Wednesday, November 3, 2010

5. Some new arguments on AIT


In spite of the mutual deafness of the pro- and anti-invasionist schools, the increasing awareness of a challenge has led prominent scholars groomed in the invasionist view to collect, for the first time in their careers, actual arguments in favour of the Aryan Invasion Theory. As yet this is never in the form of a pointwise rebuttal of an existing anti-invasionist argumentation, a head-on approach so far exclusively adopted by one or two non-invasionists. (1) Nonetheless, some recent contributions to the archaeological and physical-anthropological aspects of the controversy pose a fresh challenge to the (by now often over-confident) anti-invasionist school. An extremely important new synthesis of various types of data is provided by Dr. Bernard Sergent in his book Genesis of India, as yet only available in French. (2) The book comes as a sequel to his equally important book, Les Indo-Européens (1995). Sergent is a PhD in Archaeology with additional degrees in Physical Anthropology and in History, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and chairman of the French Society for Mythology. One of Sergent’s objectives is to counter the rising tide of skepticism against the AIT with archaeological and other proofs. In particular, he proposes a precise identification of a particular Harappan-age but non-Harappan culture with the Indo-Aryans poised to invade India: the Bactrian Bronze Age culture of ca. 2000 BC. At the same time, he is quite scornful of AIT critics and neglects to take their arguments apart, which means that he effectively leaves them standing. Sergent is very skeptical of the Aryan non-invasion theory, and dismisses it in one sentence plus footnote as simply unbelievable and as the effect of nationalistic blindness for the shattering evidence provided by linguistics. (3) Nonetheless, it is important to note that, unlike Indian Marxists, he does not show any contempt for Hinduism or for the idea of India. Most people who analyze Indian culture into different contributions by peoples with divergent origins do so with the implicit or explicit message that “there is no such thing as Indian or Hindu culture, there is only a composite of divergent cultures, each of which should break free and destroy the dominant Brahminical system which propagates the false notion of a single all-Indian culture”. Sergent, by contrast, admits that the ethnically different contributions have merged into an admirable synthesis, e.g. : “One of the paradoxes of India is its astonishing linguistic diversity (they speak about five hundred languages there) compared with its cultural unity.” (4) Rather than denying the idea of India, he strongly sympathizes with it: though a construct of history, India is a cultural reality. This French invasionist is more an Indian patriot than most Indian invasionists. To do full justice to Sergent’s work, I must refer to the original, and I hope it will soon be translated in English or Hindi. Here, we will only discuss some of the most original or controversial points.



1. S. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, passim; and K. D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi 1992 (1980), which includes a lengthy appendix dissecting Asko Parpola’s archaeological evidence.

2. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, Payot, Paris 1997.

3. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 370 and p. 477 n-485.

4. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 9.


5. Some new arguments


5. 2. 1. A touchy subject

Bernard Sergent treads sensitive ground in discussing the evidence furnished by physical anthropology. Though not identifying language with race (as some 19th-century scholars did), he maintains that in many cases, a certain correlation between language and genes may nonetheless be discernible. As we have seen, this thesis has been put forward by Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and other leading population geneticists. The underlying logic is simple: people who speak a common language do so by living together as a community, and as such, they will also intermarry and pass on their genes along with their language and culture to their children. To say that there was an original IE community whose language got diversified into the existing IE languages, and whose “heirs” we IE-speakers are, is already enough to attract suspicions of Nazi fantasies, even in the case of so authoritative and objective a scholar as Bernard Sergent. Indeed, oblique aspersions are cast on Sergent by Jean-Paul Demoule, who uses the familiar and simple technique of juxtaposition, i. c. with the term “mother race”, used off-hand by Emmanuel Leroy-Ladurie in a review of Sergent’s book Les Indo-Européens. (5) Demoule’s explicit thesis is that “not one scientific fact allows support for the hypothesis of an original [PIE-speaking] people”. In fact, there am no known languages which are not spoken by a living community or a “people”, either in the past (e.g. Latin) or in the present. The only exception would be Esperanto, an artificial language; but would Prof. Demoule maintain that IE came about as a constructed (“sanskRta”) language, propagated by word of mouth from the Bay of Bengal to the Atlantic coast? Plain common sense requires that the PIE dialects were also spoken by some such “people”. If postmodernists like Demoule want to deny to the hypothetical PIE language the necessary hypothesis that it was used by a community of speakers, it is up to them to provide an alternative hypothesis plus the “scientific facts” supporting it. A related political inhibition obstructing the progress of research in IE studies is the post-1945 mistrust of migratory models as explanations of the spread of technologies, cultures or indeed languages. Sergent goes against the dominant tendency by insisting that the IE language family has spread by means of migrations. (6) Prior to the telegraph and the modern electronic media, a language could indeed only be spread by being physically taken from one place to the next. In the case of India, while we need not concede Sergent’s specific assumption of an Aryan immigration, it is obvious that migrations have been a key factor in the present distribution of languages. (7) As he points out, the historical period in India has witnessed well-recorded invasions by the Greeks, Huns, Scythians, Kushanas, Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Europeans, producing such linguistic phenomena as Greek loans in Sanskrit, the Persian-Hindi hybrid language Urdu, the Portuguese family names of many Indian Christians, the de facto status of English as India’s link language, and numerous English loans in Tamil and other modern Indian languages, plus a handful of Indian loans in European languages generally (ginger, rice) and a whole lot in English specifically (thug, goonda, bungalow, jungle etc. ). And that is mild stuff compared with the Americas, where European immigration has marginalized or extinguished numerous native languages and replaced them wholesale with a few European ones. So, there is no need to be shy about surmising the existence and the linguistic impact of migrations, including violent ones, in the proto-historical period. It so happens that migrations may leave traces in the physical-anthropological “record” of a population, thus adding modern genetics to the sciences which can be employed in reconstructing ancient history.


5. 2. 2. A challenge to monogenism?

The presence of human and para-human races in India is extremely ancient, including attested traces of archanthropian specimina of Homo Erectus. Among the extraordinary findings, surprisingly late traces of pre-human hominids have been found in the Narmada Valley, dated to ca. 23,000 BC. This, to Sergent, confirms the hypothesis that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has mixed with Homo Erectus in Asia, just as modern man has mixed to an extent with Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis in Europe. (8) Sergent reminds us that the dental characteristics of the xanthodermic (yellow-skinned) race are those of Homo Erectus rather than of Homo Sapiens. This could be read as an implicit questioning of the monogenist thesis, i.e. the assumption that the human species has crossed the threshold from animal to human as a single collectivity. After 1945, this assumption has been insisted upon as if it were a religious dogma, because it was feared that polygenism would undermine the unity of the human species. (9) This fear seems unfounded: the simple fact that the different human races can interbreed and have fertile offspring (unlike horse and donkey, or lion and tiger) firmly establishes the unity of the human species. (10) The relative unimportance of mono- or polygenism is shown by the Biblical example of the extremely unequal valuation and treatment of the “Hamitic” race (interpreted as either the natives of Canaan, crushed by the Israelites under Joshua, or as the Black Africans, reduced to slavery by Christian Europeans) for the sin of their ancestor Ham, eventhough the latter had a common origin with his brothers Sem, deemed ancestor of the Israelites, and Japhet, deemed ancestor of the Europeans. The monogenist belief that Noah was the common ancestor of the Hamite, Semite and Japhetite “races” could not prevent the extreme inequality between them. By contrast, the polygenist discovery of a dental trait of the “infra-human” Homo Erectus in the yellow race has not led to a classification of the yellow race as subhuman or otherwise inferior. On the contrary, even white believers in racial inequality (like Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their controversial book The Bell Curve, 1994) have affirmed the superior intelligence, on average, of yellow as compared with white and black people. Being a partial descendant of the Neanderthal troglodytes myself, I propose we celebrate the fusion of different strands of homines in our own genes. Indeed, what the mixing of Sapiens Sapiens with Neanderthalensis and Erectus proves, is that they were not really different species, but merely different races within the developing human species; and this restores monogenism.


5. 2. 3. The Veddoid aboriginals

Sergent claims that the oldest Homo Sapiens Sapiens racial type of India, now largely submerged by interbreeding with immigrant Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and IE populations, is the one preserved in the Vedda and Rodiya tribes of Sri Lanka. Earlier physical-anthropologists had isolated them as “primitive”, by which they meant un-European: little facial and body hair, broad nose, receding forehead, heavy eyebrows. They also recognized them as very similar to the Australian aboriginals, though the latter are in fact less dissimilar from the European type, e.g. being just as hairy and often having light-brown or blond hair. Though living in the southernmost, near-equatorial part of the subcontinent, the Veddas are not black but brown. While the purely black skin is associated (by Sergent) with the population which “brought” the Dravidian languages, the Veddoid traits are found to an extent among tribal populations in south India and as far north as the Bhils and the Gonds. Perhaps Nahali is the last remnant of the lost language of this ancient layer of the Indian population, for all the said tribes including the Veddas now speak the languages of their non-tribal neighbours. (11) The Veddoid type has also been found in the Harappan area, in the chronologically post-Harappan and culturally non-Harappan site known as Cemetery H. It has even been found in Iran and Mesopotamia. In Sergent’s view, this indicates the trail of the Veddoid-Australoid vanguard of Homo Sapiens Sapiens on its way from Africa to East Asia, Indonesia and Australia, very roughly in 40,000 BC. In countries along the way, this type may have coexisted with Homo Erectus for thousands of years before assimilating or displacing the latter, and before being assimilated or displaced by other, more European-like racial types.


5. 2. 4. Waves of immigrants

Bernard Sergent questions the neat division of the South-Asian population into “Mediterranean”, “Melano-Indian” (black-skinned, associated with the Dravidian languages) and “Veddoid” or “Australoid”, introduced by British colonial anthropologists: “the Vedda, the Melano-Indians and the Indus people and the actual inhabitants of the northern half of India, which classical anthropology used to class as Mediterraneans, all belong to one same human ‘current’ of which they manifest the successive ‘waves’. Everything indicates, physical traits as well as geographical distribution, that the Vedda have arrived first, followed by the Melano-Indians, and then the Indus people.” (12) Note that he does not mention “Aryans” as a distinct type separate from and arriving after the “Indus people”. Sergent rejects the classical view that populations having traits halfway between the typical Veddoid and Mediterranean traits must be considered “mixed”. Instead, rather than assuming discrete racial types subsequently subject to miscegenation, he posits a racial continuum, corresponding with the continuum of migrations from northeastern Africa via West Asia to South Asia. Indeed, he takes a few Veddoid-looking skeletons found in Mesopotamia as proof that the Veddas too were immigrants into India, “far from representing emigrations from India (how and when could these have come about, all movements going in the opposite sense, as we shall see?)”. (13) The circular argument that the distribution of Veddoid skulls over South- as well as West Asia must be due to a southeastward migration as all migrations in this region have been southeastward, loses much of its force when we consider that in the historical period, northwestward migrations are equally attested, esp. that of the Gypsies hardly a thousand years ago. Nonetheless, with the present state of knowledge suggesting an African origin for modern humanity, it is of course plausible that India’s first human inhabitants were immigrants from West Asia and ultimately from Africa. The Dravidian-speakers largely coincide with a racial type called “Melano-Indian”, which is very dark-skinned (darker than the Veddas), but in all other respects similar not to the Melano-Africans but to the Mediterranean variety of the white race, e.g. wavy hair, a near-vertical forehead, thinner nose. Sergent thinks they arrived in Mehrgarh well before the beginning of the Neolithic, in ca. 8,000 BC, and that they were subsequently replaced or absorbed by the real Harappans, who belonged to the “Indo-Afghan” type. (14) At this point, it is customary to point to the Dravidian Brahui speakers of Baluchistan (living in the vicinity of Mehrgarh) as a remnant of the Dravidian Harappans. However, they are physically indistinguishable from the Iranian Baluchis, and Sergent proposes that the Brahui speakers, far from being a native remnant of a pre-Harappan population of Baluchistan, only immigrated into Baluchistan from inner India in the early Muslim period. Given that Baluchi, a West-Iranian language, only established itself in Baluchistan in the 13th century (“for 2000 years, India has been retreating before Iran”) (15), and that the only Indo-Iranian loans in Brahui are from Baluchi and not from Indo-Aryan, Sergent deduces that Brahui was imported in its present habitat only that late. (16) We’ll have to leave that as just a proposal for now: it is hard to understand how a Central-Indian population could migrate there, dissolve itself physically into the Baluchi population yet remain linguistically distinct. The Harappan civilization “prolongs the ancient Neolithic of Baluchistan [viz. Mehrgarh], whose physical type is West-Asian, notably the type called (because of its contemporary location) Indo-Afghan”. (17) This suggests that the “Indo-Afghan” type was located elsewhere before the beginning of the Neolithic in Mehrgarh, viz. in West Asia. If so, this means that the last great wave of immigrants (as opposed to smaller waves like the Scythian or the Turco-Afghan or the English which did not deeply alter the average genetic type of the Indian population) took place thousands of years before the supposed Aryan invasion. And the latter, bringing Aryans of the Indo-Afghan type into an India already populated with Harappans of the Indo-Afghan type, happens to be untraceable in the physical-anthropological data. No new blood type or skull type or skin colour marks the period when the Aryans are supposed to have invaded India. So, one potentially decisive proof of the Aryan invasion is conspicuously missing. Indeed, the physical-anthropological record is now confidently used by opponents of the AIT as proof of the continuity between the Harappan and the post-Harappan societies in northwestern India.



5. Jean-Paul Demoule: “Les Indo-Européens, un mythe sur mesure”, La Recherche, April 1998, p. 41.

6. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde,153-156, criticizing non-migrationist theses by Jean-Francois Jarrige and Jim Shaffer.

7. One scholar who still agrees with Dr. Sergent’s common-sense position is Dr. Robert Zydenbos (“An obscurantist argument”, Indian Express, 12-12-1993): “And it should be clear that languages do not migrate by themselves: people migrate, and bring languages with them.”

8. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 35-37. Fresh confirmation of the Sapiens-Neanderthal mixing was unearthed in Lapedo Valley near Leiria, Portugal, in December 1998: a 4-year-old boy who lived 24,500 years ago and whose skeleton shows mixed charcateristics of both Homo types, according to palaeo-anthropologist Dr. Erik Trinkaus (De Standaard, 26-4-1999).

9. About the ideological extrapolations from polygenist and monogenist anthropologies, see Léon Poliakov: Le Mythe Aryen (Paris 1971), ch. 2. 2.

10. It is a different matter that some polygenists did indeed hold crudely racist views, e.g. the proto-Nazi Ariosophists, led by Guido von List (1848-1919) and Joerg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954) ascribed divergent origins to the different non-white and Jewish “races”, with the Black Africans being a hybrid progeny fathered by white Aryans upon apes, cfr. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: The Occult Roots of Nazism, Tauris, London 1992 (1985)

11. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 38.

12. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 43.

13. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 44.

14. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 50.

15. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 29. Indeed, both Baluchistan (including the Brahminical place of pilgrimage Hinglaj) and the Northwest Frontier Province (homeland of Panini) were partly Indo-Aryan-speaking before Baluchi and Pashtu moved in.

16. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 130.

17. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 50.


5. Some new arguments


5. 3. 1. Tracing the Aryan migrants

Though die question of Aryan origins was much disputed in the 19th century, the Aryan invasion theory has been so solidly dominant in the past century that attempts to prove it have been extremely rare in recent decades (why prove the obvious?), until the debate flared up again in India after 1990. In his attempt to prove the Aryan invasion, Bernard Sergent uses the archaeological record, which, paradoxically, is invoked with equal confidence by the non-invasionist school. (18) The crux of the matter is: can archaeologists trace a population migrating through Central Asia and settling down in India? There seems to be new hope to pin down this elusive band of migrants: “Today, thanks to the extremely rich findings in Central Asia in the past twenty years, the discovery of the ‘pre-Indian Indians’ has become possible.” (19) Before discussing his evidence, let us consider the apparent lack of evidence for the opposite itinerary: India to Central Asia. So far, Indian scholars have been on the defensive, busy refuting the AIT but not elaborating an India-centred alternative scenario of IE expansion. Indeed, some of them just deny the existence of an IE language family, so that no expansion needs to be reconstructed. In the absence of an archaeological Saraswati-to-Volga trail, I suppose that established archaeologists would readily point to important differences between pre-Harappan culture of ca. 5,000 BC and the contemporaneous Central-Asian cultures, e.g. the higher degree of sophistication and incipient urbanization in northwestern India, or the much more intense use which was made of the horse in Central Asia and in the Pontic region by 4,000 BC. My layman’s reply would be as follows. The fact that there are differences between Central-Asian cultures and (pre-)Harappan culture hardly disproves the possibility of migrations from India to Central Asia. To an extent, it is perfectly normal that the itinerary cannot be traced by archaeology alone: when people move from an urban environment in a hot climate to a steppe region with bitterly cold winters, their material culture changes. Iranian having developed into a distinct branch of Indo-Iranian by Zarathushtra’s time, we may surmise that Iranian emigrants from India must have been settled in Bactria for quite some time by the end of the Harappan city culture, long enough to have differentiated a lot from their pre-Harappan Indian mother culture. For the sake of comparison, the Dutch Afrikaners in Transvaal gradually lost touch with the European world and its technological progress; for their metalwork, a routine affair in Holland, they had to go to Zulu blacksmiths, having lost the skill themselves. The European trappers in North America returned to an almost prehistorical lifestyle during their stays in the forests. In antiquity, with communications being so much more limited, this effect must have been much stronger: Harappan immigrants in Central Asia soon adopted the material culture of their new environment, forgetting the most advanced and complex elements of Indian culture. Nonetheless, it remains possible for archaeologists to ascertain the Dutch presence in 19th-century Transvaal or that of French fur-hunters in 18th-century Canada, e.g. by discovering remains of non-indigenous rifles. So, Indian archaeologists should come out of their defensive position and see for themselves what evidence there may be for the presence of Indian colonists in Central Asia and for an India-to-Europe migration. It is quite possible that such evidence is already on the table but that no one has interpreted it correctly due to the widespread AIT bias.


5. 3. 2. The Bactrian culture

Bactria, the basin of the Amu Darya or Oxus river, now northern Afghanistan plus southeastern Uzbekistan, is historically the cradle of Iranian culture. In an Indian Urheimat scenario, the Iranians left India either after or, apparently more in line with scriptural evidence, before the heyday of the Harappan cities. The next waystation, where they developed their own distinct culture, was Bactria. In that framework, it is entirely logical that a separate though Harappa-related culture has been discovered in Bactria and dated to the late 3rd millennium BC. However, Bernard Sergent identifies this Bronze Age culture of Bactria, “one of the most briliant civilizations of Asia” (20), as that of the Indo-Aryans poised to invade India. Though not figuring much in the development of his own theory, evidence for similarities in material culture between Harappa and Bactria is acknowledged by Bernard Sergent, e.g. ceramics resembling those found in Chanhu-Daro. This Harappan influence on the Bactrian culture proper is distinct from the existence of six fully Harappan colonies in Afghanistan, most importantly Shortugai in Bactria, “a settlement completely Harappan in character on a tributary of the Amu Darya (…) on the foot of the ore-rich Badakshan range (…) with lapis lazuli, gold, silver, copper and lead ores. Not one of the standard characteristics of the Harappan cultural complex is missing from it.” (21) Logically, the close coexistence of Harappan colonies and Bactrian settlements was a conduit for mutual influence but also a source of friction and conflict. Indian-Iranian conflict has been a constant from the Bronze Age (with the replacement of Harappan with Bactrian culture in Shortugai ca. 1800 BC) (22) through Pehlevi, Shaka and Afghan invasions until Nadir Shah’s sack of Delhi in the 18th century. Sergent notes a peculiarity of the Bronze Age Bactrian culture: “in contrast with all the neighbouring cultures, the settlements of this culture are characterized by a very feeble accumulation: they were constructed in haste, apparently on the basis of a pre-established plan, and have not been occupied for very long”. (23) That such makeshift settlements have produced such “brilliant” culture, indicates to me that they already had a brilliant cultural heritage to start with. And isn’t precisely the Harappan culture known for its proficiency in urban planning? Sergent cites Akhmadali A. Askarov’s conclusion that the Harappan-Bactrian similarities are due to “influence of northwestern India on Bactria by means of a migration of Indus people to Central Asia after the end of their civilization”. (24) The acknowledgment of a Harappa-to-Bactria movement is well taken, but this poses a chronological problem (unless we assume that the Iranians themselves were Harappans, refugees from the debris of a crumbling civilization). Sergent himself solves the chronological problem by pointing out that Askarov and other Soviet scholars who first dug up the sites in Margiana (eastern Turkmenistan) and Bactria, used an obsolete form of C-14 Carbon dating, and that newer methods have pushed the chronology of these sites back by centuries. (25) For Sergent, this chronological correction is essential: if the Bactrian culture was that of the Indo-Aryans who brought down the Indus civilization, it is necessary that they lived there before the end of the latter. Sergent then mentions a number of similarities in material culture between the Bactrian culture and some cultures in Central Asia and in Iran proper, e.g. ceramics like those of Namazga-V (southern Turkmenistan). Some of these were loans from Elam which were being transmitted from one Iranian (in his reconstruction, Indo-Iranian) settlement to the next, e.g. the so-called “Luristan bronzes”, Luristan being a Southwest-Iranian region where Elamite culture was located. Some were loans from the “neighbouring and older” (26) culture of Margiana: does this not indicate an east-to-west gradient for the Indo-Iranians? Well, one effect of Sergent’s chronological correction is that what seem to be influences from elsewhere on Bactrian culture, may have to be reversed: “From that point onwards, the direction of exchanges and influences gets partly reversed: a number of similarities can just as well be explained by an influence of Bactria on another region as one of another on Bactria.” (27) So, even for the relation between the Bactrian culture and its neighbours, the proper direction required by the AIT has not been demonstrated, let alone a movement all the way from the northern Caspian region to India. And if there was transmission from other cultures to Bactria (as of course there was), this does not prove that the Bactrians were colonists originating in these other cultures; they may simply have practised commerce. At any rate, all the sites related in material culture to the Dashli settlement (except for the Harappan sites) are in present-day Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan or Iran proper, and are without exception places which were Iranian at the time they made their appearance in written history in the last millennium BC (or earlier if that source was the Avesta). While migrations are obviously possible, it seems to me that this says something about the burden of proof. It is entirely reasonable to accept as a starting hypothesis that the Dashli settlement, like its sister settlements, was n. Those who insist it was something else, should accept the burden of proving that Dashli was different, that migrations took place in which the Indo-Aryans there made way for Iranians whose presence there was certified a few centuries later, and if possible also to explain why those things happened.


5. 3. 3. Bactria vs. Harappa

A new insight based on archaeology and detrimental to the stereotypical Harappan/Aryan opposition, is that the Harappans were not matriarchal pacifists after all, that they did have weapons and fortifications, “just like” the Aryans. (28) This has even been argued by Prof. Shereen Ratnagar, a virulent critic of all Indocentric revisions of the Aryan question. (29) Incidentally, the Dravidians, often identified with the Harappans, were not all that peace-loving either: in the context of research into the identity of the megalith-builders in South India in the 2nd millennium BC. Asko Parpola sees a connection between the glorification of war in Old Tamil poetry and the findings of weaponry in Megalithic graves. (30) in the jungle of the human world, purely pacifistic civilizations would not be viable except as a pipe-dream. Yet, at this point, Sergent insists on the old picture: relatively unarmed mercantile Harappans versus heavily armed Aryans preparing their invasion in Bactria. It is not a contrast between martial and pacifist, but at least one between more martial and less martial. The Bactrian settlements abound in metal weaponry, and this does present a contrast with the relative paucity of weapons in Harappa. The latter was a well-ordered mercantile society, while Bactria seems to have been a frontier society. However, this need not indicate an ethnic or linguistic difference: at the time of writing, English law prohibits nearly every form of private possession of firearms, while American law allows every citizen to carry firearms and most American families do indeed possess some. A different situation and history can account for a different attitude to weaponry, even within the same speech community. On the other hand, to pursue the comparison, British and American English have grown somewhat apart; in the absence of modern communication, they might have been close to differentiating as much from each other as Iranian did from Indo-Aryan. Would the latter difference not neatly fit the relation between Harappan and Bactrian societies: related but sufficiently distinct? The emphatically martial culture of Bactria as compared with the relatively peaceful culture of the Indus-Saraswati civilization reminds us of a contrast between Iranian and Indian in the historical period. In pre-Alexandrine Iranian royal inscriptions, we come across truly shameless expressions of pride in bloody victories, even defiantly detailing the cruel treatment meted out to the defeated kings. By contrast, in Ashoka’s inscriptions, we find apologies for the bloody Kalinga war and a call for establishing peace and order. Far from being a purely Buddhist reaction against prevalent Hindu martial customs, Ashoka’s relative pacifism presents a personal variation within a broader and more ancient tradition of AhiMsA, non-violence, best expressed in some sections of the Mahabharata. Though this epic (and most explicitly its section known as the Bhagavad Gita) rejects the extremist non-violence propagated by Mahatma Gandhi and also by the wavering Arjuna before the decisive battle, Krishna’s exhortation to fight comes only after every peaceful means of appeasing or reconciling the enemy has been tried. True, the Vedas seem to be inspired by the same martial spirit of the Iranian inscriptions, but in the Indocentric chronology, they predate the high tide of Harappan civilization, belonging to a pre-Harappan period of conquest, viz. the conquest of the northwest by the Yamuna/Saraswati-based Puru tribe. Their westward conquest was part of a larger westward movement including the Iranian conquest of Central Asia. By way of hypothesis, I propose that AhiMsA was a largely post-Vedic development (though it has been argued that Vedic ritual rules to minimize the suffering of the sacrificed animals already prove the existence of the AhiMsA spirit, a concern equally present in Zarathushtra’s hymns) (31), and that the Iranians missed its more radical phase, sticking instead to the more uncivilized glorification of victory by means of force. This would concur with the finding of a more military orientation of Bactrian culture as compared with the post-Vedic Harappan culture.


5. 3. 4. The Bactrian tripura

In the principal Bactrian site of Dashli, a circular building with three concentric walls has been found. The building was divided into a number of rooms and inside, three fireplaces on platforms were discovered along with the charred remains of sacrificed animals. In this building, its Soviet excavator Viktor Sarianidi recognized an Iranian temple, but Sergent explains why he disagrees with him. (32) He argues that the Vedic Aryans were as much fire-worshippers as the Iranians, and like the early Iranians (prior to the establishment of Zarathushtra’s reforms), they sacrificed animals, so that the excavated fire altars could be either Indo-Aryan or Iranian. Of course, India and Iran have a large common heritage, and many religious practices, mythical motifs and other cultural items were the same or closely similar in both. But that truism will not do to satisfy Sergent’s purpose, which is to show that the Bactrian culture was not generally Indo-Iranian, and definitely not Iranian, but specifically Indo-Aryan. There is nothing decisively un-Iranian about the Dashli fire altars. On the contrary, there may well be something un-Indic and specifically Iranian about it. First of all, roundness in buildings is highly unusual in Hindu culture, which has a strong preference for square plans (even vertically, as in windows, where rectangular shapes are preferred over arches), in evidence already in the Harappan cities. Moreover, Sergent notes the similarity with a fire temple found in Togolok, Margiana. The Togolok fire altar has gained fame by yielding traces of a plant used in the Soma (Iranian: Haoma) sacrifice: laboratory analysis in Moscow showed this to be Ephedra, a stimulant still used in ephedrine and derivative products. (33) Asko Parpola tries to turn the Togolok temple into an Indo-Iranian and possibly proto-Vedic one citing the Soma sacrifice there as evidence: the Rg-Vedic people reproached their Dasa (Iranian) enemies for not performing rituals including the Soma ritual, so Parpola identifies the former with the “Haumavarga Shakas” or Soma-using Scythians mentioned in Zoroastrian texts. (34) However, every testimony we have of the Scythians, including the Haumavarga ones in whose sites traces of the Soma ceremony have been found, is as an Iranian-speaking people. It is possible that the sedentary Iranians included all nomads in their term Shaka, even the hypothetical Vedic-Aryan nomads on their way to India, but it is not more than just possible. The use of Soma was a bone of contention within Mazdeism, with Zarathushtra apparently opposing it against its adepts who were equally Iranian. (35) And even if Thomas Burrow were right with his thesis that the Mazdean religion originated in a sustained reaction against the Indo-Aryans present in Bactria and throughout the Iranian speech area (making the non-Zoroastrian faction in Greater Iran an Indo-Aryan foreign resident group) (36), it remains to be proven that these dissident Indo-Aryans made way for Zoroastrian hegemony in Iran by moving out, and more specifically by moving to India, somewhat like Moses taking the Israelites out of Egypt. There is neither scriptural nor archaeological evidence for such a scenario: the normal course of events would be assimilation by the dominant group, and the only emigration from Iranian territory (if it had already been iranianized) by Indo-Aryans that we know of, is the movement of the Mitannic and Kassite Indo-Aryans from the southern Caspian area into Mesopotamia and even as far as Palestine. In the Dashli building, Asko Parpola recognized a tripura such as have been described in the Vedic literature as the strongholds with three circular concentric walls of the Dasas or Asuras (Asura/Ahura worshippers), which Parpola himself has identified elsewhere as Iranians. (37) So, chances are that the Soma-holding fire-altars, like the tripura structures around them, in both Togolok and Dashli, were Iranian. Parpola makes this conclusion even more compelling when he informs us that a similar building in Kutlug-Tepe “demonstrates that the tradition of building forts with three concentric walls survived in Bactria until Achaemenid times” (38) - when the region was undoubtedly Iranian. Moreover, Parpola points out details in the Vedic descriptions of the tripura-holding Dasas and Asuras which neatly fit the Bactrian culture, the Rg-Veda “places the Dasa strongholds (…) in the mountainous area” (39), which is what Afghanistan looks like to people from the Ganga-Saraswati-Indus plains; it speaks of “a hundred forts” of the Dasa, while the Vedic Aryans themselves “are never said to have anything but fire or rivers as their ‘forts’. The later Vedic texts confirm this by stating that when the Asuras and Devas were fighting, the Asuras always won in the beginning, because they alone had forts. (…) The Rg-Vedic Aryans described their enemy as rich and powerful, defending their cattle, gold and wonderful treasures with sharp weapons, horses and chariots. This description fits the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex in Bactria, with its finely decorated golden cups, weapons with ornamental animal figurines including the horse, and trumpets indicative of chariot warfare.” (40) This may pose a chronological problem to those who consider the Rg-Veda as pre-Bronze Age, or perhaps not, e.g. Parpola notes that the term tripura was “unknown to the Rg-Veda” and only appears later, “in the Brahmana texts” (41) which non-invasionists date to the high Harappan period, contemporaneous with the Bactrian Bronze Age culture. At any rate, it affirms in so many words that the Bactrian Bronze Age culture was Dasa or Asura, terms which Parpola had identified with “the carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran”. (42) It also constitutes a challenge to those who make India the Urheimat of IE or at least of Indo-Iranian: if the presumed tripuras are a distinctly Dasa/Iranian element, identified as such in Vedic literature, and if the Vedic Aryans fought the Dasas in India, should we not be able to find some tripuras in India too? Or did the Iranians only develop them after leaving India but while still waging occasional wars on the Indian border?


5. 3. 5. Were the Bactrians Indo-Aryans?

Other artefacts in Dashli have the same Iranian/Indo-Aryan ambiguity with a preference for the Iranian alternative. A vase in Dashli shows a scene with men wearing a kind of shirt leaving one shoulder uncovered. In this, Sergent recognizes the upanayana ceremony, in which a youngster is invested with the sacred shirt or thread. (43) But this is both a Vedic and a Zoroastrian ritual, with the latter resembling the depicted scene more closely: in India, only a thread is given, but among Zoroastrians, it is an actual shirt. Some vases display horned snakes or dragons carrying one or more suns inside of them: according to Sergent, this refers to an Indo-Iranian dragon myth, attested in slightly greater detail in the Rg-Veda than in the Avesta (but what else would you expect, with Vedic literature being much larger, older and better preserved than the Avestan corpus?), about Indra liberating the sun by slaying the dragon Vrtra, or in the Avesta, Keresaspa killing the snake Azhi Srvara, “the homed one”. (44) The sources which drew his attention to this picture, both Soviet and French, are agreed that it is specifically Iranian. (45) What Sergent adds is only that, like with the fire cult, it could just as well be indo-Aryan; but that does not amount to proof of its Indo-Aryan rather than Iranian identity. Several depictions (statuettes, seals) of a fertility goddess associated with watery themes have been found. Sergent points out that they are unrelated to Mesopotamian mythology but closely related to the “Indo-Iranian” goddess known in India as Saraswati, in Iran as Anahita. Which shall it be in this particular case, Iranian or Indian, Avestan or Vedic? Sergent himself adds that the closest written description corresponding to the visual iconography in question is found in Yasht 5 of the Avesta. (46) Of course we must remain open to new interpretations and new findings. In this field, confident assertions can be overruled the same day by new discoveries. But if Sergent himself, all while advocating an Indo-Aryan interpretation of the known Bactrian findings, is giving us so many hints that their identity is uncertain at best, and otherwise more likely Iranian than Indo-Aryan, we should have no reason to disbelieve him. On the strength of the data he offers, the safest bet is that the Bactrian Bronze Age culture was the centre of Iranian culture. This happens to agree with the evidence of Zoroastrian scripture, which has dialectal features pointing to the northeast of the historical Iranian linguistic space (i.e. including Iran proper, which was in fact a late addition to the Iranian speech area), meaning Bactria, and which specifically locates Zarathushtra in Bahlika/Balkh, a town in northern Afghanistan or Bactria. It tallies with the list of regions in the opening chapter of the Vendidad, corresponding to Bactria, Sogdia, Margiana, southern Afghanistan and northwestern India, which happens to put Balkh practically in the geographical centre. Iran proper was iranianized only well after Zarathushtra’s preaching. As Sergent notes, in ca. 1900 BC, the Namazga culture in Turkmenistan changes considerably taking in the influence of the then fast-expanding Bactria-Margiana culture: (47) the Iranians were moving from their historical heartland westward into the south-Caspian area. From there, but again only after a few more centuries, they were to colonize Kurdistan/Media and Fars/Persia, where their kingdoms were to flourish into far-flung empires in the 1st millennium BC. It is only logical that the dominant religious tradition in a civilization is the one developed in its demographic and cultural metropolis: the Veda in the Saraswati basin, the Avesta in the Oxus basin, i.e. Bactria. That Bactria did have the status of a metropolis is suggested by Sergent’s own description of its Bronze Age culture as “one of the most brilliant in Asia”. Though provincial compared with Harappa, it was a worthy metropolis to the somewhat less polished Iranian civilization.


5. 3. 6. Clarions of the Aryan invaders

Another distinctively Aryan innovation attested in Dashli was the trumpet: “Bactria has yielded a number of trumpets; some others had been found earlier in Tepe Hissar and Astrabad (northeastern Iran); Roman Ghirshman proposed to connect these instruments with the use of the horse, with the Iranian cavalry manoeuvring to the sound of the clarion. (…) In ancient India, the trumpet is not mentioned in the written sources”. (48) Would it not be logical if the same type of cavalry manoeuvres had yielded the Aryans both Iran and India? In that case, we should have encountered some references to clarions in the Vedas. But no, as per Sergent’s own reading, the Rg-Veda, supposedly the record of Aryan settlement in India, knows nothing of trumpets; though post-Harappan depictions of riders with trumpets are known. All this falls into place if we follow the chronology given by K. D. Sethna and other Indian dissidents: the Rg-Veda was not younger but older than the Bronze Age and the heyday of Harappa. So, the trumpet was invented in the intervening period, say 3,000 BC, and then used in the subsequent Iranian conquest of Bactria, Margiana and Iran. The comparatively recent migration into Iran of the Iranians, who supposedly covered the short distance from the Volga mouth to Iran in the 3rd or 2nd millennium BC (losing the wayward Indo-Aryans along the way), has not been mapped archaeologically, in contrast with the successive Kurgan expansion waves into Europe. Jean Haudry reports optimistically: “Since the late 3rd millennium BC, an undecorated black pottery appears in Tepe Hissar (Turkmenistan), together with violin-shaped female idols and esp. with bronze weapons, the horse and the war chariots, and - a detail of which R. Ghirshman has demonstrated the importance - the clarion, indispensable instrument for collective chariot maneuvers. We can follow them from a distance on their way to the south.” (49) But as we shall see, this is not necessarily the entry of “the” Iranians into Iran, and even if it is, it does not prove the Kurgan area to be the starting-point of their journey. In the account of Roman Ghirshman and Jean Haudry, the proto-Iranians with their clarions travelled “to the south”. Rather than Indo-Iranians on their way from South Russia to Iran and partly to India, these may just as well be the Iranians on their way from India, via the Aral Lake area, to Iran and Mesopotamia, where they show up in subsequent centuries. Indeed, viewed from Iran, entrants from Russia and from India would come through the same route, viz. from the Aral Lake southward. A look at the map suffices to show the improbability of any other route from India to Iran: rather than to go in a straight line across the mountains, substantial groups of migrants would follow the far more hospitable route through the fertile Oxus valley to the Aral Lake area, and then proceed south from there. On the other hand, migrations from Iran northward are also attested. Against the theory of a southward migration of the Iranians from the Aral-Caspian area into Iran, P. Bosch-Gimpera proposes that the Iranians came from South Russia via the Caucasus into Iran and thence to what is now Turkestan: “The acknowledged penetration of the Iranians into Turkestan, where they arrived as far as Khorezm (…) must have taken place, on the contrary, from Iran itself, around 1000 BC.” (50) While he is wrong in describing the group migrating northward from Iran as “the” Iranians, the migration to which he draws attention confirms that Central Asia was a vast space which nomadic groups, mostly Iranian-speaking, crisscrossed in all directions. (51) Thus, in the 3rd century BC, there was a Parthian migration which resulted in the enthronement of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty in Iran, where they became formidable enemies to the Roman armies. (52) From Chinese as well as Roman sources, it has been deduced that the Parthians had been living in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya regions. In present-day Turkmenistan, the Parthian town of Nisa has been excavated, which bears testimony to their impressive culture. If only for the sake of colourfulness, I would like to draw attention to the theory of Philip Lozinski, who considers the Nisa area but a stage in a much longer migration: “All this leads me to suggest that the seat of the Parthians, first recorded in written sources, the Parthau-nisa, was in the region of the upper Irtysh river in Siberia. The whole region must have been well populated, flourishing and highly civilized. The archaeological remains recorded in modern times give ample evidence to this effect. Furthermore the very close parallel between the actual finds and the description of the Western, barbarians by the Chinese makes it highly likely that this was the region the Chinese had in mind. They were remarkably accurate: their descriptions of gold mines, irrigation systems, iron bridges, glass in the windows of palaces, the jewelled personal decorations of the aristocracy, and other regalia which caught their attention, correspond to actual remains in Siberia.” (53) Such a migration from Siberia to western Iran, all within the Iranian speech area, certainly gives an idea of what migrations could take place within the vast expanse of Central Asia. This type of migration has occurred many times in the preceding millennia (as well as in the subsequent centuries with the Turkic and Mongol conquests); it would be very easy for archaeologists to mistake such an intra-Iranian migration for the momentous entry of the Aryans. There is as yet no firm archaeological proof for the original migration of the first Iranians and Indians in any direction through Central Asia, at least it has not been identified in the relative wealth of separate archaeological findings attesting numerous different migrations. Even in Bernard Sergent’s erudite book, I have not found any data which compel us to accept that a particular culture can be identified with the very first Indo-Iranian wave of migrants; nor any data which are incompatible with the scenario of an original Iranian migration from India via the Oxus basin to the Caspian area and Iran proper.


5. 3. 7. Bactrian invasion into India

Thus far, the archaeological argument advanced by some scholars in favour of an Aryan invasion into India has not been very convincing. Consider e.g. this circular reasoning by Prof. Romila Thapar: “In Haryana and the western Ganga plain, there was an earlier Ochre Colour Pottery going back to about 1500 BC or some elements of the Chalcolithic cultures using Black-and-Red Ware. Later in about 800 BC there evolved the Painted Grey Ware culture. The geographical focus of this culture seems to be the Doab, although the pottery is widely distributed across northern Rajasthan, Panjab, Haryana and western U. P. None of these post-Harappan cultures, identifiable by their pottery, are found beyond the Indus. Yet this would be expected if ‘the Aryans’ were a people indigenous to India with some diffusion to Iran, and if the attempt was to find archaeological correlates for the affinities between Old Indo-Aryan and Old Avestan.” (54) Firstly, if no common pottery type is found in Iran and India in 1500-800 BC, and if this counts as proof that no migration from India to Iran took place, then it also proves that no migration from Iran to India took place. In particular, the Painted Grey Ware, long identified with the Indo-Aryans, cannot be traced to Central Asia; if it belonged to Aryans, then not to Aryan invaders. So, if substantiated, Prof. Thapar’s statement is actually an argument against an Aryan invasion in ca. 1500 BC. Secondly, if the absence of migration in either direction in the period from 1500 BC onwards is really proven, then this only disproves the Aryan migration if one stays with the assumption that the Aryan migration (whether into or out of India) took place around 1500 BC. But that assumption is precisely part of (the textbook version of) the AIT which Prof. Thapar has set out to prove. The archaeological data which she mentions, assuming they can prove the absence of migrations in 1500 BC and later, are not at all in conflict with the theory that Indo-Europeans emigrated from India anytime between 6000 and 2000 BC. In spite of the impression created in popular literature, archaeology has by no means demonstrated that there was an Aryan immigration into India. Even the new levels in accuracy do not affect the following status quaestionis of the Aryan Invasion theory: “The question of Indo-European migrations into the subcontinent of India can, at best, be described as enigmatic.” (55) Thus, among those who assume the Aryan Invasion, there is no consensus on when it took place, and some AIT archaeologists alter the chronology so much that the theory comes to mean the opposite of what it is usually believed to mean, viz. an affirmation of Aryan dominance in Harappa rather than an Aryan destruction of Harappa: “[This] episode of elite dominance which brought the indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European family to India (…) may have been as early as the floruit of the Indus civilization (…)” (56) Enter Bernard Sergent. He builds on a corpus of findings (some of them already used by Asko Parpola) pertaining to the apparent entry of elements from the Bactrian Bronze Age culture into late- and post-Harappan northwestern India. He also offers a theory of how these Bactrians may have caused the downfall of the Harappan civilization, parallel with the contemporaneous crisis in civilizations in Central and West Asia.


5. 3. 8. Why Harappa suffered decline

Civilization and urbanization are closely related to commerce, exchange, colonization of mining areas, and other socioeconomic processes which presuppose communications and transport. When communication and transport cease, we see cultures suffer terrible decline, e.g. the Tasmanian aboriginals (exterminated by the British settlers), living in splendid isolation for thousands of years, had lost many of the skills which mankind had developed in the Stone Age, including the art of making fire. One of the reasons why the Eurasian continent won out against Africa and the Americas in the march of progress, was the fairly easy and well-developed contact between the different civilizations of Europe, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. So, one can force decline on a culture by cutting off its trade routes, a tactic routinely used for short periods (hence only with limited long-term effect) in wartime, but which seems to have troubled the ancient civilizations in ca. 2000 BC with devastating effect for several centuries. It was in reaction to this destabilization of international trade links that the civilizational centres started budding empires by the mid-2nd millennium, e.g. the Kassite empire in Mesopotamia where there had been city-states (Ur, Uruk, Isin, Larsa, etc. ) prior to the great crisis. Or so Sergent says. Dismissing the thesis of a climatological crisis (proposed in the case of the Harappan decline but also in the case of West-Asian cultures), he argues that only an economic crisis can explain the simultaneous decline of cities in widely different locations, some near rivers and some on hills, some in densely populated agglomerations and some overlooking thinly populated steppes or mountain areas, some in hot and some in colder areas. The ones to blame are - who else? - the Aryans. They, and “specifically Indo-Aryans” (57), played a role in the Hurrian and Kassite invasions disrupting Mesopotamia (while the IE or non-IE identity of the Guti and Lullubi invaders remains unknown, though attempts are made to link the Guti with the Tokharians); and from Bactria, they by themselves disrupted the economy of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. They didn’t physically destroy the Harappan cities, as Mortimer Wheeler and others of his generation thought: “No trace of destruction has been observed in these cities.” (58) But by creating insecurity for the travelling traders, they bled and suffocated the economy which made city life possible; and thus forced the Harappans to abandon their cities and return to a pre-urban lifestyle. The declining and fragmented Harappan country and society then fell an easy prey to the Indo-Aryan invaders from Bactria. This scenario has been attested in writing in the case of Mesopotamia. Sergent quotes other experts to the effect that “from ca. 2230 BC, (…) the Guti had cut off the roads, ruined the countryside, set the cities on fire” (59) etc. , that the Assyrian trade system was disrupted by the Mitannic people, etc. But is there similar evidence for the Indus-Saraswati civilization? Sergent cites findings that in the final stage of Mohenjo Daro, we see the large mansions of the rich subdivided into small apartments for the poor, the water supply system neglected, the roads and houses no longer following the plan. (60) This certainly marks a decline, the rich losing their power and the powerful losing their control and resources. Same story in Harappa, Chanhu Daro, Kalibangan, Lothal: a great loss of quality in architecture and organization in the last phase. Moreover, all traces of long-distance trade disappear (just as in Mesopotamia, all signs of commerce with “Meluhha”/Sindh disappear by 2000 BC), and trade is the basis of city life. So, “these cities didn’t need to be destroyed: they had lost their reason for existing, and were vacated”. (61) But that doesn’t bring the Bactrians or Indo-Aryans into the picture.


5. 3. 9. Aryan settlements in India

To Bernard Sergent, the “strategic” key to the Aryan invasion puzzle has been provided by the discovery, by a French team in 1968, of the post-Harappan town of Pirak, near the Bolan pass and near Mehrgarh in Baluchistan. Pirak was a new settlement dating back only to the 18th century BC. Culturally it was closely related to the societies to its north and west, especially Bactria. Sergent sums up a long list of precise material items which Pirak had in common with those non-Indian regions, and specifies in some cases that the artefacts are attested earlier in other sites than in Pirak. (62) So, this was a settlement of foreign newcomers bringing some foreign culture with them. Sergent will certainly convince many readers by asserting that in Pirak, “the horse makes its appearance in India, both through bones and in figurines”, and this “connotes without any possible doubt the arrival in India of the first Indo-European-speaking populations”. (63) That depends entirely on how much we make of the limited but real evidence of horses in the Harappan civilization. Note moreover that while the horse was important to the Indo-Aryans, the Bactrian two-humped camel was not; but in Pirak, both camel and horse are conspicuous, both in skeletal remains and in depictions. If the Bactrian culture and those to its west were Iranian-speaking, which is likely, then Pirak is simply an Iranian settlement in an Indian border region, a southward extension of the Bactrian culture. Indo-Iranian borders have been fluctuating somewhat for millennia, while different groups of Iranians down to Nadir Shah have again and again tried to invade India, so the Iranian intrusion in Pirak (which may have ended up assimilated into its Indo-Aryan environment) need not be the momentous historical breakthrough which it is to Sergent. It would only be that if it can be shown that the Pirak innovations are repeated in many North-Indian sites in the subsequent centuries, where we know that the dominant culture was Indo-Aryan. A related culture is the Cemetery H culture on the outskirts of Harappa itself. Sergent offers a detail which is distinctly non-Vedic and Mazdean (Zoroastrian): “The dead, represented by unconnected skulls and bones, were placed, after exposure, in big jars”. (64) Exposure to birds and insects is still the first stage in the Zoroastrian disposal of the dead. Sergent also reports that the influence of the native Harappan civilization is much greater here than in Pirak. So, as the Iranian invaders moved deeper inland, they soon lost their distinctiveness. Considering that Afghan dynasties have ruled parts of India as far east as Bengal, using Persian and building in a West-Asian style, this post-Harappan Iranian intrusion as far as the Indus riverside is not that impressive. Indeed, from the Indus eastwards, we lose track of this Bactrian invasion. Sergent himself admits as much: “For the sequel, archaeology offers little help. The diggings in India for the 2nd millennium BC reveal a large number of regional cultures, generally rather poor, and to decree what within them represents the Indo-Aryan or the indigenous contribution would be arbitrary. If Pirak (…) represents the start of Indian culture, there is in the present state of Indian archaeology no ‘post-Pirak’ except at Pirak itself, which lasted till the 7th century BC: the site remained, along with a few very nearby ones, isolated.” (65) So, the Bactrian invaders who arrived through the Bolan pass and established themselves in and around the border town of Pirak, never crossed the Indus. This confirms the statement by the much-maligned (by Sergent, that is) (66) American archaeologist Jim Shaffer that “no material culture is found to move from west to east across the Indus” (67), or more academically, that the demographic eastward shift of the Harappan population during the decline of their cities, i.e. an intra-Indian movement from Indus to Ganga, “is the only archaeologically documented west-to-east movement of human populations in South Asia before the first half of the first millennium BC”, while the archaeological record shows “no significant discontinuities” for the period when the Aryan invasion should have made its mark. (68) The Aryan invasion of India has somehow gone missing from the archaeological record.


5. 3. 10. Scriptural evidence

To fortify his reconstruction of the Aryan invasion, Bernard Sergent repeates some well-known scriptural references. Indian authors are right in pointing out that this is systematically the weakest part in AIT argumentations, as the knowledge of Vedic literature among Western scholars is either too limited or too distorted by AIT presuppositions. Sergent’s arguments at this point repeat well-known claims about the contents of the Vedas. Thus, the Rg-Veda was written by foreigners because it doesn’t know the tiger nor rice nor “the domesticated elephant which existed in the Harappan Indus culture”. (69) As for the tiger, it is often said that India was divided in a lion zone in the west and a tiger zone in the rest. This image persists in the symbolism of the civil war in Sri Lanka: the Sinhalese, originating in Gujarat (the last place in India where lions exist even today), have the lion as their symbol, while the separatists among the Tamils, originating in southeastern India, call themselves the Tigers. However, to judge from the Harappan seal imagery, tigers did originally exist in the Saraswati and Indus basins as well, overlapping with the lion zone. As Sir Monier Monier-Williams notes, in the Atharva-Veda, “vyAghra/tiger is often mentioned together with the lion”. (70) It is simply impossible that the Rg-Vedic seers, even if they were unaware of the Ganga basin (quod non), had never heard of tigers. As for the domesticated elephant, if it was known in Harappa, does anyone seriously suggest that it was not known in the same area in subsequent centuries? While regression in knowledge and technology does sometimes happen, there is no reason whatsoever why people who could domesticate elephants would have lost this useful skill, which is not dependent on foreign trade or urbanization, when the Harappan cities declined. If the Vedic Aryans had settled in India, it is impossible that they didn’t know domesticated elephants; they need not have mentioned everything they knew in their Vedic hymns. At any rate, the actual reading of Vedic information has so far been the weakest arrow in the invasionists’ quiver, and I wouldn’t take their word for it that the domesticated elephant is indeed absent from the Rg-Veda. Isn’t the specification “wild elephant” (71) an indication that they also knew non-wild elephants? Isn’t the mention of how “the people deck him like a docile king of elephants” (72) a reference to the Hindu custom of taking adorned domesticated elephants in pageants? Rice, according to Sergent himself, made its appearance in the Indus basin in the late Harappan period, and was known to the Bactrian invaders in Pirak. (73) He identifies those Bactrian invaders as the Vedic Aryans, so why haven’t they mentioned rice in their Rg-Veda? One simple answer would be that the Rg-Veda is pre-Harappan, composed at a time and in a place where rice was not yet cultivated. This chronological correction solves a lot of similar arguments from silence. Thus, there was cotton in Harappa and after, but no cotton in the Rg-Veda. Bronze swords were used aplenty in the Bactrian culture and in Pirak, but are not mentioned in the Rg-Veda (a short knife can be made from soft metals like gold or copper, but a sword requires advanced bronze or iron metallurgy). (74) Camels were part of the Bactrian culture and its Pirak offshoot, but are not mentioned in the Rg-Veda except for its rather late 8th book, which mentions Bactria, possibly in the period when the early Harappans were setting up mining colonies there such as Shortugai. It all falls into place when the Rg-Veda is considered as pre-Harappan. For a very different type of scriptural evidence, Sergent sees a synchronism between the archaeologically attested settlement of Pirak and the beginning of the Puranic chronology, which in his view goes back to the 17th century BC, in “remarkable coincidence” with the florescence of Pirak. (75) Reference is in fact to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, which starts a dynastic lists of kings of Kashmir in 1882, i.e. the early 19th century BC. (76) But if Kalhana can be a valid reference, what about Kalhana’s dating the Mahabharata war to the 25th century BC? If Puranic history is any criterion, Sergent should realize that its lists of Aryan kings for other parts of India than Kashmir go way beyond 2,000 BC. Another classic scriptural reference concerns everything relating to the enemies of the Vedic Aryans, such as the “aboriginal” Dasas. Very aptly, Sergent identifies the Dasas and the Panis as Iranians, and the Pakthas (one of the tribes confronting the Vedic king Sudas in the Battle of the Ten Kings) as the Iranian Pathans. (77) Yet he doesn’t identify these tribes with the Bronze Age Bactrians, arguing that in Alexander’s time, Greek authors locate the Parnoi and Dahai just south of the Aral Lake. But that was almost two thousand years after the heyday of the Bactrian Bronze Age culture and arguably even longer after the Rg-Veda. The only mystery is that these ethnonyms managed to survive that long, not that during those long centuries, they could migrate a few hundred miles to the northwest - centuries during which we know for fact that the Iranians expanded westward from their Bactrian heartland across rivers and mountains to settle as far west as Mesopotamia. Moreover, the Vedas locate the confrontations in the prolonged hostility between Indo-Aryans and Iranians not on the Saraswati (which could in theory be identified as the homonymous Harahvaiti/Helmand in Afghanistan) (78), but on the riverside of the Parushni/Ravi and other Panjab rivers, unambiguously in India. This is only logical if the Vedic Aryans were based in the Saraswati basin and their Iranian enemies were based in an area to their west (western Panjab, Khyber pass): they confronted halfway in eastern Panjab. So not only did these Iranian tribes move from Bactria to the Aral Lake area in 2000-3000 BC, but they had started moving northwestward centuries earlier, in the Rg-Vedic period, in Panjab. With every invasionist attempting to strengthen his case by appealing to the testimony of Hindu scripture, the collective failure becomes more glaring.


5. 3. 11. Comparison with archaeological reconstruction in Europe

The westward expansion of the Kurgan culture has been mapped with some degree of accuracy: “If an archaeologist is set the problem of examining the archaeological record for a cultural horizon that is both suitably early and of reasonable uniformity to postulate as the common prehistoric ancestor of the later Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, and possibly some of the Indo-European languages of Italy, then the history of research indicates that the candidate will normally be the Corded Ware culture. At about 3200-2300 BC this Corded Ware horizon is sufficiently early to predate the emergence of any of the specific proto-languages. In addition, it is universally accepted as the common component if not the very basis of the later Bronze Age cultures that are specifically identified with the different proto-languages. Furthermore, its geographical distribution from Holland and Switzerland on the west across northern and central Europe to the upper Volga and middle Dniepr encompasses all those areas which [have been] assigned as the “homelands” of these European proto-languages.” (79) This is a very important insight for understanding the large common (partly pre-IE substratal) element in the European IE languages, distinguishing them collectively from Anatolian, Tokharic and Indo-Iranian: “The study of the lexicon of the Northern European languages, especially Germanic and Baltic, reveals that a large number of terms relevant to the ecology of the habitat of the early populations of the area and to their socioeconomic activities have no plausible Indo-European etymology. (…) it is possible to ascribe to the pre-Indo-European substrate in the Baltic area a number of names of plants, animals, objects and activities characteristic of the Neolithic cultures.” (80) Many of these terms also extend to Celtic, Slavic and sometimes Italic and Greek. Examples include the words barley, Russian bor (“millet”), Latin far (“spelt”); Irish tuath, Gothic thiuda, “people”, whence the ethnic names Dutch/Deutsch; German wahr, Latin verus, Old Irish fir, “true”; Latin granum, Dutch koren, English grain and corn; Lithuanian puodas, Germanic fata, whence Dutch vat, “vessel”; Dutch delven, “dig”, Old Prussian (Baltic) dalptan, “piercing-tool”; Old Irishland, Old Prussian lindan, Germanic land; Latin alnus (elksnis, “alder”, also related to Greek aliza, “white poplar”; Dutch smaak, “taste”, Gothic smakka, “fig, tasty fruit”, Lithuanian smaguricu, “sweet, treat”; from an ancient form *londhwos, Dutch lenden, Latin lumbus, “waist”. Likewise, the Germanic words fish, apple, oak, beech, whale, goat, elm, (n)adder have counterparts in other European languages, e.g. Latin piscis, Old Irish aball, Greek aig-ilops or krat-aigos (possibly related to Berber iksir, Basque eskur) (81), Latin fagus, squalus, haedus, ulmus, natrix, but they have no attested counterparts in the Asian IE languages. (82) Archaeology and linguistics reinforce each other in indicating the existence of a second centre of IE dispersal in the heart of Europe, the Corded Ware culture of ca. 3000 BC, whence most European branches of IE parted for their historical habitats. Even earlier demographic and cultural movements have been mapped with convincing accuracy. The sudden apparition of full-fledged Neolithic culture in the Low Countries in about 5,100 BC can clearly be traced to a gradual expansion of the agricultural civilization through Hungary (5700 BC) and southern Germany (5350 BC), from the Balkans and ultimately from Anatolia. (83) It is this gradual spread of agriculture and its concomitant changes in life-style (houses, tools, ceramics, domesticated animals) which the leading archaeologist Colin Renfrew has rashly identified as the indo-europeanization of Europe, but which Marija Gimbutas and many others would consider as the spread of the pre-IE “Old European” culture. It remains possible that in some outlying regions, the early Indo-Europeans arrived on the scene in time to capture this movement of expanding agriculture, but it did not originate with them, because Anatolia and the Balkans were demonstrably not the IE Urheimat. On the contrary, in the northeastern Mediterranean, the presence of pre-IE elements in the historically attested IE cultures and languages (Greek, Hittite) is very strong, indicating that the Indo-Europeans had to subdue a numerous and self-confident, culturally advanced population. It is this Old European people, known through towns like Catal HLyLk and Vinca, which gradually spread to the northwest and civilized most of Europe before its indo-europeanization. An even earlier case of demographic-cum-cultural expansion has been identified: “One is astonished by the cultural coherence which manifests during the Middle- and Late-Magdalénien (12,000 to 10,000 BC) in a large area reaching from Spain (the Valencia region) to central Czechoslovakia. Everything indicates that this culture has spread fast starting from southwestern France, either by migrations or by cultural exchange between autochthonous tribes. Should one - since at that socio-economic stage there can be no question of political unity - not consider the possibility that this was one large ethnic group? In the entire Magdalénien territory, there is (…), apart from similarities in tools and way of life, a conspicuous unity in artistic styles and symbolism.” (84) This culture made way for a new cultural wave: “Around 10,000 BC or shortly after, the Magdalénien culture comes to an end without any demonstrable reason. This is the end of a civilization. This is clearly visible in the French-Cantabrian region where the places of worship which had been installed in deep caves 8,000 years earlier, were abandoned. In [its northern reaches], the Magdalénien culture makes way for cultural currents from the Anglo-Polish plains” (85), a nomadic culture of pioneers living on the rim of the (by then receding) ice-cap. They were the last hunter-gatherer culture in Europe, and their expansion in non-Mediterranean Europe set the stage for the inexorable expansion of the Neolithic Revolution of agriculture from the southeast. So, that’s archaeology in action. Without the benefit of a single written document, several cultural and partly demographic waves have been identified in European prehistory: a Mesolithic wave expanding from the Ur-European population centres in the southwest (probably proto-Basque) before 10,000 BC; a counter-wave from the northeast after 10,000 BC (linguistically unidentified); the wave of agriculture spreading to the farthest corners from the southeast in the 7th-4th millennium BC (linguistically unidentified); and finally the wave of the horse-riding late-Kurganites bringing their IE languages. There is as yet no parallel map of a Kurgan-to-India migration. Thus, the material relation between the Andronovo culture in Kazakhstan (often considered as the Indo-Iranians freshly emigrated from the Kurgan area) and the Bactria-Margiana culture (presumed to be the Indo-Aryans and the Iranians on their way to India and Iran) has been established only vaguely, certainly not enough to claim that the latter was an offshoot of the former (which the AIT would require). As we saw, even tracing a migration from Bactria across the Indus has not succeeded so far. But then, neither has a reverse migration been mapped archaeologically. If the Bactrian Bronze Age culture was Iranian and the Iranians had earlier been defeated in India, where is the archaeological trail of the Iranians from India to Bactria? And earlier, where is the evidence of the Proto-Indo-Europeans on their way from India to the Kurgan area? Those who consider India as the Urheimat of IE should suspend their current triumphalism and take up the challenge.



18. E.g. B. B. Lal: New Light on the Indus Civilization, Aryan Books, Delhi 1997.

19. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p-33.

20. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 157.

21. Maurizio Tosi: “De indusbeschaving voorbij de grenzen van het Indisch subcontinent”, in UNESCO exhibition book Oude Culturen in Pakistan, Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels 1989, p. 133.

22. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 180.

23. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 160.

24. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 224, with reference to A. A. Askarov: “Traditions et innovations dans la culture du nord de la Bactriane à l’age du bronze”, Colloque Archèologie, CNRS, Paris 1985, p. 119-124.

25. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 160.

26. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 158.

27. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 160.

28. This is one of the points elaborated by Shereen Ratnagar: Enquiries into the Political Organization of Harappan Society, Ravish Publ. , Pune 1991.

29. Vide Shereen Ratnagar: “Revisionist at work: a chauvinistic inversion of the Aryan invasion theory”, Frontline, 9-2-1996, an attack on Prof. N. S. Rajaram.

30. Asko Parpola: Deciphering the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press 1994, p. 171.

31. Discussed in Hans-Peter Schmidt: “The origin of Ahimsa”, Mèlanges d’Indianisme à la Mémoire de Louis Renou, Paris 1968, and Herman W. Tull: “The killing that is not killing: men, cattle and the origins of non-violence (ahimsa) in the Vedic sacrifice”, Indo-Iranian Journal 1996, p. 223-244.

32. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 161.

33. The name Soma/Haoma does not etymologically refer to a specific plant, but to the process of pressing it to obtain its juices: sav/hav, “to press/crush”. Gernot Windfuhr: “Haoma/Soma: the Plant”, Acta Iranica 25, 2nd series, vol. XI (Brill, Leiden 1985), p. 699-726, proposes that the original Soma plant was a man-shaped root, like the European mandrake, probably the ginseng root. Windfuhr shows that its symbolic connection with the celestial man (the constellation Orion) has an exact parallel in the Chinese lore about this strongly medicinal plant. on the other hand, ginseng is at best very rare in the foothills of the Himalayas, while ephedra is quite common there and in the Afghan and Iranian highlands, and it also has mild mind-altering properties. So, the discovery of ephedra in Togolok seems to be a decisive breakthrough to near-certainty about the identity of Soma. Further arguments for the ephedra hypothesis are given by Harri Nyberg: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: the botanical evidence”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans in Ancient South Asia, p. 382-406.

34. K. D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, supplement 5, with reference to (and extensive quotation from) Asko Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic identity of the Dasas”, in Studia Orientalia, vol. 64 (Helsinki 1988), p. 195-265; see also the review of Parpola’s essay by Harry Falk, in Indo-Iranian Journal 34, 1991, p. 57-60.

35. Our knowledge of the Mazdean use of Haoma is chiefly based on the so-called Hom Yasht, included in the Avesta as Yasna 9, 10 and 11:1-12. The common belief that Zarathushtra opposed the use of Haoma is based on Yasna 48:10 (“When will men shun the mUthra/urine of this intoxication?”) and on Yasna 32:14, where a positive reference to an intoxicant is put in the mouth of evil people. But in neither case is the term Haoma effectively used, and so, Zarathushtra’s rejection of Haoma is disputed.

36. Thomas Burrow: “The Proto-Indoaryans”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1973, cited with approval by Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 232.

37. Asko Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic identity of the Dasas”, in Studia Orientalia, vol. 64 (Helsinki 1988), p. 212-215, with reference to Shatapatha Brahmana 6:3:3:24-25; and: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: textual-linguistic and archaeological evidence”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 368ff.

38. Asko Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 368.

39. Asko Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 368.

40. Asko Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 368.

41. Asko Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p - 369.

42. Asko Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic identity of the Dasas”, Studia Orientalia, vol. 64, p. 224.

43. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 163.

44. Rg-Veda 1:51:4, 1:54:6, discussed in B. Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 163-164. Incidentally, the iconography is not unlike the classical Chinese dragons, so this may be yet another IE contribution to Chinese culture. Moreover, the symbolism of the dragon swallowing the sun and getting forced to release it again also returns in Babylonian astrological symbolism: till today, the lunar nodes (intersection points of the lunar orbit and the ecliptic), where solar and lunar eclipses take place, are called Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Tail.

45. Reference is to Russian articles from the 1970s by Viktor Sarianidi and by I. S. Masimof, and to Marie-Hélène Pottier: Matériel Funéraire de la Bactriane Méridionale à l’Age du Bronze, Paris 1984, p. 82ff.

46. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 163.

47. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 179.

48. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 162.

49. J. Haudry: Les Indo-Européens, p. 1 18, with reference to R. Ghirshman: L’Iran et les Migrations des Indo-Aryans et des Iranians (1977).

50. P. Bosch-Gimpera: “The Migration Route of the Indo-Aryans”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1974, p. 515.

51. “From Hungary to China”, the Iranian-speaking nomads generically known as Scythians filled up the entire space of the steppe lands, vide Natalia Polosmak & Francis van Noten: “Les Scythes de I’Altaï”, La Recherche, May 1995, p. 524-530.

52. According to Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann: The Penguin Atlas of World History, 1979, p. 69, the Parthians were equated in Greco-Roman accounts with a Scythian tribe called the Parni, i.e. Greek Parnoi equated by Asko Parpola with the hostile Panis mentioned in the Rg-Veda, in G. Erdosy, ed. : The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 367.

53. B. Philip Lozinski: The Original Homeland of the Parthians, Mouton & Co, The Hague 1959; p. 54. The Roman writer Ammianus Marcellinus (XXIII, 6, 43) is quoted as mentioning that “to the north of Persia are Parthians dwelling in lands abounding in snow and frost”.

54. R. Thapar: “The Perennial Aryans”, Seminar, December 1992.

55. David G. Zanotti: “Another Aspect of the Indo-European Question: a Response to P. Bosch Gimpera”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1975/3, p. 255-270, spec. p. 260.

56. C. Renfrew: “Before Babel: Speculations on the Origins of Linguistic Diversity”, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 1 (1), p. 3-23, spec. p. 14.

57. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 198-199. On p. 206 ff. , Sergent adds some new data about the large IE and specifically Indo-Aryan presence in West Asia. Indo-Aryan names are quite common in Syria and Palestine in the 15th-13th century BC, e.g. the Palestian town of Sichem was ruled by one Birishena, i.e. Vira-sena, “the one who has an army of heroes”, and Qiltu near Jerusalem was ruled by one Suar-data, i.e. “gift of Heaven”. To Sergent, this also proves that the Indo-Aryans maintained a separate existence after and outside the Mitannic kingdom until at least the 13th century BC.

58. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 201.

59. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 199, quoting Paul Garelli: Le Proche-Orient Asiatique, PUF. Paris 1969. p. 89-93.

60. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 200.

61. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 201.

62. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 219ff.

63. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 221.

64. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 224; emphasis added.

65. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 246-247.

66. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 155 (“the worst is achieved by Jim Shaffer” with his “bad faith”), 477 (“manipulations in which Jim Shaffer indulges, consisting in starkly ignoring the linguistic evidence”).

67. Personal communication during the 1996 Indus-Saraswati conference in Atlanta GA.

68Jim G. Shaffer and Diane A. Lichtenstein: “The concepts of ‘cultural tradition’ and ‘palaeoethnicity’ in South-Asian archaeology”, in G. Erdosy, ed. : The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 139-140.

69. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 241.

70. M. Monier-Willams: A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p. 1036, entry vyAghra.

71. Rg-Veda 1:64:7 and 8:33:8.

72. Rg-Veda 9:57:3, thus translated by Ralph Griffith: The Hymns of the Rg-Veda, p. 488.

73. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 230.

74. Ralph Griffith uses “sword” twice in his translation The Hymns of the Rg-Veda, p. 25 (1:37:2) and p. 544 (10:20:6), both already in the younger part of the Rg-Veda, but in the index on p. 702 he corrects himself, specifying that “knife” or “dagger” would be more appropriate. Likewise, the core stories of ,the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the ones most likely to stay close to the original versions even in their material details (unlike the many sideshows woven into these epics, often narrating much more recent events), feature only primitive weapons: Rama’s bow and arrow, Hanuman’s club.

75. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 223.

76. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 541 n. 100, with secondary reference to R. Morton Smith: “The Indian Sennachy”, Journal of Indo-European Studies 1978, p. 77-91.

77. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 241-244. He specifically rejects the common belief that the Dasas were black-skinned, in spite of their occasional description as “black-covered” or “from a black womb”, pointing out that even the fair-haired and white-skinned Vikings were called the “black foreigners” by the Irish, with “black” purely used as a metaphor for “evil”.

78. Thus Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 242.

79. J. P. Mallory: In Search of the Indo-Europeans, Hudson & Hudson, London 1989, p. 108.

80. Edgar C. Polomié: “The Indo-Europeanization of Northern Europe: the Linguistic Evidence”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, fall 1990, p. 331-337.

81. Suggested by Xavier Delamarre: Le Vocabulaire Indo-Eurpéen, Maisonneuve, Paris 1984, p. 167.

82. Remark that they are all terms of flora and fauna, the typical substratum vocabulary in an immigrant language. Common developments within the pan-IE vocabulary also set the European languages apart, e.g. from sus, “pig”, the derivative su-in-o, “swine”, is attested in Latin, Greek, Baltic, Slavic and Germanic; from *ker-, “horn”, the derivative *kerew-, “deer”, strictly “the homed one” (still attested in its literal meaning in Avestan, srvara, as epithet of a horned dragon, but in the European languages a paraphrase like Sanskrit hastI, “the handed one”, for “elephant”), is attested in Germanic (Dutch hert), Greek. Latin (cervus), Celtic and Baltic.

83. Pierre Bonenfant & Paul-Louis van Berg: “De eerste bewoners van het toekomstige ‘België’: een etnische overrompeling”, in Anne Morelli ed. : Geschiedenis van het eigen volk, Kritak, Leuven 1993 (1992), p. 21-36, specifically p. 28.

84. P. Bonenfant & P. -L. van Berg: “De eerste bewoners van het toekomstige ‘België’”, in A. Morelli, ed. : Geschiedenis van het eigen volk, p. 24.

85. P. Bonenfant & P. -L. van Berg: “De eerste bewoners van het toekomstige ‘België’”, in A. Morelli, ed. : Geschiedenis van het eigen volk, p. 24.


5. Some new arguments


5. 4. 1. East-Asian influences

Bernard Sergent traces practically all Indian language families to foreign origins. He confirms the East-Asian origins of both the Tibeto-Burmese languages (Lepcha, Naga, Mizo etc. ) and the Austro-Asiatic languages (Santal, Munda, Khasi etc. ). Though many tribals in central and southern India are the biological progeny of India’s oldest human inhabitants, their adopted languages are all of foreign origin. To Sergent, this is true of not only Austro-Asiatic and Indo-Aryan, but also of Dravidian. The Himalayan branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, distinct from Tibetan, already has a very long but inconspicuous presence in northern India. Originating in China, this group of now very small languages once embraced parts of the northern plains. Of greater historical importance is the Austro-Asiatic family, which Sergent describes as once the predominant one in a continuous area from Central India to Vietnam, but now reduced to a series of pockets in between the riverine population centres dominated by the immigrant Thai and Tibeto-Burmese languages (originating in western and ultimately in northern China) and in India by the Indo-Aryan languages. He follows those scholars who consider the Central-Indian language isolate Nahali (assumed by its few students to be the original language of the western-Indian Bhils) as also belonging to the Austro-Asiatic family. (86) This view is emphatically not shared by F. B. J. Kuiper, who lists 123 items of core vocabulary not reducible to Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian or IE roots, and calculates that “about 24 per cent of the Nahali vocabulary has no correspondence whatever in India”. (87) If Kuiper is wrong, it would mean that as per the prevalent theories, not a single living language in the subcontinent (except for the peripheral languages Burushaski and Andamanese, at least for now) is indigenous. Sergent is merely following in others’ footsteps when he assumes that mayUra, “peacock”, gaja, “elephant”, karpAsa, “cotton”, and other Sanskrit fauna or flora terms are loans from Austro-Asiatic. (88) In most such cases, the only ground for this assumption is that similar-sounding words exist in the Munda languages of Chotanagpur, languages which have not been committed to writing before the 19th century. Chances are that in the intervening millennia, when these words were attested in Sanskrit but not necessarily in Munda, they were borrowed from Indo-Aryan ino Munda, or from an extinct language into both. At any rate, the hypothesis of an Austro-Asiatic origin should only be accepted in case the term is also attested in non-Indian branches such as Khmer. The alleged loans only start appearing n the 10th and youngest book of the Rg-Veda and really break through in the Brahmanas. Sergent follows the classical interpretation, viz. that this shows how the Vedic Aryans gradually moved east, encountering the Austro-Asiatic speakers in the Ganga basin. While I am not convinced of the existence of more than a few Munda terms in Sanskrit (more in the adjoining Indo-Aryan Prakrits: Hindi, Bengali, Oriya), I would agree that there are other Munda influences, notably in mythology, as we shall discuss separately. Non-invasionists will have to account for this Munda contribution. Here too, I suggest that chronology is all-important. It is quite possible that Munda had not arrived in India at the time of the Rg-Veda. When the Harappans migrated eastward (as demographically expansive populations do), or when the post-Harappans fled eastward from the disaster area which the Indus-Saraswati basin had become, the Munda-speaking people they encountered in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar may have been re-cent immigrants. All the same, it remains possible that for local flora and fauna, the indo-Aryans did adopt some Munda terminology. Broadly, the Austro-Asiatic expansion from the agricultural civilization of Thailand can be compared with the gradual spread of the Old European Neolithic from Anatolia and the Balkans to the far corners of Europe, and with the spread of India’s Northwestern Neolithic to the rest of the subcontinent. In that case, the Munda-speaking farmers in the eastern Ganga basin must have assimilated into the Indo-Aryan population, with only the peripheral populations in the hills retaining their imported languages. This Munda contribution is by no means incompatible with a native status of IE, and even Hindu nationalists should welcome it as a factor of national integration across linguistic frontiers.


5. 4. 2. Is Dravidian native to India?

In one of his most innovative chapters, Sergent reviews all the evidence of Dravido-African and Dravido-Uralic kinship. In African languages spoken in the entire Sahel belt, from Sudan to Senegal, numerous semantic and grammatical elements are found which also exist in Dravidian. The similarity with the Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian, Samoyedic) is equally pronounced. Sergent offers the hypothesis that at the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution (start of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago), the Dravidians left the Sudan, one band splitting off in Iran to head north to the Urals, the others entering India and moving south. Within this scenario of a Dravidian immigration, it is tempting to speculate that upon entering India, the Dravidians first of all founded the Indus civilization. Surprisingly, Sergent rejects this otherwise popular hypothesis, on the impeccably rational ground that there is no evidence for it. Thus, except in coastal Sindh and Gujarat, geographical terms in the Indus-Saraswati area are never of Dravidian origin. There is also no continuity in material culture between Harappan culture and the oldest known Dravidian settlements. True to scholarly norms, Sergent pleads for a provisional acceptance of our ignorance about the identity of the Harappans. However, as a concession to impatient readers who insist on having some theory at least, he gives one or two very slender indications that the Burushos (who preserve their Burushaski language till today in Hunza, Pak-Occupied Kashmir) may have played a role in it. (89) However, he finds no Burushaski lexical influence on Indo-Aryan except possibly the word sinda, “river”, connected in one direction or the other with Sanskrit Sindhu, “river, Indus”, not otherwise attested in IE. (90) He is also skeptical of David MacAlpin’s thesis of an “Elamo-Dravidian” language family: what isoglosses there are between Elamite and Dravidian can be explained sufficiently through contact rather than common origin. Like many others, Sergent suggests that the early Dravidians can be equated with the “southern Neolithic” of 2500-1600 BC. Their round huts with wooden framework are the direct precursors of contemporary rural Dravidian housing. Two types of Hindu vessel have been discovered in southern Neolithic sites, including a beaked copper recipient still used in Vedic fire ceremonies. (91) Though the prehistory of the southern Neolithic is difficult to trace, it can be stated with confidence that the best candidate is the Northwestern Neolithic, which started in Mehrgarh in the 8th millennium BC. It is, by contrast, very unlikely that it originated as an outpost of the Southeast-Asian Neolithic, which expanded into India at a rather late date, bringing the Austro-Asiatic languages. According to Sergent, a link with the mature Harappan civilization is equally unlikely: neither in material culture nor in physical type is such a link indicated by the evidence. The Dravidians were certainly already in the Deccan when the mature Harappan civilization started. Sergent suggests that the Dravidians formed a pre-Harappan population in Sindh and Gujarat, and that they were overwhelmed and assimilated, not by the invading Aryans, but by the mature-Harappan population. (92) The picture which emerges is that of a multi-lingual Indus-Saraswati civilization with Dravidian as the minor partner (possibly preserved or at least leaving its mark in the southern metropolis of Mohenjo Daro) who ended up getting assimilated by the major partner, a non-Dravidian population whom we may venture to identify as Indo-Iranian and ultimately Indo-Aryan.


5. 4. 3. Afro-Dravidian kinship

One of the most remarkable findings related in some detail by Bernard Sergent, on the basis of three independent studies (by Lilias Homburger, by Tidiane Ndiaye, and by U. P. Upadhyaya and Mrs. S. P. Upadhyaya) reaching similar conclusions, is the multifarious kinship of the Dravidian language family with African languages of the Sahel belt, from Somalia to Senegal (Peul, Wolof, Mandè, Dyola). As Sergent notes, all Melano-African languages have been credibly argued to be related, with the exception of the Khoi-San and Korama languages of southern Africa and the Afro-Asiatic family of northern Africa; so the kinship of Dravidian would be with that entire Melano-African superfamily, though it would be more conspicuous with some of its members. Thus, between Dravidian and Bantu, we find the same verbal endings for the infinitive, the subjunctive, the perfect, the active participle or nomen agentis, related postpositions or nominal case endings, and many others. In over-all structure, Dravidian and the Melano-African languages (as distinct from North-African and Khoi-San languages) form a pair when compared with other language families: “The tendency to agglutination, the absence of grammatical gender, the absence of internal vowel change, the use of pre-or postpositions instead of flection are some of the main traits which set the Negro-African and Dravidian languages jointly apart from the Indo-European and Hamito-Semitic groups.” (93) Here I would say that this doesn’t prove much: the first trait is shared with some more, and the other ones are shared with most language families on earth; it is IE and Semito-Hamitic which stand out jointly by not having these traits. (94) But there are more specific similarities: “A simple system of five basic vowels with an opposition short/long, vocalic harmony, absence of consonant clusters in initial position, abundance of geminated consonants, distinction between inclusive and exclusive pronoun in the first person plural, absence of the comparative degree in adjectives, absence of adjectives and adverbs acting as distinct morphological categories, alternation of consonants or augmentation of nouns noted among the nouns of different classes, distinction between accomplished and unaccomplished action in the verbal paradigms as opposed to the distinction of time-specific tenses, separate sets of paradigms for the affirmative and negative forms of verbs, the use of reduplicated forms for the emphatic mode, etc.” (95) Sergent himself adds more isoglosses: “Preference for open syllables (i.e. those ending in vowels), the rejection of clusters of non-identical consonants, the generally initial position of the word accent in Dravidian and in the languages of Senegal”. (96) The similarity in the demonstrative affixes is among the most striking: proximity is indicated by [i], initial in Dravidian but terminal in Wolof; distance by [a], intermediate distance by [u]. Knowing little of Dravidian and nothing at all of African languages, I don’t feel qualified to discuss this evidence. However, I do note that we have several separate studies by unrelated researchers, using different samples of languages in their observations, and that each of them lists large numbers of similarities, not just in vocabulary, but also in linguistic structure, even in its most intimate features. Thus, “the preposed demonstratives of Dravidian allow us to comprehend the genesis of the nominal classes, the fundamental trait of the Negro-African languages”. (97) To quite an extent, this evidence suggests that Dravidian and some of the African languages (the case has been made in most detail for the Senegalo-Guinean languages such as Wolof) have a common origin. At the distance involved, it is unlikely that the isoglosses noted are the effects of borrowing. Either way, Proto-Dravidian must have been geographically close to the ancestor-language of the Negro-African languages. Did it come from Africa, as Sergent concludes? Should we think of a lost Saharan culture which disappeared before the conquests of the desert? Note that earlier outspoken fans of Dravidian culture didn’t mind describing the Dravidians as immigrants: unlike the Aryans, they were bringers rather than destroyers of civilization, but they were immigrants nonetheless. (98) Or should we follow Tamil chauvinists in assuming that the Dravidians came from Tamil Nadu and the now-submerged lands to its South, and took their language and civilization to Africa?


5. 4. 4. Additional indications for Afro-Dravidian

Bernard Sergent argues against the Indian origin of Dravidian. One element to consider is that the members of the Dravidian family have not diverged very much from one another. The relative closeness of its members suggests that they started growing apart only fairly recently: a thousand years for Tamil and Malayalam (well-attested), perhaps three thousand for the divergence of North- from South-Dravidian. This would indicate that Dravidian was still a single language covering a small area in the early Harappan period, after having entered the country from the West. That the “genealogical tree” of the Dravidian family seems to have its trunk in the coastal West of India, i.e. to the northwest of the main Dravidian area, has long been recognized by scholars of Dravidian. (99) It also fits in with the old Brahminical nomenclature, which includes Gujarat and Maharashtra in the Pañcha-DraviDa, the “five Dravida areas of Brahminical settlement” (as contrasted with Pañcha-GauDa, the five North-Indian ones). The northwestern coast was the first part of India to be dravidianized, the wellspring of Dravidian migration to the south, but also an area where Dravidian was gradually displaced by Indo-Aryan though not without influencing it. Another indication for the Dravidian presence in Gujarat is the attestation in Gujarati Jain texts of inter-cousin marriage, typically South-Indian and quite non-Indo-European. (100) The IE norm was very strict in prohibiting even distant forms of incest, a norm adopted by both Hinduism and Christianity. (101) Linguists had already pointed out, and Sergent confirms, that Dravidian has left its mark on the Sindhi, Gujarati and Marathi languages (as with the distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural) and toponymy. So, it is fairly well-established that Dravidian culture had a presence in Gujarat while spreading to South India. It is possible that Gujarat was a waystation in a longer Dravidian migration from further west. Whether the itinerary of Dravidian can ultimately be traced to Sudan or thereabouts, remains to be confirmed, but Sergent already has some interesting data to offer in support. Africans and Dravidians had common types of round hut, common music instruments, common forms of snake worship and tree worship. Thus, a South-Indian board game pallankuli closely resembles the African game mancalal; varieties of the game are attested in Pharaonic Egypt and in a pre-Christian monastery in Sri Lanka. (102) A point which I do not find entirely convincing is the distinction, based on Mircea Eliade’s research, between two types of Shamanism, one best known from Siberia and in evidence among all people originating in North and East Asia including the Native Americans and the Indian Munda-speaking tribes, another best known from Africa but also attested among some South-Indian tribes. (103) This is a distinction between Shamanism properly speaking, in which the Shaman makes spirit journeys, despatches one of his multiple souls to the spirit world to help the soul of a sick person, etc. ; and the religion of ghost-possession, in which the sorcerer allows the ghost to take him over but at the same time makes him obey. The latter is perhaps best known to outsiders through the Afro-Caribbean Voodoo religion, but is also in evidence among South-Indian tribals such as the Saora and the Pramalai Kallar. If anthropologists have observed these two distinct types, I will not disbelieve them. It does not follow that there must be a link between Africa and South India: Sergent himself notes that the same religion of ghost-possession is attested among the Australian aboriginals, who are related with the Veddoid substratum in India’s population. (104) On the other hand, this theme of ghost-possession is but one of Sergent’s numerous linguistic and anthropological data which all point in the same direction of Afro-Dravidian kinship.


5. 4. 5. Uralic-Dravidian kinship

If Dravidian migrated from Africa to India through the Middle East, it could have left traces in Egypt and countries under Egyptian influence as well, explaining the data which led earlier researchers to the thesis of a Dravidian “Indo-Mediterranean” culture. (105) Sergent links Indian forms of phallus worship with Sahel-African, Ethiopian, Egyptian and Mediterranean varieties of the same. The Egyptian uraeus (“cobra”), the snake symbol on the pharaonic regalia, has been linked in detail with Dravidian forms of snake worship, including a priest’s possession by the snake’s spirit. Dravidian cremation rituals for dead snakes recall the ceremonial burial of snakes in parts of Africa. (106) Others have added the similarity between the Dravidian naga-kal (Tamil: “snake-stone”, a rectangular stone featuring two snakes facing one another, their bodies intertwined) and the intertwined snakes in the caduceus, the Greek symbol of science and medicine. It has consequently been suggested that some Dravidian words may also have penetrated into the European languages. Thus, Dravidian kal, “stone”, resembles Latin calculus, “pebble”, and Dravidian malai, “mountain”, resembles an Albanian and Rumanian word mal, “rock, rocky riverside”. (107) But this hypothesis is a long shot and we need not pursue it here. Far more substantial is the Dravidian impact on another language family far removed from the recent Dravidian speech area, viz. Uralic. The influence pertains to a very sizable vocabulary, including core terms for hand, fire, house (Finnish kota, Tamil kudi), talk, cold, bathe, die, water, pure, see, knock, be mistaken, exit, fear, bright, behind, turn, sick, dirty, ant, strong, little, seed, cut, wait, tongue, laugh, moist, break, chest, tree; some pronouns, several numerals and dozens of terms for body parts. (108) But it goes deeper than that. Thus, both language families exclude voiced and aspirated consonants and all consonant clusters at the beginning of words. They have in common several suffixes, expressions and the phonological principle of vocalic harmony. As the Dravidian influence, like that of IE, is more pronounced in the Finno-Ugric than in the Samoyedic branch, we may surmise that the contact took place after the separation of the Samoyedic branch. But the main question here is how Dravidian could have influenced Uralic given their actual distance. Sergent suggests that a lost branch of Dravidians on the way from Africa strayed into Central Asia and got assimilated but not without influencing their new language. He also rejects the theory that Dravidian forms one family along with Uralic, Turkic, Mongolian and Tunguz. The latter three are often grouped as “Altaic”, a partly genetic and partly areal group which may also include Korean and Japanese, and all the said languages have at one time or another been claimed as relatives of Dravidian, with which they do present some isoglosses. However, the isoglosses are fragmentary and mostly different ones for every language group concerned. Moreover, some Dravidian influences are also discernible in Tokharic, or Arshi-Kuchi (Tokharic A c. q. Tokharic B) as Sergent appropriately calls it, which is obviously a matter of influence through contact. So Sergent concludes that this is a matter or areal influence rather than genetic kinship: Dravidian was a foreign language entering Central Asia at some point in time to briefly exert an influence on the local languages before disappearing. (109) I am not sure this will convince everyone: if Dravidian is not genetically linked with all the said language groups, it might still be so with one of them, viz. Uralic, at least on the strength of the data Sergent offers. Tamil chauvinists may well be tempted to complete the picture by claiming that before the Indo-Europeans from India colonized Central Asia and Europe, it was the turn of the Dravidians to colonize Central Asia and, after mixing genetically and linguistically with the natives, to develop the Uralic languages. At a time when subtropical Neolithic cultures had a tremendous technological and demographical edge over the hunter-gatherers in the inhospitable northern countries, it would not even be so far-fetched to imagine that a small wayward group of Dravidians could enter the vast expanse of Central Asia and completely change the linguistic landscape there. At any rate, Sergent’s observations represent a clean break with earlier theories which had the Dravidians originate in the Uralic speech area and preceding the Indo-Aryans in an invasion of India from Central Asia.


5. 4. 6. Geographical distribution of IE languages

Since Bernard Sergent doesn’t take the Indocentric case for IE seriously, he doesn’t bring out all the linguistic data which to him support the Kurgan scenario. One classical argument from linguistics is nonetheless developed at some length: “In Europe one finds the most numerous and geographically most concentrated IE language groups. Such a situation is not unique, and invariably denotes the direction of history: the Indo-Iranian languages represent a branch extended to the east and south, starting from Europe and not the other way around. It is obviously not the IE languages of Europe which have come from India”. (110) Thus early in his book (p. 30 of 584 pp. ), he is already so sure that “obviously” the central question of the Urheimat has been decided to the disadvantage of India. That is a great pity, for it is the reason why he has not applied himself to really developing the argument against the Indian Urheimat. If anyone is capable of proving the AIT, it must be Sergent. Yet, because he assumes no proof is necessary, he gives the question much less attention than e.g. the much less contentious (though more original) question ‘of the geographical origins of Dravidian. To be sure, the pattern of language distribution invoked by Sergent as “not unique”, is indeed well-attested, e.g. in sub-Saharan West Africa, there are about 15 language families, while in the much larger region of sub-equatorial Africa, a very large majority of the people speaks languages belonging to only one family, Bantu. Though it is only a branch of a subfamily of the Niger-Kordofanian language family, Bantu easily outnumbers all the other branches of this family combined: “Africanists conclude that Bantu originated in a small area, on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.” (111) But in fact, India is in this respect more akin to West Africa, and Europe more to sub-equatorial Africa. India has more language families: Nahali, Andamanese, Burushaski, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic (Munda and Mon-Khmer), Sino-Tibetan (Himalayan, Tibetic and Burmese) and IE (Iranian, Kafir, Dardic, Indo-Aryan, and possibly proto-Bangani). Europe is almost entirely IE-speaking, with Basque serving as the European counterpart to the Khoi-San languages in subequatorial Africa, a left-over of the original linguistic landscape largely replaced with the conquering newcomer, IE c. q. Bantu; and Uralic (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian) a fellow if perhaps slightly later intruder in the European landscape, vaguely comparable to the intrusion of an Austronesian language in a: part (viz. Madagascar) of southern Africa. Therefore, I reject the argument from the geographical distribution. I have already pointed out another objection against it: if the spread of the IE languages to Europe was often a matter of assimilating divergent native populations, this process promoted the speedy diverging of the IE dialects into distinct language groups. Though this is not a conclusive argument against the possibility of IE settlement in India being younger than in Europe, it at least terminates the impression that there was a compelling case in favour of that possibility. So, even under Bernard Sergent’s hands, the fabled “linguistic evidence” has failed to decide the IE Urheimat question once and for all.



86. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 31. The precarious situation of Nahali is described as follows by K. S. Nagaraja, reviewing Robert Parkin. A Guide to Austro-Asiatic Speakers and Their Languages, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 1991, in Bulletin of the Deccan College 1996-97, p. 342: “On the basis of my observation after visiting Tembi (Teli) village in November 1996, I can say that the Nahals there no longer speak Nahali language at all. (…) in the districts of Buldana in Maharashtra, in the village called Jamud, there is a big concentration of Nahals who actually speak this language (…) there are many settlements in the nearby villages where the language is still spoken. The total number of speakers seems to be over three to four thousand.”

87. F. B. J. Kuiper: Nahali, a Comparative Study, Amsterdam 1962, p. 49.

88. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 370.

89. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 138.

90. Remark that the Iranian name Hindu for “Indus”, hence also for “India”, indicates that the Iranians have lived near the Indus. If they had not, then Sindhu would have been a foreign term which they would have left intact, just as they kept the Elamite city name Susa intact (rather than evolving it to Huha or something like that). But because Sindhu was part of their own vocabulary, it followed the evolution of Iranian phonetics to become Hindu.

91. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 48, with reference to Bridget and Raymond Allchin and to Dharma Pal Agrawal.

92. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 52.

93. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 55, quoting from U. P. and S. P. Upadhyaya: “Dravidian and Negro-African”, International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 1976/5. 1, p. 32-64; my quotation is retranslated from the French translation (as quoted by Sergent), “Affinités ethno-linguistiques entre les Dravidiens et les Nègro-Africains”, Bulletin de l’Institut FranAais d’Afrique Noire 38. 1, p. 127-157.

94. That Hamito-Semitic (Afro-Asiatic) and IE stand jointly apart and may have a common origin in Mesopotamia, has been argued by B. Sergent: Les Indo-Européens, p. 431-434. Critics (such as the reviewer in Antaios 10, Brussels 1996) have suggested that with this position, he is playing a political game. This much is true, that by design or by accident, he is pulling the leg of far-rightist adepts of IE studies who consider the reduction of IE to sisterhood with Semitic as sacrilege. All the same, Sergent’s position is quite sound linguistically.

95. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 55, quoting from U. P. and S. P. Upadhyaya: “Dravidian and Negro-African”, International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 1976/5. 1, p. 32-64, retranslated from the French translation, “Affinités ethno-linguistiques entre les Dravidiens et les Négro-Africains”, Bulletin de l’Institut FranAais d’Afrique Noire 38. 1, p. 127-157.

96Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 56.

97. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p-53.

98. E.g. Father H. Heras: Studies in Proto-Indo-Meditarranean Culture (1953), and Alain Daniélou: Histoire de l’Inde (1983).

99. A map showing this “tree” is given in G. John Samuel, ed. : Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature, Institute of Asian Studies, Madras 1990, p-45, with reference to Kamil Zvelebil, who locates the Proto-Dravidians in Iran as late as 3500 BC.

100. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 51.

101. This in contrast with Biblical Judaism and especially with Islam: Hindu converts to Islam were often required to prove their conversion by eating beef and, if possible, marrying a cousin or niece; half of the marriages in rural Pakistan are between cousins. Note, however, that the Zoroastrians deviated from the IE standard by also practising marriage within the family.

102. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 59.

103. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 62.

104. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 62.

105. E.g. Father H. Heras: Studies in Proto-Indo-Mediterranean Culture, Indian Historical Research Institute, Bombay 1953.

106. For all Sergent’s details about Dravidian snake-worship, which fits in well with the classical picture of snake-worship as an “aboriginal” or at least non-Aryan element in Hinduism, it is interesting to note that he (Genèse de l’Inde, p. 482, n. 607) deviates from the mainstream in his etymology of nAga, “snake”. With reference to Manfred Mayrhofer, he links it quite regularly to Germanic s-nake; the prosthetic s- is quasi-onomatopoeic. Personally, I suggest an even more regular link with Germanic naked (from PIE *nogwos/nogwodhos), which reveals the basic meaning: the snake is unhairy, sheds its skin, and exposes itself more deeply to its environment by not having limbs with which to keep objects or the ground at a distance, all forms of exposure or nakedness. NAgA SAdhUs are those Hindu godmen who walk naked.

107. Mentioned in a long enumeration of pre-IE loans, but without reference to the Dravidian counterparts, in Sorin Paliga: “Proto-Indo-European, Pre-Indo-European, Old European Archaeological Evidence and Linguistic Investigation”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, Fall 1989, p. 309-334.

108. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 66-67.

109. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 71-76.

110. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 29-30.

111. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 30.


5. Some new arguments


5. 5. 1. Aryan contributions to indigenous culture

Unlike most invasionists, who minimize the IE contribution by seeing “pre-Aryan” origins behind every (post-Harappan) Hindu cultural item, Sergent admits the IE origin of numerous elements of Hinduism usually classified as remnants of earlier populations. Though I will offer only very little comment on it, this is one of the most elaborate and original sections in his book. In invasionist sources, and more so in politicized writings against the “Aryan invader religion” Hinduism, it is claimed that the two most popular gods, Vishnu and Shiva, are (the former partly, the latter wholly) sanskritized pre-Aryan indigenous gods. Sergent argues that they are in fact neat counterparts of IE gods attested in distant parts of the IE language domain, Vishnu corresponding to the Germanic god Vidar, Shiva to the Greek and Thracian and Phrygian god Dionysos and to an extent also to the Celtic god Dagda. (112) He notices the puzzling fact that the classical Shiva is unattested in the Vedas (though Shiva’s persona includes some elements from Indra, Rudra and Agni who are not counterparts of Dionysos); so he suggests that the Shiva tradition, definitely part of the common IE heritage, was passed on through a VrAtya or non-Vedic Indo-Aryan circle. (113) This is an important acknowledgment of the fact that the Vedic tradition is only one tradition in the Indo-Aryan religious landscape, a key element in Shrikant Talageri’s reconstruction of ancient Indian history: just as Sanskrit is not the mother of all Indo-Aryan languages, the Vedas are not the wellspring of the whole of Hindu tradition. (114) Sergent goes into great detail in showing how the IE trifunctionality model does apply throughout the Vedic and Puranic worldview, in fact far more splendidly than in any other IE culture. (115) Thus, the first function is juridical-religious and corresponds with sattva, the transparent and truthful quality in the Hindu triguNa or three-qualities model; the second function is martial-political and corresponds with rajas, the passionate and energetic quality; the third function is production and consumption, corresponding with tamas, the quality of materiality and ignorance. This threesome also corresponds with the trivarga (“three categories”) model, where dharma or religious duty is sAttvika, artha or striving for worldly success is rAjasika, kAma or sensuous enjoyment is tAmasika, though there is a fourth (nirguNa, “quality-less”) dimension, viz. moksha, liberation. Likewise for the three states of consciousness: dreaming, waking, sleeping, surpassed by “fourth state”, turIya, the yogic state. This scheme can then be applied to the Hindu pantheon, e.g. Brahma the creator is rAjasika, Vishnu the maintainer is sAttvika, Shiva the dissolver is tAmasika, or the white mountain goddess Parvati is sAttvika, the tiger goddess Durga rAjasika, the black devouring goddess Kali tAmasika. Many more IE elements in Hinduism could be cited to the same effect, such as the numerous correspondences in epic motifs between Hindu and European sagas, which Sergent discusses at length. But the interesting ones for our purpose are those which already existed in the Harappan civilization.


5. 5. 2. The liNga

Dr. Sergent goes quite far in indo-europeanizing the alleged aboriginal contribution to Hinduism. He even asserts that “the linga (or Shiva’s phallus) cult is of IE origin”. (116) An important detail is that Aryan linga worshippers venerated the liNga by itself, not in the liNga-yoni combination common in Hindu shrines, for “the yoni cult is without IE parallel”. (117) Sergent makes a distinction between the sculpted stone phallus and the unsculpted variety. The first type is attested in the Harappan area and period, as well as in Africa and the Mediterranean, while the second type is common -in historical and contemporary Hinduism. On linga worship in the Harappan cities, we find conflicting presentations of the facts, with Sergent assuming that the same Mediterranean-type phallus worship flourished, while no less a scholar than Asko Parpola claims the exact opposite. Parpola contrasts the “earliest historical (1st-2nd century BC) liNgas”, which are “realistic”, with the “abstract form of the Harappan conical stones”. (118) If Parpola is right, the Harappan linga cult was more akin to the classical Hindu form than to Mediterranean phallus worship. However, the crucial point of comparison in this case is not Harappa but the Indian tribals. Votaries of the Indo-Mediterranean school claim that the cult of phallus-shaped stones is unknown among the indigenous (though in many cases historically dravidianized) tribal populations of India, implying that the Dravidian immigrants brought it from abroad, first to the Indus Valley, next to the whole of India. The same claim, that the untainted tribals are unattracted to the urban Hindu depravity of phallus-worship, has often been made by Christian missionaries as an argument in support of their doctrine that “tribals are not Hindus”. But is this true? First of all, many Indian tribals do practise linga worship. Pupul Jayakar (whose work is admittedly coloured by AIT assumptions) situates both Shiva and the liNga within the culture of a number of tribes, e.g. the Gonds: “There are, in the archaic Gond legend of Lingo Pen, intimations of an age when Mahadeva or Shiva, the wild and wondrous god of the autochthons, had no human form but was a rounded stone, a lingam, washed by the waters of the river Narmada. Even to this day there are areas of the Narmada river basin where every stone in the waters is said to be a Shiva lingam: ‘(…) What was Mahadev doing? He was swimming like a rolling stone, he had no hands, no feet. He remained like the trunk (of a tree). ’ [Then, Bhagwan makes him come out of the water and grants him a human shape. ]” (119) Till today, Shiva or a corresponding tribal god is often venerated in the shape of such natural-born, unsculpted, longish but otherwise shapeless stones. (120) At the same time, female yoni symbols are common enough among Indian tribals, esp. inverted triangles, the origin of the Hindu plural-triangle symbols called yantra, venerated in such seats of orthodoxy as the Shankaracharya Math in Kanchipuram, where celibacy is the rule and thoughts of fertility unwelcome. In a palaeolithic site in the Siddhi district of Madhya Pradesh (10th or 9th millennium BC), a Mother Goddess shrine has been found containing well-known Hindu symbols: squares, circles, swastikas and most of all, triangles. (121) A participant in an excavation in Bastar told me of how a painted triangular stone was dug up, and the guide, a Gond tribal, at once started doing pUjA before this ancient idol. (122) Such is the continuity of indigenous Indian religion across eleven thousand years. However, these two-dimensional triangles constitute a different symbolism from the three-dimensional ring-shaped or oval-shaped sculpted yoni symbols used in the liNga-yoni combination. Sergent sees these sculpted yoni symbols as part of the Dravidian tradition with African links, while the triangles, like the unsculpted linga stones, might be older in India than even the Dravidian invasion as imagined by Sergent. Quite separate from these abstract triangles and unsculpted stones, explicit sexual imagery is also common among the “untainted” tribals: “When the Bhils, primitive people of western India, paint their sacred pithoras, they include in an obscure corner a copulating man and woman. When asked to explain, they say, ‘without this, where would the world be?’” (123) When they want to express the fertility process, they do so quite explicitly, and they don’t have to make do with a shapeless stone. Conversely, when they do choose to use a shapeless stone, it must be for a different purpose. Therefore, it is logical that the tribal liNga cannot be equated with the sexually explicit sculptures of the ancient Mediterranean cultures. Like the tribals, Vedic Hindus worship unsculpted liNgas without explicit sexual connotation. Most Hindus will reject the Western interpretation of their idol as a phallic symbol, and the quoted details of tribal liNga worship tend to prove their point, as would the abstract uses of the term liNga (“sign”, “proof”, one of the terms in a syllogism). (124) The pebbles picked up from the Narmada river are hardly phallus-shaped, in contrast to the phallic pillars in the Mediterranean. When Hindus object to the purely sexual reading of their symbols by Western authors, the latter, irritated with the “refusal of prudish Indian hypocrites to face facts”, retort that “after all, anyone can see that this is explicit sexual imagery.” (125) Sometime in the 1980s, the two interpretations confronted when some people in the Philippines considered renaming their country as Maharlika, reportedly a local variation on MahAliNga used by traders at the time of the hinduization of Southeast Asia, on the plea that Sanskrit, unlike English and Spanish, was not “an imperialist language”. Western-educated people objected that they could hardly be citizens of a country called “big penis”, a problem of which the Maharlika proponents had not even thought. The renaming was cancelled. Clearly, both conflicting interpretations have their validity, and linga worship in India is probably a syncretic phenomenon. If “phallus worship” was scorned in the Rg-Veda (in the much-discussed verses where the enemies are abused as shishna-devAh, “those who have the phallus for god”) (126), we do not perforce have to deny, as most anti-AIT authors do, that this concerned non-Aryan people who worshipped phallic stones. There were non-Aryans in many parts of India, though these phallus worshippers may equally have been Indo-Aryan-speaking cultists. We have at any rate a testimony for an ancient religious dispute. A clue has perhaps been given in Sergent’s information that the lone liNga (“objects which are interpreted as phalli”) (127) has been found in the northern half of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, the yoni-liNga couple with ring-shaped yoni stones in its arguably Dravidian south. Anyway, the point for now is that the alleged tribal and Vedic Aryan forms of linga worship are very similar. If this linga worship was IE, as Sergent claims, and if it is an age-old Indian tribal tradition at the same time, may I suggest that the Indo-Europeans discovered or developed it in India itself. Could this be an instance of what should be the Holy Grail of non-invasionist scholars, viz. a case of decided continuity between native tribal and IE cultures, distinguishing both together from imported cultures such as that of the Dravidians?


5. 5. 3 Harappan and Vedic fire cult

Most invasionist accounts of Hindu history acknowledge that classical Hinduism has included elements from the “Indus civilization”. Thus, the unique water-supply system in the Indus-Saraswati system and the public baths so visibly similar to the bathing kuNDs still existing in numerous Indian cities have been interpreted as early witnesses to the Hindu “obsession” with purity. Though open to correction on details, this approach is not controversial. However, it runs into difficulties when items are discovered which are not typical for the Indian IE-speaking culture alone, but for the whole or larger parts of the IE-speaking family of cultures: how could these have been present in Harappa when the IE contribution was only brought in during or after Harappa’s downfall by the Aryan invaders? The bathing culture which the Harappans shared with the later Hindus is often cited as a pre-IE remnant which crept into Hinduism. However, this is also attested (with local differences, of course) among such IE tribes as the Romans and the Germanic people, and may therefore be part of the common IE heritage. Of course, a general concern about cleanliness is not a very specific and compelling type of evidence. More decisive would be a case like the famous Harappan seal depicting the so-called Pashupati (Shiva as Lord of Beasts), long considered proof that the Shiva cult is indigenous and non-Aryan. It is found to have a neat counterpart, to the detail, in the horned god Cernunnos surrounded by animals (largely similar ones and in the same order as on the Pashupati seal) on the Celtic Gundestrup cauldron made in central Europe sometime in the last centuries BC. So, this Harappan motif may well be part of the common IE heritage. For another very general trait, the absence of distinct temple buildings in the Harappan cities constitutes a defect in the AIT postulate of a Vedic-Harappan cultural opposition. The fact that no temples are attested is a common trait of Harappa, of some ancient IE cultures (Vedic, Celtic, Germanic), and of that other acclaimed centre of Aryanism, the South Russian Kurgan culture, where “no real sanctuaries have ever been found; they probably had open sanctuaries”. (128) It contrasts with Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures and with the bhakti cult in later Hinduism, which venerates the deity as if it were a human person and consequently gives the deity a house to live in: a temple. Harappans, Vedic Aryans and contemporary Indian tribals have this in common: they worship without temple buildings. For a more specific example: fire plays a central role in most historically attested IE religions, most emphatically in the indo-Iranian branches. A fire-cult was present in the Indus-Saraswati civilization, and it resembled the practices of the Vedic people who are supposed to have entered India only centuries later, and to have brought this particular tradition with them from their IE homeland. The presence of Vedic fire-altars in several Harappan cities (Lothal, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi) has been noticed by a number of authors, but is somehow always explained away or ignored. Parpola admits as “quite plausible” the suggestion (made to him by Raymond and Bridget Allchin) that they form an Indo-Aryan element within Harappan civilization, but he explains them as imported by “carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran, who had become quickly absorbed into the Indus Civilization, culturally and linguistically”. (129) Likewise, Sergent admits that “the Indian Vedic fire altar seemed to have borrowed its construction principles from the Indus civilization”, all while “the very idea of the fire cult was Indo-Iranian”. (130) This falls neatly into place if we equate proto-Harappan with Indo-Iranian: the idea of a fire cult was taken along by the emigrating Iranians, while the Indo-Aryans stayed on in the Indus-Saraswati region to develop their altars’ distinct Indian style of construction. At any rate, how deeply had these Aryan fire-worshippers not penetrated the Harappan civilization, that they had installed their altars in patrician mansions of three of the largest Harappan cities, all three moreover very far from the northwestern border? Indeed, in the Harappan cities on the Indus itself, to my knowledge at least, no such fire-altars have yet been found; if they were imported from outside, it seems they came from the east, which would bring us back to Shrikant Talageri’s thesis that IE originated in the Ganga basin and entered the Harappan area from there. Leaving aside this question of ultimate origins, the very fact of the Vedic fire-altars in the Indus-Saraswati culture is a serious problem for the AIT.


5. 5. 4. More on Harappan vs. Vedic

As we have already seen, the stellar cult is common to the Harappan and Vedic religions. This is explained by Asko Parpola as the effect of borrowing: the barbarian invaders adopting the religion of the empire they just conquered, somewhat like the Heathen Germanic tribes did when they conquered the Christian Roman empire. In fact, the whole of Vedic and core-Puranic literature has been explained as essentially translations of non-Aryan Harappan traditions. A similar explanation is given for the “soma filter”, often depicted on Harappan seals, and of which an ivory specimen has been discovered by J. M. Kenoyer’s team. Iravathan Mahadevan proposes that “the mysterious cult object that you find before the unicorn on the unicorn seals is a filter. (…) Since we know that the unicorn seals were the most popular ones, and every unicorn has this cult object before it, whatever it represents must be part of the central religious ritual of the Harappan religion. We know of one religion whose central religious cult [object] was a filter, that is the soma [cult] of the Indo-Aryans.” (131) If this is not an argument for the identity of Vedic and Harappan, I don’t know what is. Yet, Mahadevan dismisses this conclusion citing the well-known arguments that the Vedas know of no cities while Harappa had no horses, so “the only other possibility is that a soma-like cult (…) must have existed in Harappa and that it was taken over by the Indo-Iranians and incoming Indo-Aryans.” Speaking of the unicorn: Prof. R. S. Sharma defends the AIT pointing out that the unicorn/ekashRNga is popular on Indus seals and in late- or post-Vedic literature but is not mentioned at all in the Rg-Veda. (132) Within the AIT, this would seem to be an anomaly: first the Harappans had unicorn symbolism, then the Vedic-Aryan invaders didn’t have it, and finally the later Aryans again had it. The implied and slightly contrived explanation is that native unicorn symbolism went underground after the Aryan invasion, but reasserted itself later. But this pro-AIT argument is circular in the sense that it is dependent on the AIT-based chronology, viz. of the Rg-Veda as post-Harappan. Its force is dissolved (along with the anomaly) if the possibility is considered that the Rg-Veda was pre-Harappan, with the unicorn an early Harappan innovation attested in both the archaeological and the late-Vedic literary record. Asko Parpola has developed the theory that there is at least one clearly identifiable Hindu deity whose trail of importation from abroad we can follow. In the Bactrian Bronze Age culture, deemed Indo- n if not specifically Indo-Aryan, ample testimony is available of the cult of a lion goddess, known in Hinduism as DurgA, “the fortress”, and who is “worshipped in eastern India as Tripura, a name which connects her with the strongholds of the Dasas”. (133) Politicized Indian invasionists usually claim goddess worship as a redeeming native, non-Aryan, “matriarchal” and “humanist” contribution to the “patriarchal” and “oppressive” Hindu religion, but now it turns out to have been brought along by the Bactrian invaders: how one invasionist can upset another invasionist’s applecart. However, Parpola himself reports elsewhere that the same lion or tiger goddess was worshipped in the Indus-Saraswati civilization as well. Discussing “carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran” as having been “quickly absorbed into the Indus civilization”, he finds support in “the famous Kalibangan seal showing a Durga-like goddess of war, who is associated with the tiger”. (134) whether this shows an early Bactrian penetration of India as far as the Saraswati riverside remains to be seen; other scenarios are possible. For now we retain Parpola’s confirmation of a common religious motif in a Harappan city and an Aryan culture. Just like those few colleagues who have paid attention to the elements of continuity between Harappa and Aryan India, Sergent fads to discuss the most plausible conclusion that could be drawn from all this material: that Harappan and post-Harappan or Aryan are phases of a single civilization.


5. 5. 5. The impact of East-Asian mythology

Indo-European mythology, or some of its branches, has certain motifs and stories in common with mythologies of non-IE cultures. Some of these are a common heritage dating back to long before a separate IE linguistic and cultural identity existed. Conversely, some myths can be shown to have been transmitted in a fairly recent time, e.g. the Excalibur myth known to most readers through the King Arthur saga has an exact parallel in a North-Iranian myth, with the sword being drawn from the stone (a poetic reference to the mystery of metallurgy, transforming shapeless ore into metal implements), making its bearer invincible, and finally getting thrown into a lake. This is not because of a common IE heritage of the Celtic and Iranian communities, but because in the 2nd century AD, Sarmatian mercenaries in the Roman army were garrisoned in Britain and, well, told their story. (135) Through Mongolia and Korea, elements of this myth have even reached Japan when the supremacy of the sword was established there. So, myths are not necessarily witnesses from the night of time. Their invention and transmission can sometimes be dated. In the case of the transmission of East-Asian myths into Hindu tradition, by medium of the Munda-speaking culture of the eastern Ganga basin, the apparent date might pose a problem. Some contributions are fairly late: “The puja, that extremely common and important practice of covering the gods’ idols with flowers and perfumes, is rather late in India, and succeeds wholly different practices: could that also be an East-Asian substratum?” (136) On the other hand, Sergent mentions several apparently East-Asian contributions to Vedic and Puranic lore which point to the ultimate beginning of those traditions themselves. The name of IkshvAku, founder of the Solar Dynasty of Ayodhya, whom the Puranic genealogies place several dozen generations before the Rg-Vedic seers, literally means “bitter gourd”. Likewise, Sumati, wife of the Ayodhya king Sagara, produces offspring with the aid of a bitter gourd. Sergent, following jean Przyluski, attributes this to the Southeast-Asian mythic motif of the birth of humanity from a bitter gourd:. “The Austro-Asiatic myth has visibly been transposed in the legends of Sumati and Ikshvaku”. (137) The birth of Vyasa’s mother Satyavati from a fish equally refers to a Southeast-Asian myth, unknown in the IE world. The Brahmanas have a story of Brahma or Prajapati, the Creator, taking the form of a boar and diving to the bottom of the ocean to extract the earth and bring it to the surface. (138) This myth of the “cosmogonic plunge” is widespread in Siberia, among the native Americans, and among some Southeast-Asian peoples, but is foreign to the IE mythologies and to the Vedic Samhitas. The same is true of another innovative mythic motif appearing in the Brahmanas: BrahmANDa, the cosmic egg which, when broken, releases all creatures. Sergent explains that the Rg-Veda could not yet know these myths, just as it had not yet adopted items of Munda vocabulary, because its horizon was still confined to the northwest. But once the Vedic Aryans settled in the Ganga basin, they started assimilating the mythic lore of the Munda people, also immigrants, but who had settled there earlier. So, this seems to confirm the classic picture of the Aryans moving through North India from east to west. To be sure, even the non-invasionist school accepts that the Vedic tradition spread eastwards during and after the Harappan period, just as it spread to South India in subsequent centuries; but it maintains that the Ganga down to Kashi or so, already had an Indo-Aryan (but non-Vedic) population. This population was obviously exposed to influences from its eastern neighbours, immigrants from Southeast Asia. And their non-Vedic, partly borrowed traditions were incorporated in later Vedic and especially in Puranic literature. By contrast, the IE-speaking people living to the west of the Vedic Puru tribe, those who migrated to the west and formed the other branches of IE, were not exposed to this Austro-Asiatic lore, which is why their mythologies have not adopted elements from Southeast-Asian myths, just as their languages have not borrowed from Munda (or if they have, those words or those mythic motifs would be pan-IE and not recognizable as borrowed). If Ikshvaku, one of flood survivor Manu Vaivasvata’s immediate successors, was indeed a historical figure, and if his name really refers to an Austro-Asiatic myth, then that would prove either that Manu and his crew had come from the southeast (but then why hasn’t the bitter gourd myth become a an-IE myth?), or that the Mundas were already in the Ganga basin at the beginning of IE history as narrated in the Puranic genealogies (6776 BC?). (139) In that case, shouldn’t non-invasionists be able to find more points of contact between IE and Munda, linguistically too? How exactly should we imagine the beginning of IE history in India, in what cultural and linguistic environment? For example, one could imagine that the Aryans overran the Indus basin, then Afghanistan and beyond, because they had been pushed to the west by invading Mundas from the cast: if the idea of the fierce Aryans being put to flight by the fun-loving Mundas seems strange, remember that the invasion of the Roman Empire by the fierce Germanic tribes was partly caused by their being pushed westward by the Slavs. For another question: does this evidence of Munda contributions support the mainstream indological position that the entire Puranic history of the Vedic and pre-Vedic age in Ayodhya, Kashi or Prayag is but “reverse euhemerism”, i.e. the transformation of myth into tabulated history, so that Ikshvaku and his clan never existed except as projections by aryanized Mundas of their gourd-god onto the ancestry of their conquerors? This is worth a discussion in its own right, but an important point certainly is that Ikshvaku is mentioned in the Rg-Veda (10:60:4), possibly referring to the dynasty rather than its founder.


5. 5. 6. Some caveats to comparatists

Mythology is a large subject, and numerous myths are not well-known even to aficionados of the subject. This way, it sometimes happens that a Hindu myth gets classified as non-IE because it is not reported in any other IE mythology, only to show up in some far corner of the IE world upon closer scrutiny. Sergent provides one example. Everyone knows the Hindu myth of the “churning of the ocean” with which the gods and demons jointly produce the amRta the immortality drink. Sergent assures us that this myth “has no parallel in the IE world” (140), that it “is ignored by Vedic India and the IE world outside India” (141) but present in Mongolian mythology and in the Kojiki, a kind of Japanese Purana. Yet, he also informs us of a lesser-known Germanic myth in which the god Aegir chums the ocean to make the beer of the gods. (142) But that one finding, even if it is in only one (but certainly distant) corner of the IE world, completely nullifies the earlier statement that the myth “has no parallel in the IE world”. It is in fact possible that the Mongolian version (which is closer to the Germanic one, with a single deity doing the churning) and the Japanese version have been adapted from an IE original, just like the Excalibur myth. Secondly, eastern contributions to Hindu tradition are not exclusively from the Mundas. The RAjasUya ceremony described in the Shatapatha Brahmana has an exact counterpart, not in Rome or Greece, nor in Chotanagpur or Japan, but in Fiji. The latter coronation ceremony has been analyzed into 19 distinct elements, and practically all of them are found in the RAjasUya. (143) This island culture is part of the vast expanse of the Austronesian language family. As we have seen, a number of scholars have pointed out remarkable lexical similarities between IE and Austronesian. Unlike in the case of the Mundas, contacts of the Indo-Europeans with the Austronesians are hard to locate even in theory, unless we assume that the Austronesians at one time had a presence in India (and even then, India is a big place). Finally, if a myth or religious custom is attested in India but not in the other IE cultures, this need not mean that the Indians have borrowed it from “pre-Aryan natives” or so. It can also mean that the other Indo-Europeans have lost what was originally a pan-IE heirloom. All of them have started by going through the same bottleneck, passing through Afghanistan, immediately plunging themselves into a very different climate from India’s permanent summer, so that they had to adopt a very different lifestyle. And as they moved on, the difference only got bigger. Of practically all IE myths attested in some IE cultures, we know that they have been lost in other (generally in most) IE cultures; it is statistically to bib expected that some myths have survived only in the Hindu tradition. And because of the full survival of Pagan religion in India plus the long centuries of literacy, it is in fact to be expected that a much higher percentage than the statistical average has only survived in India. So, probably, some myths attested only in Hinduism are purely IE, and if they are also attested in a non-IE neighbouring culture, the possibility remains that the latter has borrowed it from the Indo-Europeans.


5. 5. 7. Harappa, teacher of China?

Quite separate from the importation of Southeast-Asian myths through the Austro-Asiatic population of the Ganga basin, Sergent also notes similarities between Harappan and Chinese civilizations unrelated to Munda lore. An important myth is that of the cosmogonic tortoise, the Chinese symbol of the universe; also the vehicle of Varuna, god of world order, and the form which, in the Shatapatha Brahmana, Prajapati takes to create the world. A tortoise-shaped construction forms part of the Yajur-Vedic fire altar, and the tortoise has also been depicted in a giant sculpture found in Harappa, indicating a similar myth. 144 The tortoise as a cosmogonic symbol may well be one such mythic motif which is purely IE yet not attested in the non-Indian branches of IE. There is no indication for a foreign origin, and the tortoise’s association with the Yamuna river (like the crocodile with the Ganga, the swan with the Saraswati) adds to its indigenous Northwest-Indian character. Sergent also mentions the common origin of the Chinese and Hindu systems of 27 lunar mansions (Xiu, Nakshatra), which we have already considered. He admits that it could only have originated in an advanced culture, and that this was not Mesopotamia. He also notes that the Nakshatra system starts with the Pleiades/kRttikA, which occupied the vernal equinox position in the centuries around 2,400 BC, exactly during the florescence of the Indus cities. (145) So, Harappa is the best bet as originator of this system, which spread to China and later also to West Asia. Sergent wonders aloud whether the similarities should be attributed to Harappa being “the teacher of China, whose civilization’s beginning is contemporaneous”. (146) He informs us that the Nakshatra division of the heavens in unknown in other IE cultures, and in this case I would not speculate that they had known it but lost it along the way: the system was invented long after they had left India. This simple fact that there already was IE history before the genesis of the Nakshatra system also explains another fact he mentions: “The Rg-Veda doesn’t allude to it, except in its 10th mandala, the youngest one according to most indologists.” (147) And even the youngest book only mentions “constellations” (RV 10:85:2), a concept known to all cultures, without specifying them as lunar mansions. At any rate, it is only at the end of (if not completely after) the Rg-Vedic period, well after the European branches of IE had left India, that the Nakshatra system was devised. This indicates once more that the Rg-Veda was pre-Harappan. This chronology is confirmed once more by, another fact related by Sergent: “Another aspect of the continuity between Indus and historical India is marked in the personal names: the oldest in Vedic India are in perfect conformity with Indo-European customs and highlight mostly the attributes with which an individual (or his family) adorns himself. In a later period astral names appear in India, which is foreign to the customs observed elsewhere among the Indo-Europeans”. (148) Exactly: the Rg-Vedic people lived before the heyday of astronomy in Harappa and before the starry sky acquired a central place in the late-Vedic “and” in the Harappan religion.


5. 5. 8. The Harappan contribution

It is remarkable that Sergent has identified the Oriental origin of so many Hindu myths, that he has identified the Dravidian and even African origin of so many Hindu customs (including even the purity concept underlying post-Vedic caste relations) (149), yet he has said relatively little about specifically Harappan contributions, eventhough these should logically have made a much larger impact. After all, the Harappans were more numerous, more advanced and more literate than the Mundas, and it is in their territory that the invading Aryans settled before scouting around in the then peripheral and relatively backward Munda-speaking region. To be sure, Sergent devotes a chapter to the Harappan heritage in Hindu civilization. Thus, the weights and measures found in Lothal are the same ones which Kautilya has defined in his Arthashastra. (150) Personally, I would add that apart from being an important fact in itself, this continuity may also be symptomatic for a profounder continuity pertaining to fundamental cultural traits. Thus, the same search for standardization visible in the decimal measurements and in the orderly geometrical lay-out of the Harappan cities is evident in the rigorous structure of the Vedic hymns; in the attempt in the later Vedic literature to categorize all types of phenomena in neat little systems (from verbal conjugation classes listed by the grammarians through the Manu Smrti’s artificial genealogy of the occupational castes in society to the Kama Sutra’s varieties of sexual intercourse) (151); and in the laborious ritual and architectonic details laid down in Brahminical texts for the proper construction of Vedic altars. Sergent correctly notes that statuettes of mother goddesses have been found in large numbers in the Harappan cities, that mother goddesses are equally common in popular Hinduism, and that these are very uncommon in the historic IE religions. He also adds that in Europe, mother goddesses originated in the neolithic Old European culture, and remained popular all through the IE Pagan period to be picked up for christianization as Our Lady, suggesting a parallel: in India like in Europe, the popular pre-IE mother goddess survived and even asserted itself against the male-dominated IE official religion. But clearly, IE religion was not hostile to the goddess cult: when the Church sought to win over the devout by accepting their goddess worship in a christianized form, most of Europe had been IE-speaking for several thousand years. All memory of a pre-IE period had vanished, yet these Celts and Romans and Germans venerated goddesses. In their mythologies, goddesses played only a supporting act, but this is the same situation as in Puranic Hinduism, in which goddess worship is widespread eventhough most myths have the male gods in the starring roles. It is like in real life: men need to dramatize their importance with all kinds of heroism, women simply are important without making such fuss over it. The Virgin Mary is by far the most popular Catholic saint, still present on every rural street corner around my village, much more popular than Jesus and His Father, yet the parts about her in the New Testament and the stories confabulated about her are very few. Therefore, our view of IE religion may be distorted by the fact that we rely on textual sources and myths, which belong to the public and official part of the religion; while by contrast, of Harappan religion we only have cult objects, showing us religion as it was lived by the people. Sergent mentions the association of gods with animals as their respective “vehicle” (vAhana: Vishnu’s eagle, Shiva’s bull, Saraswati’s swan etc. ) as an element of Hinduism which is commonly attributed to the pre-Aryan Harappans. But he minimizes this contribution, pointing out that such associated animals are common throughout the IE pantheon, e.g. Athena with her owl, Wodan with his raven, Jupiter who can appear as an eagle, Poseidon as a horse, Demeter as a cow. (152) In one case, the correspondence is even more exact: like Hindu goddess Saranyu (mother of the Ashwins), Celtic goddess Epona is imagined as either mare or rider. Several more astronomy-based amendments to IE customs are mentioned as effects of Harappan influence, e.g. the fixation of the goddess festival (which existed in other parts of the IE world as well - see that the Indo-Europeans had goddess cults of their own?) at the autumnal equinox. Very significant is the “stellar vestment”: the shirt worn by the famous Harappan “priest-king” shows little three-petaled designs (also in evidence on other Harappan depictions), which Sergent, following Parpola, interprets as depictions of stars, exactly like in the scriptural description of the tArpya coat which the king must wear at some point in the RAjasUya ceremony. In post-Harappan centuries, Mesopotamian kings are known to have worn such stellar vestments, and the China court ritual was likewise full of celestial symbolism. (153) What we see happening in the Harappan period is that a particular IE culture transforms itself under the impact of the florescence of what I would call a first scientific revolution; there is no indication of a foreign impact. Sergent has the facts under his own eyes without realizing their significance: “Shiva, Varuna, Yama, Durga-Parvati, we already said it, are deities of IE origin, the rituals concerning fire, soma and the person of the king are equally of IE if not Indo-Iranian origin. But it is now obvious that the Indo-Aryans, upon arriving in India, have amply harvested the Harappan heritage and included its ritual customs (construction of hearth-altars, rites inside buildings, use of the stellar vestment, ritual baths, fixation of feasts on the stellar equinoxes…) in their own religion.” (154) Well, building facilities had been vastly improved, astronomical knowledge had been developed, so these innovations are not a matter of syncretism, merely of material and intellectual progress. What more continuity was there? Apart from numerous material items, we note Harappan depictions of men wearing a tuft of hair on their backheads like Brahmins do, and of women wearing anklets. Some pictures suggest the notion of the “third eye”. Most importantly, the Harappan people have remained in place: “the Italian anthropologist has emphasized not only that the skulls of Mohenjo Daro resemble those of today’s Sindh and those of Harappa resemble those of today’s Panjab, but even that the individual variability is identical today to what it was four thousand years ago.” (155) Though Sergent considers it exaggerated to say that “the Indus civilization is still alive today”, I would comment that it is not very exaggerated. (156) But the point for now is that we really have seen very little evidence of the incorporation in Vedic tradition of elements which are foreign to it and which are traceable to the Harappan civilization. Compared with the limited but very definite list of items borrowed by Hindu tradition from Eastern cultures, the harvest in the case of the Harappan contribution is of a different type, larger but murkier. In spite of the ample archaeological material (quite in contrast with the zero objects identified as Vedic-age Austra-Asiatic), we don’t get to see a sequence of “now it’s in Harappa, and now it enters Vedic tradition”. We don’t get to see that clear contrast between Harappan and Vedic which most scholars have taken for granted. What we see is on the one hand plenty of elements which are simply in common between the Vedic and Harappan cultures, and on the other certain late-Vedic innovations which constitute a departure from the common IE heritage but which are perfectly explainable through internal developments, particularly in proto-scientific knowledge and material control of the environment.



112. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 402.

113. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 323-324, with reference to Jarl Charpentier: “Ueber Rudra-Siva”, Wiener Zeitschrift zur Kunde des Morgenlandes, 23 (1909), p. 151-179.

114. Shrikant Talageri: The Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, Ch. 14.

115. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 252-278.

116. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 139.

117. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 139.

118. Parpola: Decriphering the Indus Script, p. 221.

119. Pupul Jayakar: The Earth Mother, Penguin 1989 (1980), p. 30. Remark that the Gonds are Dravidian-speaking tribals, which complicates the picture: are their customs to be treated as the heritage of native tribals who adopted the immigrant Dravidian language, or as Dravidian heritage?

120. The shapeless stones associated with Shiva are comparable to the Black Stone in the Kaaba in Mecca, the central idol of the ancient Pagans of Arabia, which was dedicated to Hubal, a male moon-god resembling Shiva. For this reason, Indian authors have suggested some kind of kinship between the pre-Islamic cult in Mecca and the Shiva cult. This theory is critically discussed in Sita Ram Goel: Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them, vol. 2, 2nd enlarged edition (Voice of India, Delhi 1993, appendix 2.

121. Pupul Jayakar: The Earth Mother, p. 20-22.

122. Jan Van Alphen, of the Etnografisch Museum, Antwerp; personal communication, 1992.

123. Pupul Jayakar: The Earth Mother, p. 36.

124. For a serious discussion of the profound meanings of linga worship, see Swami Karpatri & Alain Danièlou: Le mystère du culte du linga, Ed. du Relié, Robion 1993.

125. Or for a more academic variation: “The Brahmans succeeded in concealing the alcoholic and sexual-orgiastic character of the adoration of the phallus (lingam or linga) and transformed it into a pure ritualistic temple cult”, according to Max Weber: The Religion of India, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi 1992 (ca. 1910), p. 298. These Westerners’ attitude is like that of the man in the joke, who visited a psychiatrist and was made to do the Rorschach test (i.e. revealing your psychic depths by saying what you “see” in shapeless ink blots). He described all kinds of sexual scenes, but when the psychiatrist diagnosed him as “sexually obsessed”, he protested: “Sexually obsessed, me? But it’s you who is showing me these dirty pictures!”

126. Rg-Veda 7:21:5 and 10:99:3.

127. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 139; emphasis added.

128. M. Gimbutas: “Proto-Indo-European Culture: The Kurgan Culture during the Fifth, Fourth and Third Millennia BC”, in George Cardona et al. , eds. : Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, p. 191.

129. Asko Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic identity of the Dasas”, Studia Orientalia, Helsinki 1988, p. 238, quoted in K. D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, p. 222-223.

130. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 161.

131. Iravatham Mahadevan interviewed by Omar Khan, Chennai, 17-11998, on

132. “The Indus and the Saraswati”, interview with R. S. Sharma published on http://www2. cybercities. com/ a/akhbar/godown/history/RSSIndus. htm from 2-12-1998 onwards.

133. Asko Parpola: “The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: textual-linguistic and archaeological evidence”, in G. Erdosy: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p. 370.

134. Asko Parpola: “The coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the cultural and ethnic identity of the Dasas”, Studia Orientalia, Helsinki 1988, p. 238, quoted in K. D. Sethna: The Problem of Aryan Origins, p. 222-223.

135. Shan M. M. Winn: Heaven, Heroes and Happiness. The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology, p. 34-35.

136. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 483, n. 639, with reference to Louis de la Vallée Poussin: “Totémisme et végétalisme”, Extrait des Bulletins de la Classe des Lettres et des Sciences Morales et Politiques, 1929, 3me série, XV, p. 4-9, who emphasizes the similarity with devotional practices among the Kol tribe and among the Semang, a tribe in Malaysia. The more common explanation is that pUjA came from the south.

137. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 386, quoting Jean Przyluski: “Un ancien peuple du Pendjab: les Udumbara”, Journal Asiatique 208, 1926, p-30.

138. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p-372, citing Taittiriya Brahmana 7:1:5:1-2 and Shatapatha Brahmana 14:1:2:11.

139. A parallel argument could be made from the commonly assumed etymology of GaNgA, a name already appearing in the oldest part of the Rg-Veda (6:45:31), viz. as an Austro-Asiatic loan cognate to Chinese kiang/jiang, “river”. This would mean that the Munda presence in the (western!) Ganga basin well precedes the beginning of the Vedic period, and that they were either the first or the dominant group, so that they could impose their nomenclature. However, Zhang Hongming: “Chinese etyma for river”, Journal of Chinese Linguistics, January 1998, p. 1-43, has refuted the derivation of Chinese kiang from Austro-Asiatic, arguing among other things that the reconstructed Austro-Asiatic form is *krong, still preserved in the Mon-Khmer languages (even the river name Mekong appears unrelated; I once heard Prof. Satyavrat Shastri explain it as a Cambodian sanskritism from MA GangA). This makes the Munda origin of GaNgA less likely. A third language family may be involved, or an obscure IE etymon. How about Middle Dutch konk-el, “twist, turn, whirlpool”?

140. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 116.

141. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 378-379.

142. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 378-79, with reference to Georges Dumézil: Le Problème des Centaures, Paris 1929, p. 51-60.

143. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 381, with reference to Shatapatha Brahmana 5:3-5, and Arthur M. Hocart: Kingship, OUP 1927, p. 76-83.

144. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 116, with reference to John Marshall: Mohenjo Daro and the Indus civilization, London 1931.

145. This date, approximately, has been accepted by jean Filliozat: “Notes d’astronomie ancienne de l’Iran et de l’Inde”, Journal Asiatique 250, 1962, p. 325-350; Albert Pike: “Lectures on the Arya”, Kentucky 1873; and A. L. Basham: The Wonder That Was India, London 1954, according to Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 422, n. 65. We’ll stick to this date for the present discussion, but not without mentioning that Asko Parpola (Decipherment of the Indus Script, p. 206, p. 263-265) himself gives reasons for thinking that Aldebaran had been the starting-point earlier, which would push back the birthdate of the Nakshatra system to ca. 3054 BC, the time of the pre-Harappan Kot Diji culture.

146. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 380.

147. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 118.

148. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 121.

149. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 483, n. 639: “As the same importance of purity is found in other societies, e.g. Semitic societies including even Islam and sub-Saharan Africa, it is not impossible that we have here another substratum: that of the ex-Dravidians of North India [Sindh-Gujarat], for instance?”

150. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 1 13.

151. As Cyrus Spitama, central character in Gore Vidal’s historical novel Creation puts it: east of the Indus, everything is counted. Witness the 64 skills, the 24 categories plus the 1 spectator of Samkhya (“numbering”) cosmology, the 4 noble truths and the noble 8-fold path of the Buddha, the 8-limbed yoga of Patanjali, the 4 stages of life, Jawaharlal Nehru’s “5 principles of peaceful coexistence” etc.

152. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 1 15.

153. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 121, with reference to Asko Parpola: Deciphering the Indus Script, p. 201-218.

154. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 124.

155. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 128, quoting Mario Cappieri: “Ist die Indus-Kultur und ihre Bevölkerung wirklich verschwunden?”, Anthropos 60:22,1965, p. 22.

156. Bernard Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p. 128. The quoted phrase, which Sergent dismisses in footnote (p. 425, n. 146) as “a Hindu nationalist myth”, is from Dharma Pal Agrawal: L’Archéologie de l’Inde, CNRS, Paris 1986, p. 2.


5. Some new arguments


Bernard Sergent has written a book of incomparable erudition to narrate the genesis of the “composite culture” of Hinduism from what to him are the separate sources of Harappan, Dravidian, Indo-European and Austra-Asiatic elements. As part of this effort, he has tried to pinpoint the arrival of the Indo-Aryans in India, and this attempt has become the heroic failure of his book. Even in his two fields of expertise, he has not succeeded in finding decisive evidence for the Aryan invasion: in archaeology, he has not shown where a Bactrian or otherwise foreign culture crossed the Indus into India (indeed, the one entry he identifies as the Indo-Aryan invasion doesn’t get farther than Pirak in Baluchistan); and in physical anthropology, he has not been able to identify an immigration wave coinciding with the supposed aryanization of northwestern India. In comparative religion and mythology, he has thrown a few interesting challenges to non-invasionists, giving them some homework to do in fact-finding as well as in interpreting the data. But here too, he has not presented any insurmountable difficulties for a non-invasionist reading of the Harappan and Vedic information. On the contrary, many bits of information which he has either discovered or synthesized from secondary sources actually add substance to the emerging outlines of a non-invasionist version of ancient Indian and Indo-European history. For once the trite reviewer’s phrase fully applies: one need not agree with Sergent’s position, but his work is highly thought-provoking and bound to stimulate further research.

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