India, it is clear, has been ravaged by many invasions and colonisations, both physical and of the mind. Among the assault of ideas and ideologies that it has had to endure and suffer the consequences of, none has been more persistent, more pernicious, and indeed, more perverse, than the so-called Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT).
It is a construct that flies in the face of every tenet of rigorous scholarship and honest, intellectual endeavour. It’s continued, albeit artificially maintained currency, is a tribute to its value for those with axes to grind and personal perversities and hostilities to indulge in — both in the West and within India.
The AIT is being rigorously opposed, in spite of blithe stonewalling, by the best of scholars in the East and West, and they have produced a credible rival — the Out of India Theory (OIT). Shrikant Talageri, is one of them. His latest book Genetics and the Aryan Debate: ‘Early Indians’ the latest assault by Tony Joseph, is prompted by yet another piece of preposterous propaganda masquerading as cutting edge scholarly discourse, business journalist Tony Joseph’s book ‘Early Indians, the story of our ancestors and where we came from.’
The AIT had its origins in some rather malicious if excited holding forth of self-indulgent, ethnocentric ideas by Europeans encountering India. And, as Dr Koenraad Elst stresses in an acerbic introduction, this encounter produced mistranslations of key Sanskrit terms — Aryan, Asikni, Varna, Dasyu. And, over the years, has created a theory that divides Indians to this day, pitting an invading Vedic people and their descendants against a mythical indigenous people, who were supposedly the original inhabitants. This suits the Tony Joseph variety of Indian public intellectual, who can say: ‘hey, we are all immigrants here, so it is okay to bash the Hindu and Vedic culture.’
As Dr Elst says: “Very obviously, the enemies of the Vedic people at that time when the Rg Vedic books 7 and 4 and the contemporaneous parts of book one were composed, were Iranian and not ‘black aboriginal’. This is attested to from so many angles that one tends to wonder how this mistake could have been made at all, and how the true Iranian identity of the Dasas (Iranian rendered through Greek Dahai) could have been missed.”
Then there is Varna — not colour, but ‘one in a spectrum’. Think Varnamala, the garland of alphabets of the Sanskrit language.
AIT proponents however, after having failed to establish their favoured theory through either linguistics or archaeology, suddenly saw a boon in Genetics. It is this that has prompted Joseph’s book, and the calm, surgical takedown by Shrikant Talageri.
C.K. Sridhar interviewed Dr Talageri via email as his book on OIT hits the stand in few weeks.
CKS: You make the point that defenders and promoters of the Aryan Invasion theory (AIT), having failed to conclusively establish AIT through linguistics and archaeology, have now come to genetics. Why and how is the science of genetics, at least as it stands today, unsuitable to conclusively provide evidence for AIT? And to the extent that it does provide indications, what do current findings point towards?
Genetics simply cannot tell us anything about the origin and migration of cultural features like language, religion, etc. That is the field of archaeology, of linguistics and of traditions and material records (like inscriptions and texts). All three, for example, combine to tell us that Buddhism and chess, the national game of almost the whole of ancient Asia, originated in India (linguistically, for example, Arabic shatranj, Mongolian shatara and Vietnamese chhoeu trang, are all clearly derived from Sanskrit chaturang).
Tony Joseph takes the moral high stand that we are all migrants, and no-one is racially pure. But who contests that? Of course no-one is racially “pure” and of course human beings have been migrating in every possible direction all over the world since time immemorial, with these migrants genetically intermixing with other people even while adopting, abandoning or spreading cultural features (including language, religion, etc.) in countless unpredictable ways. For this very reason, it is not possible to connect human migrations (as supposedly represented by genetic data) automatically with the migrations or spread of cultural features without other more concrete evidence.
In respect of the “Aryan” linguistic problem, Genetics tells us absolutely nothing. As per Tony Joseph, the genetic evidence tells us that the present-day population of India has (in different proportions) three primary ancestral strands which entered India at three different points of time in the remote past: the “First Indian” or Onge people in 65000 BP, the Zagros people in 7000 BCE and the Steppe people in 2000-1000 BCE. But no-one claims that the first two groups brought the “Aryan” languages into India, and while Tony Joseph does claim that the Steppe people first brought “Aryan” languages into India after 2000 BCE, the recorded evidence tells us that North India was purely “Aryan” even before 3000 BCE. No-one dares to even attempt to try to challenge the evidence for this presented by me in my books, and until someone can prove my case wrong (which is impossible), it must be accepted that genetic data has nothing to do with language.
As I have written in my book: “these languages were already present deep inside northern India as far back as 3000 BCE with antecedents going back into the more remote past.” Therefore “this ‘genetic evidence’ only means that any Steppe people who entered South Asia from present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after 2000 BCE got integrated into the local populace everywhere, accepting the local languages and the general culture and traditions, like most other later ancient people in the historical record (the Greeks, Persians, Scythians, Huns, etc.).”
To illustrate the utter disconnect between genes and language, and show the utter irrelevance of genetic ancestry, I have also given the following hypothetical illustration: “I am a Chitrapur Saraswat brahmin: hypothetically it may turn out from a DNA analysis that my DNA components (and those of my caste brethren) have 10% Maori ancestry, 10% Eskimo ancestry, 10% Hottentot ancestry, 10% Arab ancestry, 40% Steppe ancestry, and only 20% ‘ANI-ASI’ ancestry. So what? The question is of language: was my Konkani language or its earliest ‘Indo-Aryan’ form brought into India by my Maori, Eskimo, Hottentot, Steppe or Arab immigrant ancestors, or was it adopted from some sections of the ‘ANI-ASI’ groups native to India? ‘Genetic evidence’ does not answer this question.”
CKS. As far as linguistics is concerned, where do we stand on the question of a Vedic homeland? What are the main points that are being discussed currently?
All that linguistics tells us is
(a) that these twelve groups of languages (Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Tocharian, Anatolian, Slavic, Baltic, Germanic, Celtic, Italic) are related to each other as twelve branches of one language-family,
(b) that they must all have descended from an ancestral language (Proto-Indo-European) not recorded anywhere but roughly reconstructed by linguists, and
(c) that this ancestral language was spoken in an Original Homeland from where its different dialects, which later became the twelve branches, were taken to their historical habitats by emigrants.
Beyond this, so far, conclusions about the geographical location of the Original Homeland, trying to locate it in the Steppes of South Russia (or alternately, by some, in Anatolia=Turkey), were based purely on arguments rather than evidence.
But now the OIT stands proved on all three fronts (Linguistics, Archaeology and Recorded history): the whole story of the historical identities and migrations (of the other eleven branches) from the Indian Homeland has been shown to be actually recorded in the Rigveda and the Puranas. The migration schedule and saga of the branches as described in these texts fits in with all the linguistic and archaeological data. Therefore, the AIT lobby has now abandoned these three fields of study while ostensibly still sticking to the claim that Linguistics supports the AIT.
So there are no new linguistic points being discussed currently in respect of the Homeland debate, although the old, outdated and disproved linguistic arguments continue to be claimed to be valid and are regularly churned out in debates, articles, papers and theses.
The linguistic case for the OIT and Indian Homeland is complete and flawless. Even the arguments hitherto claimed to prove the AIT (such as the evidence of the isoglosses, the reconstructed fauna, the linguistic connections with other families like Semitic and Uralic, etc.) actually categorically prove the OIT. I have elaborated the evidence in my other books, and it is a topic for a separate and more detailed discussion.
CKS: Have any significant archaeological findings been made recently that throw more light on the matter?
The following are the facts about archaeology:
- a) No-one has yet found archaeological sites that can be convincingly classified as representing the Proto-Indo-European speakers in their Steppe Homeland; or any archaeological trail of sites leading from the Steppes of South Russia to Central Asia, and then into northwestern India and then further deeper into North India, in the relevant periods, that can be identified with any “incoming Aryans”; and even the AIT scholars (since they refuse to recognize the Vedic identity of the Harappans) accept that they have not yet found any archaeological sites identifiable with the Vedic “Aryan” society whose existence they do not dispute.
- b) The archaeological records, as accepted even by the AIT scholars, show no changes or transformations in physical types in the Harappan areas between the fifth/fourth and the first millennium BCE, during which period the AIT postulates the invasion.
- c) In the case of practically every single other branch outside India, there is archaeological evidence of the immigration of the Indo-European speakers into its historical area, but only in the case of India there is no such evidence.
- d) It is not only Indian archaeologists, but even western ones, who reject the AIT claims of the linguists: check the report (edited by Erdosy and Witzel!) of the papers presented at a conference on “Archaeological and Linguistic approaches to Ethnicity in Ancient South Asia“, held in Toronto from 4-6/10/1991, which tells us that the archaeologists are “in direct conflict” with the linguists on this issue.
Unless and until the Harappan script is conclusively deciphered, or some new inscriptional evidence is found inside or outside India which reveals the linguistic situation of the time, we must not expect archaeological evidence to throw light on the linguistic identity of the Harappans.
But a very significant new archaeological finding, whose full implications still remain to be analyzed and understood, is the recent find of chariots (the very first actual specimens found) in India in Sanauli in western Uttar Pradesh, well to the east of the Harappan areas, dated to well before 2000 BCE – long before the point of time that Tony Joseph’s “genetic evidence” brings the “incoming Aryans” even close to the northwestern frontiers of India with Central Asia. We must await detailed analysis of these chariots.
CKS: Given the extreme resistance to the Out of India theory and the easy excuse that western academics have of not wanting to “encourage Hindu chauvinists”, what will it take to conclusively show that OIT is true or, at least, that we must completely abandon the AIT and start afresh?
We can do nothing about the resistance: you can take a horse to the pool but you cannot make it drink. Or, as we say, you can wake up a sleeping man, but not one who is determinedly pretending to be asleep. We will be fools to expect or depend upon endorsement from our committed enemies.
On our side, we have a complete, flawless and unchallengeable case for the OIT or IHT (Indian Homeland Theory). The problem is not the enemy: the problem is within our side: we need to present a united front and present the case in a united voice. For further remarks on this, please see my answer to your question below.
CKS: You have studied the Rig Veda extensively from a researcher’s perspective. Can you tell us a little more about what your key findings are in terms of its layers, and classic issues that come up in terms of key words like Ashva, who are the Dasyus and the Ahuras, Aryans and enemies, worship of the sun/agni, words for homeland, the Ratha, sea travel etc.?
The ten books or Mandalas of the Rigveda can be divided into three chronological layers: the Old Books (in that order) 6,3,7, the Middle Books 4,2, and the New Books (in that order) 5,1,8,9,10.
More practically, we have the Old Rigveda (books 6,3,7,4,2, with 280 hymns, 2351 verses) and the New Rigveda (books 5,1,8,9,10, with 686 hymns, 7311 verses), with a twilight zone in between of Redacted Hymns in the books of the Old Rigveda (62 hymns, 892 verses).
The disparity between the Old Rigveda and the New Rigveda can be gauged from the fact that the language of the Old Rigveda is so strikingly different from the language of the New Rigveda that, for example, the word rātri, which is the common word for “night” in all modern Indo-Aryan languages (and even in the Dravidian languages which have borrowed this word) and the commonest word in the Prakrits and in Classical Sanskrit, and even in post-Rigvedic Vedic literature, is found in the New Rigveda also but is completely missing in the Old Rigveda. The word for “night” in the Old Rigveda is nakt-, which is totally unknown to modern Indo-Aryan speakers, but is found in all the other branches of Indo-European languages outside India (except Armenian, which has lost the word): Avestan naxt-, German nacht, modern Greek nukhta, Latin nocte, Old Russian noshti, Old Irish nnocht, Albanian natë, Lithuanian naktis, Tocharian nakt, Hittite nekuz.
To explain briefly and in short some of the key words mentioned by you above: the Rigveda was composed among the Pūru tribes of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh: primarily by the Bharata sub-tribe among the Pūru. In the Rigveda, the word ārya refers to members of the Pūru tribes, the word dāsa refers to members of the other non-Pūru tribes (Anu, Druhyu, Yadu, Turvasu, Ikṣvāku, etc.), and the word dasyu refers to priests of the non-Pūru tribes. The eleven branches of Indo-European languages found outside India are descended from the dialects of the Anu and Druhyu tribes to the west and northwest of the Pūru, and their migrations from India are recorded in the texts. The word asura, like the word deva, refers to the Gods, and the two words in the early parts of the Rigveda describe the two aspects of divinity – asura from asu-, “breath”, and deva from div-, “light” – and are found in many of the other branches as well (Germanic Aesir, Latin Deus, etc.). Historical conflicts between the Pūru Vedic “Indo-Aryans” and the Anu Iranians (in the Punjab) led to the conversion of the word asura into a word for demon in Indian tradition and the word daeva into a word for demon in Iranian tradition. Fire worship originated with the priests of the Anu tribes (the Bhṛgu) and was adopted by the Pūru as well as the Druhyu: both Vedic and Celtic tradition credit the Bhṛgu with the origins of fire-worship, the Celtic tradition indirectly by associating fire-worship with Goddesses named Anu and Brigit! The ratha in the Old Rigveda was the round-wheeled cart, but in the New Rigveda it is the spoked-wheeled chariot. For aśva, the horse, please see chapter 11 of my book.
CKS: Talk to us about the Caste system. What does Varna actually mean? What is the relationship between Varna and Jathi. How did the Jathi-Varna system change a) Under the Mughals and b) Under the British?
The caste system is a very vast subject requiring a whole different book to itself. The only point to be noted here, and it cannot be overemphasized, is: caste is a purely sociological phenomenon and has nothing to do with “Aryans“. Tony Joseph, as the central part of his agenda, tries to link the two, and in my book I have only dealt with the task of exposing the fallacy of his arguments and demolishing them, and not with the history of caste.
To repeat what I have said elsewhere: In most human societies in the world, there are two kinds of social divisions. In older or more primitive societies, human beings are divided into tribes with division of functions among the members of the tribe. In more developed “civilizations”, they are divided into classes with hierarchies, which, though not inherently hereditary, tend to become hereditary due to the vested interests among the “upper” classes. India is a unique case in the whole world where we see a combination of these two types of divisions: the tribes became “castes”, and entire castes tended to occupy places in the class (varṇa) hierarchy with vested interests developing in those in the upper places. In post-1947 India, innumerable new kinds of dirty political games involving caste have become viral in Indian society, and the caste situation today, in my opinion, is almost irreparable.
CKS: Where do we stand on the scholarship on the Saraswati River? Is it definitely the Ghaggar and what does it imply?
The Vedic Sarasvati is definitely the Ghaggar-Hakra river of the present day. Chapter 10 of my book deals with this subject in full detail. The only point it does not deal with is the geological aspect of whether the Vedic Sarasvati arose in the Himalayas or not, which I feel does not affect the identity. But that is a question I think geologists and others are dealing with anyway.
CKS: Dr Elst in his preface talks about how under-informed but over enthusiastic or even “chauvinistic” proponents of Hindu Dharma and Hindu literature have vitiated the atmosphere for debate. Is this really true or is it that the naysayers would stonewall anyway?
The naysayers would stonewall anyway: there is too much politics involved, the vested interests are too deep, and the rainbow coalition of diverse anti-Hindu political forces feeding on the AIT is too powerful and committed to give way without a fight to the finish.
But the problem is not with the naysayers, it is with “us”. As I said earlier, we have a complete, flawless and unchallengeable case for the OIT or IHT (Indian Homeland Theory). The AIT forces have a crumbling theory. They are still dominating not only because they still control the media and academia, but because of the failure on “our” part to unitedly present one voice, one case and one solid impregnable phalanx. The anti-AIT people on “our” side speak in a hundred different voices and are more busy in trying to sabotage each other than in trying to win.
To name just a few such anti-AIT types (and this obviously does not include staunchly Hindu “Brahmin” groups who like and support the AIT), we have those who claim the Vedas are timeless divine texts which cannot and should not be used for historical analysis; those who think abusing and exposing the “colonialist” nature of Indology is sufficient, and adopting “Indological” methods to oppose the AIT is akin to adopting the false ideas of the colonialists and playing by their rules; those who reject Linguistics as a “pseudo-science” and who completely reject the concepts of language-families and of Proto-Indo-European (as a language other than Vedic); those who think of the chronology of Indian history in terms of ten thousands and lakhs of years and reject more rational time-lines; those who insist on Vedic civilization as the primary source of all Indian/Hindu culture (if not world culture); etc. They not only hold these views, they militantly attack those following a more rational, constructive and winning viewpoint.
CKS: Why do people like Tony Joseph get so much press and currency? Sure, we have an extreme Left media like Outlook and The Hindu, that is perversely anti-Hindu — how can one structurally dismantle this dishonesty and perversity?
The anti-Hindu political forces completely control the ideological discourse. They are more entrenched, committed, organized, focused and united.
On the other hand, so-called Hindu political forces are only interested in making money and grabbing political power.
I will not say more on this. It is not possible for mere writers and scholars to “structurally dismantle this dishonesty and perversity” of the anti-Hindu forces. They can only do their duty by intelligently studying and presenting the Truth on every issue. Thankfully, there is a wide awakening among Hindus today on the intellectual front as well. I hope it succeeds and lasts.
CKS: Finally, a few personal questions about your own sadhana — how did you get on this journey, and what has been your own personal experience and key learnings?
I studied in St Xavier’s High School in Mumbai, and did B.Com in Sydenham College. I should have taken Arts, but due to pressure (to take Science, which I hated) I took Commerce as a compromise. I loved Mathematics (I had even invented some mathematical formulae in my school days) and I thought Commerce had something to do with Mathematics. However, mercenary subjects like “Advertising and Publicity” so revolted me that I found that I hated Commerce even more. I spent all my college days in libraries (Bombay University, British Council, Asiatic Central, etc.) taking notes on diverse cultural subjects like religion, philosophy, history, literature, Sanskrit texts, languages and alphabets, plants and animals, music, etc. I just managed to scrape through my degree: fortunately I managed to get a job in Central Bank of India on the basis of my SSC marks when I was in college itself, or I may have ended up among the unemployed.
Since childhood, I had only three ambitions. Being an extremely voracious reader (of English books, from Enid Blyton and Billy Bunter to Wodehouse and Agatha Christie to Austen and Dickens), I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Having developed a Hindutva perspective on my own, starting with my reactions to the earliest experiences of subtle brainwashing in a Catholic school, I wanted to do something in defence of Hinduism when I grew up. Enchanted by the powers of the Rishis in Hindi mythological films that were a favorite in my childhood, where they emerged from years of penance in the Himalayas, and wielded the powers of blessing and cursing people with a flick of the holy water in their kamandalu, and could even shake Indra’s throne in heaven, I also wanted (in my childhood days) to go to the Himalayas and become a Rishi! I think, in a way, I have achieved all three ambitions (the “Rishi” part of it at least to the extent that Koenraad Elst in a review of my third book, referred to me as the “contemporary scion” of “the Vedic seers“!).
My most concrete ambition was to prepare a massive photo-rich Encyclopaedia of Indian culture detailing the full greatness, richness and variety of India’s unmatchable and incomparable cultural wealth in the fields of racial types and languages, climate and topography, flora and fauna, religion and philosophy, music and dance, sculpture and handicrafts, architecture, physical culture and every other aspect of human life and culture. Seeing the organized destruction of all these aspects of culture taking place today, in an atmosphere where only money is God, I wonder how much of these things will survive in say fifty years from now.
So far as my work on the “Aryan” problem is concerned: it started with wanting to write a book in my mother-tongue Konkani, finding the Devanagari script inadequate to represent fully the sounds in Konkani, leading to a passionate interest in learning, or learning about, languages and alphabets. In the course of these studies, I repeatedly encountered the AIT. To my awakened Hindu mind, and my vast reading in historical subjects, this theory struck me as wrong. When I started reading the Voice of India books by Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swaroop, I decided that I would write a book investigating the truth of this AIT and see my book published by Voice of India. Thanks to Sita Ram Goel ji, and his constant encouragement, I did it. My present book is also actually written at the instance of the newly formed Ram Swaroop Sita Ram Goel Memorial Fund (RSSRGMF) under the aegis of Indic Academy.