The Aryan question has been hanging for many decades without any definite conclusion, but with a lot of controversies and politics being played around it.
In the quest to bring out the various facets of the Aryan issue, NewsGram decided to interview various scholars who have worked extensively towards unraveling the mystery of Aryan issue. In this fourth instalment of ‘The Aryan Question’ series, NewsGram brings an exclusive interview with renowned Greek Indologist and author of many books on Aryan issue, Dr Nicholas Kazanas.
Interview with Dr Nicholas Kazanas
Nithin Sridhar: What is the role of linguistics in analyzing the history and movement of world languages? Is the linguistic approach enough to determine the history and culture of any particular group of people?
Dr. Nicholas Kazanas: The very first thing to say is that any interested party should read my recent publication ‘Vedic & Indo-European Studies’ (2015 Aditya Prakashan, N. Delhi) wherein I present all refutations of the AIT and all evidence for the Out of India thesis. A subtitle should read “All the linguistic evidence for Indigenism”.
The role of linguistics by itself is small since, of itself, it cannot give dates. Linguists do offer dates, but these are mere conjectures and of no value. Comparative linguists make enormous claims about their “science” but, in fact, this is not a science since it can make no truthful predictions the way Physics and Biology do. The so-called law of universal and homogeneous change in the same environment has no universal application and, therefore, no validity (as I show with many examples in my book, especially IE (Indo-European) original retroflex |ṛ| into Avestan).
Linguistics depends on the documentation. When it enters an undocumented or poorly documented area and period, it makes conjectures which afterwards turn out to be blunder. It can tell us much about the culture of a people, but only if there is ample documentation and for antiquity, ample archaeological material.
NS: Can you please explain the process by which the linguists arrive at the homeland of a particular language or that of a proto-language? What are the factors that determine the fixing up of such homelands?
N Kazanas: Linguists arrive at homelands through conjecture and where the homelands exist, through literary evidence and archaeological materials. Every case involves comparisons. In the end, it is the historical approach and its discipline that determines the result.
The fact is that apart from very certain cases like China, Japan, and some African peoples, other homelands like that of the IEans or the Uralic people remain uncertain.
Frankly, I find the concern with homelands and the reconstruction of protolanguages of little value. Linguistics should be concerned with the four states of language as briefly stated in the Ṛigveda 1.164 and later in Bhartṛhari.
NS: In the case of fixing a homeland for Proto-Indo-European languages, several hypotheses have been put forward. Central Asia, Pontic Steppes, and even India have been considered as a contender. Mainstream scholars who have propounded AIT/AMT, have largely accepted the Pontic steppes as a homeland. What is your view on the issue? Can you shed more light on this?
N Kazanas: The IE Urheimat has been placed in many areas from the Baltic lands to Central Asia and, of course, India.
The Pontic Steppe is purely conjectural. It has gained large acceptance only through mechanical repetition. Neither linguistic nor paleontological and archaeological evidence supports this homeland. And for these reasons, seasoned archaeologists like Renfrew (of Cambr. Britain, now become linguist) opted for other regions like the south-of-Caucasus area (or North-eastern Turkey cum Armenia).
JV Day, a mainstreamer, has shown in two studies (1994, 2001) that this is not a very probable homeland. The people of the Kurgan culture (Pontic Steppe), he asserts, did not, according to cranioskeletal remains, proceed further south or west of Hungary!
Another mainstreamer, S Zimmer, admitted in 2002 in a debate with me, that the period we are dealing with and the matter of the IE homeland and migrations obscure and problematic.
NS: You have strongly argued against any invasion or migration of Aryan language speakers into India. Can you elaborate regarding the evidence that best establish a non-invasion, non-migration scenario?
N Kazanas: The AIT started as a sociological explanation of the caste system by French and then British writers in the second half of the 18th cent. Some said the Mesopotamians, others the Egyptians, had invaded and established the four castes. Some English scholars rejected this. But the idea of invasion stuck.
Max Müller introduced into this (comparative) linguistics and promulgated the dates of Ṛigveda composition c 1200 BCE, of Atharvaveda c 1000 and so on. So the invasion had to have occurred c 1500.
This is all nonsense. Müller’s evidence was only a ghost story in Kathāsaritsagara which had one Kātyāyana whom Müller identified with the sūtra-writer of the 3rd cent BCE and so concocted the chronology in neat 200-year periods. In this he no doubt had to consider the chronology of Greek history, which was a basic element for the European culture and Bishop Usher’s date for the beginning of creation c 4000 BCE.
Anyway, Müller himself rejected this his own early view later in life declaring that the Ṛg Veda could have been as early as 5000 BCE. This is not usually stated by invasionists.
Archaeology has not found any invasion or immigration. The culture in Saptasindhu is, according to it, native and continuous until c600 BCE when the Persians invaded.
But, proponents of the AIT proceeded to modify their pet theory constantly. What was invasion became in the 1990’s a peaceful immigration; then in the 2000’s a peaceful treacle of small waves that left no archaeological trace and more recently the date of entry was pushed back to 2000 BCE.
All post-2003 studies of DNA travels have shown a movement out of India, not into it. And this should have sufficed. However, there are other kinds of evidence, linguistic facts.
I have shown by comparing more than 400 lexemes (nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs) with a common stem in three IE languages (not two as is the usual, but wrong practice) that of these Sanskrit lack about 50 (and most of these are of doubtful IE descent as they are found only in Italic, Celtic and Germanic tongues and are of recent usage); Germanic and Greek lack about 150 and the others 200 and more. Thus, Sanskrit has more of the common stock of vocabulary than any other IE language. (Kazanas 2015, ch 1, 2, 3).
I have also demonstrated that Sanskrit is far older than Avestan and that Avestan broke away from the wider Saptasindhu, the land of the seven rivers, moving north-westwards. (2015, ch4).
I showed also that the isoglosses could have spread only from larger Saptasindhu, probably the Bactria area and not from the Pontic Steppe and the Kurgan culture (2015, ch5).
So much for linguistic evidence. Literary evidence also tells the same tale. The Ṛigveda hymn 6.61.9,12 says that goddess Sarasvatī has made the five Vedic tribes spread beyond the seven sister-rivers. Then hymn 4.1.3 says that the Vedic people have been “here” (in Saptasindhu) all the time; 5.10.6 and 10.65.11 that the Vedic sages and the Aryan customs should spread over the earth.
Baudhāyana’s Śrautasūtra 18.4 mentions two migrations of the Vedic people. One was eastward, the Āyava. The other was westward, the Āmāvasa, and this produced the Gāndāris (Gandhāra and Bactria), the Parśus Persians and the Arattas (of Urartu and/or Ararat on the Caucasus?).
NS: How would you explain the intimate relationships shared by various European languages with Sanskrit, in a non-invasion, non-migration scenario?
N Kazanas: I would not think of attempting to explain the affinities in the IE family of languages as anything but the result of migrations.
Some claim that there are random resemblances without any further implications. In other words, there is no real relationship. But this is an absurd position: for the verb |is| we have Sanskrit asti, Greek esti Latin est and so on; for the noun |mother| we have Sanskrit mātar, Greek mētēr, Latin māter and so on; for |family|kind|tribe| Sanskrit janas, Greek genos, Latin genus; for |serpent| we have Sanskrit sarpa, Greek herpe-ton, Latin serpens, and so on. And so on for hundreds of lexemes. The odds against a familial relationship for chance resemblances are trillions.
Others again claim vaguely that there were “waves of transmission”. But this too is impossible. The waves travel in a medium (water, air). What was the medium here and what was the transmitter? Only people speak a human language. Therefore, people must have travelled – if this involved only traders!
NS: Some scholars have pointed that, Rigvedic people were different from Harappan people. Some even identify Harappan people with Dravidian culture and Indus script with Dravidian language family. What is your view on this?
N Kazanas: There are many conjectures about the Indus script. Some see a form of Old Vedic; others Dravidian; others magic symbols.
The fact is we do not know what the Indus script signifies.
But the Indus (or Harappan) seals and many other artefacts suggest articles of the post-Vedic general Hindu culture. I would not say that it is Sanskritic or Dravidian. The yogic figure among animals is usually identified with Lord Śiva paśupati (lord of the animals). Surely Śiva is not exclusively Sanskritic nor exclusively Dravidian.
BB Lal, the famous archaeologist has published two studies on the continuity of the representations on the seals: 2002 The Sarasvatī flows on, Delhi, Books International, and 2009 How Deep Are the Roots of Indian Civilisation Delhi, Books International. If anything, the evidence herein adduced shows a Sanskritic continuity that we find in the whole of North India, including Bihar and Bengal.
NS: Some AMT scholars also argue that, migrating Aryan speakers spread their language and culture on the native Indians through a process of assimilation. What is your view on this?
N Kazanas: The proponents of the AIT have since the 1990’s changed their tune from plain invasion to immigration to small, peaceful waves that left no traces on the native culture other than the language!
This last view is, even more, absurd than the previous ones. Because it raises, even more, difficult questions.
Now, we all know that Vedic is not a simple language like modern Hindī or Spanish. So how and why would the Indian (or Harappan) natives adopt such a difficult, highly inflected language? Such an adoption could have come about only through coercion and coercion implies conquest, complete and total.
I might add, that by the end of the 15th cent CE, Greece was almost totally conquered by the Muslims (except for some islands). Yet the Greeks never adopted the language of the Muslims except for some words – which happens even when there is only a friendly relationship. The Hindus did not adopt wholly the Persian language in the Middle Ages after their submission. But Urdu remained in the North, a mixture of Persian and Hindī and Hindī absorbed much Arabic vocabulary.
The linguistic result is one that only coercion and conquest could have produced, not a peaceful entry of small successive waves.
Another paradox left unexplained by non-indigents is this. The Harappans had a script but left no literature. The incoming Vedic had no script, were illiterate but had an enormous literature in the Vedic Hymns and perhaps other pieces!
Note also that at the time of (supposed) entry c 1700 BCE, the Harappans had a much higher culture than the nomadic Aryans and were moving eastward to the Gangetic plain. Why would the immigrants stay in desiccated lands?
NS: Another argument proposed by AMT scholars is that Avestan was older than Vedic Sanskrit. They further point out that, neither do the Zoroastrians show any memory about the geography of India nor do the Avestan literature shows any familiarity with Indus River. Thus, it is argued that only a migration from Iran into India must have been possible and not otherwise. What is your view regarding this? How to reconcile this with a non-invasion scenario?
N Kazanas: Mainstreamers, of course, will propose emphatically that Avestan is older than Sanskrit. It is one of their props for claiming that the Indoaryans moved from ancient Persia into Saptasindhu. But I have yet to see one rational demonstration of this. All such claims are based not on actual evidence, but on reconstructions of proto-languages which are sheer conjectures and in any case, prove nothing and sheer assertions!.
It is not true at all that Avestan shows no memory of the geography of India. In the Gathas, there is mention of some 16 places the Avestan people travelled before settling in Persia and one of them is Hǝptahǝndu! This is a transliteration of Saptasindhu, land of the seven rivers. Now the name or this collocation sapta sindhavaḥ (plural) occurs in several Rigvedic hymns, but nowhere in the Avestan hymns.
Avestan has also the river name Haraxvaitī which again is a transliteration of Sarasvatī. This again is a singular occurrence in Avestan. The word hara- has no other cognates in the language. But the word saras ‘rapid-motion, pool’ has cognates not only in Vedic (verb √sṛ > si-sar-ti, sar-ati, lexemes sṛtvan ‘nimble’, sarit, saraṇa, etc. but also in other IE languages: Greek hallo-, Latin salio, Tocharian salate, all ‘leap’.
Now it would be utterly absurd – would it not?– to claim that the Indoaryans came from Persia, bringing the name Haraxvaitī and changing it to Saras-vaitī (one who has rapids, whirlpools) so that saras would engender other cognates with √sṛ ! On the other hand, it is quite rational to say that the Avestan people moved out of Saptasindhu taking with them the name Hǝptahǝndu and the river Haraxvaitī.
I present 42 pages of evidence showing that Vedic is much older than Avestan in chapter 4 of my 2015 publication. In these pages, I refute R Schmitt’s 2009 claim for Avestan anteriority point by point. I challenge anyone to disprove me in the same way!
NS: You have often argued for an older date for Rigveda than the conventional dating of 1200 BC. A recent seminar of Sanskrit scholars in India has also arrived at a much older date than presently accepted using astronomical and literary evidence. Can you shed light regarding evidence that point towards Rigveda being composed long before than currently believed? What according to you is a probable date for Rigvedic composition? And how an older dating affects the currently mainstream theory of Aryan migration?
N Kazanas: Earlier, I pointed out that the conventional dating of the RV c1200 is based on the mechanical repetition of Müller’s ridiculous early conjecture based on a ghost story and some Eurocentric ideas.
It is not only astronomical references, some of which have been disputed. There is much more, linguistic and literary evidence.
It would be foolhardy to assign a definite date(s) because there is no such definite evidence. What we can and should assert with certitude is that the RV was composed on the whole before the rise of the Indus-Sarasvatī (Harappan) culture c3000. Tradition wants the RV to have been completed by, say, 3100. And this is as far as one can go.
The archaeological evidence, and particularly expert archaeologists of the area, Possehl and Bridget Allchin, tell us that Sarasvatī stopped flowing down to the ocean at about 3800 BC. Consequently, the hymns that praise Sarasvatī as “best-river, best mother, best goddess” etc. must have been composed before that date. Otherwise, the Indus would have been the best river!
The Rigvedic hymn 6.61.9,12 saying that Sarasvatī (goddess and river) spread the 5 tribes beyond Saptasindhu must also have been composed at that date or before.
Then there are certain (more than 10) common items among the Harappan archaeological evidence that are not found mentioned in the RV but are found abundantly in post-Rigvedic texts, especially Brāhmaṇas and Sūtras.
iṣṭakā ‘brick’, not mentioned, but we find the stone, wood and mud.
Urbanisation, not mentioned; the word pur means ‘defense, protective construction’ and is rather super-natural (and sometimes metallic!).
No ruins – even though after 1900 BC many towns were abandoned.
No cotton – but skin, wool and tree-bark are mentioned.
Fixed altars or hearths are not found – but are plentiful in Brāhmaṇas.
Then, no allusions to iconography – painting, relief or statuary. And so on with several more items.
True, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But if we read a modern novel set in a big city and find no mention of Russia and unified Germany, no mobile telephones, no coloured television, no free Mandela, no Princess Diana and so on, then we know that it was written at about 1980 or before.
NS: Some scholars argue that if there was a migration, it was out of India and not into India. What is your assessment of it? Are there any pieces of evidence that point towards a migration out of India?
N. Kazanas: The evidence for the OIT (Out of India Theory) is chiefly linguistic and, of course, the reversal of the mainstream AIT.
Sanskrit is, on the Preservation Principle, the oldest of the IE sister-languages. And most scholars agree that it preserves most of the Proto-Indo-European features in phonetical, lexical, and syntactical areas, particularly the roots. It itself is a derivative showing change and attrition.
I have no archaeological training and cannot evaluate the evidence in this field encompassing Central Asia, Persia, Pontic Steppe and North Europe. But I would ask in all seriousness established IEan archaeologists like Kuzmina, Mallory et al, to re-examine the evidence amassed putting aside, if possible, their customary views about the correctness of the AIT. Look at the evidence afresh. I feel sure they shall find much to indicate an Out of India Movement.
A clarification here. The real spread in the OIM took place from Bactria, not Saptasindhu itself. First the Vedics moved there as Baudhāyana says, then spread north and north-west in small or large waves.
In 1997 Joanna Nichols also proposed on her reading of the linguistic evidence that the central area of dispersal was Bactria.
NS: Can you share any latest developments or discoveries regarding the Aryan issue? What are the implications of these discoveries?
N Kazanas: I am afraid I have retired for some years and no longer follow the latest publications- after 2012. So I can say very little about recent developments.
But in many publications, I detect a strong element of vanity and ambition to be original. A recent 2014 publication by an Indian has little linguistic evidence, much unreliable archaeology and cites only one of my works, an essay of 2002 (!!) ignoring more than 20 publications since then.
Again, I repeat that one who really cares about these issues should read my 2015 publication.