Book Summary: Genetics and the Aryan Debate by Shrikant Talageri- II
In the first part, we saw the basic framework of the Aryan invasion or migration theory as propagated by decades of motivated and biased scholarship. We saw how the three main evidence sources in the form of archaeology, linguistics, and textual sources provides a framework in stronger terms of a reverse out of India migration. Genetics is a new ‘kid on the block’ which tries to give strength to the Aryan ‘invasion’ or ‘migration’, whatever the semantics may be. Shrikant Talageri strongly refutes the genetic framework based on his deep and solid analysis of the Rigvedic data. Genetic studies may show human migrations, but do not have the capacity perhaps to show migrations of languages and culture. He now debates on his position in this part.
THE REAL CHRONOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
Emperor Ashoka’s inscriptions in Indo-Aryan languages dated to 300 BCE make it impossible to claim that the IA languages came into India any time after that. Similarly, the Mittani kingdom of Syria-Iraq in West Asia shows the first decipherable and datable inscriptional data in Indo-Aryan languages outside India in the 16th-15th centuries BCE. As per the standard story of migrations where India is the last bit of the journey, the Mittani dates makes it impossible for the date of entry into India before that time too. Even 2000 BCE becomes difficult with the Mittani records.
The Mittani kingdom flourished in Syria-Iraq around 1500 BCE onwards for two centuries. Experts and scholars have come to a strong conclusion based on data that there were two components in the Mittani languages. The people spoke Hurrian or Hurrite languages, a non-Indo-European language. The names and works of the ruling clans however show that they were descendants of Vedic Indo-Aryan speaking or Vedic Aryan influenced ancestors.
The Vedic-Indo-Aryan elements in the Mittani records, discovered only by a deep study in the 20th century, are the ‘residue of a dead language or remnants’ of the pre-Mittani ancestors of the ruling clans of the Mittani kingdom. If these remnants of a ‘dead language’ related to Vedas is evident in the recordings in 1677 BCE, the logical conclusion would be that the ‘living language’ would have existed for many centuries before that time. A strong case for a reverse migration from India to Syria-Iraq instead of the other way around! Indology scholars now had to get around the problem of Vedic remnants in a culture which existed before the Aryans entered India, before the Vedas were even scripted. A time for some more stories.
The Indologists now claimed that there was a ‘pre-Rigvedic group’ that split from the other Indo-Aryans in Central Asia itself and migrated westwards, so that the Vedic Indo-Aryans who later composed the Vedas, were entering India at around the same time when this pre-Rigvedic Indo-Aryan ancestors of the ruling clans of Mittani entered West Asia. Can explanations become more ad hoc?
Now comes the crux of the debate when Talageri shows his line of arguments against the standard story by extensive documentation and references from the Vedas themselves in a manner stunning and spectacular. Are the common Indo-Aryan elements found in the Mittani data and in the Rigveda, the so called ‘pre-Rigvedic elements’? The common elements cover a wide range of semantic fields of horses, their colours, horse racing, chariots, names of Gods, and personal names of the ruling elite.
Now Talageri says that if these common elements are pre-Rigvedic, then they should show evidence in the Old Rigveda, at the very least. With passage of time, these elements should reduce in the New Rigveda and be the least in later Sanskrit-both Vedic and post-Vedic. The evidence is, however, exactly the opposite. All the common elements are completely absent in the Old Rigveda! Not a single hymn or verse. However, New Rigveda books 1, 5, 8, 9, 10 (108 hymns for names of composers; 77 hymns referring to these names or words within the hymns) widely notes the names of composers and other references in common with these Mittani elements.
Talageri has studied the Iranian Avesta too deeply. He claims a not just a common Vedic-Mittani culture, but also a common Vedic-Mittani-Iranian culture analysing the names, suffixes, prefixes, and other words. The common elements are absent from the Old Rigveda, but extensively present in the New books of Rigveda (309 hymns and 3389 verses in the names of composers; 225 hymns, 434 verses, 506 references within the hymns). Hence, the common culture shared by the Mittani and the Rigveda (the Avesta too) is the culture of New Rigveda. The Old Rigveda predates all the three.
THE CHRONOLOGY AND THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE RIGVEDA, STEP BY STEP
The pre-Mittani ancestors, Indo-Aryan speaking, and carrying Vedic terms reached Iraq-Syria in West Asia at around the same time as the Aryan migrants to India. The common branch split in Central Asia as the AIT story goes. Roughly, from 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE, the Aryans reach from Russian Steppes to Central Asia. From 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE, the Aryans trek towards the North West India where they later composed the Vedas.
But the definite chronology of the Vedic literature in India is Old Rigveda followed by the New Rigveda, followed by the post-Rigvedic Vedic texts, and then followed by the Epics and the Puranas. The Sanskrit texts then followed. Talageri clearly shows that the common culture of Mittani and the Rigveda (and the Avesta too) is that of the New Rigveda. With this background and some serious references in the Vedas, he creates the chronology and geography of the Rigveda period. And shows that the Rigvedic people migrated from an area between Haryana/ Western UP to South-West Afghanistan to the area of Mittani kingdom in West Asia.
If 1700 BCE is the date of Mittani records, then the New Rigveda people must be at least 400-600 years before, for the travel to take place and establish themselves in the Mittani kingdom. That would be 2300 BCE where the New Rigveda was an established civilization. At least 500 years back for the Old Rigveda takes us to 3000 BCE, by very conservative estimates. The presence of spoked wheels in the second half of third millennium BCE and the domestication of Bactrian camel in the late third millennium BCE are important chronological markers in the dating of the New Rigveda. The New Rigveda (books 1, 5,8, 10) has references to the spoked wheel and the camel. The references to these are completely absent in the Old books. This is additional reference to the dating of the New Rigveda books.
Similarly, the Old Rigveda shows the composers in deeper parts of east India residing in Haryana and westernmost UP with other ‘non-Vedic Aryans’ residing even further to their east. The Old Rigveda has no references to the North-West areas and Afghan area where the Aryans supposedly came from. In fact, later books of Rigveda show a serial progression of the geographical descriptions towards the west. The historical events described in the Rigveda also show a westward progression from Haryana/ west UP area to Afghanistan, occupying the entire Rigvedic area only by the period of New Rigveda.
The Old Rigveda mentions the eastern name places and the western name places appear only in the New books. Book 5 is a New book, but a family book unlike other New books 1,8,9,10. Book 5 is more ancient than the latter books and even in this, there are no western geographical references. The western places, lakes, mountains, and animals appear only in the non-family books-the New books minus book 5.
The only western geographical name found in the Old Rigveda (only book 4) are the names of three rivers: the Sindhu and two of its western tributaries. These rivers appear as the last stage in the east-to-west expansion of the peoples from Haryana/West UP area towards Afghanistan. The oldest book 6 refers to only Jahnavi (Ganga), Sarasvati, and the latter’s eastern tributaries; the next book 3 to Ganga and the first two easternmost rivers of Punjab-the Vipas and Sutudri. The next book 7 refers to Yamuna and the third easternmost river of Punjab, the Parusni. It also mentions the battle of the ten Anu tribes referred as the Asikni people. The latter are fighting from the west from the direction of the fourth most eastern river of Punjab, the Asikni. The next oldest book 4 refers for the first time to Sindhu and its western tributaries, the Sarayu and the Rasa.
The author makes his deeply researched claim that Indo-European languages and Vedas were already existing deep in the Indian area in 3000 BCE. Later migrants may have come from the Steppes of Central Asia, but they did not bring their languages and culture with them. At best, they would have merged with an existing civilization.
In the appendix, the author details all his references for the curious and the sceptic to go into the original Vedas. Many argue about the theory without a reading of the Vedas unfortunately. Even a sprinkling of Sanskrit or Rigvedic data is absent in their understanding.
The names of eastern places, lakes, and animals are abundant in all the books of Rigveda-New and Old. But the western places, mountains, animals, and lakes are only in the non-family New books (1,8,9,10) and completely absent from the Older books (the family books 2,3, 4, 6, 7 and the family New book 5). The chronological placing of the books shows clearly both the geographical descriptions and historical progression from east to west unambiguously.
DOES THE GENETIC EVIDENCE PROVE THE AIT?
Tony Joseph makes a claim of a Hindu conspiracy in trying to delay the publication of the book. The key paper suggesting that modern Indians carry a significant amount of West Asian related ancestry was unpalatable to some Hindu authors in the initial study of 2009. Hence, some key changes came into the conclusions.
The paper of the genetic study in 2009 stated (under pressure from two Hindu scientists) that the ‘people of India today are a mixture of two highly differentiated populations, the ANI and the ASI (ANI-Ancestral North Indians; ASI-Ancestral South Indians). The ANI are related to Europeans, central Asians, Near Easterners, and people of the Caucasus, but there is no claim about the location of their homeland or any migration.’
But the New paper in 2018 rectifies the problems of the previous paper and classifies the major genetic components of Indian population into three major genetic groups migrating into India at three different time periods.
- 65000 years before present: The First Indians migrated from Africa to South Asia.
- 7000 BCE: Zagros/Iranian Agriculturalists migrated to South Asia from the Zagros mountain area of Iran.
- 2000 BCE- 1000 BCE: Steppe pastoralists migrated to South Asia from the Kazakh Steppes and beyond.
The Tony Joseph book claims that from 65000 years before present to about 7000-4700 BCE (a broad period), the First Indians were the exclusive inhabitants of South Asia. From 7000-4700 BCE to about 3000 BCE, Zagros/Iranian Agriculturalists mixed with these First Indians to produce the Harappans and then the Harappan civilization. Between 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE period, the genetics paper shows that Steppe DNA had its presence in the area, thus proving that New people entered from the Swat area of Pakistan and mingled with the Harappans. This mingling resulted in the ANI- a mixture of the First Indians, Iranian/Zagros Agriculturalists, and Steppe pastoralists.
The ASI group forms by a combination of the First Indians already living in the South and the Harappans who migrated from the North. As noted, the Harappans themselves are a combination of the First Indians and the Zagros/Iranian Agriculturalists. So, the ASI equation would be First Indians (of South) + First Indians (of the North) + Zagros/Iranian Agriculturalists!
The present India then is again a combination of ANI and ASI in varying proportions in different areas and communities. There has certainly been a lot of churning even in the dominant story.
OBFUSCATIONS, LIES, CHERRY-PICKING, SELECTIVE INTERPRETATIONS AND TORTURE
The original paper, the conclusions, and speculations of Tony Joseph pay tribute to the old dictum about statistics which says that data, if tortured enough, can confess to anything. The whole agenda seems to establish that there was a distinct North and a distinct South, and they had separate languages and culture. The fight continues into present times as the native Dravidians take up cudgels against the Aryan Brahmins and the Aryan north.
The terminology is confusing, the mixing scenarios are confusing, and plenty of conclusions are pure speculations based on a thin evidence base. ANI and ASI suggestively come into play to depict the north and the south, even when Reich and Joseph both suggest that they are inaccurate.
According to Joseph, in each stage there were the ‘first arrivals’ into North India with an admixture of the existing locals. The admixed group then moved downwards. The First Indians mixed with the Zagros/Iranian people and became the Harappans. The Harappans moved downwards toward the First Indians in the South and become the ASI. Then the Steppe pastoralists came and mixed with the Harappans in the north. The mixture became the ANI. Today’s Indians are a mix of ANI and ASI. And confusingly, the First Indians get the term AASI- Ancient Ancestral South Indians. Gives a headache, no doubt about it.
Just three samples in the Indus periphery area represents the entire Harappan population in the study. Tony sometimes denotes Harappans as the Zagros people alone and sometimes as a combination of the First Indians and the Zagros. The author says that the genetic composition of India throughout is a constantly moving and expanding one, but the AIT proponents are keen to fix the genetic evidence by freezing the time when all the Indo-Aryan speaking people in North India have First Indians, Zagros/Iranian, and Steppe pastoralist ancestry and all the Dravidian-speaking people have First Indians and Zagros ancestry.
This is an impossibility because there is no DNA evidence from all parts of India at one point in time in the past; and it is also impossible that such a rigid situation ever existed in India, with a clear separation of a distinct North and South genetically. The major conclusion after all the obfuscations in terminology, cherry picking, and erroneous interpretations is that Steppe DNA entered India in the period between 2000-1000 BCE. This is also the period of the alleged invasion/migration by the Indo-European speaking Aryans as told by Indologists and linguists. Hence, this proves the AIT/AMT. Circular reasoning cannot get better.
The three major things which come out of Tony Joseph’s arguments are:
- The entire Indian population is a mix of First Indians, Zagros, and Steppes irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.
- There are no ancient DNA specimens from any part of India for the Harappan period. It is surprising that three outliers in the periphery of the Indus civilization stands as proxy for the entire Harappan population.
- The only DNA from ancient India is from the Swat valley in northern Pakistan from a post-Harappan period-1200 BCE to 100 BCE.
That these migrations brought the languages and culture hangs deeply on the position that the Rigveda is between 2000-1000 BCE as held by the linguists and the Indologists. This is precisely what Talageri sets to disprove, since the Old Rigveda does not show any memory of migrations; it dates beyond 2500 BCE at the very least; and whatever migrations noted, they are in an east to west direction starting from Haryana and West UP. The evidence for the last coming from the chronologically later New Rigveda.
The migrations of people may have happened, but the migrations of languages and culture did not. Talageri slightly exonerates Tony Joseph by saying that perhaps he is not at fault, because the problem is in the conclusions derived by the original 92 authors of the data. Tony Joseph only quotes these erroneous conclusions. Talageri then delves deeply into the actual paper to show the problems of obfuscation and confusion. A layperson may find some difficulty in this part of the book.
DOES THE GENETIC EVIDENCE NEGATE THE OIT?
The spread of languages and culture is different from the spread of genes and DNA. It is perfectly natural for one to spread without a parallel spread of the other. There is something called the ‘elite dominance’ model for the spread of languages. We speak, write, and read even better English than the English perhaps, but our genes may not show any commonality. The reasons for English language in India are very clear, and has nothing to do with interbreeding and genetic transfer. The ‘elite dominance’ model is at play here obviously. The terminology is self-explanatory.
People of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan do not have any First Indian ancestry in their genes showing a connection with the Indians. Can this be a reason to make a claim that Buddhism could not have spread to these places from India? The OIT migration is a strong possibility based on internal evidence from the Vedic texts and archaeological documents. The genetic evidence is irrelevant in the debate, says Talageri strongly.
The Mittani documents, the pre-Mittani Rigvedic roots related to the New Rigveda take the latter to at least 2500 BCE and the Old Rigveda even further back. When claims supposedly based on genetics blatantly contradicts recorded history and scientific disciplines like archaeology and linguistics, then it is only scientific to reject those claims and not everything else. Especially when there are other models to show that spread of languages and culture can happen without a simultaneous spread of genes.
The ‘elite dominance’ model may in fact help to explain the scenario of New Rigvedic elements in the Mittani culture and the Avestan culture of the Zoroastrians. This may very well have happened without the passing of the First Indians genes. The roots of shoots of Greek, Latin, Kelt, Teuton, Slavonian are in the Rigveda, but not in the Avesta. The absence of First Indians in the European ancestry is the reason against the OIT scenario by the AIT/AMT proponents. However, Talageri is clear when he says that this evidence is not relevant in the face of linguistic, textual, and archaeological records.
The scenario for AIT however suggests a speeding Aryans and not a spreading Aryans, says Talageri. They started after 3000 BCE from the Russian Steppes, ran top speed eastwards and then southwards, bypassed the BMAC(Bactrian) people on the way completely, and reached in less than a thousand years to North-West frontiers of South Asia by 2000 BCE. Within less than 1000 years, they completed the composition of the most pristine Rigveda too between 1400 BCE- 1000 BCE. The genetic data does not prove any immigration of Aryans into India after 2000 BCE. The chronological and geographical data of the Vedas and the Mittani documents show clearly the presence of Indo-European languages already in India much before 3000 BCE. Steppe people entered and maybe contributed their genome to the common pool, but they did not bring the languages and the Vedas. All this story happening without a ripple in the archaeological record and without any memory or references of older places in the texts is indeed hard to believe.
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