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Book News

            Two major works on Vedic India are being released in July. First, the third edition of the acclaimed Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization by  Navaratna Rajaram and David Frawley (Voice of India), reviewed below. The other, Rg Veda and the History of India by David Frawley (Aditya  Prakashan, Delhi). 

            The third edition of Vedic Aryans differs from the second in being a major update that incorporates fundamental advances that have taken place in the last five years, notably Jha's decipherment of the Indus script. It is enhanced by a Supplement containing an Introduction and three supplementary Chapters. The first chapter provides a summary of the decipherment and its ramifications. The second is a summary of Shrikant Talageri's recent work on the historical analysis of the Rigveda, enhanced by archaeological evidence from India, West Asia and Europe showing a westward movement from India. The third supplementary chapter is based on David Frawley's recent research which examines the historical background to the Rigveda and its correspondences with the later Vedic and the Puranic literature.

            The other book, Rg Veda and the History of India is a significant departure from 'mainstream' scholarship. In his book Gods, Sages and Kings, which appeared in 1991, David Frawley presented what was at that time a radical conclusion. The Rigveda, far from being a record of nomadic invaders from the steppes of Central Asia or Eurasia, is actually the poetry of a people who show great familiarity with the ocean and maritime activity. In his own words: “Woven into the entire fabric of the Vedas, from beginning to end, is an oceanic symbolism. The Rig Veda is a product of a maritime culture, that undertook travel, trade, and colonization by sea. The ocean was known in the earliest period. If the Vedic people did migrate into India, it is likely that at least some of them came by sea or from a land that bordered on the ocean.” This has had far-reaching consequences for the research that followed, because, accounting for the maritime background to the Rigveda holds one of the keys to understanding both the Vedas and the history of the period.

            His new book Rg Veda and the History of India, builds on this theme, and reaches a conclusion that is no less radical and significant: while the Rigveda was composed for the most part in the Sarasvati heartland in the north, some of its sources, including its poetry and language, go back to a maritime civilization in the south of India and possibly beyond. While undoubtedly radical, it is a logical outcome of research in several disciplines in the past decade or so, in the wake of the collapse of the so-called Aryan Invasion Theory of India. Thus, to understand the origins of the Vedic Civilization, we need to look not west and northwest as scholars have been doing for well over a century, but south and southeast.


Book Reviews




            Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization by Navaratna S. Rajaram and David Frawley, 3rd edition. 2001. Voice of India, New Delhi. Price Rs 450 (HB), Rs 150 (PB). Pages: 328 + xxi. Reviewed by Professor K.D. Prithipaul.

The Politics of History: Aryan Invasion Theory and the Subversion of Scholarship by N.S. Rajaram. 1995. Voice of India, New Delhi. Price Rs 150 (HB), Rs 100 (PB). Pages: 243 + xviii. Reviewed by Professor Uma Erry.  

  Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate by Koenraad Elst. 1999. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi. 342 + x pages. Price Rs. 450 (HB), Rs 200 (PB). Reviewed by Dr. N.S. Rajaram.

The Rigveda— A Historical Analysis by Shrikant Talageri. 2000. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi. Price Rs 750 (HB). Reviewed by Dr. N.S. Rajaram.  

Review of Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization   

            The impact of colonization during the British domination was not merely political and economic. It extended to the collective psychology of the people and the latter’s perception of its own culture. This was noticeable in the manner in which the educated Indian citizen came to view his past history. The myth, which quickly gained credence in academic circles, arose from the Western Indologists’ view that ancient Indian history was initiated by an invasion of Aryans coming from somewhere in Central Asia. Several generations of Indian scholars, honestly mistaken by the prestige which the learned philologists trained in the scientific and ‘objective’ methods of research in Western academe, conscientiously taught and wrote the history of their country by taking the myth of the Aryan invasion as the starting point.

            Of late however, some Indian and Western historians and certain institutions in India and the West have deemed it necessary, under the imperative of truth-seeking, to re-examine the premises of the Western philologists’ claim of the veracity of an Aryan invasion and its cultural consequences. Dr. N.S. Rajaram and Dr. David Frawley have, in this context, brought forth a cogent, coherent argument which purports to lay to rest once and for all the erroneous theory of the Aryan invasion of India around 1500 BC.

            To buttress their thesis, the authors use their deep knowledge of the Sanskrit language, their acquaintance with the most recent archaeological discoveries, their expertise in mathematics and in computing science. In short, they bring to focus a remarkable synthesis of several “disciplines” to unlock the secrets of Sanskrit texts, which the early Indologists overlooked. The evidence thus brought forth from several original sources provides sound reasons to refute the earlier invasion theory.

            The dominant idea which gives the clue to their theme is that while the Aryans have a literature, but have no history or geography, the Harappans have a sophisticated urban civilization, a history and geography, but no language or literature. The paradox disappears when the two are assimilated into a unitive history and geography. It becomes logical then to argue for North India to be the original home of the Aryans. The authors further argue for a reversal of the movement of the Aryans: they moved out of India into the outlying areas, into Persia and beyond. This new theory receives support from archaeology, from a comparative analysis of Mesopotamian and Egyptian mathematics with Vedic mathematics.

            It is evident that the polyvalent learning of the authors provides a better insight into the secrets of the past than the mere gratuitous speculations of the earlier Indologists, of Max Müller in particular. In fact the authors do pay a worthy tribute to Max Muller for his many attainments and his contributions to the discovery of India by Western scholars. At the same time, faithful to their own insights and convictions, based on their own findings, they demonstrate how the invasion theory was more an expression of the prejudice fed by the racist theories spawned by Western academic anthropology supported by triumphant colonial enterprises of the West European countries. (See also The Politics of History by N.S. Rajaram reviewed in this volume.)

            The significance of the work consists in being an important confirmation of Indian history having at last come into its own, freed from the distortions of the arbitrary normative conclusions of Western historians. The authors pay tribute to other contributors, like K.D. Sethna, S. Talageri, S.B. Roy, K.C. Varma, Udaya Veera Shastri and others whose contributions have altered the perceptions of ancient Indian history with the evidence that it actually had an indigenous genesis. With a fair measure of self-reliance and confidence they even propound the thesis that it spread out to other parts of West Asia and Africa.

            A welcome aspect of this work is the refutation of certain Marxist Indian historians who persist in their attachment to superstitious theories bequeathed by the Indologists of Max Muller’s generation. The authors rightly point out that “not a single significant contribution should have come from Indian historians belonging to the elite ‘establishment’.” At the same time they make it clear that they are not driven by the need to write an apology of Indian chauvinistic nationalism. Theirs is a statement of veracity based on hard facts.

            At the same time the authors recognize that their work is not the last say in the ongoing process of unveiling the truth about ancient Indian history. They acknowledge that gaps still remain in the task of reinterpreting Vedic history. Nevertheless, their contribution provides substantial material which will enable the historians of India to work for the common purpose of knowing what happened at the beginning of the Vedic Civilization and collaborate with one another to bring about a synthetic reconstruction of the historical integrity of the country.

            Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization stands out as a major original fresh statement of what India was. It is lucidly written, marked at times with an unusual sense of humor. The intricacies of mathematical discussions, of Vedic linguistics, are expressed with clarity in a language that will appeal to both the scholar and the layman. This is indeed a felicitous way of writing about a difficult and abstruse subject. The book is commendable for its style, the seriousness of its purpose, and the originality of the thesis which claims to establish the moral and intellectual order that marked the early Vedic culture region which then stood as a greenhouse in which were grown saplings which were subsequently transplanted and grew into civilizations in the surrounding lands.

            The reader must rush to read this very well written book on a subject, which will fascinate someone even unacquainted with the history of India.

            Editors' comment: Professor Prithipaul’s review was based on the earlier edition, but applies in essentials to the third edition, which has just been released. The third edition contains a large supplement on recent findings including the decipherment of the Indus script, which the reviewer had not seen at the time.

Professor K.D. Prithipaul, Department of Comparative Religion, University of Alberta, Canada


Review of The Politics of History

N.S. Rajaram in his book, The Politics of History explodes our belief in the age-old theory of the Aryan invasion and shatters the myth about the origins of the Vedic civilization. He has provided an unbiased and a genuinely inquiring reader with sufficient and stimulating material for thought. His book is an excellent study of ancient India and the Vedic civilization; the honest reader has no choice but to re-examine his understanding of history. Truth by its very nature demands courage to acknowledge and accept it. The book offers a clearer and deeper insight into our ancient past, the Vedas and the Puranas. The present-day Indian historians need to correct their myopic vision of history and their die-hard prejudices. They should not only realign their frontiers of knowledge, but also be bold enough to rewrite the history of the land.

Rajaram’s book is the most systematic and thorough study of the Aryan invasion theory presented to date. He traces the origin and development of this ugly theory, which, according to him, is “a colossal intellectual blunder” of the 19th century European scholars, particularly, Max Müller. The author points out that Indian history was created by men who were neither Indians nor historians but European linguists. What were the causes of this grim blunder and how did it happen, is discussed in the chapter “Sahibs and Pundits.” Ignorance of the scientific method and lack of archaeological data coupled with European politics and missionary interests were the main forces behind this mythical creation. Also the upsurge of German nationalism in the 19th century, and the German dislike of any association with Semitic origin, added to this conspiracy. The author shows how this contributed to the growth of racial science, which dominated European thought in the 19th century. European linguistics had a great deal more to do with the Aryan invasion theory than was realized.

The author strongly condemns the present-day Indian historians of the elite institutions in India, who have totally ignored the latest findings of archaeology carried out by scientists and scholars like S.R. Rao, V.S. Wakankar and Shrikant Talageri, findings, which, when studied and integrated with the Puranas, give us a totally different sense. The Vedic civilization dates back to 7000 BC, whereas the Harappan civilization represents nothing but a continuation of the early Vedic civilization. It was indeed the “twilight of the Vedic civilization” and belonged to the Sutra period of the Vedic literature. And this vast civilization came to an end because of ecological reasons, particularly the drying up of the mighty Sarasvati River. That there was a mighty river, which used to flow through Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan has been discovered by Wakankar’s exploration and confirmed by satellite photography. Archaeological sites have been found on the riverbed which show that the river gradually became weaker and finally dried up around 1900 or 2000 BC. But to get back to the accounts in ancient literature, the second Mandala of the Rigveda mentions the great Sarasvati River about fifty times, while the Ganga is mentioned only once, and the seventh Mandala, attributed to Rishi Vasistha, says, “the Sarasvati is a mighty stream” that flowed from the “mountain to the sea … nourishing the children of Nahusha,” RV VII.95.2. The ‘Children of Nahusha’ refers to the rulers of the famed Bharata Dynasty, and the inhabitants of the Sarasvati heartland. (Sic: The whole of the Rigveda, and not just the second Mandala mentions the Sarasvati about fifty times — Editor.)

In his analysis of the Aryan invasion theory, according to which the Aryans entered into India, from Central Asia — the writer has assigned a whole chapter to Max Müller, the father of this “divine theory”. The chapter ‘Max Müller’s Ghost’ gives a comprehensive account and evaluation of his work. While he exposes his sham scholarship and a rather superficial rendering of the Rigveda, he lauds the great effort to bring out a monumental 51-volume (Sic: 50) “Sacred Books of the East”, which ironically led to a resurgence of interest among the Indians in their ancient works. Thus his early goal of discrediting the Indian scriptures by giving a negative interpretation had exactly the opposite effect. Max Müller rejected the astronomical evidence for Vedic chronology as suggested by Colebrook. He assigned Vedic dates so as to coincide with his firm belief in Biblical chronology, “according to which the creation of the world was said to have taken place at 9 AM on October 23, 4004 BC.” Though Max Müller later repudiated his own chronology for the Vedic literature, he was “an extremely political creature, who did not hesitate to use his position as Vedic scholar to advance the cause of German nationalism with his theories about the Aryan race.”

Max Müller ’s theory was taken up by the nineteenth century linguists and other scholars, who, after discovering Sanskrit and the relationship which it bears to European languages, hit upon the existence of a Proto Indo-European language to preserve their ‘pet theory’ of the Aryan invasion. The linguistic approach to history reveals how the human mind can pervert facts, and how preconceived ideas can falsify one’s view of events. Nineteenth century linguists “built whole historical scenarios around untested linguistic conjectures.” It proved to be a “monumental failure of vision” as shown by archaeology, which began to have an enormous bearing on the study of history. “All fanciful historical scenarios began to crumble” in the face of data from archaeology, mathematics and other sources, observes the author. Archaeologists have now proved the existence of a vast civilization, the great Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization, spread over more than a million and a half square kilometers.

Where did the Aryans originate from? Who were they, and what does the word Aryan mean, and how it was misinterpreted by European Indologists, are all discussed in [the chapter] ‘Emperor’s Clothes.’ According to the Puranas, Eastern UP and Northwest Himalayas (Sic: Northeast Himalayas) was the original home of the Aryans. While there is no evidence and support for the Aryan invasion theory, there is abundant evidence to show that massive movements of the Vedic Aryans took place out of India (that is, in the reverse order) into West and Central Asia. Linguistic analysis by S.S. Mishra, as well as archaeological records of the Hittites, Mittani and the Kassites all point to an expansion of the “Vedic Aryans out of India into West and Central Asia.” And this is also what the Puranas have to say: they record a series of migrations out of India resulting from wars as well as natural calamities. Aryan tribes settled in Persia, Parthia and Anatolia. (The Puranas record them as Parsus and Parthavas.) Indian emperor Mandhata drove the troublesome Druhyus out of India before 4600 BC, and according to Talageri (1993), “they became the Celtic Druids of Europe, which fits in with the latter’s tradition of tracing their origin to Asia.” Then there is question of Zoroaster, his date and his origin. The Bhavisya Purana (139, 13-15) records, “contrary to the Vedic practices, your son will become famous by name of Mag. His name will be Jarathushtra Mag — and will bring fame to the dynasty. His descendents will worship fire and will be known by the name Mag (Saka), and being Soma worshippers (Magadha Sakadvipi) will be known as Mag Brahmins.” All this is so contrary to what we have been subjected to learning in history books.

Putting aside the verdict of the Puranas and the Vedas, we may legitimately ask how has the writer resolved the main issue, in other words, what is the scientific basis used by the author for repudiating the Aryan invasion theory? What are the flaws and contradictions pointed out by the writer?

The chapter ‘Ancient India and the Modern World’ focuses on this main issue. The strength of the main argument and the evidence rest on the recent findings of archaeology and satellite photography, which have proved the existence of the ancient Sarasvati River and unearthed archaeological sites on the riverbed; what the historians earlier labeled as the Indus Valley sites in areas where none of the Indus rivers flow, and were therefore a source of mystery to archaeologists, have now been proved to lie along the course of the great Sarasvati River. Wakankar’s discovery of the ancient Sarasvati helped to resolve the mystery. Mark Kenoyer, a North American archaeologist (1991) has provided a detailed archaeological map of the whole of Northwest India.

But the Rigveda tells us all this and much more; while it mentions the Ganga only once, it lauds the great Sarasvati fifty times. It also describes the geography of North India as it was before the Sarasvati dried up. The Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley was a continuation of the Vedic Civilization; its ending coincided with the drying up of the Sarasvati around 2000 BC. Archaeological studies have shown that there was a gradual depletion of water resources that culminated in a drought in the 2200 BC to 1900 BC [period]. It was a global phenomenon that affected civilizations across the immense belt of Southern Europe to India. As S.R. Rao says, “People were forced to seek new lands for settlement. The refugees from Mohenjo-Daro and Southern sites in Sind fled to Saurashtra and later occupied the interior of the peninsula.” In addition to all this, the writer provides evidence of geography, astronomy and literature and metallurgy, and evidence of the mathematics or the Sulbasutras, often called Vedic Mathematics, which was discovered by Seidenberg to be the source of “all ancient mathematics from India to Old Babylonia to Egypt to Pythagorean Greece.”

All this is an unmistakable pointer to the existence and supremacy of a vast Vedic Civilization spanning over thousands of years and kept alive throughout by a living tradition. India is the only country where the ancient past still breathes. Jean Le Meé, a French student of the Vedas observes, “the pyramids have been eroded by the desert wind, the marble broken by earthquakes and the gold stolen by robbers, while the Veda is recited daily by an unbroken chain of generations traveling like a great wave through the living substance of mind.” If historical research could be intensified by the new generation of scholars, by combining tradition with science, all history and not just India will benefit, says the author of this brilliant book.  

Professor Uma Erry


Review of Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate

            Created at a time when there was no scientific data from any source, using tools and techniques that were the product of the same intellectual and social milieu that gave birth to comparative linguistics, the famous Aryan Invasion Theory of India has held the fort for well over a century. For the better part of this period, which conspicuously but not exclusively included the period of European colonialism, it was more or less unchallenged as the history of ancient India. It was only in the past few decades that a serious challenge to this theory was mounted. At first it was dismissed as 'Hindu chauvinism', in effect transferring to the Hindus the racist chauvinism of Western scholars and pseudo-scholars of the colonial period. But increasingly, scholars calling themselves Indologists and Indo-Europeanists are finding their scholarship and even their motives questioned by outsiders. As a result, the debate today is not merely over dry facts and academic theories, but also political and other motives. The important thing is that there is a debate. (See the volume by Deo and Kamath listed in the References.) In the book under review, Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate, Koenraad Elst, a leading scholar who has been a close observer of this debate and sometimes a participant, gives a comprehensive account of its history and historiography. In the process, he has probably written also the theory's obituary.

            An important point to note is that one of the strategies of the 'invasionists', which the author exposes to telling effect, has been to avoid debate altogether by dismissing their adversaries as chauvinists and cranks. Even a decade ago, a scholar raising questions about the truth of the Aryan invasion would have been hard pressed to find an audience, much less a platform. Often their 'refutations' of challenges to the theory were little more than "haughty dismissals" — as the American scholar A. Seidenberg put it. In addition, as the present reviewer can attest from his own experience, they took the form of personal attacks. A certain Robert Zydenbos (or his ghostwriter) compared this reviewer to Hitler for questioning the Aryan invasion, and even exhorted him to accept responsibility for the Ayodhya demolition! (Since this reviewer figures prominently in the debate, references to his work cannot be avoided.) All this is told in fascinating detail in Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate.

            Obviously, there is more to these 'debates' than meets the eye. It is not just obscure academics like Zydenbos and JNU (Leftist) propagandists like Romila Thapar and Shereen Ratnagar who have indulged in such tactics. Even a relatively high profile worker like Richard Meadow of the Peabody Museum at Harvard has allowed himself such liberties. In his Preface to Johnathan Kenoyer's Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, Meadow tried to dismiss the whole of Indian scholarship by praising Kenoyer's work as being "tempered by Western academic skepticism," where one does not see "those wild flights of fancy or long leaps of faith that characterize some literature of the region [India]." Of late even the publisher Voice of India, which has specialized in bringing out important works that were kept out by the establishment dominated publishing business, has come under attack by scholars in India and the West. All this indicates some uneasiness among these scholars, suggesting they are not really sure of their ground.

            To get back to the Aryan invasion, the study of ancient India, at least in the modern Western sense, may be said to have begun with Sir William Jones in the late 18th century. One of Jones's discoveries was that Indian languages — Sanskrit in particular — and European languages are related. To account for this, European scholars, the most famous of whom was F. Max Müller, proposed an invasion of 'Aryans' from the Eurasian steppes. There were other currents — like colonial politics and Christian missionary interests — that need not detain us here. He assigned a date of 1500 BC for the invasion and 1200 BC for the composition of the Rigveda. The reason for the date was his firm belief in the Biblical chronology that assigned 23 October 4004 BC for the Creation and c. 2448 BC for Noah's Flood, though he sought to give other — equally fanciful — explanations. Though their knowledge of the Vedas and the Sanskrit language was limited, European scholars contrived to find and interpret a few passages in the Vedas as the record of the invasion of fair skinned Aryans and their victory over the dark skinned natives. In other words, the Aryan invaders were colonizers like themselves. As often the case, such theories tell us more about the people who created them than history.

            With the discovery of the Harappan Civilization in 1921 — greater in extent than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia combined — archaeological data also became available, which could now be used in the study of ancient India. But no systematic effort was made to connect archaeological data with the ancient Indian literature. On the other hand, the entrenched Aryan invasion theory led most scholars to keep Harappan archaeology and ancient Indian literature permanently separated — a situation that persists to this day. This has created a strange situation: the Harappans, the creators of the greatest material civilization of antiquity, have no literary or historical context. At the same time, the Vedic Aryans, the creators of the greatest literature the world has ever known, have no archaeological or even geographical existence. This is known as ‘Frawley’s Paradox’.

            As a result, after more than two centuries, the subject called Indology has no foundation to speak of; what we have instead is little more than a collection of views and ad-hoc theories that often contradict one another. When people (like the present reviewer) began applying scientific methods to the abundant data that is now available, highlighting contradictions and pointing out the limitations of comparative linguistics for technical problems like Vedic chronology and the decipherment of the Harappan script, the reaction was hostile. Even Bernard Sergent, whose work Mr. Elst discusses with respect, dismissed this reviewer's criticism of linguistics as being motivated by the fact that it gives results that he (the reviewer) cannot agree with. The reviewer would like place on record that his case is exactly the opposite: these methods are so loose that any conclusion can be supported using comparative linguistics.

            This brings up an important point: the needless controversy over science and humanities in the study of Vedic history. No responsible scientist can argue that the humanities have no place, but only their place is not an arena where technical problems need to be addressed. When humanities scholars enter unfamiliar territory, justification of their approach and methodology tends to take precedence over finding a solution. No better example is needed than the seventy-year effort to read the Harappan script under the assumption that the Harappan language was Dravidian. Here, a modern man-made classification was imposed on a people that lived thousands of years ago. A major failing of such scholars is that they do not distinguish between scientific theories, which describe laws of nature, and their own theories that are the result of man-made classifications. This lies at the heart of the failure that continues to bedevil the advocates of the Aryan invasion, who take language morphology to be a cause-and-effect law.

            This failure is reflected in the progress made in the past couple of decades by members of these two schools of thought. Scholars like Wakankar, Sethna, Frawley, Natwar Jha and others that have looked at the data from an empirical viewpoint have impressive achievements. They include the mapping of the Sarasvati River, highlighting the maritime basis of Vedic society, showing mathematical and other connections between Vedic India and West Asia and Egypt, and, above all, the decipherment of the Harappan script. This last achievement, mainly the work of Jha with whom this reviewer has closely collaborated, led also to the decipherment of what has been called the 'World's oldest writing'. The result is that we now have a historical context for the Harappans linking archaeology and the Vedic literature. This leads to a quantum jump in our understanding of ancient history.

            When we look at the contributions of the invasionist school, we find hardly anything that could not be written — or has not been written — a century ago. Where nineteenth century scholars brought the Aryans from Eurasia or even Europe, some today bring them from Bactria or the 'Kurgan' in the Pontic region; where Bishop Caldwell a hundred years ago brought the Dravidians from Scythia, Bernard Sergent today brings them from Africa. The contrasts are equally striking when we compare the efforts to read the Harappan seals. Father Heras thought it was Proto Dravidian but ended up using Tamil; so did Asko Parpola. Malati Shengde claimed it was Akkadian, from which she tried to derive Sanskrit! And yet, all of them combined could not read a single syllable of Harappan writing.

            At the heart of this lies an attachment to a methodology — an unwillingness to accept failure in the face of evidence. When they run into a contradiction, they simply dismiss the evidence. Bernard Sergent, for example, dismisses evidence pointing to a major ecological catastrophe as the cause of the rapid collapse of the Harappan civilization. Instead he opts for an economic crisis following the Aryan invasion. (A great natural calamity invariably leads to economic crisis — witness Gujarat after the recent earthquake.) It is not so easy to dismiss scientific data. Since this reviewer in 1994 drew attention to the documented record of a three hundred-year drought as the possible cause of the collapse of the Harappan Civilization, more data has come to light. We now know that it was a meteor impact c. 2350 BC that was the direct cause of the massive drought that ended ancient civilizations. In fact, the study of such meteor impacts is leading to fuller understanding of the ending of the last Ice Age that led to the rise of civilizations. We cannot simply ignore all this and hold on forever to nineteenth century models and methods conceived at a time when none of this was known.

            The author devotes a full chapter to ancient astronomical records — a source of data that is also 'haughtily dismissed' by the likes of Romila Thapar (though she ties herself into knots in trying to explain it away). There is no better source for anyone interested in a summary of ancient astronomy and its implications than this chapter. The author provides a lucid summary of the salient points, while refuting the scientifically unsupportable charge of 'back calculation'. At the same time, he shows commendable restraint in pointing out the limitations of such data — data that do not allow us to draw anything more than broad conclusions. The crucial point to note is that astronomical data are systematically consistent: they do not for example place the Brahmanas before the Rigveda or Kalidasa before the Mahabharata.

            All this brings us back to the status of the Aryan invasion theory and the debate surrounding it. Since its advocates can no longer avoid debate with 'haughty dismissals', and those in India at least can no longer depend on government patronage that sustained them for fifty years, it is difficult to see how they can continue monopolizing the establishment. The coming generation of scholars will need to be more objective and also be willing to work with outsiders like Vedic scholars. As this reviewer can attest from his work with the Vedic scholar and paleographer Natwar Jha, such an approach can be enormously rewarding. One hopes that Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate will facilitate such constructive steps instead of unnecessary conflict.

            In summary, Koenraad Elst has made an immensely valuable contribution by bringing together a vast body of data and explaining both the scholarly and the political background underlying the various issues and personalities. No one interested in Indian and Indo-European history and historiography can afford to ignore his book.

Dr. N.S. Rajaram


Review and commentary:




N.S. Rajaram


     The Rigveda: A Historical  Analysis by Shrikant   Talgeri  (2000), Aditya Prakashan,  New Delhi. Pages: 520 + xxiv. Price: Rs 750 (HB).                                    



            Eight years ago, Shrikant Talageri, then a thirty-five year old bank official in Mumbai, published a book called Aryan Invasion Theory: A Reappraisal. It created something of a sensation, (partly because the late Girilal Jain devoted a center page column to it in the Times of India) In addition to refuting the Aryan Invasion Theory of India, Talageri advanced two fundamental theses. First, on the basis of a careful study of the Puranas, he concluded that the expansion of Vedic Aryans was from east to west — the reverse of what is claimed by the Aryan Invasion Theory. Further, he showed that there were repeated migrations out of India — into Iran, the Mediterranean and Celtic Europe that help explain the similarities between Sanskrit and the languages of Europe. At the time of its publication, the attention was mainly on the refutation of the Aryan invasion. But today, with the Aryan Invasion Theory all but dead, it is his thesis of expansion from India westwards, suggesting India as the homeland of the Indo-Europeans that has become the main focus of attention and debate.

            In his new book Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, Talageri has gone considerably further. He has identified the geographical locations and the various tribes who were responsible not only for the Vedic Civilization of India, but also those that went beyond India’s borders to seed the Iranian and European Civilizations in prehistoric times. Where his earlier book was based on the Puranas, the present work draws on the most basic literary source of all — the Rigveda. Distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a systematic analysis of the sources, the book is set to become a standard reference for the study of ancient civilizations. It comes at a propitious time when old theories, with their origins in European colonial politics and the Christian missionary movement, are crumbling, and a vigorous new school of research drawing on a combination of modern science and ancient tradition is opening new horizons. But first, some background.

            It has been known from at least the time of sage Yaska that several approaches to the study of the Vedas are possible and needed to understand their meaning and significance. These include the spiritual, scientific, grammatical, linguistic, historical and the etymological — the last of which was explored by Yaska himself in his masterpiece the Nirukta, which itself was the culmination of many generations of etymological research. (For more details see The Deciphered Indus Script by N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram, Aditya Prakashan, especially Chapter 4.) The fact that different schools of thought in the study of the Vedas existed in ancient times is clear from such works as Rk-Pratishakhya (grammatical), Brihaddevata (historical) and several others. But due to the vagaries of history, this free spirited approach to the Vedas came to be eroded, and, by the Middle Ages, hardened into the ritualistic interpretation of Sayana (1315 – 1387 AD). It should be said in Sayana’s defense that he recognized both the validity and the existence of other approaches.

            This was the situation well into the nineteenth century, with Sayana’s Bhashyas (commentaries) holding the fort as the ultimate authority on the interpretation of the Vedas. (For the sake of convenience I shall be using spellings that are close to phonetic in place of the standard international.) But in the nineteenth century, there arose two movements that challenged Sayana’s authority: a cultural revival brought about by Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati and a historical-theological reinterpretation resulting from European contact following colonization. (There was a third, a spiritual interpretation represented by Sri Aurobindo that is not germane here.) From the point of view of history, the European approach was highly significant. Sri Aurobindo expressed its impact with his usual clarity and brilliance:

            “It was the curiosity of a foreign culture that broke after many centuries the seal of final authoritativeness which Sayana had fixed on the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas. The ancient Scripture was delivered over to a scholarship laborious, bold in speculation, ingenious in its flights of fancy, conscientious according to its own lights, but ill-fitted to understand the method of the old mystic poets…”

            So it cannot be denied that the pioneers of the colonial age did make a contribution to the powerful revival of Indian scholarship that we see today, with its singular capacity for combining science and tradition, of which the book under review is a major example. But along with the much needed impulse that the West gave a moribund civilization, it brought also two fallacies into the field called ‘Indology’ that continue to dog the it: Christian biases and the theological method of arguing from pre-determined conclusions, which its protagonists confused with the scientific method. This is proving to be its undoing, pushing Western Indology to the edge of extinction, discussed in previous sections. In plain terms, Indology has outlived its usefulness. The fierce debate now raging over the book under review and related topics may be seen as the death throes of this colonial-missionary discipline. With this as background we may next examine Talageri’s contribution, which is based on a method of higher criticism uniquely suited to the task.


Rigveda: structure and chronology

            It may be said without reservation that Talageri’s book The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis is one of the most comprehensive studies of the Rigveda from a secular viewpoint written in our time. It forms a fitting start for a new approach to the study of the Rigveda as we enter a new century. As a result, his book is important both for its conclusions, which poses some difficulties, and its methodology, which merits high praise. Recognizing this, what follows is a fairly detailed summary and review.

            The book is organized into three sections. The first section consists of five chapters devoted to a systemic analysis of the Rigveda, laying the foundation for exploring the origin and the geographical spread of the Rigvedic clans and the seer families (Rishis). This is followed by Section II of two chapters, describing the activities of the Vedic people, especially their movements, which gave rise to the cultures of the Iranians and the Europeans. It is in some ways the most impressive part of the book — especially the chapter dealing with the Indo-Iranians — but likely also to be the most controversial. These two sections totaling seven chapters constitute the substance of the book.

The third section, consisting of three Appendices, stands apart from the other two in being somewhat polemical in nature. In these the author gives examples that serve to show the deep state of decline that Western scholarship has fallen into. This in turn has made its members increasingly resort to unscrupulous tactics against their real or imagined enemies. While this makes for interesting reading, Talageri does not seem to recognize that this behavior is due to a sense of insecurity on the part of some scholars, hit with a brooding sense of the collapse of their discipline in the face of a ‘paradigm shift’. The result: they have neither the intellectual capacity nor the balanced state of mind needed to engage in healthy debate. This will become increasing apparent in the course of this review.

The author appropriately begins with an analysis of the Anukramanis — or the Vedic indices left behind by the ancient writers, especially Shaunaka and his school. (A newcomer to the field would probably benefit from an introduction before jumping into such a highly technical discussion. The author should consider it in the next edition.) Particularly valuable is the list of Rishis or composers of the Rigvedic hymns preserved in them. This allows the author to arrive at a classification of the composers into clans of seer families, relating them to the various Mandalas and upa-mandalas. (The Rigveda is divided into ten Mandalas or books, with each containing several upa-mandalas or sub-books. An upa-mandala is a cluster of suktas or hymns attributed to a single composer. For example, hymns 1-11 of the first Mandala attributed to seer Vaishwamitra Madhucchanda make up the first upa-mandala of the first mandala.) This is the basic framework that the author establishes in arriving at an internal chronology (or relative chronology) for the Mandalas and their composers. This is then correlated with the knowledge of history and geography contained in the hymns themselves. This method of correlation is the author’s basic methodology.

In Chapter 2, the author goes on to establish the identity of the seer families with the help of apri-suktas or ‘family hymns’ that distinguish each major family. It comes out that the major seer families are the Bharadwajas (Angirases), the Vasisthas and Vishwamitras, to be joined later by the Bhrugus and the Kashyapas. The Bhrugus and Angirases are the most ancient, going back according to the author to pre-Rigvedic times, but the heterodox Bhrugus were granted recognition as Vedic seers quite late. The Bhrugus are also among the most important people of ancient times who according to the author carried the seed of Vedic language and culture westward into Iran and even Europe.

There were others, the Kanvas, the Gritsmadas and also those that claimed descent from more than one clan. These families did not work in isolation, and the later composers not infrequently refer to earlier families and even their compositions. In addition, the later seers often mention their ancestors — both actual and eponymous. All this proves invaluable in establishing the chronological relationships between the different Mandalas and their composers. An important consequence of this exercise is the recognition that Mandala X (or the last) is considerably later than the other nine. (This is clear also from the language, but it is reassuring to learn that Talageri’s methodology leads to the same conclusion.)

Of the ten Mandalas, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII are family Mandalas, i.e. each is composed entirely or for the most part by seers belonging to a single family. For example, Mandala III is by the Vishwamitra family, while Mandala VII is by the Vasisthas. The author observes that the “main criteria that will help us in establishing the chronological order of the Mandalas are: (1) The interrelationships among the composers of the hymns. (2) The internal references to composers in other Mandalas. (3) The internal references to kings and Rishis in the hymns” (p 37). With this analysis, the author arrives at the following classification in chronological sequence:


Early family Mandalas:                     VI, III, VII

Later family Mandalas:                     IV, II, V

All the family Mandalas and I:          VI, III, VII, with I overlapping with IV, II, V


The author then determines Mandala VIII to be later than V but partly overlapping it; and Mandala I, Mandala IX to be somewhat later, and finally, Mandala X to be considerably later than the first nine. He next relates the Mandalas to the dynasties and kings mentioned in the Rigveda. The most prominent of these are the kings of the Bharata dynasty (the Purus) who patronized the composers of the Rigvedic hymns. The most important king of the Bharata dynasty — after Bharata himself — was Sudas, the patron of both Vasistha and Vishvamitra and the hero of the Battle of Ten Kings. (Its eponymous founder Bharata gave India its name of Bharat and Bharatavarsha.) In addition to the Bharatas, the Rigveda mentions a few kings of the Trikshi dynasty, better known as the Ikshwakus. (Rama Dasharathi of Ayodhya belonged to this dynasty.) All this gives the author a handle to arrive at an internal chronology for the Rigveda. His observations on the subject make interesting reading (pp 77 - 78):


“It is clear that the Rigveda was not composed in one sitting or a series of sittings, by a conference of Rishis: the text is clearly the result of many centuries of composition. The question is: just how many centuries?

“The Western scholars measure the periods of the various Mandalas in decades, while some Indian scholars go to the other extreme and measure them in terms of millenniums and decamillenniums [10,000 years].

“A more rational, but still conservative, estimate would be as follows:

“1. There should be, at a very conservative estimate, a minimum of at least six centuries between the completion of the first nine Mandalas of the Rigveda and the completion of the tenth.

“2. The period of the Late Mandalas and upa-mandalas (V, VIII, IX and the corresponding parts of Mandala I) and the gap which must have separated them from the period of the Late Mandalas, should comprise a minimum of three to four centuries.

“3. The period of the Middle Mandalas and upa-mandalas (IV, II, and the corresponding parts of Mandala I) and the gap which must have separated them from the period of the Late Mandalas, should likewise comprise a minimum of another three to four centuries.

“4. The period of Mandalas III and VII and the early upa-mandalas of Mandala I, beginning around the period of Sudas, should comprise at least two centuries.

“5. The period of Mandala VI, from its beginning in the remote past and covering its period of composition right upto the time of Sudas, must again cover a minimum of at least six centuries.

“Thus, by a conservative estimate, the total period of composition of the Rigveda must have covered a period of at least two millenniums.”


This, as the author observes, is a conservative estimate. The question then is of absolute chronology: can we place limits in terms of actual dates? This is a question that Talageri does not address himself to, but we are now in a position to make an estimate, especially following Jha’s decipherment of the Indus script. The decipherment and the readings emphatically demonstrate that the Harappan Civilization (c. 3100 – 1900 BC) is post-Rigvedic, and overlaps substantially with the Sutra period. The last historical figures mentioned in the Rigveda are the brothers Shantanu and Devapi, who came three generations before the Mahabharata War, which may now be placed in the Early Harappan period (c. 3100 BC). (Forget the 1400 BC for the War, it has no scientific or literary support. Much of North India was still reeling under the impact of a massive drought, and could not have supported the society and the numerous kingdoms described in the Mahabharata.) Adding a minimum of two thousand years takes the early parts of the Rigveda to 5000 BC and beyond, which, by the author’s reckoning must be deemed conservative.

This agrees substantially with the dates reached by David Frawley and this reviewer in Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization. There are a few interesting consequences. First, this places Mandhata and his campaign against the Druhyus, resulting in their northward migration in the 6th – 5th millenniums (conservative). Next the traditional date of Rama Dasharathi (c. 4300 BC) becomes entirely plausible, just like the traditional date of the Mahabharata War (c. 3100 BC). This suggests that one should not be too hasty in dismissing traditional dates.

One other point is worth mentioning though unrelated to the book under review. In May 1999, Richard Meadow of the Peabody Museum at Harvard announced the discovery of a piece of pottery at the earliest level of Harappa, which he claimed to be the ‘World’s Oldest Writing’. The date claimed for it was 3300 – 3500 BC. I was able to identify the writing as a precursor to the Harappan script — whose existence I had anticipated — which allowed me to decipher it as ilavartate vara. This is related to the famous Rigvedic mantra III.23.4. This would be a chronological marker of the first importance, giving a lower limit for the third Mandala. But soon after my decipherment was announced, the person who claimed it to be the ‘World’s Oldest Writing’ issued a ‘clarification’, completely changing the story, throwing both the data and the date into confusion. It seems that some ‘scholars’ will stop at nothing to preserve the current dogma of the Aryan invasion in 1500 BC. (For details see Appendix on Pre-Harappan Writing in The Deciphered Indus Script by Jha and Rajaram.)

The author then goes on to identify the Purus as the Vedic Aryans. It is certainly true that the Purus were major patrons of the Vedic Rishis, but I feel that this identification is too restrictive. I mention this because in Section 3, he goes so far as to question that the Harappan Civilization was Vedic at all, suggesting that it was closer to that of the Anus. (This claim is not supported by our decipherment, which Talageri had not seen when he wrote the book, but let that be. Our reading is that Vedic India was a pluralistic civilization that included sects like Shaiva Agamas.) But Talageri would exclude all non-Purus from the Vedic fold, and all those who deviated from the strict orthodoxy of the Puru priests as non-Vedic. This, though a minor point in itself, I find somewhat restrictive. His findings about the Dasas and the Dasyus is enlightening: the former refers to non-Puru tribes, while the latter represent the priesthood outside the strict orthodoxy of the Puru priesthood. One is not surprised to learn that the Dasyus — the heterodox priesthood — are at the receiving end of much greater hostility than the Dasas.


Geography and migrations

Having established an internal chronological order for the Mandalas and the upa-mandalas of the Rigveda, the author examines the text for geographical references. The result can be summarized as follows: the oldest part of the Rigveda exhibits a geographical knowledge mainly to the region east of the Sarasvati river, generally corresponding to the present states of Haryana and UP (Uttar Pradesh). As one moves to the later Mandalas, following the chronological sequence established earlier, there is a corresponding expansion of the geographical horizon westward. This means: the movement of the Vedic Aryans was from the region east of the Sarasvati to the Punjab and Afghanistan in the West — the exact reverse of the widely held view of scholars for over a century. The evidence, based mainly on the distribution of the rivers of North India and the Vedic and Avestan records is simply overwhelming. This allows Talageri to show India as the original homeland of the Iranians. It may be summarized as follows.

The Avesta is essentially the work of the Bhrugu seers. They along with the Angirases are the most ancient of the seers that may go back to pre-Rigvedic periods, but through much of the Rigveda the Bhrugus are treated as outsiders. The Bhrugus introduced fire worship and also Soma, both Western practices according to Talageri. They were also an adventurous people, exploring beyond the boundaries of India, reaching as far as Anatolia where they came to be known as Phrygians. Ushana is one of their most celebrated seers, later recognized as the first among Kavis. A particular branch of them known as the Spitamas join the Asuras (Iranian Ahuras) as priests. The situation is complex and the evidence detailed, which the author summarizes it as follows:


“Hence it is not the Bhrugus or the Atharvanas as a whole who are the protagonists of the priests of the Avesta, it is only the Spitama branch of the Atharvans. Hence, also, the name of the Good Spirit, opposed to the Bad Spirit Angra Mainyu (a name clearly derived from the name of the Angirases), is a Spenta Mainyu (a name derived from the name of the Spitamas).” (p 179)

The author further observes: “The picture that emerges from the whole discussion is clear: (a) The Angirases were the priests of the Vedic Aryans, and the Bhrugus were the priests of the Iranians. (b) There was a period of acute hostility between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, which left its mark on the myths and traditions of the two peoples.” [This is preserved in the inversion of the relationships between the Devas and the Asuras in the Iranian tradition.]

What is important is that we have fairly detailed records of the events that drove the Iranians out of the Punjab into Iran. As far as the progress of the Iranians is concerned, Talgeri gives the following scenario: in the Pre-Avestan period they were located in Punjab and southern Afghanistan; in the Early- and the Late Avestan period, they were in the Punjab, Afghanistan, Central Asia and northeastern Iran; finally, in the Post Avestan period they were in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran.

Two crucial events contributed to the movement of the Iranians from the Punjab to the west. The first was the Battle of Ten Kings, in which the Bharata king Sudas drove the confederation led by the Druhyus beyond the Punjab. The people who became the Iranians were now settled in Afghanistan. For a while the two people — the Vedic Aryans in the east and the Iranians in Afghanistan — lived as peaceful neighbors. This was soon overtaken by a breakout hostilities in Afghanistan. As the author puts it: “The major historical event of the period [i.e., post Sudas] is the great battle which took place between a section of the Vedic Aryans (by Rijrashva and the descendents of Sudas) on the one hand, and the Iranians (led by Zarathushtra and Vishtaspa).” (p 215)

This finds mention in the Avesta also where Rijrashva is called “Araejataspa or Arjaspa who is referred to in the Avesta as the main enemy of Vishtaspa and his brothers… Later Iranian tradition (as in the Shahname) goes so far as to hold Zarathushtra himself to have been killed by Arjaspa.” (p 216) From this and much other evidence, Talageri convincingly demonstrates that it is not “Central Asia, but India, which is the original area from which Iranians migrated to their later historical habitats.” A truly impressive tour de force.

The author next sets forth his evidence to show that the Indo-Europeans, i.e, the speakers of European languages related to Sanskrit, must also have originated in India. The arguments are more expansive and situation somewhat more complex than in the Indo-Iranian case. Here also there were two major campaigns that spurred the migrations. The first was a campaign against the Druhyus by the Ikshwaku king Mandhata, about a thousand years before Sudas and his Battle of Ten Kings. This led to a migration of ‘hundreds of sons of kings’ who went north into the Mleccha country and established kingdoms there. The most important of the tribes on this northern migratory route, which took them eventually into Europe, were the Druhyus. The Battle of Ten Kings a thousand years later made its contribution leading to the establishment of Bhrugus (Phrygians) in Anatolia and the Alinas (Hellenes) in Greece. Talageri’s scenario is not notably different from the one given in his earlier book, but is buttressed by more research.

Technically, here is the situation faced by advocates of the Aryan invasion. There is no archaeological evidence for the invasion while even hard evidence for a migration out of India is beginning to appear. To take an example, a Celtic artifact known as the Gundestrup Cauldron (c. 150 BC) found in the Danish bogs reproduces the motif on the Pashupati seal from India, at least two thousand years earlier. (See Editorial.) Also, examples of Harappan writing are being found in West Asia, a couple of which Jha and this writer have deciphered. (See The Deciphered Indus Script, Chapter 10.) There must surely be others once we begin to look at ancient artifacts with a more open mind. In the face of all this, it is not possible to keep up the pretense of the invasion for much longer. The result is a bizarre set of explanations:

“The linguistic answer to this total lack of archaeological evidence of any Aryan influx into India in the second millennium BC, is to ‘postulate more gradual and complex phenomenon’.” (p 242) In other words, an invisible invasion that leaves no archaeological traces, or if it does, leaves one indicating a movement in the opposite direction — like a stealth aircraft that moves completely unseen by radar, only more deceptive. (In the face of such semantic acrobatics, how can Talageri admonish the critics of linguistics for not accepting it as a ‘science’?)

But here is something interesting: recent genetic studies have ruled out any possibility of a large-scale movement into India from West Eurasia 3000 – 4000 years ago. Further, the presence of the West Eurasian strain among the so-called Aryans and Dravidians is at the same insignificant level. The last major influx according to genetic evidence is more than 50,000 years ago. This means that any physical variation within the Indian population is due to natural selection. All this was not known when Talgeri completed his book, but it supports his contention of no invasion into India.

What about a reverse movement, out of India into Europe? If Sanskrit was not brought into India, the only explanation for its influence on European languages is that it went from India to Europe. We then have some technical evidence like the Gundestrup Cauldron in Europe and Indus writing in West Asia. Jha and I have shown traces of Indian influence on West Asiatic scripts like Aramaic, Himyaretic and Phoenician. (The Indus script is at least a thousand years older than West Asiatic scripts, so the influence could only be from India westward.) Also, there have been suggestions of a discontinuity in skeletal types in the 5th – 4th millennium BC — or close to the Battle of Ten Kings. Rather weak as evidence, but suggestive.

The Sanskritic influence on Europe and West Asia is undeniable, but the process by which it came about is still not understood. In this reviewer’s opinion, there are two obstacles to a proper understanding of the question. First, the idea of a common Indo-European language as demanded by linguists but with little empirical support. Next, the idea of a common Indo-European homeland that is seriously in doubt following recent genetic studies. But within the framework of contemporary Indo-European studies, it may be said that Talageri has given the most convincing scenario.


Linguistics and polemics

                This takes us to the third section consisting of three Appendices. The final Appendix is on a mystical interpretation of the well-known Sarama and Panis episode, which the author shows to have much in common with several myths in Teutonic and Greek mythology. The other two relate to the author’s survey of the evolution of the field and its current state. The first Appendix titled ‘Misrepresentations of Rigvedic History’ presents his views on different reactions to the Aryan Invasion Theory, especially on the part of Indian scholars. The second examines the current state of Western Vedic scholarship and its reaction to the challenge posed by modern, especially Indian scholarship. In the first Appendix, the author appeals to the critics of linguistics (like this reviewer) to accept its claims (as a science) and formulate arguments on that basis. With this I have a serious problem on both scientific and polemical grounds, which I should perhaps state in view of the enormous amount of controversy that it has given rise to.

            The first point to note is that the claims for linguistics as a science are made by scholars who are not for the most part scientists. Next, attacks on those (like this reviewer) who question its claims tend to be less than scientific, let alone objective. On this point, I draw attention to Bernard Sergent’s ‘criticism’ of my views cited by Talageri on 426-7 to get an idea of the situation. (Koenraad Elst, in his Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate has a much more detailed discussion, including the remarks of one Robert Zydenbos.) Such methods are unlikely to enhance the credibility as a science for linguistics. More seriously, I would like to highlight what I see as a fundamental misconception prevailing among non-scientists with regard to science and the scientific method.

            What distinguishes a subject as a science is the method, not the data, the symbols or the facts though they are all important. In science, when a new result arrives posing a challenge to an established theory, it may have to be given up. There are times when a single contradictory piece of data is sufficient to overthrow an established theory. This is what happened with the Michelson-Morley experiment, which overthrew the Newtonian model and led to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. (This is what should have happened to the Aryan Invasion Theory also when the Harappan Civilization was discovered, but the invasionists served up their old wine in a new bottle.) Without a standardized method that allows for checking internal consistency — like the correctness of a mathematical proof — a subject cannot be considered a science. Not all sciences are as exact as mathematics or physics, but there has to be a scientific method that leads to similar results when applied by different people. This is called repeatability.

            Linguistics seems to fail both these tests. There appears to be no agreement on the methodology that allows checking for internal consistency; second, different people using the same ‘science’ arrive at widely divergent conclusions. (If there were such consistency, Talageri’s previous book would not have been so viciously attacked by linguists, while being welcomed by non-linguists.) This is not the full story. As the author himself records, quoting Edwin Bryant (p 301): the linguists agree on only one thing, that the “Aryans ‘must have’ invaded India….” Otherwise, “they are not internally consistent…” So there is no agreement on anything, but when it comes to ancient India, there is a magical consensus that the Aryans ‘must have’ invaded India. This is not science but theology. Replace ‘Aryans invaded India in 1500 BC’ with ‘Salvation only through faith in Jesus,’ and you get Christian theology. As I pointed out early in the review, the pioneer Indologists confused theological arguments with the scientific method. The confusion still prevails.

            How then are we to explain the undeniable success of Talageri who seems to swear by linguistics as a science? The answer is simple: it owes nothing to linguistics and everything to his detailed analysis of the primary texts — or what I have called ‘higher criticism’. It was applied to the Puranas in his previous book, to the Rigveda in the present. Take away linguistic terms like ‘isoglosses’, ‘Centum and Satem’ and the book still stands without loss. On the other hand, take away his higher criticism while retaining the linguistic jargon and you are left with a shapeless mass — of ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’. I would also point out that the fiercest attacks on his book are likely to come from the linguists themselves. These will be directed not at his methodology — which is probably beyond them — but his conclusion. This is exactly how a religious fanatic reacts to a heretical doctrine. Just wait and watch. (This has now happened.)

            There is another point that Talageri makes that should be treated with reserve. He feels that despite the missionary and political motives that were behind much of the ‘research’ of many scholars, we have to see their work mainly as honest search for truth. No one can say that their work should all be dismissed, but how does one draw a line that separates their honest effort from motivated scholarship? When Max Muller writes his wife in private that the object of his Vedic studies was to uproot Hinduism; when Monier-Williams tells a Christian missionary audience that his dictionary was written so that they could storm the fortress of Brahmanism and achieve a victory that must be both “complete and signal”; when H.H. Wilson writes that his set of essays were written (with the help of Hindu Pandits) to train candidates who could best refute Hinduism; when Robert Caldwell admonishes a critic of his linguistic theory that it was “not only of considerable moment from a philological point of view but of vast moral and political importance”; and when W.W. Hunter says that scholarship is “warmed with the holy flame of Christian zeal”, it is only prudent to approach them with more than a degree of skepticism.

The thrust of Appendix 1 is a critique of previous approaches to Rigvedic history. It is somewhat subjective and takes previous investigators to task for arguing too much from beliefs and paying insufficient attention to what the Rigveda itself has to say. Some of his points are well made, but one should always make concessions to the time and place in which a theory evolves. This holds as much for colonial-missionary scholars like Max Muller as for nationalist scholars like Tilak and Vivekananda. None of us can escape the influence of our environment. It adds little to the main contribution of the work, Rigvedic history, which is what the reader is likely to be interested in. When we come to Appendix 2, however, it is a different story: it gives a vivid picture of the sorry state of Western Vedic scholarship today, and the desperate methods that some are using to safeguard what they see as their preserve. The author uses Michael Witzel as an example, but several others fit the bill. This is a topic worth noting, for in the coming years, the battle is likely to get fierce and the rhetoric increasingly shrill. (This has also come to pass.)

To get some idea of the level to which academic ‘debate’ has descended, here is how one Victor Mair introduced his paper, describing his adversaries as “extremists, chauvinists, and other types of deranged — possibly dangerous — persons… nationalists and racists of various stripes; kooks and crazies who attribute the rise of Indo-Europeans to extra-territorial visitations, etc.” (p 233) He then goes on to heap praise on himself and his approach by claiming that his maps (among other things) are “intended isochronously to take into account the following kinds of evidence: linguistic, historical, archaeological, technological, cultural, ethnological, geographical, climatological, chronological, genetic-morphological… I have also endeavored to take into consideration types of data which subsume to bridge two or more basic categories of evidence (eg. glotto-chronology, dendrochronology and linguistic paleontology).” (p 234)

This is outrageous nonsense — actually a rather clever spoof of the pretensions of the ‘scholars’ that draws its inspiration from the speech of Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:


            “The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and liberty, these are the only men.” (Act II, Scene 2)


            It is a measure of the pedantic irrelevance to which the field has sunk that this parody by Mair was included as a research contribution in a volume entitled The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Asia, published by The University of Pennsylvania Museum, edited by Victor Mair himself! Did the other contributors not see that they were being ridiculed?

            This episode is a fair indicator of what lies in store for Western scholars. They may lack any sense of humor, but they do have an idea of their own looming irrelevance. Here is the problem. Research papers and monographs written by the likes of Michael Witzel (Talageri’s example of a Western scholar) are hardly read at all. There is great public and academic interest in new discoveries in the field — like the decipherment of the Indus script and Talageri’s own reconstruction — but no one in India gives a damn about what Witzel and most of his Western colleagues have to say about India. In the West, especially in America, there is even less interest. This is not helped by the fact that their writings are unreadable. Books and articles of the new school of Indian and Western scholars like David Frawley, Talageri, this reviewer and others are read by thousand and sometimes tens of thousands, while Witzel and others like him may not have a dozen readers other than their own hapless students. And more and more students are seeing through their scholarly smokescreen. It is only a matter of time before university administrators begin to see that they are supporting white elephants at a time of shrinking budgets.

            In this climate of insecurity, scientific rigor and academic fairness are luxuries that a sinking establishment can ill afford. Debate is not something they look forward to. More than twenty years ago, Seidenberg complained that their ‘refutations’ were only ‘haughty dismissals’. As they and their field slip further into the abyss, haughty dismissals are giving way to vicious personal attacks. I find it necessary to mention this because Talageri does not seem to be fully aware of the academic climate in the West. (I spent more than twenty years at American universities as a faculty member and administrator, where I had to deal with the likes of Talageri’s critics on a regular basis. Less substantial the work, the greater were the demands.)

            How does one deal with such adversaries who use haughty dismissals and smear tactics to forestall debate? My suggestion is to ignore them. Nothing is gained by trying to refute them over and over again, given their present state of mind. It is better to pursue one’s own program of research instead of trying to convert fundamentalists. It is impossible to fool all the people all the time, even university administrators. I am not suggesting that one should avoid debate, but only that both sides have the responsibility to follow some ground rules. One cannot counter ‘haughty dismissals’ and smear campaigns with facts and logic. Ignore people who indulge in such tactics.  

        (This was written before the propaganda blitz launched against me by Witzel and Farmer with their 'Harappan horse' fantasy and Witzel's continuing campaign against Talageri. It is clear I hope that I had anticipated all this but not the viciousness of the tone and language.)



This brings me to the end of the review. It is obviously an important work, but not the last word on the subject. There is one major lacuna that I should mention — the maritime nature of the society described in the Rigveda. The oceanic symbolism is among the most commonly occurring poetic devices. Even the process of creation is visualized in terms of the ocean. There are prayers for the safety of ships and sailors. Mandala VII is particularly rich in oceanic references. This needs to be explored further. (The pervasive oceanic symbolism shows how incongruous it is to locate the Rigvedic people in land-locked Afghanistan as Rajesh Kochhar has tried to do in his recent book Vedic History: Their History and Geography. This can be compared to writing a history of Europe, identifying Switzerland as a great naval power. But Kochhar seems to have a great attachment to Afghanistan. He has placed Rama, Ayodhya, Mahabharata War, Sarasvati River, and now the Rigveda in that country.)

The book deals with a subject that is necessarily complex, but its reading facilitated by careful organization and logical presentation. Mr. Talageri writes well, in a language that is both clear and direct. The book is superbly produced with a truly comprehensive index, which seems to be a distinguishing mark of Aditya Prakashan as an academic publisher. Considering the quality of the work the price is by no means unreasonable. The editing is first rate with no errors of any consequence. On page 4, the attribution of I.12 to the Vishvamitras is wrong, it should be to Medhatiti Kanva. This gives eighteen hymns I.1-11 and I. 24-30 for the Vishvamitras — for Madhucchandas and Shunashepha respectively. In the chart on page 104, there appears to be a printing error, taking the bar for Mandala VII to Vitasta instead of stopping at Asikni. These are minor lapses and do not affect the conclusions in any way.

All in all The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis by Shrikant Talageri is a major work that settles many old questions while opening new horizons for research. It is a must for every serious student of history.  


The Aryan Problem edited by S.B. Deo and Suryanath Kamath. 1993. Bharatiya Itihasa Sankalana Samiti, Pune.

The Aryan Invasion Theory, A Reappraisal by Shrikant Talageri. 1993. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi.

The Politics of History: Aryan Invasion Theory and the Subversion of Scholarship by N.S. Rajaram. 1995. Voice of India, New Delhi.

Vedic Glossary on Indus Seals by N. Jha. 1996. Ganga Kaveri Publishing House, Varanasi, India.

            Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization by N.S. Rajaram and David Frawley, second edition. 1997. Voice of India, New Delhi.