Michael Witzel - An Examination of Western Vedic Scholarship
The question of the original homeland of the Indo-European family of languages is a purely academic subject, although discourse on the subject, particularly in India, has been highly politicized.
We have already examined, in Appendix I, the various aspects of this politicization.
But while the most vocal and extremist supporters of the theory (that the Indoaryan languages spoken in most parts of India were originally brought into South Asia by invaders or immigrants in the second millennium BC) are undoubtedly politically motivated, the theory is generally accepted by most academic scholars as well, purely on the ground that it represents the general consensus in the international academic world.
The question, therefore, is: how far can we rely on the objectivity and sincerity of world scholarship?
We have, in our earlier book, presented a new theory which answers the problem of the original Indo-European homeland more effectively than the generally accepted theory. In this present book, we have shown that the Rigveda confirms our theory with evidence which, at least so far as the literary aspect of the debate is concerned, is practically unanswer-able.
A true scholarship would examine, and then either accept or reject, with good reason, any new theory which challenges a generally accepted theory admitted to be full of sharp anomalies.
However, this has not been the attitude of world scholarship towards our earlier book.
The general attitude has been as follows: there is a school of crank scholarship in India which is out to prove, by hook or by crook, that India was the original homeland of the Indo-European family of languages; and the writers of this school deserve to be firmly put in their place.
And the best method of doing this is by tarring all scholars who support, or even appear to support, an Indian homeland theory, with one brush; and then pointing out particularly untenable propositions made by one or the other of the scholars so branded together, to prove that all the scholars so named belong to one single school of irrational scholarship.
Thus, Bernard Sergent, a French scholar, in his book Genèse de l’Inde (Bibliothèque Scientifique Payot, Paris, 1997) has the following (roughly translated into English by us) to say about these scholars:
“Thus D.K. Chakrabarti, George Feuerstein, Klaus Klostermaier, Richard Thompson, David Frawley, Jim Shaffer, Koenraad Elst, Paramesh Choudhury, Navaratna S. Rajaram, K.D. Sethna, S.R. Rao, Bhagwan Singh, Subhash Kak, Shrikant Talageri… It can be seen that the case is argued mainly from a nationalist Indian viewpoint, relayed also by some westerners. Above (p.155) we have been able to evaluate manipulations indulged in by one of these scholars, J. Shaffer, in order to arrive at his above conclusions: he simply argues that it is not necessary to take into account any linguistic data! Rajaram arrives at the same conclusion: Linguistics is not a science since it does not lead to the same conclusions as his own… On this subject, Bryant (1996, 8 and 11) remarks that what he calls the ‘Indigenous School’ ignores all the linguistic literature, in particular those which draw attention (by decisively demonstrating the existence) to a substratum, and only use linguistics when it happens to benefit them. As for Choudhury, he is the author of a work entitled Indian Origin of the Chinese Nation (well, let’s see!), and of another entitled The India We Have Lost: Did India Colonise and Civilise Sumeria, Egypt, Greece and Europe?: Self-service is the best service! Nationalism, obviously, has no limits. In any case, these authors battle to make their beautiful ‘discovery’ triumph through the organisation of conferences in the United States, sending panels to other conferences, etc. This ‘struggle’ shows up the ideological nature of this exercise: a student of science does not need to impose his ideas through propaganda, he has arguments to furnish.”1
It may be noted that a whole range of scholars, Western and Indian, are clubbed together, and then two specific points are elaborated: N.S. Rajaram’s disdain for linguistics, and Paramesh Choudhury’s fantastic scenarios (clearly modelled on the writings of P.N. Oak). The inference is that these two points characterize the writings of all the scholars concerned!
Let us see how far they apply to our own earlier book:
N.S. Rajaram has been a friendly supporter of the theory outlined by us in our earlier book. But he has equally been a critic of our failure to share his disdain for linguistics. Referring to our book, he specifically states: “One can have some reservations about his excessive reliance on linguistics, and his acceptance of Dravidian languages (which did not exist much before the Christian era) as constituting a separate language family.”2
Paramesh Choudhury’s theories about the origins of the Chinese, Sumerians and Egyptians in India can have no relevance whatsoever to our theory about the origins of the Indo-European languages in India. No Western scholar will accept that the Indians, Chinese, Sumerians and Egyptians had a common origin in one particular land; but surely they do accept that the different Indo-European languages did have a common origin in one particular land. So how does the location of the Indo-European homeland in India fall into the same category as the location in India of a fantasy homeland of the Chinese, Sumerians and Egyptians?
Sergent’s last thrust represents the unkindest cut in this whole smear campaign. It is not we who have avoided debate. It is these Western scholars who have chosen to conduct a spit-and-run campaign from a safe distance, while restricting their criticism of our theory (elaborated by us in our earlier book) to name-calling and label-sticking rather than to demolition of our arguments.
We would certainly have loved to joust with Sergent. However, the restraints of language prevent us from doing so. His book is in French, which is Greek to us. So we must turn to scholars more amenable to our scrutiny.
To go deeper into the unacademic attitude of Western scholarship, we will examine the writings of one particular American scholar, Michael Witzel (whom we have had occasion to refer to many times within our present volume).
We will examine, in particular, the papers presented by him during a conference on Archaeological and Linguistic Approaches to Ethnicity in Ancient South Asia, held in Toronto (Canada), 4th-6th October 1991.
This conference was held in 1991, well before the publication of our earlier book in 1993; but the papers presented at this conference were published later, in a volume entitled The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia - Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity, edited by George Erdosy and published by Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, in 1995.
The particular paper by Witzel which we will examine in detail is Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities.3 In the course of our examination, we will also quote from another paper by Witzel, Early Indian history: linguistic and textual parametres4, included in the same volume; and, occasionally, from another paper by Witzel, On the Localisation of Vedic Texts and Schools5, published in a separate volume.
There are two basic reasons why we will be examining Michael Witzel’s papers:
1. The volume containing the above papers also contains critical references to our earlier book in its footnotes to both the editorial preface as well as the papers by Michael Witzel. These references cast strong aspersions on the scholarly value of our earlier book.
It is therefore, necessary to examine, in return, the scholarly value of Witzel’s own writings.
2. Our present book contains a complete and logical historical analysis of the Rigveda. Michael Witzel’s papers also purport to present a logical historical analysis of the Rigveda, and, what is more, his basic approach very closely parallels our own, as we shall see presently.
However, the conclusions he arrives at are diametrically opposed to our own: to him the Rigveda gives evidence of a migration of the Vedic Aryans from Afghanistan to India. Clearly, one of the two analyses has to be wrong. But, which one?
To arrive at an answer to this question, again, it is necessary to examine Witzel’s writings in detail.
We will examine Witzel’s writings under the following heads:
Evaluation of Rival Theories.
SCIENTIFIC EVALUATION OF RIVAL THEORIES
One of the tests of true scholarship is the treatment of rival theories. There are two possible ways in which one, as a propounder or protagonist of a theory, can deal with a rival theory:
The first is to ignore the rival theory and behave as if it does not exist, and to go on propounding one’s own theory in isolation.
The second is to examine the rival theory and to show how that theory is logically wrong, and one’s own theory, by contrast, is correct.
Erdosy and Witzel, however, follow a third course altogether: they refer to the rival theory and condemn the propounders of that theory in very strong terms, without bothering to examine the theory or justify this condemnation.
The rival theory, and there is only one, is the theory of an Indian homeland.
Erdosy, in his editorial preface, describes the political implications of the Aryan invasion theory in India, and refers to “spirited opposition which has intensified recently - cf. Biswas 1990; Choudhury 1993; Telagiri 1993. Unfortunately, political motivations (usually associated with Hindu revivalism, ironic in view of Tilak’s theory of an Arctic home) renders this opposition devoid of scholarly value. Assertions of the indigenous origin of Indo-Aryan languages and an insistence on a long chronology for Vedic and even Epic literature are only a few of the most prominent tenets of this emerging lunatic fringe.”6
Witzel, referring to Biswas (1990:44): “The ulterior political motive of this ‘scientific piece’ is obvious. Cf. Choudhury 1993; Telagiri 1993, etc.”7
And: “there are also pronounced and definite South Asian biases to hold us back:… the contrary view that stresses the Indian home of the Indo-Aryans. Even Indo-Iranians, not to mention all Indo-Europeans (!), are increasingly located in South Asia, whence they are held to have migrated westward, a clearly erroneous view that has nevertheless found its way into even otherwise respectable scholarly publications (eg. Biswas, quoted above, in Ray and Mukherjee, 1990)… Such speculations further cloud the scientific evaluation of textual sources, and can only be regarded as examples of Hindu exegetical or apologetic religious writing, even if they do not always come with the requisite label warning us of their real intentions.”8
The footnote to the phrase “erroneous view” above, clarifies: “More recently propagated by Choudhury (1993), whose books also include The Indian Origins of the Chinese Nation, and Telagiri (1993).”9
It may be noted that in all the three references, our earlier book is firmly categorised together with the books by Paramesh Choudhury, and Choudhury’s theory about the Indian origins of the Chinese is stressed and highlighted.
And the irony of the whole exercise is that it is very clear that the scholars concerned (George Erdosy and Michael Witzel) have not only not read our earlier book, but they have probably not even seen an actual copy of the book which they condemn so categorically.
The references to our book consistently misspell the name as Telagiri instead of Talageri, and the bibliography10 even gives the initials as S.K. Telagiri instead of S.G. Talageri.
What is more, the bibliography lists our book as follows: “Telagiri S.K., 1993. Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, Delhi, Aditya Prakashan.”11
Now it so happens that our earlier book was published in two editions: the one published by Aditya Prakashan was entitled The Aryan Invasion Theory: A Reappraisal, and the one published by Voice of India was entitled Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism.
The confusion between the title and the name of the publisher originally occured in Shri Girilal Jain’s review of the book which was published in The Times of India dated 17.6.93; but, in that case, the confusion was explainable: the Voice of India edition was already printed and read by Shri Jain, and formed the basis of his review, the Aditya Prakashan edition was still in print and it was to be the official edition, and Shri Girilal Jain was clearly not aware that the book still under print was to have a different title.
In the case of Erdosy and Witzel, this confusion can have no explanation, other than that their acquaintance with our book is a second-hand or third-hand one, based on some third party’s comments on Shri Girilal Jain’s review.
And it is on such acquaintance that these scholars have condemned our book in strong terms, decided that it is “devoid of scholarly value”, and consigned it to the “lunatic fringe”.
Clearly this strong condemnation of a book, unread and unseen by them, is both unacademic and unethical.
It must be noted that:
1. The theory propounded in our book, that India was the original homeland of the Indo-European family of languages, is not a crank theory, comparable, say, to a theory that the earth is flat, or that the sun moves round the earth. It is not a theory so contrary to all scientific norms and facts that it can be condemned without trial.
In fact, far from being contrary to scientific norms, our theory, on the testimony of the very book under discussion, is at least as scientifically probable as their own theory:
Erdosy in his preface, tells us that on this subject there is a great “disciplinary divide… between two disciplines involved in a study of the past,”12 ie. between Linguistics and Archaeology; and that the idea that the Aryans were intruders into South Asia “has recently been challenged by archaeologists who - alongwith linguists - are best qualified to evaluate its validity.”13
Further, while the book pits Witzel’s linguistic arguments against the arguments of the archaeologists and anthropologists, his linguistic arguments (as we have already seen in our chapter on The Indo-European Homeland) turn out to be self-defeating. He sets out to demonstrate “the evidence of place-names, above all hydronomy”14 against the claims of the archaeologists, and ends up all but admitting that the evidence in fact supports their claims.
2. The theory of an Indian homeland is the only rival theory pertinent to the subject of their conference and their book (The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia), and it is, in fact, the only rival theory referred to by Erdosy and Witzel.
And this rival theory has been in the running ever since the debate started on the subject two centuries ago. And it is not an old and abandoned theory, either. In the words of Erdosy and Witzel, it represents also an “emerging”15 viewpoint which is being “increasingly”16 propounded in recent times, and represents “a questioning of assumptions long taken for granted and buttressed by the accumulated weight of two centuries of scholarship”.17
In these circumstances, the condemnation of our book, unread and unseen, cannot be justified on any ground.
The scholars, however, do seek to justify it on the ground that “political motivation… renders this opposition devoid of scholarly value.”18
This, again, is neither academic nor ethical. Books and theories cannot be condemned, unread and unseen, solely on the basis of one’s perceptions about the motivations behind them.
And, on this principle, Witzel’s papers themselves are “devoid of scholarly value”, since he is also “motivated” by the desire to counter the Indian homeland theory. Erdosy testifies that “the principal concern” of scholars (like Witzel) studying South Asian linguistics is to find “evidence for the external origins - and likely arrival in the 2nd millennium BC - of Indo-Aryan languages”19; and Witzel himself admits that his historical analysis of the Rigveda is motivated by the desire to counter “recent attempts (Biswas 1990, Shaffer 1984) to deny that any movement of Indo-European into South Asia has occured.”20
However, we will not condemn Witzel’s writings on grounds of “motivation”. We will examine them in detail and leave it to the readers to judge their “scholarly value”.
Witzel, as we shall see, starts out with a basically sound approach, but follows it up with a careless attitude towards the source materials and a system of analysis based on deliberate misinterpretations, and ends up with conclusions contradictory to the facts cited by himself.
already examined parts of Witzel’s writings in other parts of this present
book. Here, we will examine only his analysis and interpretation
of the Rigvedic source materials, and the conclusions that he arrives at
from this exercise. And the only quotations that we will cite
against him will be his own.
He recognizes the unique importance of the Rigveda: “apart from archaeology, our principal source for the early period must be. the Rigveda…”21
He notes that the evidence of the Rigveda is as solid as the evidence of actual inscriptions: “Right from the beginning, in Rgvedic times, elaborate steps were taken to insure the exact reproduction of the words of the ancient poets. As a result, the Rgveda still has the exact same wording in such distant regions as Kashmir, Kerala and Orissa, and even the long-extinct musical accents have been preserved. Vedic transmission is thus superior to that of the Hebrew or Greek Bible, or the Greek, Latin and Chinese classics. We can actually regard present-day Rgveda-recitation as a tape recording of what was first composed and recited some 3000 years ago. In addition, unlike the constantly reformulated Epics and PurANas, the Vedic texts contain contemporary materials. They can serve as snapshots of the political and cultural situation of the particular period and area in which they were composed… As they are contemporary, and faithfully preserved, these texts are equivalent to inscriptions.”22
And he stresses the authority of the information in the Rigveda over the actual or assumed information available in later texts, and deprecates the use of these texts in arriving at conclusions which would appear to contradict the information in the Rigveda: “there has been a constant misuse of Vedic sources and some historical and pseudo-historical materials, not only by nationalist politicians, but also by archaeologists and historians. Most serious is the acceptance of much later materials as authoritative sources for the Vedic period.”23 His reference is not only to the PurANas and Epics, but also to the Vedic literature which constitutes the “bulk of the post-Rgvedic texts”, since “the later Vedic texts contain stanzas and prose… of a later period.”24
He concedes that the historical material in the Rigveda does not consist of clear narrations, but of historical allusions: “there is no ‘logical’ development describing successive actions or the story of a myth, only disjointed allusions to facts well known to contemporary listeners… Thus the myths, the ritual and certainly the contemporary history have to be pieced together from stray references, and these, too, were addressed to people who knew the events well.”25
But he feels that scholars have been misled by this into refraining from proper utilisation of the rich historical material in the Rigveda: “the generally held view (is) that everything that can be gathered from a study of the text has already been said. The general attitude seems to be: the immigration of the Indo-Aryans is a fact that can frequently be noticed in the Rgveda; there are some rare glimpses of political history, with approximately 30 small tribes known from the text; a few names of kings can be discovered, such as Trasadasyu, DivodAsa or the famous SudAs of the 10 kings battle (RV 7.18), a sort of precursor to the MahAbhArata. But all of this is too sketchy to allow us much more than a glimpse at what actually happened in that period. One of the aims of this paper is to show that this impression is erroneous, and to give an idea of the wide range of information that can be extracted.”26
Witzel therefore sets out to “demonstrate the richness of the available information (in the Rigveda) which has generally been overlooked by both historians and archaeologists.”27
Hence: “In order to lay a firm basis for such an investigation, one has to establish… a few key parametres. In particular, we need the following grids of reference: A) The structure of the Rgveda itself, with its relative order of hymns that are already divided into ‘books’… B) The relationship of the various tribes and clans to the books of the Rgveda... C) The authors of the hymns… D) Geographical features, especially rivers and mountains.”30 All this is to be “combined with a chronological grid established on the strength of a few pedigrees of chiefs and poets available from the hymns… eventually… it should be possible to construct a multi-axial grid with variables of time, space and social situation. Once that grid is plotted (and the various points support rather than contradict each other) we may begin the writing of Rgvedic history.”31
Witzel starts out with a basic approach which is unexceptionable.
Witzel’s theory about the Aryan invasion is that “the actual movement of Indo-Iranian speakers must have involved a succession of waves,”32 and that all the historical Indoaryans and Iranians, ie. “the speakers of Rgvedic and post-Rgvedic Skt., of Median and Persian, and of the various Avestan dialects are representatives of some of the later waves that entered the Indo-Aryan area.”33
Thus, Witzel’s theory involves the old division of the Aryan invasion into two waves: an older wave of pre-Vedic Aryans, and a later wave of Vedic Aryans.
The pre-Vedic Aryans, according to him, were the four tribes, the Yadus, TurvaSas, Anus and Druhyus: “By the time of composition of most Rgvedic hymns, the Yadu-TurvaSa and the Anu-Druhyu had already been well-established in the Punjab… They retain only the dimmest recollection of their move into South Asia.”34 These tribes “do not figure much in the Rgveda.”35
The Vedic Aryans proper were “the PUru, and their subtribe the Bharata, who play a major role in most books ;”36 and it is “the PUru to whom (and to their dominant successors, the Bharata) the Rgveda really belongs.”37
But even here, Witzel sees two waves of invasion after the earlier settlement of the four tribes in the Punjab: “The next wave is represented by the PUru, although their movement into the subcontinent had also become a done deed by the time most Vedic hymns were composed. The PUru are thus included among the ‘Five Peoples’ whom they initially dominated. Finally, the PUru contained a subtribe, the Bharatas, who were the latest intruders and who thoroughly disturbed the status quo.”38
All these different tribes, in different waves, came into the Punjab from the northwest, according to Witzel: “Their previous home is, thus, clearly the mountainous country of Afghanistan to the west (especially along the Haraxvaiti-Helmand and Haroiiu-Herat rivers corresponding to the Vedic SarasvatI and Sarayu).”39
The Rigveda was composed by the priests of the PUrus and the Bharatas, and “most of Rgveda was composed as the PUru and the Bharata were moving into the Panjab. Portions composed before the PUru assumed a central role in the Panjab (in about three generations) were subsequently recast in their style.”40 [Here, incidentally, Witzel suggests a phenomenon roughly similar to that suggested by scholars like Pargiter and Shendge, who visualise parts of the Rigveda being already in existence in the Punjab before the arrival of the Vedic Aryans, and being revised and incorporated by the Vedic Aryans into their text. But while these parts, according to Pargiter and Shendge, were originally composed by non-Aryans in their non-Aryan language, Witzel sees them composed by non-Vedic Aryans belonging to an earlier wave of invasions.]
The corpus of the Rigveda was thus, according to Witzel, “composed primarily by the PUrus and Bharatas, and spans the story of their immigration.”41
And here we come to the crux of Witzel’s endeavour: Witzel’s main purpose in analysing the Rigveda is to reconstruct a chronological and geographical framework out of the data in the Rigveda, which will corroborate his theory of the migration of Aryans from Afghanistan into the Punjab.
And the chronological and geographical picture he reconstructs from this data places the six Family MaNDalas in the following order: II, IV, V, VI, III, VII. Among the non-family MaNDalas, he counts MaNDala VIII among the early MaNDalas, probably after MaNDala IV or MaNDala VI, but definitely before MaNDalas III and VII.
According to him, MaNDala II, which he refers to repeatedly as “the old book 2”42 is the oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda. This MaNDala “focuses on the Northwest, in the mountains and in the passes leading into South Asia from Afghanistan.”43 During this period, the Vedic Aryans were still “fighting their way through the NW mountains passes”44, and had not yet entered India proper.
The subsequent MaNDalas record “the story of the immigration: the initial stages (beginning with their stay still on the western side of the Sindhu) in books 4, 5, 6 and 8, and the final stage ( including the defection of the PUrus and the victory of the Bharatas in the battle of the ten kings) in books 3 and 7.”45
MaNDala IV, which Witzel refers to as “the comparatively old book 4”,46 represents the commencement of their movement into India, but “still places the Bharatas on the far western side of the Sindhu.”47
Witzel’s geographical picture of the Rigveda, with the MaNDalas arranged in his chronological order, is as tabulated in the chart on the next page.
Witzel thus concludes that he has established the immigration of the Aryans into India on the basis of an analysis of the Rigveda.
now proceed to examine his analysis and his conclusions.
The very first point that must be noted about Witzel’s work is his grossly careless attitude towards the basic facts about the source material in the Rigveda, manifested mainly in the form of wrong sweeping statements or identifications.
At the very beginning Witzel assures us that his analysis is based on “a few key parametres” based on “the following grids of reference: A) The structure of the Rgveda itself, with its relative order of hymns that are already divided into books… B) The relationship of the various tribes and clans to the books of the Rgveda… C) The authors of the hymns… D) Geographical features, especially rivers’ and mountains… E) This information can then be combined in a grid of places, poets and tribes… F) Finally this grid can be combined with a chronological grid established on the strength of a few pedigrees of chiefs and poets available from the hymns.”48
||"Book 2 is clearly concerned with the west and with Afghanistan."||"NW, Panjab"||"West, Northwest,|
||"Book 4 again concentrates on the west... but also knows of the Panjab"||"NW, Panjab"||"West, Northwest, Panjab"|
||"Book 8 concentrates on the whole of the west..."||"NW, Panjab"||"West, Northwest, Panjab, KurukSetra"|
||"Book 5, similarly, knows of the west... and of the Punjab, but also includes the east and even knows ... of the YamunA."||"NW => Panjab
|"West, Northwest, Panjab, KurukSetra"|
||"Book 6, again, knows of teh west... but once mentions even the GangA."||"NW, Panjab, SarasvatI => GangA"||"West, Northwest, (Panjab), KurukSetra East"|
||"Book 3 concentrates on the Panjab and the KurukSetra area..."||"Panjab,||"Panjab, KurukSetra, SarasvatI"|
||"Book 7 mainly mentions the SarasvatI, and in a late hymn retraces the entire process of immigration across the Panjab..."||"Panjab, SarasvatI, YamunA"||"(Northwest), Panjab, KurukSetra"|
||"Book 9, which has authors from all the preceding family books is much more difficult to locate. The same applies to Book 10 and the various collections assmbled in Book 1"||(Not Mentioned)||(Generally Cover the entire area of the Rigveda)|
Of the six parametres or grids of reference, the first four represent aspects of the basic facts of the Rigveda, and the two last ones represent their use in the reconstruction of the chronology and geography of the text. Of the first four, again, the fourth one (ie. geographical features) is vital to this reconstruction, and, therefore, will require more detailed examination.
To begin with, therefore, (ie. in this section), we will examine only his careless attitude towards the first three aspects:
A. The Structure of the Rigveda.
In referring to the books (ie. MaNDalas) of the Rigveda, Witzel tells us that “books 2 to 7 (usually referred to as the ‘family books’) … have been ordered according to the increasing number of hymns per book”.52 He calls it a “very important principle in their arrangement.”53
Is this a fact? The number of hymns in books 2 to 7 are as follows: 43, 62, 58, 87, 75, 104. Clearly this is a zigzag pattern; perhaps an ascending zigzag pattern, but the books are certainly not arranged “according to the increasing number of hymns per book”.
It must be noted that this wrong statement has no bearing whatsoever on Witzel’s theory and conclusions: it does not help him to prove, or claim to prove, what he intends to prove (ie. the movement of the Aryans from west to east). In fact, it is a pointlessly wrong statement.
But it serves to show that Witzel, for whatever reason, does not deem it necessary to be too careful in making sweeping statements about the data in the Rigveda.
IV. B. The Tribes and Clans
Witzel correctly reiterates the generally accepted identification of the “Five Peoples” in the Rigveda, when he states that these five peoples “include the Yadu, TurvaSa, Anu, Druhyu and PUru”,54 or that “the TurvaSa and Yadu… are frequently associated with the Anu, Druhyu and PUru, thus making up the ‘Five Peoples.’”55
But, elsewhere, he words his statements so carelessly that it results in confusion:
At one place, he refers to “the Bharata... and -their battle with the ‘Five Peoples’ and the PUru”,56 as if the PUrus are separate from the five peoples. This is even more glaring when he refers to “the older ‘Five Peoples’ as well as the newcomers, the PUrus and Bharatas.”57 In this statement, are the PUrus counted among the “older” peoples or the “newcomers”?
The above statements, while careless, do not affect his analysis. However, another mistake made by him very much affects his historical analysis (though not in a manner calculated to prove his immigration theory):
He counts Purukutsa and Trasadasyu and their entire IkSvAku clan among the PUrus. He refers repeatedly to “the PUru king Trasadasyu”; and even draws up parallel family trees entitled “Bharata” and “PUru”,58 in which he depicts the lineages of the DivodAsa-SudAs clan and the Purukutsa-Trasadasyu clan respectively.
At the same time, Witzel makes another mistake: he decides that “the PUru… were the leaders in a coalition of the Five Peoples, and some other tribes, against the Bharata chief SudAs in the dASarAjña battle.”59
The combination of these two mistakes leads him to conclude that the leader of the coalition against SudAs the Bharata, in this battle, was Trasadasyu the PUru.
Firstly, let us examine whether this identification of Purukutsa and Trasadasyu as PUrus is right:
Many scholars have identified Trasadasyu (and therefore .his father Purukutsa) as a PUru on the basis of Rigveda IV. 38.1. But, in fact, this verse clearly proves that Trasadasyu is not a PUru: the verse refers to the help given by Trasadasyu to the PUrus (Griffith’s translation: “From you two came the gifts in days aforetime which Trasadasyu granted to the PUrus.”).
Witzel tries to drum up one more reference in the Rigveda: “In 1.63.7, Purukutsa himself is clearly related to the PUrus, not to mention the Bharatas: ‘You Indra broke seven forts for Purukutsa; as you, Indra, lay down the (enemies) for SudAs like offering grass, you created for PUru liberation from distress.’”60
What is one to make of this kind of careless interpretation? The two lines of the verse (Witzel himself separates them by a semi-colon) obviously refer to two separate cases where both Purukutsa and SudAs are described as liberators (by the grace of Indra) of the PUrus; and if any one of the two is to be identified as a PUru, Witzel’s own translation makes it clear that it is SudAs and not Purukutsa. Nevertheless, Witzel identifies Purukutsa as a PUru, and SudAs as his Bharata rival.
Witzel’s misidentification of Purukutsa and Trasadasyu as PUrus has two aspects:
1. While other scholars have identified Purukutsa and Trasadasyu as PUrus before, there is a difference in Witzel’s identification: the other scholars either decided that these two kings were PUrus and not IkSvAkus (and therefore that the PurANas are wrong in identifying them as IkSvAkus), or else that the Purukutsa and Trasadasyu of the Rigveda, being PUrus, are different from the Purukutsa and Trasadasyu of the PurANas who were IkSvAkus.
Witzel, however, identifies these two kings in the Rigveda as PUrus, even while accepting them as IkSvAkus, and therefore treats the IkSvAkus as a whole as a branch of the PUrus.
It is clear that he himself is not confident of this identification: he places a question-mark when he makes the connection between PUru and IkSvAku.61
In spite of this doubt, however, he treats his identification as a settled fact when it comes to citing the “complete separation in the PurANas of the IkSvAku dynasty from the PUru”62 as one of his criteria for dismissing the dynastic lists in the PurANas as unreliable!
2. The misidentification of Purukutsa and Trasadasyu as PUrus, and the postulation of PUrus and Bharatas as two related but rival groups led by Trasadasyu and SudAs respectively, leads to some confusion in Witzel’s interpretations.
Whenever the word PUru occurs in the Rigveda, Witzel takes it as a reference to Trasadasyu’s dynasty and tribe, when, in actual point of fact (as we have seen in the course of our analysis of the Rigveda), almost all such references are to the Bharatas themselves.
And the result is that Witzel himself ends up thoroughly confused: “Although book 7 is strongly pro-Bharata, it provides several, conflicting, glimpses of the PUru… (in) 7.5.3, VasiSTha himself praises Agni for vanquishing the ‘black’ enemies of the PUrus - this really ought to have been composed for the Bharatas. Inconsistencies also appear in hymn 7.19.3, which looks back on the ten kings’ battle but mentions Indra’s help for both SudAs and Trasadasyu, the son of Purukutsa, and also refers to the PUrus' winning of land.”63
The confusion is not due to “inconsistencies” in the Rigveda, but due to a wrong identification by Witzel. But instead of seeking to find out the cause for the confusion, and correcting it, Witzel chooses to decide that the Rigveda “provides several conflicting glimpses” and contains “inconsistencies”!
How far does this fit in with Witzel’s own principle that “the writing of Rgvedic history” should be on the basis of an analysis where “the various points support rather than contradict each other”64?
IV.C. The Authors of the Hymns
Witzel concedes that the identity of the authors (composers/RSis) of the hymns is a very important factor in the analysis of Rigvedic history.
However, his treatment of the information with regard to these authors is also casual, careless and slipshod:
1. Speaking about MaNDala VIII, he tells us: “With regard to the order of Book 8 (Oldenberg 1888: 254-264), it is not the metre but the authors that are more important. There are two groups, the KANva in hymns 1-66 and the Angirasa in the rest.”65
What is the actual case? The first 66 hymns of the MaNDala include five hymns by KaSyapas (27-31), four by Atris (35-38) and seven by ANgirases (23-26, 43-44, 46); and the rest include one hymn by an Agastya (67), seven by KaNvas (76-78, 81-83, 103), three by Atris (73-74, 91), three by BhRgus (84, 100-101), and one by a KaSyapa (97).
But Witzel sweepingly declares that the first 66 are by KaNvas and the rest by ANgirases. And that, too, while emphasising, in italics, that the identity of the authors is the more important aspect of the hymns in this MaNDala!
Here, again, we find an illustration of Witzel’s unwritten dictum that it is not necessary to be too particular while making statements about the Rigveda: either no one will notice or no one will care!
2. Witzel is equally careless in identifying the different families of RSis in the Rigveda.
At one point, he tells us: “Most of the poets are counted among the ANgiras, only the origin of the KuSika-GAthin-ViSvAmitra (book 3) and of the Atri Bhauma (book 5) remains unclear.”66 This appears to imply that except, perhaps, for the ViSvAmitras and Atris, all the other RSis, and groups of RSis, belong to the ANgiras family.
But, elsewhere, he tells us: “ViSvAmitra is, via his teacher GAthin, a Jamadagni, ie. a BhRgu.”67
And, in referring to MaNDala VIII, as we have seen, he divides the hymns into two groups: “the KANva in hymns 1-66 and the Angirasa in the rest.”68
These two statements would now imply that the BhRgus (whom he counts as one family with the ViSvAmitras) and the KANvas are also not ANgirases.
In referring to the VasiSThas, Witzel tells us: “VasiSTha and his descendants… count themselves among the ANgiras. (7.42.1; 7.52.3).”69 But an examination of the two verses clearly shows that the VasiSTha composers of VII.42.1; 52.3, only refer to ANgirases, they do not claim that they (the composers) are themselves ANgirases.
And when, in a like manner, the ViSvAmitras (III.53.7) and the Atris (V.11.6) also refer to ANgirases, Witzel does not treat this as evidence that the ViSvAmitras and Atris also “count themselves among the Angiras.”
Ultimately, it is impossible to know exactly how many families of composers there are in the Rigveda according to Witzel.
The actual facts are not difficult to elucidate: the Rigveda has ten AprI-sUktas, and these clearly indicate that there are ten different families of composers in the Rigveda: the KaNvas, ANgirases, Agastyas, GRtsamadas, ViSvAmitras, Atris, VasiSThas, KaSyapas, Bharatas and BhRgus.
But Witzel’s analysis of the text does not appear to uncover these basic facts.
His careless interpretations, naturally, lead to wrong conclusions. Having arbitrarily decided that the ViSvAmitras are BhRgus, he treats the references to BhRgus in the DASarAjña hymns as references to ViSvAmitras, and concludes: “there is even the possibility that it was ViSvAmitra who - in an act of revenge - forged the alliance against his former chief. Whatever the reason, however, the alliance failed and the PUru were completely ousted (7.8.4, etc) alongwith ViSvAmitra (=BhRgu, 7.18.6).”70
Thus SudAs’ battle with an Anu-Druhyu confederation whose priests were the (non-Jamadagni) BhRgus, is interpreted by Witzel as a battle with the PUrus whose priest was ViSvAmitra!
3. The names of the authors (composers) of the hymns consist of two parts: the actual names, and the patronymics. Witzel’s understanding, and use, of these names and patronymics is characterized by characteristic carelessness.
In one place, he tells us: “GArtsamada Saunaka is made a BhArgava…”71
Incidentally, a Saunaka cannot be “made” a BhArgava; Saunakas are (a branch of) BhArgavas. The proper description of GRtsamada in the AnukramaNIs is GRtsamada Saunahotra ANgiras paScat Saunaka BhArgava: ie. “GRtsamada, a Saunahotra ANgiras, became (or was adopted into the family of) a Saunaka BhArgava.”
But, to return to the main point, Witzel refers to the eponymous GRtsamada as GArtsamada, ie. “Son or descendant of Grtsamada”.
A RSi belonging to a particular family can be referred to either by the patronymic form, or by the name of the eponymous RSi whose name forms part of the patronymic: thus, a RSi belonging to the ViSvAmitra family can be called “a VaiSvAmitra” (ie. “son or descendant of ViSvAmitra” by patronymic) or “a ViSvAmitra” (by the name of the eponymous RSi), but the eponymous ViSvAmitra himself cannot be called VaiSvAmitra (by patronymic).
The failure on the part of Witzel to distinguish between names and patronymic forms leads him into another mistake: in referring to the genealogy of the KaNva composers of MaNDala VIII, he gives us the following lineage: “(Pras-?) KaNva/KANva - KANva Ghora - PragAtha Ghaura – PragAtha KANva……”72
Thus, Witzel reads the name KaNva Ghaura, “KaNva, son of Ghora” as KANva Ghora, “Ghora, son of KaNva”! He then goes on to extend the confusion to the other members of the family.
The actual lineage is as follows: “Ghora ANgiras - KaNva Ghaura - PraskaNva KANva and PragAtha KANva/Ghaura.”
Thus far, Witzel’s carelessness reflects the attitude of a person who does not feel it is necessary to be too finicky about details. His carelessness, naturally, leads to a wrong picture of the Rigveda, but it is as yet pointless carelessness.
will examine a “key parametre” in Witzel’s analysis which is vital to his
theory that the Aryans immigrated from Afghanistan to India, and point
where his carelessness is definitely more calculated.
The fourth and most vital “key parametre” in Witzel’s analysis is “geographical features, especially rivers and mountains…”73 which forms his fourth grid of reference.
On the basis of this, he purports to formulate his fifth grid of reference, “a grid of poets, places and tribes”74, and to combine it with a sixth grid, “a chronological grid established on the strength of a few pedigrees of chiefs and poets available from the hymns”75, to produce a picture of the Aryans migrating from Afghanistan into India.
The resulting chronological and geographical picture, as we have seen, is as follows:
The chronological order of the MaNDalas, according to Witzel, is thus: II, IV, VIII, V, VI, III and VII.
How does Witzel get a chronological order so completely different from our own (which is VI, III, VII, IV, II, V, VIII)?
The answer is very simple: although Witzel postulates the establishment of a chronological grid “on the strength of a few pedigrees of chiefs and poets available from the hymns,” he does not establish any such grid.
What Witzel actually does is as follows: he draws up a geographical picture for each MaNDala of the Rigveda; and then, on the principle “the more western the geography of a MaNDala, the older the MaNDala”, he prepares a chronological grid arranging the MaNDalas in such a way as to show a movement from west to east. “Pedigrees of chiefs and poets” play no role at all in this chronological grid!
What is more, even the geographical picture for each MaNDala, as drawn up by Witzel, is based on the manipulation and misinterpretation of geographical data, manipulated to show this movement.
It would be futile to repeat all the evidence of the “pedigrees of chiefs and poets” in the Rigveda to show how and why Witzel’s chronological arrangement of the MaNDalas is wrong; the reader can simply turn back the pages of this (our present) book and examine the evidence for himself.
We will, instead, examine Witzel’s manipulations and misinterpretations, step by step, on the basis of his own assertions and admissions:
1. To begin with, Witzel’s main aim in establishing a chronological grid is to show a movement from Afghanistan to India. For this purpose, the “oldest” MaNDala must necessarily be located in Afghanistan.
Now Witzel is aware that the Family MaNDalas are generally accepted as the oldest parts of the Rigveda: “it appears that the Rgveda was composed and assembled… beginning at ‘the centre’ with books 2-7.”76 Hence the “oldest” MaNDala has to be a Family MaNDala.
But four of the six Family MaNDalas refer to the eastern rivers; GaNgA (MaNDala VI), JahnAvI (MaNDala III), and YamunA (MaNDalas V and VII). That rules out these four MaNDalas, so far as Witzel is concerned.
Of the other two MaNDalas, MaNDala IV refers to a key river of Afghanistan, but it also refers to two rivers in eastern Punjab, the ParuSNI and the VipAS. MaNDala II, however, does not refer to either the GaNgA or the YamunA, or to any river of the Punjab.
Hence Witzel decides that the two oldest MaNDalas are MaNDalas II and IV, in that order.
2. Before going on, it will be necessary to clarify the position about MaNDala III. Witzel does not identify the JahnAvI with GaNgA, so why does he rule out MaNDala III from being the oldest MaNDala?
There are other factors:
Here, incidentally, Witzel indulges not just in manipulation, but in outright misrepresentation: nowhere are the KIkaTas described, clearly or otherwise, as being to the south of KurukSetra.
But the point is that the westernmost location that Witzel dares to place the KIkaTas is in KurukSetra, which, in any case, he has to admit is the area of MaNDala III: “Book 3 concentrates on the Punjab and the KurukSetra area.”81 He does not dare to place the kIkaTas in Afghanistan. This naturally rules out MaNDala III from being the “oldest” MaNDala.
3. MaNDala II does not refer to either the GaNgA or the YamunA, or to any river of the Punjab, and so Witzel decides that it is the oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda.
But there is a snag: MaNDala II refers to the SarasvatI, and frequently so. However, the SarasvatI does not represent such a big problem, since there is another SarasvatI (HaraxvaitI) in Afghanistan, and this leaves scope for manipulation.
Witzel therefore suggests that the “SarasvatI in 2.3.8 probably also refers to an ancestral home in Afghanistan, being reminiscent of the Avestan river HaraxvaitI rather than referring to the modem Ghaggar-Hakra in the Panjab.”82
Witzel says “probably”, and gives no reasons for his suggestion. But, thereafter, he treats the identification as an established fact, and, in his Appendices A and B,83 he locates MaNDala II exclusively in the West and Northwest. And his descriptions of Rigvedic history in the period of MaNDala II deal exclusively with the Vedic Aryans “fighting their way through the NW mountain passes.”84 (ie. “the passes leading into South Asia from Afghanistan”85).
It is clear that Witzel is fully aware that he is indulging in deliberate misrepresentation:
And, everywhere else in the Rigveda, he accepts that SarasvatI refers to the river of KurukSetra: “Many of the rivers can be identified… SarasvatI = Sarsuti, Ghaggar-Hakra…”.87 In his Appendices A and B, the SarasvatI in MaNDalas III88, VI89 and VII90 is placed in KurukSetra. In respect of MaNDala VIII, Witzel strangely locates the same reference to the SarasvatI twice in the West: “SarasvatI 8.21.17-18 in Afghanistan”91 and “Citra on SarasvatI in Iran? 8.21.17-18”92, and once in KurukSetra: “Citra on SarasvatI 8.21.17-18”93!
And he offers no argument or piece of evidence to explain why, only in the case of MaNDala II, he places this river squarely in Afghanistan.
II.3.8 refers to the three Goddesses of KurukSetra: BhAratI, ILA and SarasvatI. They are the Goddesses of the holy pilgrim centres in KurukSetra, of which two, ILAyAspada and MAnuSa, are referred to in III.23.4.
And it is clear that Witzel is not unfamiliar with this KurukSetra milieu: at one place, he refers to “MAnuSa, a location ‘in the back’ (west) of KurukSetra.”94
A “pedigree of poets” establishes that MaNDala II is definitely later than MaNDala VI: Grtsamada, the eponymous RSi of MaNDala II is a descendant of Sunahotra BhAradvAja, a composer in MaNDala VI.
Witzel himself is aware of this. He clearly admits as much: “Theoretically, since GArtsamada Saunaka is made a BhArgava, he could be later than Book 6.”95
However, he discreetly places this admission, ambiguously worded, in a footnote, and uses the words “theoretically… could be…” to discount its importance.
He furnishes no explanation as to why this clear pedigree is treated as “theoretical” and doubtful, and not used as a basis for establishing his chronological grid; nor does he furnish any alternative pedigree purporting to show the opposite case (ie. that MaNDala II is older than MaNDala VI).
Instead, he firmly ignores the whole matter throughout his analysis.
The reason for this suppressio veri operation is an obvious one: MaNDala VI not only refers to the SarasvatI (and even Witzel accepts that the SarasvatI in this MaNDala is the river of KurukSetra), it also refers to the GaNgA, the easternmost river named in the Rigveda. If MaNDala VI is older than MaNDala II, then the SarasvatI of MaNDala II clearly cannot be identified with the river of Afghanistan, with the Aryans still “fighting their way through the NW passes” on the way from Afghanistan to India.
Despite (and even because of ) his manipulations, it is clear that Witzel’s chronological placement of MaNDala II as the oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda, and his geographical placement of this MaNDala in Afghanistan, are gross misrepresentations.
4. But MaNDala VI cannot be ignored. Witzel is clearly aware that MaNDala VI is older than MaNDala II, and MaNDala VI refers to the GaNgA in a hymn which Witzel is compelled to admit is “an unsuspicious hymn”96 (by which he means “a hymn not suspected to be an addition”97). This places MaNDala VI squarely in the east, and this is fatal to Witzel’s claims about MaNDala II.
Witzel, as we have seen, tries suppressio veri. But he does not leave it at that. He realizes that MaNDala VI cannot be allowed to flourish in a purely eastern milieu: a bit of suggestio falsi is necessary to transport MaNDala VI also to the west.
YavyAvatI (V1. 27.6), which, as we have seen, is another name for the DRSadvatI river of KurukSetra, is therefore identified by him with the Zhob river, and firmly placed in the West in his Appendices A and B.98 For this, he cites the testimony of some earlier scholars: “See Geldner, ad loc and Hillebrandt 1913:49 sqq.”99
But is this identification valid? And, equally important, does Witzel himself really believe it is?
This is the only river in the whole of the Rigveda which has been consistently misidentified by the traditional Western scholars. There seems no sense at all in the identification of the YavyAvatI with the Zhob; and it would almost seem as if the earliest scholars who suggested this identification may have been led to it by a method involving nothing more than a map of the northwest, a drawing pin, a blindfold, and childhood memories of a game called “pin-the tail-on-the donkey”.
Most subsequent scholars have accepted this identification, for lack of any alternative suggestion, but nearly always with some puzzlement.
Witzel himself accepts it with a doubtful “may be” and a question-mark: “May be the Zhob river in N. Baluchistan?”100
However, in another context, and another book, he is more frank. Referring to the only other reference (anywhere outside this single reference in the Rigveda) to the YavyAvatI, in the PancaviMSa BrAhmaNa, Witzel notes: “the river YavyAvatI is mentioned once in the RV; it has been identified with the Zhob in E. Afghanistan. At PB 25.7.2, however, nothing points to such a W. localisation. The persons connected with it are known to have stayed in the Vibhinduka country, a part of the Kuru-PañcAla land.”101
It may well be asked: does anything in MaNDala VI “point to such a W. localisation”? The only other rivers mentioned in this MaNDala, by Witzel’s own admission, are the SarasvatI of KurukSetra, and the GaNgA.
Clearly MaNDala VI can be located only in the east.
(Incidentally, although Witzel does not expressly say so, his identification of TRkSi as “the son of Trasadasyu”102 would appear to constitute a pedigree showing MaNDala VI to be a late one. But, quite apart from the fact that TRkSi, as we have shown, is not the name of Trasadasyu’s son, but the name of their tribe, the relevance of the reference to TRkSi in VI.46.8, even if it is taken to be a reference to Trasadasyu’s son, in the determination of the chronological position of this MaNDala, is discounted by Witzel himself when he notes that “Oldenberg (1888:197 sqq) regards this hymn also as one that violates the order at the end of a series, and as one to be divided into pragAthas”103 ie. it is one of the “hymns which clearly violate the order of arrangement and thus stand out as later additions.”104)
5. Witzel intends to show that the Aryans migrated from west to east, ie. from Afghanistan to India. This migration can be shown by merely demonstrating that they were in Afghanistan in one MaNDala, in the Punjab in the next, and in the KurukSetra region in a subsequent one, thereby indicating an eastward movement. But such a scenario becomes more credible when actual movements can be seen taking place in the background of specific historical events.
Witzel sees the crossing of the Indus as a specific historical incident in the migration from Afghanistan to India, and he finds this crossing recorded in two MaNDalas: in the oldest of the seven MaNDalas, MaNDala II, at the time the first crossing actually took place; and in the latest of the seven MaNDalas, MaNDala VII, which, by virtue of being the last historical MaNDala, carries out a nostalgic and summational review of the migration of the Bharatas, the Vedic Aryans proper.
The first migration, according to Witzel, is recorded in II.15.6 when “the Sindhu is crossed.”105
Later, MaNDala VII records the full migration story of the Bharatas and their priest VasiSTha who “came from across the Sindhu, ie. from eastern Iran (7.33.3).”106
As Witzel describes it : “The geography of the battle hymn (and later summaries as in 7.33) clearly reflects a look back at the immigration of the Bharatas… The process began behind the Sindhu, which VasiSTha crosses in 7,33.9.* Then came the battle of the ten kings on the ParuSNI (the modern RavI in Pakistan), near MAnuSa, a location ‘in the back’ (west) of KurukSetra… Their eventual arrival on the YamunA and the defeat of the local chief Bheda are finally chronicled in 7.18.19. The whole process refers to the origins of the Bharatas and VasiSTha in eastern Iran; their move into the Subcontinent is also reflected elsewhere in book 7 (7.5.3, 6) and summed up in 7.33.3: ‘thus he (Indra) transgressed with them (the Bharata) the Sindhu, thus he soon killed Bheda in (the YamunA battle), thus, he helped SudAs in the Ten Kings’ Battle’… Although they reached as far east as the YamunA, however, their epi-centre was in the area around the SarasvatI, previously occupied by the now defeated PUru.”107
An exciting story, which starts with the crossing of the river Indus: the crossing by earlier waves of Aryans in II.15.6; and the historical crossing by the Vedic Aryans proper, the Bharatas, in VII.33.3.
But a simple question arises: do these two verses, II.15.6 and VII.33.3, actually refer to crossings of the Indus at all, in the first place? As we have seen in our analysis of the Rigveda, MaNDalas II and VII do not refer to the Indus river at all.
An examination of the two verses shows that these verses not only do not refer to the Indus at all, but, while they do refer to rivers, they do not even refer to the crossings of these rivers!
The word Sindhu basically means “river”, and that is what it means in both these verses.
In II.15.6, the reference is to a mythical clash between Indra and USas on the banks of a river (Griffith’s translation: “With mighty power he made the stream move upward, crushed with his thunderbolt the car of USas.”). And which is this stream or river? No guesswork is required: the Rigveda refers to this myth in one more hymn, VI.30.11, as well (Griffith’s translation: “So there this car of USas lay, broken to pieces, in VipAS, and she herself fled away.”).
And, as to VII.33.3, Griffith translates the verse as follows: “So, verily, with these he crossed the river, in company with these he slaughtered Bheda…”. About “the river”, he clarifies in his footnote that it means “the YamunA”, and refers also to VII.18.19: “YamunA and the TRtsu aided Indra. There he stripped Bheda bare of all his treasures.”
(Incidentally, it is no wonder that Witzel’s reference to Griffith is a sour one: “The fact that there has not been a new English translation since Griffith’s inadequate effort of the late-19th century (Griffith 1973) has particularly hindered research in South Asian and other English-speaking academic circles.”108 Griffith’s reasonably honest and objective translation is certainly a hindrance to scholarship of the Witzel brand.)
So here we have a case of a scholar taking a button (and an imaginary button at that) and sewing a vest onto it:
Witzel takes up two verses which clearly refer to eastern rivers, misinterprets them as references to the Indus, further misinterprets them as references to crossings of the Indus river from west to east, and then reconstructs an entire saga of the immigration of the Rigvedic Aryans into India on the basis of these misinterpretations. He even pinpoints the exact area “eastern Iran”109 from which specific immigrants, “the Bharatas and VasiSTha”110, led this historical exodus across the Indus.
Is “gross misrepresentation” an adequate word to describe this whole exercise?
To sum up, Witzel’s analysis is based on manipulations and misinterpretations.
Witzel claims to arrive at his conclusions on the basis of a combination of a geographical grid and a chronological grid, but, as we have seen, he does not prepare a chronological grid at all: else, he would never place MaNDala II before MaNDala VI (when the very eponymous RSi of MaNDala II is a descendant of a composer, Sunahotra BhAradvAja, in MaNDala VI) or MaNDala VIII before MaNDala III (when the very eponymous RSi of MaNDala VIII is a descendant of a composer, Ghora ANgiras, in MaNDala III).
His sole criterion in preparing a chronological arrangement is his own geographical grid prepared on the basis of deliberate misinterpretations of Rigvedic geography.
Witzel only succeeds in deliberately doing what he accuses others of doing:
his writings turn out to be very effective in “further cloud (ing) the
scientific evolution of textual sources.”111
The sole aim of Witzel’s papers is to show that the Aryans migrated from west to east, ie. from Afghanistan to India.
Hence everything in his writings is slanted to produce this picture before the mind’s eye of the reader, either through direct statements, insinuations, or subtle nuances of expression and description.
It is not necessary to list out every single such geographical misrepresentation on the part of Witzel, since his papers are dotted with them. The following examples will suffice to illustrate his general method:
1. Witzel’s geographical analysis is supposed to encompass “geographical features, especially rivers and mountains……”112
However, mountains figure in the Rigveda in a general, rather than a specific sense. That is, specific mountains, geographically identifiable, such as MUjavat, etc., appear only in the late MaNDalas. The Family MaNDalas do not refer to a single mountain by name.
But Witzel, far from being put off by this, finds this very convenient from the point of view of his own particular method of geographical analysis: every single, direct or indirect, reference to a mountain, or mountains, anywhere in the Rigveda, is treated by him as a reference to Afghanistan. Thus: “They have ‘crossed many rivers’ and ‘have gone through narrow passages’, which once again indicates the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.”113
Likewise, in his Appendices A and B, the following constitute some of his “Geographical Data in the Rgveda” indicating the West and Northwest:
And so on. It would appear there are no mountains in India. So any reference to “mountains” can only mean Afghanistan.
Practically the only reference to “mountains” east of the Punjab (in KurukSetra) in Witzel’s “Geographical Data in the Rgveda” is the reference to “SarasvatI from the Mountains to the Sea. 7.95.2”.119 The fact that the Harahvaiti of Afghanistan does not flow into the sea apparently constrains him from locating these particular “mountains” (and, therefore, also this SarasvatI) in Afghanistan, but nothing else does: we also have “River, Mountains, Sea, 8.6.28-29,”120 without the SarasvatI, and “Mountains, Rivers, 8.31.10”121 and “Mountains, Sea? 8.38.13,”122 located in the Northwest.
But it is not only the word “mountains” which constitutes 64 geographical data” indicating the West and Northwest. The following are some of the other “data” which also indicate these areas:
In this manner, Witzel manages to uncover plenty of vital “geographical data”, even in MaNDalas like MaNDalas II and VI, which clearly point to the West and Northwest!
Needless to say, Witzel himself sometimes forgets the exact geographical area indicted by “geographical data” of the above kind: thus “SuyamA” indicates the Northwest136 in one place, and KurukSetra137 in another.
2. Witzel’s general geographical statements are cleverly worded.
In one place, he tells us: “the world of the Rgveda contains the Punjab and its surroundings: eastern Afghanistan, the valley of the Kabul (KubhA, Greek Kophen), Kurram (Krumu), Gomal (GomatI), Swat (SuvAstu), and… probably Herat (Sarayu, Avestan Haraiiou) rivers; also the valley of the rivers of SistAn: the SarasvatI (Haraxvaiti/Harahvaiti) and the Helmand (*Setumant). In the east, the GangA and the YamunA are already mentioned…”143
Elsewhere, he describes “the famous nadistuti of the late book 10” (X.75) as follows: “in this relatively late hymn, the Rgvedic territory covers only the area between the GangA and S.E. Afghanistan (Gomal and Kurram rivers) and between the Himalayas and the northern border of the modem province of Sind. Most of Afghanistan, including Bactria and Herat (Arachosia), is already out of sight.”144
Are these misleading descriptions in tune with the geographical data in the Rigveda?
Calling it “the world of the Rgveda”, Witzel practically gives a description of Afghanistan, after mentioning the Punjab in passing; and in the end, he adds: “In the east, the GangA and the YamunA are already mentioned.” And when describing the geography of a “relatively late hymn” in “the late book 10”, he tells us that, now, “most of Afghanistan, including Bactria and Herat (Arachosia) is already out of sight”.
Note the subtle use of the word “already” in both the above descriptions. The impression given is that the areas of Afghanistan constitute the core and original areas of the Rigveda, which are slowly moving out of its ken, while the areas of the GaNgA and the YamunA are slowly moving into its ken: “the newly emerging GaNgA Valley”145 as he puts it elsewhere.
The GaNgA and the YamunA are certainly mentioned (not “already mentioned”): four of the six Family MaNDalas (MaNDalas III, V, VI and VII) mention them; while only two (MaNDalas IV and V) mention the rivers of Afghanistan, and about one of the two (MaNDala V), Witzel himself admits that the rivers named are not necessarily indicative of the core area of the MaNDala: “all these geographical notes belonging to diverse hymns are attributed to one and the same poet, SyAvASva, which is indicative of the poet’s travels.”146
At the same time, no part of Afghanistan is “already out of sight” in “the late book 10”. Practically every single river of Afghanistan named in any Family MaNDala is named in MaNDala X as well: Sarayu (X.64.9), RasA (X.75.6; 108.1,2; 121.4), KubhA (X.75.6) and Krumu (X.75.6); alongwith many others not named in the Family MaNDalas: TRSTAmA, Susartu, Sveti, GomatI and Mehatnu (all named in X.75.6).
(Incidentally, about JahnAvI in MaNDala III, which Witzel does not identify with the GaNgA, his failure to make the identification, while it may not be deliberate, is strange, since a strong clue to this identity is the word SimSumAra, “dolphin”, which is found in I.116.19 in association with the word JahnAvI in I.116.18. In another context, and another book, Witzel immediately recognizes the geographical connotations of a reference to a dolphin in the JaiminIya BrAhmaNa: “A dolphin lying on the sands, dried out by the North wind, could refer to the Gangetic dolphin, as in fact it does at 1.17.6 § 62”147.)
3. Witzel is not satisfied with identifying “the world of the Rgveda” with Afghanistan. He tries to take the Rigveda as far west as possible, at least in the form of “vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rigveda” - even as far west as the Urals:
“Taking a look at the data relating to the immigration Of Indo-Aryans into South Asia, one is struck by the number of vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rgveda, in spite of repeated assertions to the contrary in the secondary literature… Indirect references to the immigration of Indo-Aryan speakers include reminiscences of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Thus the mythical Indo-Iranian river *RasA corresponds to the Vedic RasA (RV, JB), the East Iranian RanhA and the North Iranian RahA, which is preserved in Greek as RhA, where it designates the river Volga. This is a good example of the migration of river-names… In the same category might fall the rather vague identification of Rgvedic rip- with the Rhipaean mountains, the modern Urals (Bongard-Levin 1980)… A cosmological myth locates the primordial cows in a cave (Vala, cf. Iranian Vara) on an island in the RasA, where they were guarded by a group of demons referred to as PaNis, which reminds one of the North Iranian *Parna (found in Greek as Parnoi). Another North Iranian tribe occurs in Skt. as DAsa; Iranian (Latin) Dahae, (Greek) Daai. A related form is dasyu, Iranian dahyu, dainhu ‘foreign country, enemy’ and Vedic dAsa ‘slave’, Iranian dAha(ka), Mycaenean Greek doero, Greek doulos ‘slave’. …More connections are indicated, for example, by Vedic Sindhu, with a possible Greek cognate Sindoi, designating a people along the Koban River in the Caucasus… Further hydronomic evidence, also referred to in the previous paper, also points to earlier Indo-Aryan settlements in Afghanistan: SarasvatI, Sarayu, GomatI etc. The names, considered together, retain a vague memory of the route followed, and of the enemies encountered, by the migrating Indo-Iranian speaking tribes… The ParSu may be equated with the historical Pashtuns living in the Northwest Frontier and in Afghanistan.... DRbhIka (2.14.3) may be compared with the Iranian tribes of Derbikes, and the incoming USij (2.21.5) represents an ancient Iranian clan as well as an Indian one… An Iranian connection is also clear when camels appear (8.5.37-39) together with the Iranian name KaSu ‘small’ (Hoffman 1975), or with the suspicious name Tirindra and the ParSu (8.6.46)… They have crossed many rivers’ and ‘have gone through narrow passages’, which once again indicates the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. That they had to fight their way through some of these passages is suggested by numerous references to the storming of the mountain fortresses (pur) of Sambara (eg. 2.19.6); echoed in later history by the campaigns of Alexander in Nuristan and Swat Kohistan.”148
Witzel is apparently “struck” by the number, and conclusive nature, of these “vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes”, but the only thing they leave us “struck” by is Witzel’s seeming, and convenient, credulousness (for a person who refuses to accept even the well-documented and established identification of the KIkaTas with Magadha):
And, finally, does Witzel himself really believe that this identification has the faintest credibility? Not only does he call it a “rather vague identification” here, but, elsewhere, he again refers to this word as representing “perhaps, a very faint recollection of the Rhipaean (Ural) mountains”, and adds the wry rider “if we want to believe the Russian author G. Bongard-Levin (1980)”.149 Clearly, whether Witzel really believes it or not, he certainly wants to believe it.
The identification, needless to say, is a spuriour one. And not a well thought out one either (P.N. Oak could have taught Bongard-Levin a thing or two in such matters). What is surprising is that this kind of nonsense has “nevertheless found its way into even otherwise respectable scholarly publications.”150
So far as the Rigveda is concerned, not one of these four names represents either “reminiscences” or “foreign localities”. The SarasvatI named in the Rigveda is the river of KurukSetra and not the river of Afghanistan.
The Sarayu, GomatI and RasA named in the Rigveda are certainly western rivers, being western tributaries of the Indus (and not, in the first two cases, the rivers of eastern Uttar Pradesh), but they do not represent “reminiscences” either; on the contrary, they are rivers which appear relatively late in the Rigveda, after the Vedic Aryans had expanded westwards: not one of these three rivers is named in the three oldest Family MaNDalas (by our reckoning, not Witzel’s), while all of them are named in the late MaNDala X.
But Witzel not only treats these four names as “reminiscences”, but he decides, broad-mindedly, that they represent reminiscences not just of the western banks of the Indus (where these rivers are located) but “of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.”151
All these names, according to Witzel, represent “reminiscences of their stay in Central Asia, or, at least, of old connections with people whom we know to have lived in there from old Iranian sources and classical authors”.153
Witzel must explain how this kind of interpretation constitutes a “scientific evolution of texual sources”:
Does one, after reading a nineteenth-century biography of Abraham Lincoln, conclude that Abraham is an American name, and that the name of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, in the Old Testament, represents (to paraphrase Witzel): “a reminiscence of the ancient Hebrews of their stay in America, or at least of old connections with people whom we know to have lived there from nineteenth-century sources.”?
According to Witzel, the Rigveda is definitely older than 1500 BC: “Prominent in book 7: it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.95.2) - which would put the battle of 10 kings prior to 1500 BC or so, due to the now well documented dessication of the SarasvatI (Yash Pal et al 1984)”154
Surely it is not Witzel’s claim that the “old Iranian sources and classical authors” (ie. Greek and Roman authors) are equally old, or even older than the Rigveda?
When the Rigveda is so much older than the Persian, Greek and Roman sources cited by Witzel, and when these tribes are clearly described as being present in eastern areas (the PArthavas, ParSus and Pakthas are participants in a battle on the ParuSNI in the Punjab, the very battle dated by Witzel “prior to 1500 BC or so”), surely the testimony of much later texts which locate these tribes at a later date in Afghanistan, Iran or Central Asia, should be interpreted as evidence that they migrated from east to west?
What is more, the PaNi, whom he identifies with the Parnoi of northern Iran, are a mythological entity in the Rigveda, corresponding to the Vanir of Teutonic (particularly Scandinavian) mythology and Pan of Greek mythology. Our very next chapter (Appendix 3) deals with this subject in detail.
Does this also then constitute (to paraphrase Witzel) “reminiscences of the Scandinavians and Greeks of their stay in Central Asia, or, at least, of old connections with people whom we know to have lived in there from old Iranian sources and classical authors”?
Delving into the nostalgic memories of the Rigvedic Aryans does not prove very profitable for Witzel.
5. Finally, we can conclude our examination of Witzel’s analysis of Rigvedic geography with a classic piece of Witzel’s logic. In an incidental reference to a verse, II.11.18, which contains the phrase “on the left”, Witzel tells us: “on the left… can also mean ‘to the north’, and indicates that Vedic poets faced the east - their presumed goal - in contemplating the world.”155
In short, since “left” can also mean “north” in the Vedic language, it means that the Vedic people were facing the east, and therefore, that they migrated into India from the west.
At another point, Witzel seems to make the same inference when he refers to “MAnuSa, a location ‘in the back’ (west) of KurukSetra.”156
If we reject conventional logic that directional words in most languages are naturally oriented towards the east (since the sun rises in the east), and accept Witzel’s superior logic, we can arrive at the following solution to the problem of the location of the original Indo-European homeland:
Any takers for this kind of logic?
Witzel, as we have seen, violates every single norm and basic principle, set up by himself, in the analysis of the Rigveda. And yet, he manages to get nowhere. The Rigveda, basically, refuses to yield to his cajoling.
When examining the so-called “reminiscences” of the Vedic Aryans, Witzel tells us: “one is struck by the number of vague reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rgveda, in spite of repeated assertions to the contrary in the secondary literature”.157
The second sentence appears to imply that the authors of the secondary literature were aware of “reminiscences of foreign localities and tribes in the Rgveda” and were deliberately out to suppress or deny them by “repeated assertions to the contrary” - which is a serious accusation to make.
If, however, Witzel merely means that the secondary literature, unlike (according to him) the Rigveda, yields no evidence of memories of any foreign past, then he is, so far as the secondary literature is concerned, right: it does not.
Witzel is very clear in his mind about the value which is to be placed on the testimony of later texts so far as they concern the period of the Rigvedic or pre-Rigvedic past.
The Rigveda is followed, in chronological order, by the SaMhitAs of the other three Vedas: the SAmaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda. Next come the BrAhmaNa texts, followed by the AraNyakas, and much later the UpaniSads. Long after this come the SUtra texts (Srauta SUtras, GRhya SUtras, Dharma SUtras).
These texts, as Witzel clearly points out, are already so remote from the events of the Rigvedic period that even so very important a Rigvedic event as the Battle of the Ten Kings appears to be a mystery to the authors of these later (ie. post-Rigvedic) texts: “it is interesting to note that later texts show confusion about the participants in the battle, notably JB 3.244 which speaks of PratRd instead of his descendant SudAs.”158
The BrAhmaNas (notably the JaiminIya BrAhmaNa) are relatively early texts in the stream of Vedic literature, and the SaMhitAs of the Yajurveda (notably the MaitrAyaNI SaMhitA and the KaTha SaMhitA) are even earlier: “However, even these relatively early texts manage to garble the evidence. Thus the JB (§ 205) calls SudAs KSatra, while KS 21.10: 50.1 has Pratardana and MS 37.7 Pratardana DaivodAsI.”159
Again, Witzel reiterates: “the shifting of the tradition (has) already (taken place) in the early YV SaMhitAs: MS 3.40.6, JB 3.244, PB 15.3.7 have substituted other names for SudAs and VasiSTha.”160
And, in consequence, Witzel sets out what may be called the principle which forms the very fundamental basis of his whole exercise of analysing the Rigveda: “In light of these problems, one could hardly expect the later, heavily inflated, Epic and Puranic traditions to be of help. Clearly, Rgvedic history will have to be reconstructed principally from the Rgveda itself.”161
But, after failing miserably in his efforts to produce any direct evidence from the Rigveda, Witzel goes scouring for evidence in later and later texts and finally claims to have struck gold in the BaudhAyana Srauta SUtra: “there is the following direct statement contained in the (admittedly much later) BSS, 18.44:397.9 sqq which has once again been over-looked, not having been translated yet: ‘Ayu went eastwards. His (people) are the Kuru-PañcAla and the KASI-Videha. This is the Ayava (migration). (His other people) stayed at home in the West. His people are the GAndhArI, ParSu and AraTTa. This is the AmAvasava (group)’.”162
This incredible assertion represents the most blatant violation of the most basic principle laid down by Witzel himself: “there has been a constant misuse of Vedic sources and some historical and pseudo-historical materials, not only by nationalist politicians, but also by archaeologists, and historians. Most serious is the acceptance of much later materials as authoritative sources for the Vedic period.”163
Witzel, on the one hand, strongly indicts “the acceptance of much later materials as authoritative sources for the Vedic period”, and, on the other, advocates the evidence of an “admittedly much later” text in overriding that of all the previous texts, including the Rigveda itself!
And what exactly is the value of this “evidence”?
1. The passage mis-translated by Witzel is as follows:
“PrAn Ayuh Pravavraja, tasyaite Kuru-PañcAlAh KASI-VidehA iti, etad Ayavam; Pratyan amAvasus, tasyaite GAndhArayas ParSavorATTA iti, etad amAvAsyavam”
The actual translation is: “Ayu went eastwards, the Kuru-PañcAlas and KASI-VidehA are (his descendants) the Ayavas; (And) AmAvasu (went) westwards, the GAndhAras, ParSus and AraTTas are (his descendants) the AmAvasyavas.”
A very clear case of a division of the relevant peoples into two groups: a western group comprising the people of Afghanistan (GAndhAras), Iran (ParSus) and the Punjab (AraTTas. referring to the people of the Indus Valley), and an eastern group comprising the people of Haryana (Kurus), western Uttar Pradesh (PañcAlas), eastern Uttar Pradesh (KASIs) and Bihar (Videhas); a neat division tallying exactly with that of the Anus (Iranians) and PUrus (Indoaryans) respectively.
The passage very definitely does not speak about the western group having “stayed at home in the west” in contrast with the eastern groups who “went eastwards”.
(Incidentally, Witzel, whose cognitive abilities seem to sharpen and flatten at will, does not recognize the identity of the ParSus and AraTTas: “The identity of the ParSu is unclear, and the exact habitat of the AraTTas is unknown.”164)
2. The passage is found in the BaudhAyana Srauta SUtra, which is not only a “much later” text, but whose geographical area is also located in the east. According to Witzel himself, “one would be inclined to locate it somewhere in Eastern U.P,”165 more specifically: “in the Vatsa country between the GangA and the Sarayu”166 of Uttar Pradesh; and “while its author knew details of KurukSetra, his connection with the KANvas and textual correspondences with JB and SB make it probable that he belonged to the more Eastern parts of the PañcAla country.”167
And it is this text, according to Witzel, which gives a “direct statement” about details, unknown to the Rigveda itself (“only known to BSS”168, Witzel assures us), of the migration of the Vedic Aryans eastwards from Afghanistan and beyond in the pre-Rigvedic period; while elsewhere he admits that even as early a text as the very next SaMhitA, the Yajurveda SaMhitA, has forgotten the details of the most important historical event of the Rigvedic period, the battle of the ten kings!
It is up to the readers to decide whose motivated writings are “devoid of scholarly value” and “cloud the scientific evaluation of textual sources”.
To be fair to Witzel, although he tries to achieve his objective of countering those who “deny that any movement of Indo-European into South Asia has occured”,169 on the basis of “evidence” in the Rigveda, by manipulations, misinterpretations and misrepresentations; nevertheless, it is significant that we were able, throughout our entire critique of his work, to expose the falsity of his contentions without having to quote from any other scholar (apart from one or two references to Griffith’s translations) against Witzel, except Witzel himself! Clearly, Witzel does have a scholarly conscience which compels him to unwittingly let the truth slip out every now and then.
Then why does Witzel carry on this whole exercise in the first place?
The answer is that Witzel, like most other Western scholars, implicitly believes that the Indo-Europeans originated in and around South Russia, or, at any rate, that they certainly did not originate in India. His belief in this is practically equivalent to a dogma: it is as unthinkable to him that India could be the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans as it would be that the earth is flat.
In these circumstances, writers, particularly Indian ones, who stake claims for India only arouse his contempt. By and large, he would prefer to ignore this riff-raff; but when a few Western academicians also start saying the same things, it is time, in Witzel’s opinion, to put a stop to this nonsense.
In putting a stop to it, if Witzel finds that he has to stretch or bend the facts a little, or to ignore, suppress or distort them, it is all in the cause of “TRUTH”. A few in-convenient facts cannot be allowed to prevent the “TRUTH” from prevailing.
Clearly, this kind of attitude is not conducive to any “scientific evaluation” of anything. Nor is it conducive to any academic debate.
An academic debate on any subject should concentrate on the pros and cons of the arguments presented by the two (or more) opposing sides in the debate; it should be conducted in an open and sincere atmosphere; and the natural desire (not academically wrong in itself) to win the debate should not be allowed to overpower the academic desire to arrive at the truth.
And an academic debate cannot be won by the simple expedient of name-calling and label-sticking, and consequent disqualification of the opposing side from even taking part in the debate.
earlier book was dismissed without a reading or debate by classifying it,
among other things, as an “example of modern Hindu exegetical or apologetic
religious writing”.170 Hopefully, better
sense will prevail next time.
6IASA, preface, p.x, footnote.
7ibid., p.111, footnote.
9ibid., p.116, footnote.
12ibid., preface, p.xi.
13ibid., preface, p.x.
14ibid., preface, p.xii.
15ibid., preface, p.x,
17ibid., preface, p.x
19ibid., preface, p.xv.
71ibid., p.308, footnote.
80ibid., p.333, footnote.
83ibid., pp.343, 346.
86ibid., pp.343, 346.
95ibid., p.316, footnote.
98ibid., pp.343, 348.
103ibid., p.330, footnote.
105ibid., p.322, footnote.
*misprint for 7.33. 3
109ibid., pp.334, 335.
124ibid., pp.343, 346.
126ibid., pp343, 348.
138ibid., pp.347, 349.
154ibid., p.335, footnote.
158ibid., p.335, footnote.
159ibid., p.340, footnote.
160ibid., p.335, footnote.
161ibid., p.340, footnote.