff College, JNU
Let me begin by saying the obvious, that the Aryan question is the probably most complex, complicated question in the Indian history. And it requires very considerable expertise in handling both the sources of the questions that arise. The expertise consists of knowing something about at least four different fields first of all archaeology, because a lot of the remains, of almost all the cultures, comes to us from excavations and there is the continual attempt to try and identify such cultures with the Aryans. And when I say this I mean that it is not enough simply to say that you pick up a list of items from excavated sites and say that the Rigveda has some items, therefore … they are identical cultures. When I talk about archaeology I am also talking about the way in which the total society functions and how these elements are integrated.
The second area of expertise is linguistics and here I would like to emphasize, very strongly, that it is not enough merely to know Sanskrit to be able to say that you can handle the questions that come up in the interpretation of the Vedic texts. There is now, since the last thirty years, there has developed a huge body of information which comes from a discipline called linguistics. Those in this discipline do comparative studies of different language structures. Now I am deliberately saying language structures and not language because the old fashioned philosophy was one that compared languages and if 2 words sounded similar, like you have aspa in old Iranian and you have asva in Sanskrit it was immediately said, oh there must be a connection but today if that connection does not hold you have to analyse the entire structure of the language, what is the grammar, what is the morphology, its form, what are its phonetics, phonology and various other aspects. So it is in fact a very detailed examination of the language involved. It is also necessary to know how one analyses texts. There was a time, there are still historians who will say, but it says so, Rigveda says such and such and one of the examples that I will be dealing with is a very famous example of 'Krishna Tvac - black skin - the Rigveda says so. Now it is not enough to just take that expression and say it means 'black skin' because there is a whole cultural context in which that expression is used and it is that cultural context which the historian also has to analyse in addition to the actual words that are occurring in the text.
The historical context, this relates to a whole series of questions, how society is defined in the past - agro pastoral, agrarian, urban… What is the meaning of these terms? What is the interaction between ecological, social, economic, cultural, religious forms? These are all aspects of a historical problem and when you are studying a total problem like the so-called the Aryan question you have to go into the interaction of all these different aspects. Is there a difference between a cattle rearing society and a society which carries out overseas trade? And these are fundamental questions in historical analyses. You cannot avoid them. You cannot just say there is reference to cattle in the Rigveda and cattle are depicted on the Indus seals therefore there is a similarity. It is the function. The function, both the actual function, the ritual function, the role that cattle play in a particular society in terms of its economy, its rituals and so on.
And the fourth discipline which I think is important though not every historian would agree with me on this is social anthropology. The reason why I include social anthropology is because it gives us some direction in using a comparative analysis. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that anthropology, social anthropology, and I would underline social anthropology, I am not referring to physical anthropology or any of the other things - measuring skulls and colour of hair and eyes and so on, no, social anthropology. How do societies function? The purpose is that the social anthropologists analyses a past society and comes up with an explanation as to how it behaves, how it relates to various things like environment and other societies and so on. Can the historians use the question that the anthropologist has asked and apply those questions to his data and see what answers he gets? Now please note I am not saying that the historian should take the model of that society from anthropology and apply to his historical data. What I am saying is that the kind of questions which the social anthropologists ask of their data, some of these questions can be quite helpful when historians ask the same questions of their historical data.
Let me in passing mention one very interesting comparison of this sort. There is cattle-keeping tribe in Sudan called the Nuer, on whom a very famous anthropologist called Evans Pritchard has done a great deal of work, very detailed work. And there is a fascinating book by Bruce Lincoln who compares the evidence of the Rigveda, and also of the Avesta, the Iranian text and the findings about the way the Nuer society functions and argues that there are also cattle-keeping societies. Therefore we can use the insights of the anthropologists to help us understand how historically Rgvedic society may also have functioned, not totally, not entirely, but there may be some clues and therefore we should look for these clues. This is something of course, an aspect which has been emphasized particularly with relevance to India where in the early days it used to be called 'living pre-history' . This is what D.D. Kosambi at one point referred to. That is if you go into the Indian countryside you can actually see survivals of cultural and social forms that might have existed earlier. Mind you this is getting more and more difficult now with the kind of rapid changes that are taking place. But nevertheless what he is trying to suggest is the historian should keep his eyes open and wherever he sees societies that seem to suggest something he has read in his earlier sources then he should ask the kind of questions that would be useful to analyse in the sources. These days of course it has become very fashionable under the rubric of a new discipline called ethno-archaeology where you actually go out and study early societies like tribal societies and so on and try and explain archaeological data on the basis of these studies.
Now given the complexity, given the fact that you really have to know about these disciplines and understand the inter relationships between these disciplines, I am always amazed and surprised that so many people, totally untrained in any of these disciplines rush to make statements about the Aryans. Whether it is the media, newspapers, popular books, whatever it may be everybody imagines that they are experts on the Aryans. And you get an absolutes mass of total nonsense that comes on. And now a days of course the problem is that internet is getting full of all these. And so those students who think that they can bypass library reading by surfing the internet very often have a rude shock because they reproduce a lot of this garbage and then discover their teacher telling them they are getting failure grades because it does not hold. So do remember that when some sizzling stories appear in the newspapers about how somebody has solved the problem about who Aryans were, ask yourself the question what is the evidence that is being used and how is it being used. These are fundamental questions which we as a society tend not to ask and I am sorry that the Indian middle class is becoming more and more gullible as far as history is concerned. In the old days when I was a child, when I was much younger, I do remember people asking the question, somebody says that they have solved this historical problem but where is the evidence? What is the logic of the argument? But today it is the case of the newspapers or the Sunday glossy magazine that tells you that so and so has deciphered the Indus script and everybody says 'ho gaya' - it's been deciphered. Nobody asks the question what is the evidence for this decipherment? So do remember that it is a question, I shall also be talking about in a moment, which is politically highly charged. Remember that in all situations of nationalism, whether it be anti colonial secular nationalism or whether it be religious nationalism, the issue of origins and identities becomes a very major issue. Many a battle is fought over the question of origins and identities. So it is politically charged, it is sensational on the media and therefore the chances for serious scholarship to push through and say, no, wait, there is a different way of looking becomes increasingly difficult unless all of you as teachers of history go back to the question, the fundamental question, each time -- what is the theory based on and what is the logic of the argument.
Now I propose to discuss the question in four different phases or stages. First I will talk a little bit about what we call the historiography of the question. Remember of course with all major historical questions the way in which the historians have handled a subject and data and how this handling has changed from time to time is a very fundamental question. So I will first talk little bit about the historiography of the subject, I will then talk about the archaeological background, then a little bit about the linguistic background and finally end up with an attempt at some kind of reconstruction. Now, the historiography of the Aryan question goes back to the nineteenth century. The term Aryan as it is used in English with a capital 'A' was invented in the nineteenth century. It was invented by European scholars who then proceeded to project Aryan as both a language and a race. I will come to that in a moment. The term Aryan itself is derived from 2 sources. There is a very famous ancient text from Iran, the Avesta, which is linked to the religion of Zoroaster, what is known these days and practised virtually only by the Parsis. The Avesta which was probably written at approximately the same time as the Rigveda uses the term 'airiya' for describing the authors of the text. The authors refer to themselves as 'airiya' from which of course later on you get Iran. And the Rigveda uses the term Arya. So taking both these terms into consideration it was decided that this new language and these new people were to be called Aryan. Now the nineteenth century scholars, this includes people like Max Muller were fully aware that language and race are different things and yet frequently they confused languages with the race and equated them. And that is where in many ways the problem arises. They talked about an Aryan race on the basis of people speaking the same languages. Strictly speaking they should be speaking not about the Aryans but about the Aryan speaking people. But since this is an awkward phrase to use it got cut down to the Aryans. It ceased to be just a language label and became a label for a racial entity as well. The difference between language and race is enormous. The two cannot be equated. Why? Because language is cultural. It is a functional construct deliberately forged by a society for communication and articulation. When a society wishes to communicate within itself or with other societies it invents language. When it wishes to express something it invents language. So it is a deliberate cultural construct-- that is why a particular language has different forms and it varies from one social group to another. And when a person starts speaking in a language you can generally tell if you are familiar with the language which social group that person comes from. Race on the other hand is physical, biological descent. It has got nothing to do with social construction. So language and race are in fact totally separate distinct features and the two cannot be equated. But right through the nineteenth century with reference to the Aryans the two were equated and right through the twentieth century in the popular mind in India they continue to be equated. So please keep this in mind that you cannot talk about an Aryan race. Similarly you cannot talk about a Dravidian race because once again the notion Dravidian race is based on language group, the Dravidian language group and it is incorrect to equate the two. Nor can you talk about a Munda race. These are all language labels and you have to be very careful to keep them as such. The implication of this is also that you cannot equate a language with an archaeological culture in the absence of a script. If you are excavating and there is no script available you cannot say this culture that I am excavating is Aryan or Dravidian or whatever it may be. This becomes an impossibility because Aryan is a language label and you can only call archaeological culture Aryan because strictly speaking if you find some evidence of the use of that language.
Now the historiography then moves from the term Aryan, the use of the term both for language and race, to the writings of Max Mueller who uses the concept of the Aryan race as developed in Europe. There are many detailed histories of this which I would not go into here because that simply complicates the question even further. He uses the concept of the Aryan race here and applies it to Vedic India. Max Mueller argues therefore, that the Aryan races originate in Central Asia. One branch comes to Iran, then continues to India another branch goes to Europe. Now let me see if I can reach out to the map. The Aryans that…. This was the area. Some people say more towards the eastern side some say towards between Aral sea and the Caspian sea … but this is generally the area where the Indo-European speaking people are first found, that is the mother language from which all other languages evolve which I would discuss later on.
Max Muller argued then that from Central Asia one branch came to Iran and that branch split and the Indo Aryans came to Afghanistan into northern India. So we are really talking about a large chunk of Central Asia, Western Asia, Europe. Now this is the point I would like to emphasize. When we are talking about this question we cannot restrict our discussion only to what is happening in the sub-continent. We have to take into consideration what is happening in present day Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. In fact, even further, as we shall see Turkey and Iraq and Mesopotamian centres are also involved. This is only to suggest once again how complicated the question is. It is even geographically not limited. Now Max Muller then says that there was this branch that came down into Iran and then after a white split off and one section moves into northern India. The Indian branch conquered the indigenous people and imposed on them its language, Sanskrit, and its civilization called the Aryan civilization. Max Muller's theory was that the foundation of European civilization and Indian civilization were from the same group of people they were related. What was the reaction to this theory? Max Muller is propounding these theories in the second half of the nineteenth century in various books. First of all there is the reaction of Indian historians who accept the theory and argue that this is relevant to the beginnings of Indian history. They also accept the theory of the Dravidian race on the basis of Dravidian languages and suggest that the people that were conquered were probably Dravidian speaking and they, as the popular theory has it, were pushed to the South where they settled down eventually and became the major group. Now what is interesting about this theory both from the British side and the Indian side is that whereas for colonial historians it was useful because they could argue that Indian has had a whole history of invasions from the west bringing in civilization. On the Indian nationalist side it could be argued that the upper caste Indian who has always been regarded as "the" Indian, that was the creator of the Indian civilization is Aryan and is related in fact to the coloniser, to the British. And there is one statement which I am very fond of quoting. I quote it in everything that I write, which is Keshab Chandra Sen talking about the coming of the British to India being the coming together of 'parted cousins' which in a sense gives you an idea of part of the reason why there is the interest in this theory. Remember of course, to be very cynical-- all historians when they put out theories have an axe to grind and have a political message. So always ask yourself, what is the political message of this historian that you might be reading.
Apart from this, this was one theory that had a very widespread popular appeal. All kinds of groups, all over the country picked up this theory and built their political ideologies on the basis of this. Let me give you two extreme examples of the way in which the theory was used. First of all in the later part of the 19th century there was a very famous person called Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra ,who accepted Max Muller's theory and went on to argue that therefore, the inheritors of the land in India are the lower castes because they are the real, original Indians and the upper caste, particularly the brahmins are the Aryans that came as alien invaders. The Brahmins were aliens, they were oppressive and they imposed their rule.
So this becomes an ammunition in the hands of an ideology which is arguing for caste confrontation and saying that the Dalits and the tribals are the indigenous peoples, not the upper caste people. He uses a lot of mythology very interestingly. In fact it is quite fascinating. He uses for example the myth of Parasurama, who destroyed the kshatriyas twenty one times. And he says, there you see this is the clear example of Brahminical destruction of the indigenous Indians. This is now being woven into what is sometimes called the dalit version of the theory. Those of who you might have read Kancha Ilaiah's book Why I am not a Hindu will find it plays an important part in that. Of course the weakness of the theory is that it avoids the discussion of how and why the lower caste became subservient. It is very easy to say X came in and conquered Y and therefore Y became subservient. It is much more difficult to try and explain the process by which Y became subservient. Now at the other extreme, giving a totally different interpretation to the theory, is the Hindutva version. First developed by people like Savarkar and Golwalkar and interestingly it very closely follows the theory that was put forward by the theosophists, particularly by a person called Col. Alcott who was a British theosophist and played an important part in the Theosophical movement.
To begin with, the theory of invasion was half-heartedly accepted but slowly it began to be discarded until finally by the 1930s, more exactly the late 1930s, it was vehemently denied. The argument was therefore that there was no invasion. Therefore, all Aryans are indigenous. Secondly all Hindus are Aryans ipso facto, therefore, all Hindus are indigenous and have not come from outside. Sanskrit is the earliest of the human languages and originates in India and the Aryan culture went from India to West Asia, to Europe. So India is the cradle of the world civilization. In this theory the further argument was, that all Hindus are indigenous, but the aliens or the foreigners are the Muslims and the Christians. In fact Savarkar also adds communists for good measure. But anyway, mainly it is the Muslims and the Christians who are described as aliens. And why are they alien? Because India is neither their Pitribhumi nor their Punyabhumi. It is neither the land of their ancestors, nor is it the land of their religion, the assumption being that all Muslims and all Christians are in origin people who came at some stage from outside India to India and certainly both Islam and Christianity had their origins in West Asia and not in India. The logic of this kind of thinking and it is the logic that we now facing in some of the recent statements that are being made about the Aryans, is that all Aryans are indigenous and all Hindus are Aryans, it is also that all major cultures have to be defined as Aryan. If Aryan is at the root of Indian civilization everything has to be taken back to the Aryan. Therefore, the Harappan culture, which most scholars have assumed to be pre-Vedic, has to be called Aryan. Therefore, the attempt today among some people to argue that the Indus civilization should be called Indus-Saraswati civilization and that it should be seen as representing archaeologically the Rigveda i.e. both the Rigveda and the Harappan cities represent identical cultures. Now what we have in these two extreme versions, and these are examples of the way in which the theory is used, there are many other versions in between. In one version caste is the criterion of difference, in the other, the Hindutva version, religion is the criterion of difference. So there is a kind of shift of emphasis and the shift of emphasis is determined by the politics of ideology, of looking at this history.
Throughout the 20th Century there have been attempts against the attempts of the nationalist historians who accepted this theory, and there have been other attempts to prove that the Aryans were indigenous to India. In the early part of the century the locations were Punjab, Multan, Kashmir, Himalayas. Now of course it is a problem because all the areas that were earlier located as the homeland of the Aryans are all in Pakistan. So the problem is how to retrieve them and bring them into India, which is a very difficult problem, but it is something i.e. being sought. The argument is largely based on the theory that the Rigveda does not mention migration and that if they had come from elsewhere we should find fragments of Rigvedic hymns in Iran and Afghanistan as well. That the focus of the ritual is the cult of soma, which is supposedly found on the mountain called Mujavant and this is in the Hindukush and therefore it is on the Indian side. The more recent attempts, i.e. since 1947, argue that there was no invasion because the Aryans are all indigenoustake the Rgveda in date back to the fifth millennium BC, 4500 BC, making it prior to the Harappan culture, even earlier than the Harappan culture. And the homeland is said to be in India, and therefore the Indus civilization should be called the Indus Sarasvati because the Sarasvati part of it is on the Indian side of the border. If the Rgveda then predates the Harappan civilization or is of the same date as the Harappan civilization, there is an "unbroken" continuity from the Indus Civilization to the present and that continuity is articulated if expressed in the existence of Hindu Culture so we're back to that. These attempts that have been made so far do not correlate all the evidence. There is a tendency to take even just the archaeology or just to read the particular vedic text, usually the Rig Veda. They are generally unaware of the recent studies that have been carried out on the linguistics of Vedic Sanskrit, and they still argue merely from reading the texts. Nor is there an attempt to understand what is meant by interpreting an archaeological site. They are still people who simply go on talking about "this is mentioned in the Rig Veda, this is found in such and such an excavation, there it is the same culture." Nor is there any understanding of the way societies function, that is the least of it. Right, now let me turn, so much for the historiography of it. Do you have any questions on this?
Alright, now let's look at the archaeological evidence. Let me repeat once again that when we look at the archaeological evidence, we must try and understand the parameters of the Harappan system, how did it function as a system. It's not enough merely to look at individual objects. You must try and understand the totality.
There is a considerable difference in the early Harappan cultures leading upto the establishment of the urban centres. The earlier sites are in Baluchistan, places like the most famous site which is Mehrgarh, going back to about the 7th millenium, which is an extremely important site because it moves from being an agro-pastoral site to an agricultural site to then imbibing - some of the sites in the neighbourhood start imbibing some of the characteristics of Harappan urbanization. So one can see a continuity of change from a village site to the beginnings of urban centres. Now that is Baluchistan. Does everybody know where Baluchistan is ? We then move a little bit to the northwest - this area - which has sites like Rahman Dheri, slowly creeping up towards the urban centres the earliest urban centres which were present in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. So really the action is taking place in this area and it’s a fairly integrated, consolidated area where this is happening. What is now being argued is that along the Hakra river, which partly flows between the Ghaggar river … parallel to the Sutlej, parallel to the Indus, into the Rann of Kutch, its called the Hakra. The upper part of which is the Ghaggar and it is this which is sometimes equated with the Saraswati. It is now being argued that there were a number of sites in an area of Cholistan which is at the border of India and Pakistan on the Hakra. And that these indicate that the Saraswati valley was as important as the Indus valley and therefore the civilization should be called the Indus-Saraswati Civilization. If we're not careful by the time we finish with all this argumentation it'll become just the Saraswati Civilization - Indus will be dropped.
But the point of course is that it is not the number of sites that matter, it is the nature of the sites. Are these sites conducive to urbanization? That is yet to be seen. At the moment they don’t give that picture. The early Harappan sites of the Cholistan area are largely what are called camp sites. Nomadic, temporary. And it is only in the mature Harappan phase, when urbanization has already taken place in the Indus valley that there is a big increase in the number . And soon after the mature Harappan phase there is a desertion of these sites towards the Indo-Gangetic watershed. So the picture that emerges, if one looks at it carefully, not in terms of numbers but in terms of the nature of sites is one which would suggest that there really isn't a challenge as yet to the urbanization of the Indus valley-- to urbanization taking place earlier in the Indus valley rather than in the Hakra valley.
Now there is another complication, which is a linguistic complication. I won't go into the details just yet, I'll touch on those later. The Avesta which is the text of the Zoroastrians written in old Iranian, which is the language which is cognate with, parallel to, close to, related to, Vedic Sanskrit, refers to three place names - Harahwati, Harayu, Haptahindu. Now the old Iranian changes Vedic "s" into "h", consistently. Whatever begins with an "s" in Vedic Sanskrit, changes into an "h" in old Iranian. So Harahwati is in fact Saraswati and the Avesta describes it as a river in the Helmand area of Afghanistan. … The Harayu is therefore the Sarayu, also a river in Afghanistan. Haptahindu is Saptasindhu and it is said in the Avesta that the Aryans, the Aireyas, migrated eastwards to various lands and they list 16 and the last of these is the Haptahindu, Saptasindhu. So the complication is that when we say the Rig Veda is referring to the Saraswati, and the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, - it challenges the whole basis of the location of the Harappan civilization. In fact, we have these developments taking place in Baluchistan and the Northwest and then later on in Gujarat and Saurashtra there is again the evolution from village settlements into urban centres and the urbanization is Harappan urbanization.
Now the other interesting thing is that the difference between the Rig Veda and the Harappan is that the Harappan civilization or the Harappan contacts, more than civilization cover a very much wider area than is even thought of in the Rig Veda. Harappa, Harappan merchants have trading relations - … Harappan seals have been found in Oman near the copper belt, so it seems that Harappan traders, manufacturers, producers of copper mined the copper in Oman and then carried it to Mesopotamia. Similarly, lapis lazuli has been found in Mesopotamia and it occurs all along this route to its place of origin which is in northern Afghanistan. So the Harappan traders are not only controlling a vast amount of territory, or lets say the Harappan trading culture is spread over a vast amount of territory whereas the Rig Veda is only concerned with the Punjab and Rajasthan. The Harappan cities occur in far flung areas and Harappan traders have contact with many other parts of West Asia. These extended areas are not referred to in the Rig Veda. In fact the geography of the Rig Veda is fairly restricted. Once again let me repeat what I said earlier-- that in order to understand this question you must realize that it covers a huge geography - contacts, communication, inter-relations, exchanges are not restricted to India, they cover a vast area of West Asia and Central Asia as well.
The characteristic features of the Indus Civilization are that first of all it has an agrarian base. It is basically an agrarian civilization with facilities for storing grain. It is essentially urban with huge structures - brick platforms and buildings - and this would have required very elaborate arrangements for controlling the making of these and controlling labour, the construction of these huge platforms and the monuments. There is a clear demarcation between the citadel area and the residential area and there is in each Harappan city the gathering of resources and centres of craft production which would involve supervisors, managers, craftsmen. Crafts production being of beads, of copper, of ivory of various other things. The organization of such urban centres would have required sophisticated political control with very considerable supervision. It is essentially a copper-bronze technology. And the use of metal is fairly limited. There is a script - the famous Harappan script on the seals, which at the moment is undeciphered, in spite of various attempts to read it in various ways, it is still undeciphered. It could be connected with the people just to the west of the Indus valley - the proto-Elamite in Iran. It could be connected to the Mesopotamians, it might also have been used in the Oxus valley where the mining of lapis lazuli was done and Harappan sites were found. In other words what I'm trying to suggest is that the Harappan trader was probably multi-lingual, at least at the superficial level of using language for trade. And therefore when we talk of THE language, we have to be a little careful not to get carried away by the idea that there was just the one dominant language that was being used. Certainly there would have been the one dominant language within all the cities, but there would have been a familiarity with other languages around. And then there are all the other things you are familiar with - the religion is largely a fertility cult.
The decline of the cities, both environmental and economic - the important thing to remember about the decline of the cities is that the CITIES decline, the Harappan system does not necessarily disappear. The Harappan system as such gets disrupted because the cities declined. So the question one has to ask is what happened in the countryside. The cities are slowly getting poorer and poorer, the squatters are moving in, they are falling apart, etc. What is happening in the countryside, what's happening in the villages. And this is where post-Harappan archaeology becomes important.
We find that there is a fair amount of activity on what is called the Indo-Iranian borderland the areas, the frontier zone between what would today be Pakistan Afghanistan, Iran. There is also an immense variation in the sites that you find in northern India. In the Punjab, for instance the post-Harappan situation is typified by the Cemetery H cultures which are new and different but are limited to the Punjab. In Cholistan there is a migration towards the Indo-Gangetic watershed. In Afghanistan in the Gomal valley there is the site of Gumla and Kot Diji which experiences a certain amount of destruction and fire. Not a massive destruction, but some destruction. In the Swat valley there are the sites of the Gandhara grave culture, and in the Bolan valley near the site of Mehrgarh is the site of Pirak which also suggests association with the Indo-Iranian borderlands. Now what is interesting about all these sites is that they do indicate the coming in of two new features in the second millennium, not earlier, but in the second millennium, there is the presence of the horse, there is the presence of iron, of iron technology, which is different from the Harappan which was copper-bronze, and the sites are all located in the valleys and passes along the northwest and the borderlands. So there is a multiplicity of groups of people settled along the frontiers. There isn't a single entry point into India, it is dispersed. And then when we come further into the Indo-Gangetic watershed, there is again, with the Painted Grey ware sites the presence of the horse and of iron technology. The horse therefore becomes a very important piece of evidence in connection with the arrival of Indo-Aryan speaking people.
So much for the archaeological background, let's turn to the linguistic evidence. First of all the reconstruction of Indo-Aryan. May be I should use the board here. Indo aryan, Old iranian simply to distinguish it from middle Iranian and new Iranian the same way as Indo aryan is distinguished from middle Indo aryan and new Indo Aryan. In between these two is Luristani which is spoken by a small group of people tucked away in Afghanistan and it is a combination of Old Iranian and Indo Aryan. Then you have proto Indo Aryan, which I will explain in a minute, and proto Iranian. Now these two, proto Indo European and Indo European are reconstructed languages, i.e., that they don't actually exist in records, there are no records of these languages, but that they are reconstructed from the distribution of Indo-European languages, and it's not just these two, you move further afield and there are languages in Europe like Greek, the Baltic region going all the way to the Celtic languages of Ireland, all of which are related to the Indo-European. So proto Indo European and Indo-European are reconstructed from a comparative study of all these languages. But the closely related ones, the ones that are really absolutely parallel are proto Indo Aryan for which the evidence is very limited and comes from Mesopotamia and later on, proto Aryan, Old Iranian and Indo Aryan. It is thought that Indo Aryan and Old Iranian developed out of proto Indo Iranian because of the closeness of the two languages. Now it is argued that Indo Aryan arrived in the midst of an area that was speaking other languages, possibly proto Dravidian, and Austo Asiatic, i.e. Mundari and so on. In other words there is a spread of a variety of languages in northern India prior to the emergence of Indo Aryan. That is an important fact. Indo-aryan and proto Dravidian are distinctively different languages. One is inflectional, Indo-Aryan, and the other is agglutinative. In Central Asia, it is thought that you had the origins of the Indo-European speakers. The earliest records of any Indo European language occur in Turkey and Mesopotamia and date to the second millennium BC. Now this is fairly late, this is post-Harappan in Indian terms. There are tablets from the site of Kultepe which have a few words which can be read as Indo-Aryan. They are not clearly Indo Aryan, but with a little bit of effort they can be read as Indo-Aryan.
The more direct evidence comes from Northern Syria where there is a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitannis, two groups of people, and in the course of this treaty they call to witness the gods of Hittites - Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya. They are actually written as Mitrashil, Uruvanshil, Indurah, Nashatyana. But they have been used as versions of what later became Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya. So that is one little bit of evidence of fleeting Indo-Aryan presence in Mesopotamia and Syria. There is also a tract on training of horses where a few passages have survived. Unfortunately in all these cases no full text has survived. There is just the occasional word and there are words used which can be again converted into Indo-Aryan which it is believed was spoken by those who trade horses. And similarly there are one or two other instances, very slight evidence, of the Indo-Aryans connected with horses dating to the second millenium, generally the middle of the second millenium BC, no earlier.
These Indo-Aryans, fragments of Indo-Aryans, survives for a few centuries, three or four centuries and then disappear. The languages of the area go back to being Akkadian and later on Semitic. Indo-Aryan does not survive or proto Indo-Aryan does not survive in this region. They did not then, whoever these proto Indo-Aryan speakers were, they did not replace the original language. There is also no evidence of hostility between the speakers of Indo-Aryan and the local people there.
Who were these proto Indo-Aryans? The problem is that they suddenly appear in north Mesopotamia, I mean the treaty I have been talking about, the tablets that have been found in north Syria, and the border of Syria and Turkey. There is absolutely no link between that area, Iran, or India. So the theory that was once put forward that the Mitanni-Hittite treaty was signed by Indo -Aryans who went all the way across there and conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, does not hold. There is absolutely not much evidence of connection between these two areas or for that matter a connection between Syria and the area of north eastern Iran. So it is thought that before proto Iranian split into old Iranian and Indo Aryan that the group of people probably from the Caspian Sea region went around following a trading route and established themselves in that area and were just swallowed up by the local culture. They were unable to establish themselves as a separate culture.
Let me turn to something which is much more comprehensible now --the links between India and Iran, the links between the Rgveda and the Avesta. The Avesta consists of two sections, the gatha section which is the earlier section, and the Yashta and Vendidad which are the later sections. It is now dated to about 1400 BC and could therefore be a contemporary text with the Rgveda. The languages are cognates and there is much similarity in syntax and vocabulary. Those who I have referred to as the Airia and the Arya are the ones who speak these languages. They are grammatically very close and the sounds, the phonetic closeness is also very apparent. For example, I mentioned that the H and the S are interchangeable, so in the Avesta you have references to the Airia and the Daha which is the Dasa, and Dahyu which is the Dasyu. They are not mentioned as being black skinned. They are simply mentioned as being people in the neighbourhood. You have the hotar in the Avesta, you have the hotr and the hotar in fact in the Rgveda. You also have zautar because the z and h are interchangeable. So the Vedic hiranya becomes the Iranian zaranya and the atharavan of the Avesta is the atharvan of the Veda, the Mithra of the Avesta is the Mitra of the veda. And so on. The Yima of the Avesta is the Yama of the Veda. It is very close. The Avesta does describe an Aryan homeland which it calls the arya nama veho, the way from which the aryas came or the way along which the aryas came. It describes the migration of people from the Oxus river to northeastern Iran, south western Afghanistan, the borderlands, to the regions that I mentioned earlier, Harahavati, Harayu, ultimately ending up in Hapta Hindu. So there is a clear geographical migration. If this is a later addition, i.e., two or three centuries later it reflects the kinds of ideas that existed amongst the Iranians about the migrations of the Iranian speaking people. There is also a similarity of concepts in the Avesta and the Rgveda, but they are often reversed. That is that you have the ahura in the Avesta, which is the great god, the great light, and you have the asura in Vedic Sanskrit which begins as the great god. Varuna is described as asura. Then gradually, the meaning changes and it becomes the negative, it becomes the demon. The daiva in the Avesta is the demon., Indra is a daiva in the Avesta and is a demon. And of course we all know that in the Rgveda he is not a demon. He is a great hero.
So the theory has been put forward that when the Iranian speaking people were living in Iran there was a split and one section moved off into Afghanistan and India and it is this section that created the language of Indo- Aryans. So the argument is that there was a split and a reversal. That is, everything that the Iranians believed in, the groups that began to move away believed in the opposite. They reversed as it were the concepts and possibly it is this reversal of concepts, it would seem, that arrived in India. The Avesta is also depicting a society of cattle keepers and the great honour given to the horse, the aspa. There is a closeness then of old Iranian and Indo Aryan, a closeness which is also expressed in the fact that the only two Indo European speaking cultures that have the cult of the soma plant, which is called the haoma in the Avestan, are the Iranians and the Indians. This cult does not exist amongst other Indo European speaking people. Therefore there is in fact a very close link between them.
Now I would like to turn to talking about something which has become very central to this discussion before I go on to the last part which is on historical reconstruction. What has become central to this discussion now is the whole question of the relationship between the Harappan culture and the Rg Veda. I would like to argue that there is a substantial difference and that this difference needs to be kept in mind when we talk about the two cultures.
First of all the geographical extent of the two is very different. The Rgveda is very much smaller in area as compared to the Indus, both as compared to the Indus civilization in terms of the cities of the Indus, and, as well as the contacts which the Indus traders had. There are references to migrations. The theory that there are no references to migrations is incorrect. There are references to migrations and the migrations are generally in the direction of coming from Afghanistan to the Punjab and then crossing the Punjab to the watershed. Indra, we are told, helps the Yadu and the Turvasas to cross swollen rivers. Now the rivers feature a great deal in the Rgveda. Because it is a mountainous terrain, therefore any amount of migrating that people do would be along river valleys and the rivers are very important. There is to the best of my knowledge mention of only one mountain, the Mujavant mountain, where the soma plant grows.
The names of the rivers also migrate, and this is an important point. The Harahvati becomes Sarasvati, quite a distance away from Afghanistan to Punjab. The Harayu becomes Sarayu from Afghanistan to UP and the Gomati from Afghanistan again to UP. So there is the migration of names of rivers. Now this is not unusual. Names ofplaces, rivers, and mountains frequently migrate. What is interesting is the direction in which they migrate and the consistency with which, at least in these three samples, they are moving from the north west from the borderlands towards, the watershed and the Ganges valley. We are told that the Bharata tribe, for example, migrates from the Ravi to the Beas, this is in the Punjab, and later on, the Srauta Sutra of Baudhayana refers to the Parasus and the Aratta who stayed behind and others who moved east into the middle Ganges valley and the places equivalent such as Kasi, Videhas, the Kuru Pancala and so on. In fact, when one looks for them, there are evidence of migration. The question really is what kind of migration and I would like to suggest that it was not in fact a massive migration, it was not an invasion because there is very little evidence for invasions, as I will try and suggest.
You did not have thousand upon thousands of people coming from the Khyber pass and settling down in the Punjab. You had multiple points, as I had tried to show from the Swat valley all the way down to the Quetta valley and you had small groups of people who come in and settle. I am rather attracted by the idea of what one scholar, Anthony has called a leap frogging migration, i.e., A moves to X , a section of A moves a little further down to Y, a section of B moves still further to Z. and these are small groups moving. They are interrelated up to a point, they are not related. They are moving some distances, they are moving in different directions. So the idea is not that there is a huge displacement of people and culture but a kind of slow trickling in of people bringing in new technology, new ideas.
The Rgveda then is a pre-urban Chalcolethic culture it does not speak of any urban centres. It certainly does not speak of any settlements which have the characteristics of Harappan cities. For example there is no reference to citadel areas and residential areas, there is no reference to massive brick platforms on the top of which monuments are built. There is no reference to drainage systems or to streets or to granaries or warehouses or to a public bath or to a sophisticated exchange system or weights and measures on a graduated scale which was known as and described. To me these are the essential characteristics or Harappan urbanization and all these characteristics are absent in the Rgveda. You may have people saying 'Oh' but there were coins in the Rgveda and they mention the word 'niska'. Now niska can be a coin as was in the later period but during this period judging by the descriptions it was simply a little decorative piece in precious metal. These essential characteristics that I have mentioned non of these are referred to or described in the Rgveda. The people of the Rgveda are then agro-pastoralists with small scale village societies essentially indulging in cattle raids and predatory raids.
If you read the hymns the plea to the gods Indra, Agni, whosoever it is, is help us go and attack this 'dasa' village or this 'dasapura', help us get the cattle of the 'dasa'. It is always the cattle that they are wanting. There is no question of help us go into battle and take over a whole territory. It is limited to small areas of attack. They are mobile pastoralists and the cattle raids and the predatory raids are surrogate for warfare. There are in fact no great battles or campaigns. Even the famous battle of ten kings is over the change that is taking place that is being brought into function over the river waters of the Ravi. It is not as if there is huge encampment on a plain and the two armies have got together and are fighting each other. None of that. It is something i.e. very much localized and controlled.
Wealth, as far as Rgveda is concerned, is computed in horses and cows. You only have to read the 'danastuti' hymns to realize how strong this notion is of may I be gifted ten thousand horses and sixty thousand heads of cattle. Exaggerated figures, wildly exaggerated figures. Nobody had ten thousand horses to give to begin with. But this is what is wealth. The centrality of the cow in words like 'gavisti' , the desire for cows which is also used for skirmish or a raid or 'gopati' as the head of a clan. The cow is also used as an item in barter and human life is calculated in terms of cows. Given this migration becomes extremely important because of the need to be continuously searching for two things - good pastures, access to water for the animals. We often forget we keep on talking about how water is important for irrigation for cultivators, but water is equally important for pastoralists, because animals need to have access to water and the shifting river courses in the Punjab obviously would create problems. You have a river like the Sutlej which is constantly changing its shape and size. So what are the pastoralists on the banks of the Sutlej to do. They have to be moving all the time. Once they are moving ,they are looking for good pastures, and if somebody else is over there, there is a fight and they throw them out. And the prayers are frequently for rain for this is in fact a semi-arid region. Possibly even the migration eastwards was for better pastures.
The centrality of pastoralism is also seen in the many terms that are used for cattle, cows, and the relative infrequency of terms used for grain and for crops. Secondly, very importantly, the eating of beef, of the flesh of the cattle is restricted to special occasions and ritual occasions. Now this is a prime characteristic of pastoral societies. This comes through very clearly in Evans-Pritchard's work on the Nuer and the work of innumerable others who worked on pastoralist societies. Herders, animal herders, do not eat their animals indiscriminately. And they are particularly careful about conserving the good livestock of the herd because the future of the herd depends on it. And so the killing of the animals for food is usually connected with ritual occasions and with very special occasions. And this is exactly so in the Rig Veda. Wherever there are references to the eating of beef, it is always in association either with the yajna or with the coming of the guest or some special occasion.
Furthermore pastoralists have what has been called symbiotic relationships with agriculturalists. And the symbiotic relationship is that frequently - and it's at two levels - one is, of course, at the level of exchange. The pastoralists bring in their products and the agriculturists have their products and there might be an exchange. For instance, dairy produce may be given to the agriculturalists, while grain is taken from the agriculturalists by the pastoralists. But there is a much more subtle and intensive interrelationship. For example when the crop is harvested and the field is covered with stubble - usually six inches high after the harvest has been cut. That’s when the pastoralists come in with their herds and the animals feed on the stubble. And the animal droppings manure the field. To this day if you travel through Rajasthan at particular periods, particularly in spring, you will find herds of animals going along a circuit and the circuit is always that they will spend one week in this village, they will eat the stubble of the grain and manure the field and then the animal herd will move on to the next village and do the same. And this is an unwritten convention between the agriculturist and the pastoralist. And this is extremely important because one can't talk about the two being separate societies - they're integrated societies.
Then there is the centrality of the horse and the chariot. The horse which is totally absent on the seals of the Harappa culture - there are many other animals but the horse doesn't occur. The horse is central to the Vedic texts. The horse is central both as a functional animal - the horse draws the chariot, the chariot means speed, so if you're carrying out a raid, the more chariots you have the quicker you get there, you raid the particular place and you bring back the loot much faster than if you were going by bullock cart and bringing it back by bullock cart. That wouldn't work - the horse is necessary.
Secondly, the horse is ritually very important. And I don't have to remind you here that whereas for example in the Rig Veda the sacrifice of the horse is a fairly simple, straightforward ritual of sacrificing a horse, what it becomes in the later vedic texts as the Ashwamedha is another story. It is ritually extremely important. And you don't get any reflection of this in the Harappan culture.
The wealth which is raided and brought back is then distributed at the meeting of the vidatha where the vis and the rajan - the two categories of the people that constitute the main society of the Aryas and the Rig Veda - are gathered and therefore it is partly a functional occasion, partly a ritual occasion. There is also no description in the Rig Veda of large scale trade. What is interesting is seas are mentioned, usually metaphorically, very seldom literally. There is a mention of a boat with a hundred oars. And I've always been mystified by this because I keep thinking to myself - where didthey get this idea? of a boat with a hundred oars. You don't need that kind of boat to sail down the rivers. Or you don't even need that kind of boat to take you across the sea. The Harappans didn't have boats with a hundred oars. This is again a fantasy because there is nothing in the texts to explain what the technology or navigation would be of a boat of that size, manned by that many people.
So let's turn then to the question of the coming of the Indo-Aryans. The very question that is largely accepted in academic circles except for a minority of people at the moment. And largely rejected by the media, that seems to support the notion that the Aryans were indigenous and didn't come from anywhere. By the Aryans please note that I mean people who spoke Indo-Aryan.
Who were they? They were the speakers of a language that belongs to the Indo-European family. They have common roots with Iran - Old Iranian, Indo-Aryan. There are similarities in the society of both. You have a warrior aristocracy, you have householders, you have ritual specialists. They break away from the Iranians with some .
and increasing it. Now in this situation there has to be, anybody who's raiding, is coming in and is a raider and is building his wealth on the basis of a raid, there has to be a dependence on the host society. They have to settle in the vicinity in order to carry out the raids. And they need to negotiate relationships with the host society. The negotiations may be - I'll come and bash you and take away all your cattle. But the negotiations may also be - let's come to some agreement, over pastoral lands, over water over agriculture, over whatever it may be. Given the terrain of inhospitable mountains there would be a tendency to migrate in small groups, which means there would be a tremendous mixture of people, language and ways of life. You're not getting a huge bunch of people coming in the thousands. Small bunches of people means that there is much more intermixing. Language would register constant change moving from area to area and one has also to ask the question - did this encourage bilingualism ? If they're speaking two different languages, if the local language is probably Proto-Dravidian or Austro-Asiatic and these people coming in and settling are speaking Indo-Aryan, did this result in bilingualism, that is some people who could manage to speak in both languages and make themselves understood.
What was their relationship to the sedentary agriculturalists once they arrived in the fertile areas? One was the immediate relationship which was to raid the local people and the Rgveda is the great text describing a constant wish to raid and get wealth. It would seem that the Aryas are not very successful to being with because there is this continuous plea to the gods, pleas come and help us, please go and kill our enemies for us, please do this and please do that. It is as if there is a bewilderment about how they are to set about doing it. Then gradually that changes to a much more settled relationship. We are told in the Satapatha Brahmana that the asuras, and by this time the term asura is being used in the negative sense, were the cultivators and were extensively settled. So if there is a symbiotic relationship between the cattle herder and the cultivators where the cattle are coming and feeding off the stubble and manuring the fields and produce is being exchanged, there would be an exchange of other things--language, possibly inter marriage, one does not know, rituals, three areas where usually exchange takes place. And all of this would also encourage bilingualism. The languages begin to change very rapidly and you would require then someone like Yaska to write an etymological text to explain the words because the meaning of words was becoming indistinct. And finally you have a Panini who says that I am going to write the rules of the language so that more changes are not introduced and the language does not go off the rails. No, he didn't actually say that. But that is the assumption behind an exercise of that kind. Did the existing sedentary agriculturalists appeal to an incoming pastoral chief for protection? This is a question I would like to pose. That you have these sedentary groups, they are people coming in who are attacking cattle keepers and sedentary groups. Did these sedentary agriculturalists who couldn't protect themselves and remember now that the Harappan system has collapsed, the cities have declined, the protection which the Harappan system would have given to these agriculturalists is not guaranteed. It may have existed, it may not. So what does the sedentary agriculturalist do? Doesn't he turn to the chief of this raiding tribe and say, please don't raid me, let's negotiate a settlement. So what I'm trying to suggest is that the pastoral chiefs come in at a level of dominance in terms of their relationship with the local population. But it is not a dominance based only on conquest. It is not a dominance based only on raids. It does include the possibility of some other kind of negotiation. This would then have galvanized the long term relationship between them.
Now why am I saying that there might have been this kind of negotiation. One of the interesting aspects of the linguistic study that has been done of vedic Sanskrit words is that a number of words that relate to agricultural processes --some very common words like langala which means plough, khala, ulukhala, so on, these are all words that come from non Indo Aryan languages. They are either proto Dravidian or Austro Asiatic. So clearly there is a lot of mixing at that level for these words to come into Indo Aryan. Secondly, Indo Aryan itself reflects features of proto Dravidian. For example, what are called the retroflexive consonants--ta tha da dha, na. These are not Indo European, these are proto Dravidian. They only occur in Vedic Sanskrit. They do not occur in any other Indo European language. That is one reason why Europeans have such problems in pronouncing Indian words because their tongue does not go around the retroflexive consonants. So that is another indication. The third is that, in a number of what are called syntactic forms, grammatical forms, morphologies, the form of the language, phonetics, the use of this little word iti, which is very common in Sanskrit, Vedic Sanskrit and later on in classical Sanskrit, this is a typical proto-Dravidian form, and again it is being argued that this is what comes into Indo_Aryan. What I am trying to suggest then is that if there is already in the Rgveda, and this entry of non- Indo Aryan increases in the later Vedic texts. If there is already the presence of non Indo Aryan in Indo Aryan in the Rg Veda there must have been some kind of negotiation other than just raiding, because, you don't get such a deep impression of one language on another if it is simply a case of I come in and attack you, and subordinate you and subdue you. I mean one can compare the amount of English that has entered modern Indian languages. It is minimal, minimal, compared to non Indo Aryan in Vedic Sanskrit. So it does raise the question, I mean whether my answer is right or wrong. I do not know. I would like to put it forward as an answer. But it does raise a question that has to be answered. How do these linguisitic forms come into Indo Aryan. And the languages, that are current, we know proto Dravidian, Austro Asiatic, in Baluchistan there was Brahui, in central India there is Kuruk, Amaltuk, and further east there are various languages connected with the Austro Asiatic group. Gradually the languages come to be used not only in ordinary dialogue but also in ritual. This may take centuries and remember that the hymns of the Rgveda which are thought to have been compiled and edited around 800 BC may have begun to be composed 500 years earlier. So we are not talking about an overnight change. We are talking about a language change, a cultural change, a social change that is taking place over something like 500 years which is a very long time.
There has been a lot said about for example words for flora and fauna, animals particularly. Why is it that the elephant is called not by any other generic name but is called mrga hastin, the animal with a hand. It is because these people were unfamiliar with elephants, and the elephant is of course is a very familiar animal from the Harappan seals. More interesting, the Harappans adapt some of the animals from the west Asian cultures, there is a very lovely seal, I don't know some of you might remember it, it's reproduced in many books. There is a man standing and there is a tiger on each side and he's grappling with this tiger. There is an identical seal of that kind which comes from Mesopotamia, except that the two animals are lions, they are not tigers. Now in the Harappan evidence, there is no depiction of the lion at all. The feline animal is always the tiger. In the Rgveda there is no reference to the tiger, there is only the reference to the simha as lion. And it is always, not always, but frequently, the roar of the simha. Somebody speaks and sounds like the roar of the lion. So there is no doubting the fact that it is the lion and it is an interesting question why are they unfamiliar with the tiger, if the tiger is in fact such a basic animal, particularly to the lower Indus. If they were indigenous, they would know it.
Let me turn now to the tricky question of the definition of the Arya and the Dasa. Was there in fact a racial distinction? Remember I told you that the argument was that the Arya race came and conquered the local race of the dasa. What is very interesting is that the physical differences that are mentioned all occur in the last books of the Rgveda, not in the first books. If there was a strong physical difference, marked physical difference, you would expect that from the very first compositions the composers would say that these dasa who are black skinned, thick lipped, bull jawed etc. all the descriptions, but no, the descriptions come in the tail end in the second half of the first book and the tenth book of the Rgveda. What you have then if one looks for the definition of the arya varna and the dasa varna from the Rgveda, these are groups of people that have distinctive languages, because the dasas are spoken of as being mrdhravac, speaking a hostile language or not speaking the language correctly. They are also described frequently as avrata--they do not perform the rites, the religious rites, which the aryas perform. They are also akarman, they do not observe the customs that the aryas observe. The difference, the importance that was given to the difference of the skin colour was presumed because of the word varna. Varna means colour, it also means cover. But the point is that if you look at all the references to varna, the majority of them are not in connection with skin colour. In fact I can't think of a single varna reference that actually refers to skin colour, except one. in for example the ninth book which deals with the ritual of the soma karman where they talk about the hide turning black, the hide on which the ritual is carried out. Most of the references are used in a symbolic sense. You have the varna of the dawn, of the day, of the night, and of the clouds, and there is frequent reference to the dasas as the dark ones. They could be evil. They don't have to be necessarily always black skinned. In the same way as the Avesta refers to the daivas and says that they are the dark ones, the evil ones. These are the few, very few references to physical features. One which is frequently discussed tvacamkrisnam, which occurs only once in a very late section of the Rgveda. And the question of course is if the skin colour was black why isn't it mentioned more frequently and in the earlier hymns. Why do they wait till this one reference right in the late period.
Then there is a reference to something that you are quite familiar with, anasa. And the argument in the old days used to be that it meant, a nasa, i.e. without a nose, in other words, flat nosed. And of course, people like Herbert Risley and various British ethnographers went around measuring noses, the noses of Indians and arguing that those that had broad, flat noses were non Aryans, those that had sharp fine noses were Aryas. So the nose is very important and it has been rather amusingly brought out in the recent book of Thomas Trautmann , The Aryans in British India. Or you have the frequent reference to anasa, the noseless. This has also been interpreted by Sayana. Sayana was a very interesting person. He lived in the 14th century and did a commentary on the vedic texts. I think it is very important for us as historians not just to stay with Max Muller's commentary on the Vedas but go back and look at what Sayana says. Sayana for example,when it comes to tvacam krsna says there was an asura called Krsna whose skin was torn apart by Indra. He does not read it a black skinned. There isn't a single racial connotation in any of Sayana's commentaries. So anasa, he says was an-asa which means without a mouth, i.e. people who didn't know the language and were therefor speechless. Alternatively there is no reference to the Aryas being fair skinned or white skinned, the other contrast which one would expect. Also what is interesting and this is simply my reading, I may be incorrect on this, but I would nevertheless like to float it. There are one or two places where the word arya is used in a verbal sense--aryanti, they honour, and the root dasa is used again in a verbal sense--dasati--to treat with hostility. If these words, arya and dasa can be used not only as nouns and adjectives, but also as verbs, it is most unlikely that the can be interpreted as races. They have to be interpreted in a much broader sense. Furthermore, the aryas and the dasas are not invariably enemies. There are referenes to aryas fighting aryas. There are references to dasa chiefs who are patrons of the aryan rtvij. Dasa chiefs like Balbutha, Turuska, Bhrgu, Sambhara, these are all people who have rituals performed them and give daksina presumably to the rtvij who then proceeds to praise them. But the aryas attack the dasas for their wealth. The refrain is always, dasyu dhanina, they are constantly praying to their gods for wealth, rayi, vasu, dhana, ratna, hiranya. This is the obsession. Wealth consisting of cattle, and horses, garments, clothes and gold is thrown in for good measure. One does not know how much gold was floating around. Probably not much. And the attack is on the settlement of the dasas, the pura of the dasa in order to get their cattle wealth. There is in fact interestingly, immense greed on the part of the aryas, who seem, in comparison to the dasa, materially quite poor, because they keep talking about how wealthy the dasas are. So this old theory of the superior aryas who came in, invaded and conquered these poor indigenous people, poverty stricken and submissive, this certainly does not come from this picture.
What is the difference then again between the aryas and the dasas? If the distinction is not racial, it is linguistic, social and cultural. There is a difference, but it consists of other features. And if this is the distinction, then the terms, Arya and Dasa would have gradually acquired these distinctions and become intertwined with social hierarchies. Linguistically, Indo Aryan in the midst of other languages like proto Dravidian and Austro Asiatic begins to suffer from the increasing influence of other languages. It's still Indo Aryan. It clearly is a part of the Indo European family but there are more and more incorporations of non IndoAryan. And when these kinds of linguistic incorporations take place, as I said earlier, the historian has to ask the question, what is the social process that is going on and is causing this incorporation. And the alternative question, how does IndoAryan eventually become the dominant language? Those who speak it call themselves aryas, and who do the aryas consist of. --the rajan, the vis, the rtvij, and the kavi--the bards and the priests.
Rajans are the chiefs owning horses and chariots or at least having access to horses and chariots. They are the raiders and the protectors. They raid some and protect some, and their victory lies essentially in cattle raids and skirmishes and they negotiate the protection of local societies against other people's raids either by the aryas or dasas. There is a certain moral righteousness that comes through in the hymn in the killing of the dasa because he is avrata--he is without the correct rites. But that changes of course when the dasa chiefs start performing vedic rituals as rituals approved by the arya and start giving gifts to the priests. The question then is does he become aryanised as a result? If the dasa chief starts speaking a certain amount of even faulty Indo Aryan and starts practising even some of the rituals of the Aryas, does he come to be accepted as the Arya? The Purus are a case in point. Very interesting. The Puru is a major clan mentioned in the Rgveda and mentioned through four or five generations. They are described in the Rgveda as being mrdhravaca, not speaking correctly and in the Satapatha Brahmana they are described as coming from asura-raksasa ancestry. Now no good arya would have an ancestry that was asura raksasa, so the question is who were the Purus? Were they aryas? Or were they these local dasa chiefs who negotiated, made good, became wealthy, were accepted, in effect became part of the aryan society. Even the laws, the customary laws, which may not have been very strict at this time could be broken. The first example of this of course is in again in the Brahmana literature, the dasiputra brahmanas, who are clearly are the result of intermarriage, and if they themselves concede that their status is mixed, the rituals that they are performing may also have been mixed. One has to ask that question. By the mid first millennium BC the dasa emerges not as the enemy who is not performing the rituals and speaking the right language but as the impoverished person. He is servile to the aryas and as a sudra he is not permitted the arya ritual. Now this is a very interesting difference between the original dasa who is stigmatised because he is not performing the ritual and the priests are ready to perform the ritual and the sudra who is by right to perform the ritual . Obviously a big change has taken place.
What then was the nature of the Rgvedic society? First of all the Rgveda is not referring to a single society, it is referring to a number of differentiated societies, differentiated by language, rites, and custom. The perspective that we have is only one of them, those that call themselves aryas. Was it already the dominant group or is it that it is their literature that has survived, their compositions have survived? We don't know what the others thought about the aryas. We have no information on what the dasas thought or what the panis thought or what the raksasas thought about these people who called themselves aryas.
Interestingly, it has been argued by some people that the society of the Rgveda was an egalitarian society. But this is something that I disagree with. I think that internally the society of the Rgveda had a hierarchy. The hierarchy at this stage was not deeply demarcated but was visible and evident and functional. There was the rajan, the chief of the clan with access to horse and chariots, who led the raids and was the patron of the distribution of booty as is evident from the danastuti hymns which are addressed to the rajan, to the gods, and to the rajan for obtaining a share in the booty. Therefore the rajan is powerful with access to resources and the status of the rajan is reflected in the occasional attempts at small, scattered genealogies. When you have a body of literature in which it is said of a particular family that there was a great great grand father and great grandfather grand father ,there was a son, and a grand son, each one did this, did that, you know that that family is slightly more important than another family that is simply described by one name and one generation. So there is this social differentiation also.
The vis was the clan subordinate to the rajan who herded and cultivated. What was the relationship between the two? The later texts, the later Vedic texts, particularly the Satapatha Brahmana speak of them as having been very close. They are eating from the same bowl at one point and the analogies are that the rajan is to a vis like Indra is to Maruts or Soma is to milk. And a whole series of other parallels of that kind.Which is why I have argued in the past, I have asked the question that were they both part of a lineage based society where recruitment into the clan was by birth? The senior lineage had authority over the junior lineage and status was dependent on rank within the lineage, and the relations of production literally what was being produced and the way in which it was produced was defined by kinship relationships depending on where you were born, which group you were born in, and this very closely embedded close knit society gradually broke down when the vis had to start performing labour for the rajan and make presents of tribute. This begins in a small way in the Rgveda and becomes intensified in the later period.
The third category of people are the rtvij and the kavi, the sacrificial priest and the bard. And there are a number of categories that are mentioned in one hymn. There is mention of several categories of priests. They do not belong to the lineage, but they do perform rites for the rajan. And there are some rituals that can be performed by the rajans themselves. Not all rituals require priests. They compose eulogies on the rajans, which is another indication of the special status that the rajan has. And they compete for patronage from the rajan, patronage in material terms of wealth. There is therefore a great need for social and economic adjustments, a sorting out as it were of the internal hierarchy. So that not only are people slotted into place but there is also space for other people to come in. The ritual specialists are socially more flexible groups and rituals become a form of incorporation. The later Vedic texts, again the Brahmana texts in particular, show this process. There is a contestation between the brahmanas and the ksatriyas. There is the subordination of the vis to the ksatriya. The sudra emerges as non kin labour, labour outside kinship groups and a separate category has to be created for providing labour, the category of sudra, which shows a different kind of society. This is not the same as Rgvedic society, it has undergone change, and among other things there is reference, increasingly, slowly but increasingly in post Vedic texts to the varna theory. This is not based on racial segregation as was earlier believed because if one is arguing that in fact racial segregation is not the central feature, then the varnas are not items of racial segregation. It is based, it seems to me, on three features, one is access to resources. Who has access to resources, who has access to wealth, whether it is cattle wealth, agricultural wealth, or horses and chariots, or whatever it may be. The rajan who conducts raids and gathers tributes? And indirectly, the brahmana who collects wealth through the dana and daksina that is bestowed on them? So that is one category, one basic requirement of varnas.
The second is authority and power--temporal authority for the ksatriya, earthly authority, association with the deity for the brahmana. The brahmana therefore emerges as a person who claims that he can call upon the gods to bestow special divine elements on to the ksatriya through a ritual and this bifurcation of authority into temporal and divine or supernatural is an important matter.
And the third, which is very important is the deliberate distancing of those who provide labour. This distancing, pushing aside, pushing away and saying you are different, this is not the case in the Rgveda but becomes the case in postvedic society. This is justified on the basis of ritual purity and exclusion. The sudra is ritually impure, he is excluded from participating in the rites of the upper varnas and this is made into a permanent disability since status is by birth. Degrees of pollution and purity are inherited. It is necessary in order to maintain the disability of pollution and impurity in order to have a permanent supply of labour. Now I'm not saying they sat and worked it out in these terms, but there are certain assumptions and presuppositions which are at work here which I am really trying to draw out and exaggerate a little bit so that you pay some attention to it. There are therefore multiple reasons why the purusasukta hymn is included in the Rgveda. Because the Rgveda is not a static document. It is encapsulating this historical change that is taking place. The purusasukta hymn describes the sacrifice of primeval man--his mouth was the brahmana, his arms were the ksatriya, his thighs were the vaisya, and out of the feet came the sudra. There is already a distinction there.
But let me just conclude with two brief sentences. What I tried to suggest to you first of all is that the Aryan question is a very complex question and I hope you are all absolutely staggered by the complexity and reeling under all the complexities that I have pointed out to you. So please do not take one version as "the" version. Always question every version, including mine. The second point that I want to emphasize is that I think as historians it is time now that we moved away from this century and a half old obsession with who were the Aryans, what was their origin, how do we identify them, who has descended from them. These are irrelevant questions. These are questions that are only important to political parties and political ideologies. The important question is what is this data that you have for reconstructing the early phases of Indian society and how does one proceed to do this reconstruction. I have tried to suggest one way in which this reconstruction can be carried out. I may be incorrect but I would like you to look at this period now in terms of a search for a historical reconstruction of the times.
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