Demolished once for all: Aryan Invasion Theory
by Virendra Parekh on 04 Jan 2009 15 Comments

An unknown Indian has taken on proponents of the Aryan invasion/migration theory, demolished their case, and established that northern India is the original home of the Aryans and the Indo-European family of languages. The importance of this remarkable achievement cannot be exaggerated. In course of time, it can compel the revision of the history not only of Indian but also world civilization.” 

That was Girilal Jain in his masterful review of Shrikant G. Talageri's ‘Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism,’ published in 1993. Since then, Talageri, a not-so-unknown Indian now, has come up with two more works. His ‘The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis’ (2000) established that Vedic Aryans were inhabitants of the area to the east of Punjab, traditionally known as Aryavarta; that the region of Saptasindhu formed the western periphery of their activities and that the Aryans migrated from the east to the west within India and beyond it. For this, he relied solely on a detailed analysis of the Rigveda.

His latest book, “The Rigveda and the Avesta: the Final Evidence,” seeks to prove conclusively beyond all reasonable doubt that India was the original homeland of the Indo-European family of languages, that the Rigvedic people were settled in areas around and to the east of the Sarasvati river in at least the third millennium BCE if not earlier, that the proto-Iranians who later became Zoroastrians were settled in the areas to the west of the Vedic Aryans, and that both started expanding westward around that period.

As the name of the book suggests, Talageri collects, collates and compares a massive amount of evidence from the Rigveda and the Avesta and also marshals undisputed recorded facts from Mesopotamian history about the Mitanni and the Kassites to support his conclusions. He relies on non-controversial data such as names of people, animals and places, and on the provenance and numerical frequency of their occurrences, rather than subjective interpretations of esoteric texts.

We teach our children even today as settled facts that nomadic Aryans invaded/migrated to India around 1500 BCE, destroyed the Indus Valley culture and began what is known as the Vedic Age, and produced Rigveda around 1200 BCE. However, this is only a theory, and an extremely weak one at that.

That there is not a shred of evidence for it in either the ancient literature or archaeology, that it is based on nothing more solid than some striking similarities among the Indo-European languages, that there is an overwhelming body of solid evidence against it, and that even the linguistic data supporting it can be better explained by an alternative opposite theory, has not daunted its proponents who are deeply entrenched in the academia, media and, worst of all, in politics.

Originally cooked up by 19th century European scholars to serve the interests of India’s colonial masters, the theory has now been appropriated by current political ideologies whose sole purpose is to keep India weak, divided and confused. It is used to deepen and exploit regional, linguistic and racial cleavages in Indian society, deny nativity and originality to Hindu civilization, and justify later invasions: if Aryans came from outside, how can the Hindus cavil at Muslim or European invaders?

This is not the first time that the Aryan Invasion Theory has been disproved. It has been demolished several times over in the past. Talageri’s specialty is that he uses only objective, non-controversial and verifiable data from ancient texts to support his conclusions.

Talageri’s point of departure is the internal chronology of the Rigveda. The Rigveda, the oldest book in the world and the most primary source of knowledge about ancient India, consists of 1028 hymns divided in ten Books, or Mandalas. The composition of these hymns, their collation and compilation in the present form, must have been a gradual process stretching over a vast geographical expanse, spanning several centuries if not millennia, and involving generations of seers, kings and other actors.

The Rigveda itself provides strong and massive internal evidence that all of it was not composed at the same time. There is general agreement among scholars that Books II to VII, known as family books, are older, whereas Books I, VIII, IX and X came later. The family books are composed either entirely (as in the case of Book VI) or almost entirely (as in Books III and VII) by seers of a single family; or entirely (as in Books IV and II) by the members of a single family with a few hymns composed by a family related to them;  and they use simple meters.

But among the family books, Book V is regarded as the latest. Descendants of composers of other family books are composers of hymns in this Book; and although it belongs to the Atri family, it has composers from as many as six families. In meters, it uses mainly four-line Anushtup in preference to the three-line Gayatri which is more prominent in older family books; the five-line Pankti meter makes its appearance here. These characteristics become stronger in later Books. Book I, VIII, IX and X, for instance, each has hymns composed by seers from many families, and uses not only the five-line Pankti, but also the six-line Mahapankti and the seven-line Sakvari. And personalities and events of the earlier Books are referred to as belonging to the distant past and so on.

In ‘The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis,’ Talageri has analysed the internal evidence in great detail and established the detailed chronological order of all ten Books as follows: Books VI, III and VII are the oldest (Early Books), followed by Books II and IV (Middle Books) and then come Books V, I, VIII, IX and X (Late Books) in that order.

However, his argument in the present book is not dependent on this detailed chronology. The generally accepted division by scholars of the ten Books into Old Books (II, III, IV, VI, VII), and Late Books (I, V, VIII, IX and X) is enough to support his argument.

That argument can be simply stated. Rigveda and Avesta have a lot in common—names of people, animals, meters, geography. However, the Early Books of Rigveda have very little in common with Avesta, while the Middle Books have a little more. But it is the Late Books of Rigveda that have a lot in common with Avesta, pointing to a period of contemporary development.

Take just one example. The Early Books have few Iranian names: two related kings (Abhyavartin Cayamana, Kavi Cayamana), one priest (Kavasa) and four tribes (Prthu/Parthava, Parsu/Parsava, Paktha and Bhalanas). All these names occur only in three hymns; none of these names of persons or tribes finds any reference in the Middle or Late Books. The three hymns pertain to the historical battles in the Early period and these names refer to enemy Iranians then located in the eastern and central Punjab. Besides, there is a hymn which mentions a sage Usana and his father Kavi Bhargava who played a very important role in the later mythology built on Indo-Iranian conflicts. All these names have equivalents in the Avesta.

In the Middle Books, we find names of four sages, which are not mentioned at all in the Early Books, but find numerous mentions in the Middle and the Late Books and are referred to in Avesta as well. They are: Turviti, Gotama, Trita and Krsanu; in the Avesta they are called Taurvaeti, Gaotama, Thrita and Keresani. All these personalities are Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian. Taurvaeti in the Avesta is an early figure, the father or the ancestor of Fracya (Yast 13.115). Thrita is specifically mentioned in Yasna 9.10 as an ancient personality belonging to a period far earlier to Pourushaspa, the father of Zarathustra.

But the main case rests on dozens of names and name-elements common to the Rigveda and the Avesta. These Vedic name elements like asva, ayana, rta, rna, atithi, brhad, ratha, syava, sura, and names such as Yama, Krishna, Aptya, Vrsni, Varaha, Vivasvat, Atharvan, Kashyapa have their equivalents in the earliest parts of the Avesta, but they are found exclusively in the Late Books and hymns of the Rigveda, and in later Vedic and Sanskrit texts.  

To sum up, the Early and Middle Books have only 8 hymns containing these name-elements common to Avesta, and all eight of these hymns are identified as late or interpolated by ancient text Aitareya Brahmana or by western scholars like Oldenberg. On the other hand, the Late Books have no fewer than 386 hymns containing such name-elements.

Apart from names and name-elements, there is the evidence of the development and use of meters used in various hymns of the different Books. The earliest hymns in the Avesta, the Gathas, composed by Zarathustra, use the six-line Mahapankti meter, which is used only in the Late Books of the Rigveda. On this parameter also, the evidence points to the same conclusion: the common development of the joint Indo-Iranian culture represented by these two sacred books took place in the period of Late Books of Rigveda. The Early and the Middle Books of Rigveda belong to a period which is older than the period of the development of this joint culture.

The next question is: in which area were the Early and the Middle Books composed? Where were the Vedic Aryans living in the period before the development of this joint Indo-Iranian culture?

The geographical evidence of Rigveda is very clear and unambiguous. It shows that the Vedic Aryans, in the period of the Early and the Middle books, were inhabitants of interior parts of India, to the east of river Sarasvati and were only just expanding into and becoming acquainted with areas further west.

The geographical horizon of the Rigveda extends from (at least) western Uttar Pradesh in the east to eastern and southern Afghanistan in the West. Let us divide it in three regions: the eastern region comprising the Sarasvati and areas to its east, mainly modern Haryana and western UP; the western region comprising the Indus and areas to its west, mainly the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, Afghanistan and contiguous areas of southern Central Asia; and the central region comprising Saptasindhu or Punjab between the Sarasvati and Indus.

The eastern region is clearly known to the whole of the Rigveda. Copious references to the rivers such as Sarasvati, Drshadvati, Hariyupiya, Yavyavati, Ashmanvati, Yamuna, Ganga, places such as Ilayaspada, Kikata, and animals such as elephant, buffalo, peacock and spotted deer are scattered all over the Rigveda, but particularly in the Early books.

In sharp contrast, the western region is totally unknown to the Early Books, only very newly familiar to the Middle Books, but quite familiar to the Late Books. The western places (except a solitary reference to Gandharva in a late hymn), animals, lakes and mountains are totally unknown to the Early as well as the Middle Books, and exactly three rivers are mentioned in Book IV, which represents the western-most thrust of the Vedic Aryans in the Middle period.

The late books, on the other hand, are strewn with references to rivers such as Sindhu, Amitabha, Rasa, Svetya, Kubha, Krumu, Gomati, Sarayu and Susoma; places such as Gandhari, mountains such as Arjikya and Mujawat, lakes such as Saryanavat, and animals such as Bactrian camel, Afghan horse, mountain sheep, mountain goat and boar.

Most interesting are the references to the central region—the Saptasindhu or Punjab between Indus and Sarasvati. Very significantly, the Nadi Sukta lists the rivers from the east to the west. Book VI, the oldest book, does not know any of the five rivers of Punjab. The second oldest book, Book III, mentions only the two easternmost rivers—Vipas (Beas) and Sutudri (Sutlej). The third oldest book, Book VII, mentions Parushni (Ravi), the third river from the east, with reference to the Battle of Ten Kings in which the non-Vedic enemies figure as western people of the fourth river Asikni (Chenab). Even the phrase Saptasindhu first appears in the Middle Books.

Significantly, Iranian texts also confirm the movement of the Anu-s (an Aryan clan that later became Iranians) from the east to the west. The first chapter of Vendidad lists 16 holy lands rendered unfit for man by Angra Manyu, the evil spirit of Zend Avesta. The first of these is Airyano Vaejo, bitterly cold and full of snow. If there is doubt that this refers to Kashmir, the designation of one more land as Hapta Hindu, that is Sapta-Sindhu (Punjab), should remove it.

As Girilal Jain had observed, “if it can be established that the movement of the users of the Indo-European speech in India in ancient times was from the east to the west and not vice-versa, the invasion/migration theory, as it has been propounded, cannot stand.”

After establishing precisely that on the basis of Rigveda and Avesta, Talageri proceeds to present some more evidence from ancient Mesopotamia that could help us determine a lower limit for the Vedic Age. Once we see that the movement of Aryans has been from the east to the west within India and outside it, even the familiar facts acquire an altogether different significance.  

The Mitanni, who ruled northern Iraq and Syria around the 15th century BCE, spoke Hurrite, a non-Indo-European language unrelated to Vedic Sanskrit. But their kings and other members of the ruling class bore names which were corrupted versions of Vedic names: Mittaratti (Mitratithi), Dewatti (Devatithi), Subandu (Subandhu), Indarota (Indrota), Biriamasda (Priyamedha), to mention a few. In a treaty with Hittites, they invoked Vedic gods Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatyas (Asvins). A Mitanni manual on training of chariot horses by Kikkuli has words like aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (panch, five), satta (sapta, seven) na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, turn round in the horse race). Another one has words like Babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita (grey), pinkara (pingala, red) and so on. Many centuries must have elapsed between the entry of their Vedic ancestors into West Asia and this loss of language with just a super-stratum of Vedic words.

The Kassite conquerors of Mesopotamia (c. 1677 BCE) had a Sun god Surias, perhaps also Marut and may be even Bhaga (bugas), as also a personal name Abirattas (Abhiratha).

What is notable is that the ancestral Vedic names used by the Mitanni kings, and the one known Kassite name, all belong to the names which are common to the Avesta and the Late Books of Rigveda. So the ancestors of the Mitanni and Kassites must have migrated from northwestern India in the period of the Late Books. This places Late Books of Rigveda in the late third millennium BCE at the latest. The Middle and the Early books of Rigveda must have been composed much earlier. Please note that this is the lower limit for the date of Rigveda. There is nothing here that precludes a reasonably earlier date.

This makes the Rigvedic Age contemporaneous with the Indus Valley culture. Far from being the destroyers of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, Vedic Aryans turn out to be the architects of those great cities. This is what Girilal Jain meant when he said that in course of time Talageri’s research can compel the revision of the history not only of Indian, but also world civilization.

Talageri’s book makes fascinating reading for those who are familiar with and interested in the subject. That, looked at from the opposite end, is also the biggest limitation of the book. This book is meant for scholars and serious students. It is not fit for lay readers; it cannot be read just for fun. One has to know a great deal about the subject before one can appreciate the monumental feat of scholarship the author has accomplished. But one thing can be said with certainty - even those who do not agree with Talageri’s conclusion will not find it easy to disprove his data and logic and come up with an alternative explanation.


The Rigveda and The Avesta: the Final Evidence
Shrikant Talageri
Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008
Pages: xxxviii + 379
Price: Rs. 750 (Paperback: Rs. 350) 

Virendra Parekh is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai 

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