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Shrikant Talageri and his dubious Theory!
While “Aryan Invasion Theory” (AIT) is being widely disputed, Mr. Shrikant G. Talageri has proposed “Out of India Theory” to add to the further dispute. Though Talageri, often dubbed as Hindu nationalist scholar, have heavily been criticized for that, still we need to look into his theory and discuss how he, like other AIT/AMT theorists, is going wrong unnecessarily complicating the simple issues.
According to Talageri, it is evidenced from Rig Veda that the Aryans moved from east to west, from Haryana towards Iran and Europe. He cites chronology of the River names appearing in various Mandala’s of early to late part of the Rig Veda and implies that the changing graph of the river names shows that after the time of King Sudasa Aryan movement began from east to west. “In the Early period, right from pre-Rig Vedic times to the time of SudAs, the Vedic Aryans were settled in the area to the east of the Punjab: MaNDala VI knows of no river to the west of the SarasvatI.” Talageri states in his book, “Rig Veda” A Historical Analysis, chapter 4 titled as “The Geography of the Rig Veda”
It is clear that Talageri is implying demographic migration of the Vedic Aryans from east Punjab, Vedic Aryan’s original habitat, to Afghanistan, from the graph of the rivers appearing in Rig Veda. From battle of ten kings too Talageri wants to impress upon us the westward movement of the Vedic Aryans and not otherwise as has been claimed by the AIT/AMT theorists.
Let us have a closer look at his theory. Mention of river names in Rig Veda in different order does not imply the demographic migration of the Aryans in either direction. Rig Veda has been composed over the time span of about 300 to 500 years in the clans of ten different seers. 300 to 500 years time span that is given to the composing of Rig Veda, however, may not be accurate. It is just an assumption based on the calculation of generations of the Rig Vedic seers. Still it can be assumed that the composing of Rig Veda was continued for at the least couple of centuries. Talageri himself classifies Rig Veda in early, middle and later parts thus agreeing that the Rig Veda was composed over the longer period. Over this longer period of few centuries, and being mostly the pastoral, semi-nomadic, community, it is but natural that they would have been aware of the rivers located nearer or farther. If, as Talageri claims, the oldest part of Rig Veda does not mention any river from the west, they did not knew any other river of the west, hence they must have been settled east of the Sarasvati River, is a strange logic! He is forgetting the main purpose of the Rig Vedic texts is religious, not to document the geography.
I must draw your attention to a fact to which most of the Indologists give deaf ear. First of all it is not certain that the present available Rig Veda is in complete form consisting of all the verses composed by various seers over the period!
A mythology is the Veda’s had become obscure and mostly forgotten in Ved Vyasa’s time. Ved Vyasa gathered the available verses from different parts and put them in order dividing the bulk in the four parts. Ved saMhita was originally said to be consisting of over hundred thousand hymns, whereas the present Veda’s are just 1/10th of the original compositions. Whether myth is true or not is not a matter of our present discussions, but there seems various detectable interpolations in the Rig Veda. The order of Rig Veda, from first to tenth Mandala too is not chronologically correct. For example first Mandala of Rig Veda is actually has been composed in the late Vedic times. From 2nd to 7th Mandala’s are older whereas remaining Mandala’s form part of the later compositions. From late addition of Purusha Sukta in tenth Mandala it clearly seems that available Rig Veda is also interpolated to some extent though the claim is that the Rig Veda has orally been preserved as it is from ancient times without any alteration.
Hence the scholars should have been more careful while taking every word from Rig Veda as a final to support their theories. The riddle of original language of Rig Veda too remains unsolved, though the attempts are being made in that direction.
However, we will have to do with the available text because we will not know ever what contained in the missing portions of the Rig Veda.
If considered Talageri’s Aryan migration theory, it seems that Vedic people were hopping from one place to another while compositions of Rig Veda were continued by the Vedic seers. Basis of his theory is, as described before, the names of the rivers appearing in each Mandala in certain chronology. For example in early Mandala only Saraswati River finds its mention and he thus concludes that Vedic Aryan’s didn’t know any river located to the west of the Sarasvati. Doubtless this is a bold statement. Mention or omission of any river name cannot become an evidence of the geography known to the Vedic people.
Also mention of any river in any verse does not also necessarily mean that the Vedic people were settled by that particular river when the specific verses mentioning the river name (s) were composed. One should not forget the main objective of Rig Vedic rhymes is religious in particular, not to describe geography in general! Mention of the river names in Rig Veda are in praise of them in poetic form. For such praises it does not necessarily requires that the Vedic people’s or seers had to be inhibited in the close vicinity of those mentioned rivers.
Talageri states, “SarasvatI is still the most important river in the MaNDala: it is referred to by the eponymous RSi Atri (V.42.12; 43.11) who also refers to the RasA (V.41.15). All the other references to the western rivers (Sarayu, KubhA, Krumu, AnitabhA, RasA, Sindhu) occur in a single verse (V.53.9) by a single RSi SyAvASva, obviously a very mobile RSi who also refers elsewhere to the ParuSNI (V.52.9) and even the YamunA (V.52.17).”
From the above statement Talageri shows that Seer Syavasva was a mobile person hence he could mention the rivers from Afghanistan to Punjab. Again this is a blatant statement as he has blindly considered Ghaggar being the Vedic River Sarasvati. Rather all above mentioned rivers refer to the geography of present Afghanistan and bordering India. Of Yamuna we cannot be so sure whether it is another river from Afghanistan or present Yamuna of India. Yamuna name derives from “Yama”, a Vedic God, who also is frequently mentioned in Avesta as “Yima”. Hence there is probability that Yamuna of Rig Vedic seers was not the Yamuna River that still flows through India.
In his above quotation Talageri uses his imagination to support his farfetched theory. As said earlier, knowing the river names one needs not to be only mobile. One can acquire such information from the travelers, traders or even from the friendly tribes. In a way Talageri contradicts himself. Finding no mention of any western river except Sarasvati in oldest part of the Rig Veda doesn’t mean at all that they really did not know the western geography.
Migration and Invasion theorists often suggest that the Vedic people renamed the rivers out of their nostalgic sentiment when they reached new places. Here they forget that similarity in the river names do not necessarily require the presence of the migrants. The similarities can be tracked to the other circumstantial and linguistic factors prevalent in those times. Strangers giving some name to the existing places and locals accepting it are only possible if the locals are conquered or outnumbered by the migrants. This is not the case with Vedic people. Rig Veda doesn’t support any of the above.
Also the fact should be noted that many river names mentioned in Rig Veda are not in use since ancient times. Hence it is difficult to ascertain to which river Vedics are referring to by particular name. For example Ganga is thought to be having mentioned in Rig Veda by another name, Jahnavi. This identification is already disputed by the several scholars including Michael Witzel. Case with Shutudri too is same. It is now being identified with Satlej. Vipasha is said to be present Bias. Vedic Drushadvati is said to be present Chowtang! If Ghaggar is considered to be Vedic Sarasvati, there is no explanation to its name change! Many river names mentioned in Rig Veda remains to be unidentified with any other river. How logical are these identifications is a matter of another debate. Corruption in the river names in the course of the time is very much possible, but looking at the above name-changes, they at the least are not at all the corrupt forms of the original Vedic river names.
Sindhu not necessarily refer to the Indus River all the time, but is frequently used in plural for rivers. The “Sindhu” word also has been used as a synonym for large lake or sea.
In short Talageri’s chronology of the river names appearing in various Mandala’s of Rig Veda to prove the westward migration of the Aryans is faulty because the identification of the rivers itself is based on flimsy premises. This applies to the Aryan Invasion or Aryan Migration theorists too, because they too use the same logic to prove their theories.
BATTLE OF TEN KINGS!
We will turn towards Talageri’s another argument in support of his out of India theory. Battle of ten kings was fought on the banks of the Parushni River. Parushni is identified with present Ravi. Ravi was known in ancient times as Iravati. “Ravi” is said to be have derived from Iravati. There indeed is no satisfactory explanation to the drastic changes in the some River names whereas many rivers bear the ancient names even today.
However, even if taken Talageri’s theory as it is for the moment, he states that King Sudasa’s movement is from east to west whilst his enemies are attacking from western direction. He uses this information to add one more proof to his pet “Out of India” theory.
Sudasa and his allies won this war. But what does it prove? How does it prove migration of Vedic Aryans from east to west?
In the battle Sudasa defeated his enemies. His camp was at eastern side of the Parushni whereas his enemies, such as Siva’s, Anu, Drahyu, Parshu, Pakht, Bhalanas etc., had gathered towards the western side of the river.
Parshu’s are identified with Persian people whereas Pakhta’s are identified with present Pakhtun tribe. Siva’s may be the people from Sivalik Mountains. Bhalanas are identified with the people living in Bolan Pass region. Except few tribes, it clearly seems that, rest of the tribes were inhibited the present day Afghanistan and its bordering regions. If we have a look at the geographical location of the Parushni (present Ravi), to wage a war with King Sudasa, they would have to travel for longer distances, even had to cross the vastness of Sindhu River to reach the banks of the Parushni. Though identification of Parushni with Ravi seems improbable, let us assume that indeed Sudasa’s enemies did cross that huge distance to approach Parushni to wage war against Sudasa.
After defeat, what is the scenario? Defeated tribes were not annihilated. Number of dead of the war is given 6666. Though the figure could be speculative or exaggerated, the survivors of the war must have traveled back to their homeland after paying huge tributes. Rig Veda (7.33.6) mentions that Bharata’s under Sudasa received tribute from the defeated kings like Ajas, Sigrus and yaksus. RV 7.18.13 informs us that Indra destroyed the seven fortifications of the enemy and gave treasures of Anu to Sudasa. (Talageri identifies Anu's with Iranians.)
Sudasa, after this victory would have returned to his capital, whatsoever and wherever the war took place. Surprisingly there is no mention of his capital in Rig Veda. It does not mean he had none. Also we are left to mere guesswork as to how large had been his tribe? What was expanse of his kingdom? Looking at the population of those times his tribe could not have been too large occupying vast lands. Area of about forty-fifty square miles would be enough to provide his tribe the necessary livelihood. Had the tribe been settled in Afghanistan or India, it needed not to cross vast distances in an order to migrate unless there was natural calamity of any kind or enemies driving them out of their original habitat. Rig Veda mentions none of such incident. Rather Sudasa had won the war!
However, battleground being at the banks of Parushni and both the parties to the war attacking from different directions, how does it can prove the demographic migration of the Aryans to either direction?
If Talageri’s theory is considered true, then it will appear that the Pakhta, Bhalanas, Parshu and some other tribes were certainly had come to the war from western side as their geographies are identifiable and they do exist even today. This is not the case with Sudasa and his tribesmen as there is no evidence that after victory he too moved to settle somewhere in the west. Why a victorious king should have to migrate from his native place? Rig Veda describes that Sudasa and his allies chased the fleeing enemy, some drowned in the rivers and some were slain while on the run. But the original habitat of the enemy tribes doesn’t seem to have changed. Then why only Sudasa would desert his habitat and migrate?
As stated earlier, the description of the battle of the ten kings is mixed up with mythical elements, such as active involvement of Lord Indra in the war and his destroying seven fortifications of the enemy. One cannot take the rhymes as describing the exact history. Also the location of the war can be disputed as the river Parushni itself is unidentifiable. Its identification with Ravi is farfetched. Even if we agree to this identification for the time being, it does not prove migration of any tribe from east to west or west to east. Battle taking place on the banks of the River Parushni also does not indicate Sudasa’s homeland being at the east of the Parushni. The positions of the warring parties are decided by so many other strategic factors at the given moment of the war. Direction from which they fight does not indicate their homeland too belonged to the same direction.
In nutshell whole premises that there was Aryan migration (or expansion) from east to west can be surmised as a whimsical idea of a scholar.
Demographic migrations are not new to the even modern world. Small nomadic tribes can be seen on the constant move. From Rig Veda it seems that Vedic society could have been semi-nomadic as it was mostly a pastoral community. However semi-nomads tend to move around in a circle of their habitat. That too applies to the clan of Sudasa in whose rein the entire corpus of the Rig Veda was composed. Had Rig Vedic society been constant on move, there would have been at the least mention of the alien tribes they came across during the movement. In Rig Veda about 50 tribes are mentioned in different contexts and they appear to be located in the almost circular positions, if Avestan Harxvaiti basin is considered to be center point of Vedic Aryan’s habitat.
Except few tribes related to Puru brotherhood all other tribes were non-Vedic…ayajnya’s. (Non performers of the fire sacrifice.) Even the tribes those fought against Sudasa and his allies are described as non-performers of the fire sacrifices. True reason behind the war may be the religious conflict between different faiths. From the Rig Vedic story of enmity between Vashishtha and Sudasa’s former priest Vishvamitra that became main reason of the battle suggests that there were many tribes that were against Vedic religion and finally gathered against Sudasa for a war. Vishvamitra is said to have gathered enemy tribes against Sudasa over the religious conflict only.
Anyway, the war took place and Sudasa turned out to be victorious. How does it can be connected with the western migration of the Vedic Aryans as Mr. Talageri suggests?
Actually Talageri indirectly supports to the theory of Vedic homeland being a part of Afghanistan or bordering north-west regions of ancient India. The most of the rivers mentioned in Rig Veda are of Afghan origin, including Sarasvati. Most of them bear the same name even today though Afghanistan has undergone many political and religious upheavals. Sindhu means river or sea, can be applicable to any river or rivers, whenever used in plurals. Hence it does not necessarily mean to have used all the time for Sindhu (Indus) river. Parushni could not have been present Ravi as the geography itself goes contrary to the Rig Vedic descriptions of the war.
Hence Talageri’s migration theory is bad in the light of his farfetched conclusions.
Place names in Rig Veda:
Now let us look into the place names appearing in Rig Veda and Talageri’s conclusions based on them.
Talageri states that there are five different regions are mentioned in Rig Veda. Those are;
D. Uttar Pradesh
Afghanistan was known to the Indians from ancient times as Gandhar. There is huge corpus of the Buddhist ancient literature in Gandhari language as well. In Gandhari language Indian Prakrit G phonetically changes to K. Present Kandahar is none but Gandhar to the ancient Indians as evidenced from the various epigraphs. Except such phonetic changes we do not find drastic variance in Gandhari and other Prakrit dialects of about 3rd Century BC to 2nd century AD those appear in various epigraphs.
Talageri states that the region name Gandhar appears only once in late upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I (I.126.7). He further adds that “But, the name is also found indirectly in the name of a divine class of beings associated with GandhAra, the Gandharvas, who are referred to in the following verses: III.38.6; VIII.1.11; 77.5; IX.83.4; 85.12; 86.36; 113.3;
X.10.4; 11.2; 85.40, 41; 123.4, 7; 136.6; 139.4, 6; 177.2.”
From this Talageri wants to impress upon us to suit his theory of westward migration of the Vedic people, i.e. from Punjab to Afghanistan. He suggests that the Vedic people landed in Afghanistan during the last phase of composition of the Rig Veda.
If taken this theory at its face value, it would seem that Vedic people first moved from Punjab to the region of Parushni (Ravi) and from there they migrated to Afghanistan. But is it so?
Talageri, instead of explaining whether the name Punjab occurs anywhere in the Rig Veda, declares on us, “The Punjab is known in the Rigveda as “Saptasindhu”.
Punjab would mean land of five rivers. Talageri’s explanation to this is, Sidhu being farther west and Sarasvati being farther east and the land between them constituting of the five rivers would mean Punjab.
Talageri goes farther to stress that the Avestan “Hapta Hindu” too refers to the Punjab region. This is something that extols the non-existent. “Hapta Hindu” in Avesta does not at all refer to the Punjab, but rivers in Afghanistan itself. “Hapta Hindu” (Sankrit Sindhu) would mean region of seven rivers…not the region beyond Sindhu River. If Hapta Hindu of Avesta is as same as Sapta Sindhu of Rig Veda and if is referred to one and the same region, in all probabilities Sapta Sindhu region cannot be Punjab but valley of Helmand river of present Afghanistan itself.
We should note here that Avesta does not refer to or mention any other river except those are present in Afghanistan. Hence Avestan Hapta Hindu could not refer to the region of Punjab but the region of Avestan geography itself. Rather Rig Veda mentions many rivers like Rasa (Raha), Kubha (Kabul), Krummu (Kurram) etc. which means that the Vedic people were more acquainted with Avestan geography than of the Punjab.For example Talageri admits that Vedic Aryan's did not know any river to the west of the Sarasvati, means they did not know the Punjab, Sindh regions located to the west of Sarasvati!
Talageri admits that the place names such as Kurukshetra or Brahmavarta (believed to be in Haryana) does not appear at all in Rig Veda, yet he tries to derive meaning from the so-called epithets, such as “ nAbhA pRthivyA” (Center of the Earth) or “ vara A pRthivyA” (Best place on the earth),he thinks is addressed to Haryana region.
Further he states that “M.L. Bhargava, in his brilliant research on the subject points out that these places are still extant: MAnuSa is still known as MAnas, still a pilgrim centre, a village 3½ miles northwest of Kaithal; the ApayA or ApagA tIrtha is still recognised at Gadli between MAnas and Kaithal; and ILAyAspada or ILaspada at SAraka is the present-day Shergadh, 2 miles to the southeast of Kaithal: MAnuSa and IlAspada were thus situated on the right and left sides of the ApayA, about 5½ miles apart, and in the tract between the DRSadvatI and the SarasvatI.”
First let us have a look at Manas village. It is a small village situated in Kaithal district of Haryana State. Kaithal name is said to have been derived from Kapisthala, birth place of the Monkey God, Hanuman. However unlike what Talageri states, the village is named Manas because there is a pond named “Manas sarovar “ besides the village. It clearly shows that the name is taken after famous highly revered Himalayan lake “Manas Sarovar” which is pilgrimage center from ancient times. Most importantly this Manas village is not any kind of pilgrimage center! Connecting it to the Vedic “Manusa” is an ridiculous idea. Need not to mention, others too are highly imaginative derivations by the author.
While finding the references of Uttar Pradesh in Rig Veda, Talageri admits that there is no direct reference, still he blatantly states that “It may be noted that all the pilgrim-centres of Hinduism are located to the east of Haryana. There is no Hindu pilgrim centre worthy of particular note in the Punjab or the northwest. This also discounts the possibility that the oldest and hoariest text of Hinduism could have been composed in those parts.” Thus he contradicts his own theory of westward migration.
First of all Talageri is committing a blunder by mixing Hindu religion with Vedic religion. There is no pilgrimage tradition in Rig Veda or even in later Vedic texts. Also at one side Talageri states that the Vedic Geography (where most of the Rig Veda was composed) is east Punjab, he admits that there is no noteworthy pilgrimage center in Punjab or west. Had Vedic Aryans were moving towards west, he cannot explain why the most of the pilgrimage centers are at eastern side.
Reference to the River Ganga appears only once and that too as Jahnavi, not directly as Ganga. Whether Vedic Jahnavi and Ganga is one and the same is not yet proven beyond doubt. It does not prove that the Vedic Aryan's knew the regions of present Uttar Pradesh.
What we can conclude from Talageri’s Vedic geography is, he has recklessly tried to link Indian places and rivers with Rig Vedic river and place names, neglecting the overwhelming proofs indicating Rig Vedic early geography being Gandhar, that is to say present Afghanistan. Most of the rivers those flow in the terrain of Helmand bear similar names even today. This is not the case with Indian rivers including Ghaggar, Jhelam, Chinab, Choutang, Ganga etc. There is no reason why the river names should have drastically been changed in the course of the time if they were so praiseworthy to the Vedic people.
Also it does not indicate why demographic migration of the Vedic people would have taken place? Most of the tribes mentioned in Rig Veda can be identified with the tribes of north-west regions of India and of Afghanistan and Iran. It seems Vedic people were quite familiar with them and their dialects. They too shared similar dialect. Vedic people were familiar with Avestan religion and their faith and borrowed heavily from them, including God’s and Demons, though in later times Vedic people had changed the meaning opposite to the originals. However terminologies remained the same. Asura (Av. Ahura) meant “Lord” to Vedic’s as well in the early period of Veda’s, though the term was used as Demons in later times.
This shows clearly that geographically Vedic people must have been settled in the close vicinity of the Avestan people. Had they been migrants from the Punjab to Afghanistan, the religious concepts, dialectical similarities, Gods and Demons wouldn’t have been similar. It is impossible. It cannot be said that Avestan people borrowed from Vedic people because Vedic Asura seems to have lost its original meaning immediately after composition of some verses, whereas Avestan Ahur did remain the same with its original meaning throughout! This must have occurred after some kind of enmity arose between Avestan and Vedic people. Battle of Ten Kings could be a possible reason for this drastic shift. This may be evident from a fact that Parshu tribe too was a party to the war against Sudasa. Parshu’s are identified with Persian people. Talageri’s another bold suggestion is proto-Iranians were located in Punjab in pre-Vedic times is another blunder that we will examine in separate article.
Talageri, to prove his theory of Aryan migration raises the following vital questions:
1. Why the tribe of Sudasa should have hopped from Haryana towards Afghanistan intermittently? What were the reasons? What was the reason for his tribe to vacate earlier settlements to move towards Afghanistan only when there were other better directions too were available to him to move?
2. It is assumed and agreed by the scholars that the composing of the Rig Veda continued for almost 300 to 500 years. This is not a small passage of the time in which many generations would have elapsed. If this is the case, was migration pre-determined or was Sudasa or his clan was forced out of India? Does Rig Veda give any indication of such happening?
2. If Talageri is right in his hypothesis, it would appear that the seers of Rig Veda too traveled with the tribe adding the names of the rivers in Vedic verses as they came across. How then the bulk of Rig Veda traveled back to India?
3. Geologically it is proven that the Ghaggar River during the times of Indus civilization were in the condition as same as it is now, a monsoon fed minor River. It was never snow fed river. How then Talageri connects Ghaggar with the mighty river Sarasvati of Rig Veda?
4. If Talageri in his works claims that proto-Iranians too were located in Punjab in pre-Vedic times and moved towards Afghanistan later, how can it justify the linguistic differences in Vedic and Avestan languages? And what would be the reason for proto-Iranians to move from Punjab towards Afghanistan? If this really is the case why there is no slightest of the reference to such movement neither in Avesta nor Rig Veda?
5. If there were series of westward migrations of Indian Aryans, which were those migrating tribes apart from Sudasa’s?
6. Why Talageri frequently uses the term "Aryan's" when the Aryan race theory has been abandoned on all counts, including modern genetics?
To find solution to any cultural or linguist problems, migration theories appear to be simple explanations, but they raises more questions those cannot be easily answered. Nationalistic approaches may delight to some Vedic people but it drives away the masses from the truth!
Shrikant Talageri’s theory thus proves to be unreliable that only can bolster the egos of Vedic Hindu nationalists, nothing else!