Book Summary: Genetics and the Aryan Debate by Shrikant Talageri- I – IndiaFacts

There are two theories regarding thehistory of ancient Indian civilization. The first is the AIT or the AryanInvasion Theory, postulating that a group of people from South West Russiaspeaking Indo-European languages (or Aryan languages) entered India in thesecond millennium BCE; and conquered North India establishing their language,culture, and religion all over. A modified version is the AMT or the AryanMigration Theory, which holds that there was no invasion, but a gradual and a tricklingmigration into an existing culture. The semantics may be slightly different,but the implications remain the same. This AIT/AMT story has a two-centuryhistory of propagation and relies on three academic disciplines: Archaeology,linguistics, and textual/inscriptional data. The textual data is mainly theVedas.

The author says that the weight of theevidence in the above three fields strongly support, in fact, the rival theorycalled the OIT or the Out of India theory, which sees India as the originalhomeland of the languages and people of the West. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE)group of languages started the speculation of an original Indian homeland in1800, but it went into complete hibernation as scholars vigorously propagatedthe AIT theory for more than a century. The reasons were many.

Koenraad Elst in his wonderful preface saysthat the political applications of the racially interpreted AIT include:

Talageri, Koenraad Elst, Nicholas Kazanas,Russian scholars Igor Tonoyan-Belyayev, and Aleksandr Semenenko are some OITscholars arguing their case strongly as the theory gained ground once again in1990. The AIT scholars, when confronted with evidence shaking their veryfoundations took the following routes to respond: by calling it a migrationrather than an invasion; by denying it completely; by questioning the validityof the data; by questioning the personal identities and moral values of theauthors; by avoiding them in public forums on the issue; and finally, by shuttingtheir eyes and ears, completely ignoring them.

But a saviour came. A saviour called TonyJoseph riding on a shining horse called genetics. Tony wrote a series ofarticles, finally culminating into a book called the Early Indians where hecollects all the genetic evidence to finally show that Aryans did enter Indiaand create the caste system. The AIT proponents are no wonder ecstaticallyhugging him. There is complete ignoring of the archaeological, linguistic, andthe textual sources, and they recede into the background. And now Talageristeps in.

WERE THE HARAPPANS DRAVIDIAN-LANGUAGESPEAKERS?

The Indus or the Harappan script is not yetdeciphered, but it is antique predating the Indo-Iranian languages and theVedic Sanskrit of North-West India. The Harappan language even predates theDavidian languages spoken in the South. In the absence of any recorded foreigninvasions historically, it would be reasonable to assume that the Indus orHarappan language would have been an ancestor to the Indo-Iranian languagefamily of the same region, used at a much later date.

AIT proponents are very keen to establishby circular reasoning that the Harappan language is the precursor to theDravidian family of languages; and that the evidence for linking Harappan tothe Indo-Iranian language family is absent. Remember the Aryans came fromoutside to establish their language of Sanskrit by force.

Talageri says that the evidence for linkingthe Harappan language to the Dravidian language family is even more absent.It is more logical to think of a continuity as the Harappan language developinginto the Indo-Iranian languages of the North. But that would be a deathblow tothe entire edifice of the Aryan-Dravidian debate and the chronology of eventswhere the Aryans forced their way into a Harappan culture and drove then South.

The standard story claims that Aryansdeveloped their Sanskrit and wrote the Vedas; and the Dravidians- dominated andsubjugated- continued with altered forms of an original Harappan language. Theevidence for all these speculations is very weak according to Talageri. Palliis a word for a village or a hamlet, and it is a Dravidian word. The nameplaces in coastal and south-western Maharashtra have a lot of vali or olias suffixes which could be derivation of the word palli. And thusproved, that the Dravidians migrated along these places on coastal andsouth-western Maharashtra to the South of Vindhyas!

What about the Brahuis of Baluchistan, anisolated Dravidian language in Pakistan? Tony Joseph quotes the now abandonedtheory that some pastoralists stayed back in Baluchistan, while the urbanitesmoved south. However, it is very clear by the voice of many scholars that theDravidian languages mainly concentrate in the south, though there are a few inthe tribal areas of the Bengal region. The presence of Dravidian language inthe Baluchistan region is the result of a recent northward migration from thesouth, as all linguists now accept.

Talageri says that the idea of the urbanand pastoralist segments of the Harappans referred to by Tony Joseph is strangeand funny. One of the proofs that the Rigvedic Aryans are not identifiable withthe Harappans is that the Rigvedic Aryans were pastoralists and noturbanites, according to AIT groups. Talageri quotes scholars who stronglyfeel that the Vedic collection is not the output of wandering pastoralists, butrather well-fed priests in a prosperous urban community!

Similarly, if palli as root of thewords vali and oli come to usage in the geographicalreconstructions of migrations; then the author suggests that the Greek placename suffix polis (as in Persepolis, Heliopolis, Annapolis) can also berooted in the same word palli. And that could imply even a westwardmigration of the Greeks from a Dravidian area to Greece! Finally, the evidencewhich Tony Joseph shows in the downward migration of the Dravidian languages ison flimsy evidence and shows a great level of bias and a lack of scientificnature, according to Shrikant Talageri.

WHY IS THE PERIOD 2000-1000 BCE SOSIGNIFICANT AND IMPORTANT?

Aryan or the Indo-European migration fromacross Asia came as a theory because of a discovery of common features in thelanguages between northern India and Europe sweeping across many regions and countries.This language family had to be a result of a common origin from wherethe original people migrated to different parts, where new languages developed,albeit with strong links to the parent language.

So, where is the origin? The Steppes ofSouth Russia, say the unanimous voice of the scholars. At least the voice ofthe AIT/AMT scholars. From the Steppes of Russia to North West India is thetraced migration of these Aryans where they encountered the local Harappans,drove them South, established the language of Sanskrit and then wrote theVedas.

The Indo-European languages are twelveliving and extinct branches of languages. From the west to the east they are: Celtic,Italian, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Albanian, Greek, Anatolian (extinct), Armenian,Iranian, Tocharian (extinct), and Indo-Aryan. The common ancestral languagegets the term PIE (Proto-Indo-European). The whole theory is purely based onlinguistic analysis and only on the logic of a common origin of languages in ageographically-restricted Homeland from where the migrations took place.Talageri now constructs the time periods for these events and the route takenby these invaders/migrants in the dominant discourse.

Unfortunately, there are lot of problemswith this story. Most importantly, there is absolutely no archaeologicalevidence, not a shred, to support this remarkable migration from the Steppes ofRussia to North West India and the full-blown development of Sanskrit/ Rigvedain a remarkably short span of less than two thousand years. Archaeology of theHarappan area shows an extremely stable civilization without any cataclysmicchanges propounded by the forced entry of the Aryans from 4500 BCE to 500 BCE.Again, archaeology is a nail in the coffin of AIT, because whatever evidence ithas, it is more in favour of an exact opposite trend of migration, from out ofIndia to the west!

Studying the Rigvedic data shows clearlythat the Indo-Aryan speaking Vedic people were present in a wide area fromSouth- East Afghanistan to westernmost UP. The Rigveda does not contain asingle reference of any tradition, name, or place in memory of its previousjourneys from the Russian steppes. Also, the river and place names have noconnection to the Dravidian languages who were allegedly living there before.Rivers in Europe carry the original names even after the influx of Europeanlanguages, but this does not funnily seem to happen in the North West India.All the names and places are Indo-European. The area is, in short, purelyIndo-Aryan in the Veda itself.

A very populous Dravidian civilization in ashort span from 2000 BCE to 1200 BCE could not have just left the area for theinvading or the trickling nomadic Aryans to become completely obliterated fromany reference whatsoever. There is no reference in the Vedas or archaeologywhich records such great cataclysmic events.

The other Samhitas follow the Rigveda:the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda. Thenthere are the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads, andthe Sutras. Each of these have their own chronological periods showinglinguistic changes indicating that they were of different periods of time; butall before the Buddha. This squeezes the entire period of the Vedic corpus intoa narrow window of 400-600 years. Remarkable!

For the AIT/AMT to hold, the period between2000 BCE to 1000 BCE is extremely important, as this is the period wheneverything related to Aryan migration into India, driving away theHarappans/Dravidians, development of the perfect language of Sanskrit andwriting the entire corpus of the Rigveda happened. The major problem comes thatall evidence from archaeology, textual/inscriptional analysis, and evenlinguistics show the presence of Indo-Aryans much before 2000 BCE. In fact,evidence from above can show a reverse migration as the OIT (Out of India)proponents aggressively suggest.

And now comes the superhero for the AIT- genetics.A paper written by ninety-two scientists called The Genomic formation ofSouth and Central Asia apparently proves for Tony Joseph that multiplewaves of Steppe pastoralist migrants between 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE from CentralAsia into South Asia brought Indo-European languages and new religious/cultural practices.

The migrations may be a fact based ongenomics; but the conclusion of bringing in languages and culture is purespeculation of the AIT/AMT proponents who still want to hold on to the period2000-1000 BCE says Talageri. All the recorded evidence in the three importantbranches of archaeology, textual corpus, and linguistics show evidence to thecontrary. Genetics should hold its findings in confirmation to establishedevidence, but not in confirmation of theoretical speculations. It is an attemptto fit forcibly the data into a pre-supposed theory. The science may not be badhere, but the interpretations are suspect.

CAN GENETIC EVIDENCE TELL US THATIE-LANGUAGE SPEAKERS MIGRATED TO INDIA FROM CENTRAL ASIA?

There are two components to the claim ofTony Joseph in the book. The first is that between 2000-1000 BCE, multiplewaves of Steppe pastoralist migrants from central Asia entered south Asia, andcould be a fact. The second component is that they brought Indo-Europeanlanguages and new religious practices into an existing civilization andcompletely changed the pattern of civilization without any force. It is almostlike one entering a random beautiful mansion peacefully and asking the ownersto leave. The latter do so willingly without any resistance leaving the mansionto the people who asked so politely. Obviously, the second part is purespeculation and doubtful if genetics can make any such claims, as Talagerisays.

Genetics is a super science no doubt and ithas made great contributions in tracing ancestries and migrations of humansacross the globe. Adam Rutherford in his book, A Brief History of EveryoneWho Ever Lived traces the ancestry of all humankind brilliantly. AdamRutherford says, a few thousand years back, a few thousand men were theancestors of all people who are living now. Hence, a Chinese, a Russian, anIndian, a European, an African, an Arab are all living in your and my DNA asinformation, some expressed and some not. We are all related and not only that;we are all related to the Neanderthals too, whom we successfully eliminated orintegrated with. About 2-3% of genes belong to the Neanderthals. Yes, weprocreated with them. Humans have been certainly very promiscuous. Some donot agree to the Neanderthal bit though.

Genes can track the movements of speciesacross various geographical locations; and it is nearly clear that we all cameout of Africa. The humankind presently populating the entire globe started as asmall group of people in Africa who started walking. The unifying message of Rutherfordsbook is we are all one; but each one is unique. What a wonderful way tocelebrate!

Another myth which the Rutherfordsuccessfully blows up are the claims of discovery of genes for complex humantraits like sexual orientation or alcoholism. That is almost always fictitiousscience something akin to phrenology which predicted human behaviour bylooking at bumps on the skull. Genetic code is very complex for most humantraits with hundreds and thousands of genes being involved in each human trait.And all the genes interact in a highly-complicated manner with the environmentthey are in. The behaviour of humans is simply too complex to have the paradigmof one gene leading to one disease or one trait. In such a situation, it mightbe difficult to conceive of language and cultural migrations based solely ongenetic studies. Language and culture are components of evolution mechanisms, independentof genetics with maybe some interlinking, in the words of authors Eva Jablonkaand Marion Lamb (Evolution in Four Dimensions), but a study of the genesthemselves to predict linguistic movements is tricky science.

Anyway, according to Tony Joseph, the onlycriterion for the identifying genetic evidence of the influx from Central Asiais the dating of the Rigveda also between 2000 to 1000 BCE. Vedic compositionis between 1400 BCE to 1000 BCE, claims Tony Joseph on the authority of MichaelWitzel. It is important for the Aryan theory bringing in Indo-Europeanlanguages to also have a linkage in the linguistic sense. This means tallyingwith the dating of the oldest of the Vedas too.

The philosophy of science has a deepprinciple of falsification. If there is falsification of a key component of anytheory, then the whole theory stands to scrutiny. If the Vedas are older than2000 BCE, then the whole edifice of the Aryan invasion or migration theorycollapses. This is what Talageri proves repeatedly that the Vedas are atleast beyond 3000 BCE. And the AIT/AMT school shuts itself from Talageriand indulges in neither proving or disproving his contrary claims. And that isbad science.

THE OLD RIGVEDA AND THE NEW RIGVEDA

The Rigveda is the oldest manuscript in theworld. It is also the longest inscription from the ancient world. The Rigvedaconsists of 10 mandalas or books; 1028 suktas or hymns; and 10552 mantras orverses. The Rigveda is amazing in the sense that its preservation has been in aperfectly pristine form for over thousands of years in an oral form. Thetextual form came much later. Every word, every syllable, and even the tonalaccent to pronounce the words has an exact preservation across time and space.They are a tape recording of the Vedic era transmitted orally; and hence, anautobiography of the time when composed. The names of places or persons referto contemporary sources of that time; and this is the unanimous opinion ofgreat scholars, both Indian and western.

The Rigveda is an inscription telling usabout the Vedic age. Unfortunately, there is no exact dating of the Vedic textsin a direct manner. However, Talageri says the dating becomes possible whencompared to other related data from the Avesta and the Mittanirecords.

Scholars after deep study have concludedthe division of the Rigveda into the New books and the Old books.The Old books are 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and the New books are 1, 5, 8,9,10. There isalso another division as family books which are basically the Old booksalong with book 5; and the non-family books which are the New booksexcept book 5. There are several add on verses called the redacted hymns whichare present only in the Old books and they come as an addition either betweenthe verses or at the end of the book. The redacted hymns were additions at thetime of writing the New books.

So finally, the Old Rigveda are the books2, 3, 4, 6, 7 with 280 hymns and 2351 verses after subtracting the redactedhymns; and the New Rigveda are books 1, 5, 8, 9, 10 with 686 hymns and 7311verses. The 62 redacted hymns with 890 verses form a late appendix to the OldRigveda- a kind of grey area between the two epochs.

The authors scholarship comes into thefore in this chapter where Talageri discusses the differences between the Oldand the New books of the Rigveda. The differences are in the authors, thestructure of the verses, the meters used, the sacred numerical formulae,categories of words, usage of personal names, usage of suffixes or prefixes informing compound words, grammatical forms, certain mythical and sociologicalconcepts, categories of words, differing meaning of same words, totally newwords in the New books, and so on.

The conclusion from all the above is that the two parts of the text fall in two distinct chronological eras; the era of the Old Rigveda followed by the era of the New Rigveda.

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Book Summary: Genetics and the Aryan Debate by Shrikant Talageri- I - IndiaFacts

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