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Resolving the Aryan Question: A Comprehensive presentation of Out of India Case – III

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Resolving the Aryan Question: A Comprehensive presentation of Out of India Case – III
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Author’s Note: This article series is an expanded version of a paper presented at ICHR conference in New Delhi, 2018 under the title ‘The Rigveda and the Aryan Theory: A Rational Perspective’.

Please find the first two parts of the series here: Part-I and Part-II

III. Geographical Evidence of Data in the Text

Can the data in the previous parts of the series somehow be fitted into any scenario where the Indo-Aryans can still be brought into India from outside around 3000 BCE so that they occupied this geographical space in northern India from west to east? An examination of the geographical data in the Rigveda in fact shows exactly the opposite.

The geographical horizon of the Rigveda can broadly be divided into three regions:

1. The Eastern Region: the Sarasvatī and areas to its east: mainly present-day Haryana and western-most Uttar Pradesh.

2. The Central Region: the Sapta-sindhu or Punjab between the Indus and the Sarasvatī, mainly the northern half of present-day Pakistan and contiguous parts of Indian Punjab.

3. The Western Region: the Indus and areas to its west: mainly southern and eastern Afghanistan and contiguous areas of northwestern-most Pakistan.

The geographical data pertaining to the Eastern region is as follows:

River names: Sarasvatī, Dṛṣadvatī/Hariyūpīyā/Yavyāvatī, Āpayā, Aśmanvatī, Amśumatī, Yamunā, Gangā, Jahnāvī.

Place names: Kīkaṭa, Iḷaspada/Iḷāyāspada (indirectly Vara-ā-pṛthivyāh, Nābhā-pṛthivyāh).

Animal names: ibha/vāraṇa/hastin/sṛṇi (elephant), mahiṣa (buffalo), gaura (Indian bison), mayūra (peacock), pṛṣatī (chital, spotted deer).

Lake names: Mānuṣa.

The geographical data pertaining to the Central region is as follows:

River names: Śutudrī , Vipāś, Paruṣṇī, Asiknī, Vitastā, Marudvṛdhā.

Place names: Saptasindhavah (indirectly sapta+sindhu).

The geographical data pertaining to the Western region is as follows:

River names: Tṛṣṭāmā, Susartū, Anitabhā, Rasā, Śvetyā, Kubhā, Krumu, Gomatī, Sarayu, Mehatnū, Śvetyāvarī, Suvāstu, Gaurī, Sindhu (as the Indus river), Suṣomā, Ārjīkīyā.

Place names: Gandhāri.

Mountain names: Suṣoma, Ārjīka, Mūjavat.   

Animal names: uṣṭra (Bactrian camel), mathra (Afghan horses), chāga (mountain goat), meṣa (mountain sheep), vṛṣṇi (ram), urā (lamb), varāha/varāhu (boar).

Lake names: Śaryaṇāvat(ī).

The Old Books of the Rigveda, as we saw, go back beyond 3000 BCE. If the Indo-Aryans entered India from the northwest and then expanded eastwards into northern India, the geographical data in the Rigveda should show a prior acquaintance with the northwest. However, the data actually shows exactly the opposite. It shows that the Vedic Aryans in the period of the Old Books were not familiar with the northwest and only expanded westwards in that direction from the interior of India by the time of the composition of the New Books of the Rigveda:

A. The Eastern Non-Riverine Data Versus the Western Non-Riverine Data:

Eastern: The following is the distribution of the eastern geographical data (excluding the rivers) in the Books of the Rigveda:

1. Old Hymns in Books 2,3,4,6,7: 22 Hymns, 23 verses, 24 names.

2. Redacted Hymns in Books 2,3,4,6,7:  4 Hymns, 6 verses, 7 names.

3. New Hymns in Books 1,5,8,9,10:  69 Hymns, 81 verses, 85 names.

VI. 1.2; 4.5; 8.4; 17.11; 20.8 (5 hymns, 5 verses and names).

III. 5.9; 23.4,4,4; 45.1; 46.2 (4 hymns, 4 verses, 6 names).

VII. 40.3; 44.5; 69.6; 98.1 (4 hymns, 4 verses and names).

IV. 4.1; 16.14; 18.11; 21.8 (4 hymns, 4 verses and names).  

II. 3.7; 10.1; 22.1; 34.3,4; 36.2 (5 hymns, 6 verses and names).

III. 26.4,6; 29.4,4; 53.11,14 (3 hymns, 5 verses, 6 names).

IV. 58.2 (1 hymn, 1 verse and name).

V. 29.7,8; 42.15; 55.6; 57.3; 58.6; 60.2; 78.2 (7 hymns, 8 verses and names).

I. 16.5; 37.2; 39.6; 64.7,7,8; 84.17; 85.4,5; 87.4; 89.7; 95.9; 121.2; 128.1,1,7,7; 140.2; 141.3; 143.4; 162.21; 186.8; 191.14 (17 hymns, 20 verses, 23 names). 

VIII. 1.25; 4.3; 7.28; 12.8; 33.8; 35.7,8,9; 45.24; 69.15; 77.10; 87.1,4 (10 hymns, 13 verses and names).

IX. 33.1; 57.3; 69.3; 72.7; 73.2; 79.4; 82.3; 86.8,40; 87.7; 92.6; 95.4; 96.6,18,19; 97.41,57; 113.3 (14 hymns, 18 verses and names).

X. 1.6,6; 5.2 8.1; 28.10; 40.4; 45.3; 49.4; 51.6; 54.4; 60.3; 65.8; 66.10; 70.1; 91.1,4; 100.2; 106.2; 123.4; 128.8; 140.6; 189.2; 191.1 (21 hymns, 22 verses, 23 references).

It will be seen that:

1. The eastern references are found distributed evenly throughout every part of the Rigveda, from the earliest books and hymns to the latest ones.

2. It is not only the pattern of references that shows the familiarity of the Vedic Aryans with the eastern region throughout the period of the Rigveda, the references themselves make it clear. The references to the eastern animals are not casual ones. It is clear that the animals and their environment form an intimate part of the idiomatic lore and traditional imagery of the Rigveda: the spotted deer, for example, are the official steeds of the chariots of the Maruts. The name of the buffalo (like that of the bull) is used as an epithet, applied to various Gods, signifying great strength and power. The Gods approaching the place of sacrifice to drink the libations are likened to thirsty bisons converging on a watering place in the forest. The outspread tails or manes of Indra’s horses are likened to the outspread plumes of the peacock’s tail. The elephant is clearly a very familiar animal fully integral to the traditional culture and environment of the Vedic people: IV.16.14 compares Indra’s might to that of a mighty elephant, and at least three verses (I.64.7; 140.2; VIII.33.8) refer to a wild elephant crashing its way through the forests and bushes: in the third reference the elephant is “rushing on this way and that way, mad with heat” (GRIFFITH). X.40.4 refers to hunters following two wild elephants; I.84.17 refers to household elephants as part of the possessions of a wealthy householder; IV.4.1 refers to royal elephants as part of the entourage of a mighty king; and IX.57.3 refers to a ceremonial elephant being decked up by the people. VI.20.8 refers to battle elephants, or at least to elephants in the course of the description of a battle.

Western: On the other hand, the following is the distribution of the western geographical data (excluding the rivers) in the Books of the Rigveda:

1. Old Hymns in Books 2,3,4,6,7: 0 Hymns, 0 verses.

2. Redacted Hymns in Books 2,3,4,6,7:  0 Hymns, 0 verses.

3. New Hymns in Books 1,5,8,9,10:  44 Hymns, 52 verses, 53 names.

I. 10.2; 29.5; 34.9; 43.6; 51.1; 52.1; 61.7; 84.14; 88.5; 114.5; 116.2,16; 117.17,18; 121.11; I26.7; 138.2; 162.3,21 (16 hymns, 19 verses and names).

VIII. 2.40; 5.37; 6.39,48; 7.29,29; 34.3; 46.22,23,31; 56.3; 64.11; 66.8; 77.10; 85.7; 97.12 (12 hymns, 15 verses, 16 names).

IX. 8.5; 65.22,23; 86.47; 97.7; 107.11; 113.1,2 (6 hymns, 8 verses and names).

X. 27.17; 28.4; 34.1; 35.2; 67.7; 86.4; 91.14; 95.3; 99.6; 106.5 (10 hymns, 10 verses and names).

In sharp contrast to the eastern references, it will be seen that the western references are completely absent in the Old Books. In fact, they are completely absent even in the New Book 5, which (being a Family Book) is older than the other four non-Family New Books 1,8,9,10.

They are found only in the New non-Family Books.

[Interestingly, a word associated with Gandhāri is gandharva: the gandharva in the Rigveda is the guardian (or, in the plural, the guardians) of the Soma in the western mountains. This word is also completely absent in the Old Hymns in the Old Books, found only once in a Redacted Hymn, and is otherwise found only in the New non-Family Books:

III. 38.6 (1 hymn, 1 verse and name).

I. 22.14; 163.2 (2 hymns, 2 verses and names).

VIII. 1.11; 77.5 (2 hymns, 2 verses and names).

IX. 83.4; 85.12; 86.36; 113.3 (4 hymns, 4 verses and names).

X. 10.4; 11.2; 80.6; 85.40,41; 123.4,7; 136.6; 139.4,5,6; ; 177.2 (8 hymns, 11 verses and names)].

Thus, there is clearly a distinct difference in the geographical horizon of the Old Books versus the New Books. The geography of the Old Books is totally eastern, while that of the New Books spans the entire area from east to west.

The non-riverine geographical references indicate the cultural milieu familiar to the composers of the hymns. The eastern cultural milieu is clearly a part of the cultural ethos of the composers of the Rigveda in every period of the Rigveda, from the earliest Books and hymns to the latest ones. The western cultural milieu is, however, completely absent from the cultural ethos of the composers of the Old Hymns in all the five Old Books and even in the New Book 5. It becomes a part of the Rigveda only during the period of composition of the four New non-Family Books.

B. River Names in the Rigveda and the Vedic Expansion from East to West:

The river references indicate the area of activity of the composers of the hymns. The following is the distribution of the names of the eastern rivers in the Books of the Rigveda:

1. Old Books 2,3,4,6,7: 24 Hymns, 45 verses, 47 names.

2. New Books 1,5,8,9,10:  30 Hymns, 37 verses, 39 names.

VI. 27.5,6; 45.31; 49.7; 50.12; 52.6; 61.1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10,11,13,14 (6 hymns, 17 verses and names).

III. 4.8; 23.4,4,4,; 54.13; 58.6 (4 hymns, 4 verses, 6 names).

VII. 2.8; 9.5; 18.19; 35.11; 36.6; 39.5; 40.3; 95.1,2,4,5,6; 96.1,3,4,5,6 (9 hymns, 17 verses and names).

II. 1.11; 3.8; 30.8; 32.8; 41.16,17,18 (5 hymns, 7 verses and names).

V. 5.8; 42.12; 43.11; 46.2; 52.17 (5 hymns, 5 verses and names).

I.3.10,11,12;13.9;89.3; 116.19; 142.9; 164.49,52; 188.8 (7 hymns, 10 verses and names).  

VIII. 21.17,18; 38.10; 54.4; 96.13 (4 hymns, 5 verses and names).

IX. 5.8; 67.32; 81.4 (3 hymns, 3 verses and names).

X. 17.7,8,9; 30.12; 53.8; 64.9; 65.1,13; 66.5; 75.5,5,5; 110.8; 131.5; 141.5; 184.2 (11 hymns, 14 verses, 16 names).

Again, we find the eastern river references, like the eastern non-riverine references, distributed evenly throughout every part of the Rigveda, from the earliest books and hymns to the latest ones. The only exception here is Book 4, for historical reasons, as we will see shortly.

But, note the distribution of the names of the western rivers in the Books of the Rigveda:

1. Old Books 2,3,4,6,7: 4 Hymns, 5 verses.

2. New Books 1,5,8,9,10:  57 Hymns, 72 verses.

IV. 30.12,18; 43.6; 54.6; 55.3 (4 hymns, 5 verses and names).

V. 41.15; 53.9,9,9,9,9,9 (2 hymns, 2 verses, 7 names).

I. 44.12; 83.1; 112.12; 122.6; 126.1; 164.4; 186.5 (7 hymns, 7 verses).

VIII. 7.29; 12.3; 19.37; 20.24,25; 24.30; 25.14; 26.18; 64.11; 72.7,13 (9 hymns, 11 verses).  

IX. 41.6; 65.23; 97.58 (3 hymns, 3 verses).

X. 64.9; 65.13; 66.11; 75.1,3-9; 108.1,2; 121.4 (6 hymns, 14 verses).

It will be seen that the western river references are completely absent in four (6,3,7,2) of the five Old Books: as in the case of the eastern river references, this time also the only exception is Book 4. Book 4, therefore, clearly occupies a peculiar position. Its cultural milieu is eastern like the other Family Books, but its area of activity is western. This is explained by the historical westward thrust of the “Vedic Aryans” (the Pūru) from east to west as described in the Rigveda, as we will see now.

The Old Books of the Rigveda have a completely eastern geography. The western non-riverine geographical names are completely absent in the Old Hymns in all five of the Old Books (6,3,7,4,2), and the western river names are completely absent in all the hymns (Old as well as Redacted) in four of the five Old Books (6,3,7,2).

The oldest of the five New Books, Book 5 (a Family Book like the five Old Books), shows a middle position: western non-riverine geographical names are completely absent in it, but western river names are found in it.

The other four New Books, the four non-Family Books (1,8,9,10), have both eastern and western non-riverine as well as river names in equal measure.

All this clearly shows a historical expansion of the “Vedic Aryans” (the Pūru) from the east in the Old Books to the west by the time of the New Books, and this expansion took place during the course of composition of the Rigvedic hymns. Therefore, this expansion has to be found recorded in the Rigveda.

This movement or expansion from the east to the west obviously took place across the central region (the area between the Sarasvatī and the Sindhu rivers), and has to have taken place during the course of composition of the Old Books. Therefore, it should become clear from an analysis of the geographical data in the Rigveda pertaining to this Central region in the Old Books. There are no mountain or lake names from this area in the Rigveda, and there are no animals peculiar to this area other than those found to its east or its west. The river names and place names of the Central region are found in the Rigveda as follows (in this case, the specific names are given below in order to understand the geographical movement of expansion):

1. In Old Books 2,3,4,6,7: 7 Hymns, 9 verses.

2. In New Books 1,5,8,9,10:  12 Hymns, 12 verses.

III. 33.1 Vipāś, 1 Śutudrī (1 hymn, 1 verse, 2 names).

VII. 5.3 Asiknī; 18.8 Paruṣṇī, 9 Paruṣṇī (2 hymns, 3 verses and names).

IV. 22.2 Paruṣṇī; 28.1 sapta+sindhu; 30.11 Vipāś (3 hymns, 3 verses and names).

II. 12.3 sapta+sindhu,12 sapta+sindhu (1 hymn, 2 verses and names).

V. 52.9 Paruṣṇī (1 hymn, 1 verse and name).

I. 32.12 sapta+sindhu; 35.8 sapta+sindhu (2 hymns, 2 verses and names).

VIII. 20.75 Asiknī; 24.27 Saptasindhavah; 54.4 sapta+sindhu; 69.12 sapta+sindhu; 75.15 Paruṣṇī (5 hymns, 5 verses).

IX. 66.6 sapta+sindhu (1 hymn, 1 verse).

X. 43.3 sapta+sindhu; 67.12 sapta+sindhu; 75.5 Śutudrī, 5 Paruṣṇī, 5 Asiknī, 5 Marudvṛdhā, 5 Vitastā (3 hymns, 3 verses, 7 names).

The historical sequence of the five Old Books is clear:

1. Book 6 is the Oldest Book, pertaining mainly to the time of the early Bharata king Divodāsa: “In book 6 of the Bharadvāja, the Bharatas and their king Divodāsa play a central role” (WITZEL 1995b:332-33). Divodāsa is mentioned a number of times: VI.16.5,19; 26.5; 31.4; 43.1; 47.22,23; 61.1. In fact, the book goes many generations back into the period of the earliest Rigvedic and pre-Rigvedic history: it mentions Divodāsa’s father SṛñjayaVI.27.7; 47.25; also, in one hymn, VI.61.1, by the insulting epithet Vadhryaśva, meaning “impotent”. It mentions Divodāsa’s grandfather Devavāta: VI.27.7; and contains the only reference in the Rigveda to the eponymous ancestral Bharata himself: VI.16.4. It also mentions Pratardana, son of Divodāsa: VI.26.8

2. Books 3 and 7 are the second and third oldest Books of the Rigveda in that order and pertain to the time of Divodāsa’s descendant Sudās: “Book 3 [….] represents the time of king Sudās” (WITZEL 1995b: 317), and, as the number of references show, Book 7 even more so. “In that order” because it is accepted by all scholars, including the Indologists, that Viśvāmitra of Book 3 was the priest of Sudās for a short and earlier period, and was later replaced by Vasiṣṭha of Book 7. Sudās is mentioned many times in these Books: III.53.9,11; VII.18.5,9,15,17,22,23,25; 19.3,6; 20.2; 25.3; 32.10; 33.3; 53.3; 60.8,9; 64.3; 83.1,4,6,7,8. His father Pijavana is mentioned in VII.18.22,23,25.

3. Book 4 pertains to the period of Sudās’ descendants Sahadeva and (his son) Somaka, who are mentioned in IV.15.7,8,9,10 and IV.15.9 respectively.

These four books form one distinct historical era. They are the only Books that refer to Divodāsa’s grandfather Devavāta: VI.27.7; III.23.2; VII.18.22; IV.15.4. Other early Bharata kings are also mentioned in these Books. In one hymn, III.23, Devaśravas, either a contemporary of Sudās or another name for Sudās himself, is described as offering oblations to a sacred fire established by his ancestor Devavāta. Sudās and the Bharatas are also referred to as Pratṛda (descendants of Pratardana) in VII.33.14, and as Tṛtsu in VII.18.7,13,15,19; 33.4,5,6; 83.4,6,8. [Incidentally, Bharatas as such represent the earliest era of the Rigveda as a whole: the word Bharata is found only in the Family Books (2-7) and one reference is found in I.96.3. This hymn is in the Kutsa upa-Maṇḍala of Book 1 (consisting of hymns I.94-115) which seems aligned with Book 4 since it also mentions Sahadeva in I.100.17].

4. Book 2 is the last of the Old Books. It is definitely later than Books 6, 3 and 7, and it is definitely an Old Book by any criterion, and therefore much older than the five New Books 5,1,8,9,10. As we saw earlier regarding the common Rigvedic-Mitanni-Avestan data and the geographical data, Book 2 falls in line with the other Old Books on every count. Its position with regard to Book 4 is ambiguous: it is either contemporaneous with Book 4 or perhaps belongs to an even later era since it shares many words, names and features with Book 4 that are missing in the three Oldest Books. The only noteworthy point about Book 2 is that it does not refer to any other river apart from the Sarasvatī.

The step-by-step geographical direction of movement or expansion is clearly seen in the westward movement of the river names in the Old Books as well as the explicitly recorded names in the historical narrative:

1. Book 6 is the Oldest Book of the Rigveda, and its antecedents and prehistory go far back into the past beyond the period of Divodāsa and his son Pratardana to the period of their ancestors. But its geography is totally eastern. It not only does not mention any geographical data (riverine or non-riverine) from the western region, but it also does not mention any geographical data (riverine or non-riverine) from the central region either. It refers to the Sarasvatī (VI.49.7; 50.12; 52.6; 61.1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10,11,13,14) as well as to other rivers to the east of the Sarasvatī: the Gaṅgā (VI.45.31) and the Hariyūpīyā/Yavyāvatī (VI.27.5,6).

[Hariyūpīyā and Yavyāvatī are alternate names of the Dṛṣadvatī and refer to “a tirath in Kurukṣetra” (THOMAS 1883): the Dṛṣadvatī is known as Raupyā in the Mahabharata, clearly a development of the Rigvedic Hariyūpīyā; and the Yavyāvatī, which is often sought, without any basis, to be identified with the Zhob river in Afghanistan, is found mentioned only once anywhere else in the whole of Vedic or Sanskrit literature, in the Panchavimsha Brahmana, about which Witzel admits: “the river Yavyāvatī 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-Pañcāla land” (WITZEL 1987:193), i.e. in Haryana to the east of the Sarasvatī].

The activities of the ancestors of Divodāsa are all located in this eastern region even in other Books: VI.27 describes a battle fought on the banks of the Hariyūpīyā/Yavyāvatī by Sṛñjaya, son of Devavāta; VI.61 describes this formerly “impotent” (Vadhryaśva) father of Divodāsa worshipping on the banks of the Sarasvatī and being granted the birth of Divodāsa; III.23 describes Devaśravas, a contemporary of Sudās, or another name for Sudās himself, worshipping the eternal fire established on the banks of the Dṛṣadvatī and Āpayā (and lake Mānuṣa) by Devavāta.

When we place the river-data on a graph, the movement from east to west from this Original Vedic area becomes clear:

2. Book 3 of the Viśvāmitras, in the time of Sudās, a descendant of Divodāsa, refers for the first time to the first two rivers of the central region, the Punjab, from the east: the Śutudrī (present day Sutlej) and the Vipāś (present day Beas). This Book still does not mention any other geographical name to the west of the Sarasvatī other than these two names. And, these names are mentioned in hymn III.33 in the context of a historical crossing of these two rivers by Sudās and his army of Bharata warriors. This crossing was undertaken, as per III.33.5, to access the Soma lands to the west from which the Vedic Aryans imported Soma (somewhat like the medieval Europeans trying to find a sea-route to India to access its spices).

The earlier activities of Sudās under the priesthood of Viśvāmitra, described in this book, are also confined to the east: in III.29, the Viśvāmitras kindle a sacred fire at Iḷāyāspada, at Nābhā Pṛthivyāh, in the Haryana area to the east of the Sarasvatī; and in III.53, they perform a sacrifice at the same place (VaraāPṛthivyāh): “Come forward, Kuśikas, and be attentive; let loose Sudās’ horse to win him riches. East, west, and north, let the King slay the foeman, then at earth’s choicest place perform his worship” (III.53.11 as per Griffith’s translation), after which Sudās commences his expansionist activities in all directions. These forays further east include Kīkaṭa (III.53.14): this is often assumed by traditional scholars to refer to as distant an area as Magadha in Bihar, but, even without going so far, even Witzel accepts it to be a place to the south-east of Haryana: “in eastern Rajasthan or western Madhya Pradesh” (WITZEL 1995b:333 fn).

3. Book 7 of the Vasiṣṭhas, who replaced the Viśvāmitras as the priests of Sudās halfway through his conquests, refers for the first time to the third and fourth rivers of the Punjab from the east, immediately after the Śutudrī and the Vipāś: the Paruṣṇī (present day Ravi) and the Asiknī (present day Chenab). This Book also does not mention any other geographical name to the west of the Sarasvatī other than these two names. The context is the great battle, the dāśarājña, or Battle of the Ten Kings, fought by Sudās on the banks of the Paruṣṇī with an alliance of ten sub-tribes of the Anu and some remnants of the Druhyu tribes.

This battle clearly represents the next steps in the east-to-west expansion: after all the descriptions of the activities of his far ancestors in the east (detailed above), and the commencement of his conquest with a ritual sacrifice again in the east, and after crossing the two easternmost rivers of the Punjab as described in Book 3, Sudās now fights this battle on the banks of the Paruṣṇī (VII.18), and his enemies are described as the people of the Asiknī (VII.5.3), clearly indicating that Sudās is approaching from the east and they are fighting from the west from the side of the Asiknī river. The enemies are specifically described as abandoning their possessions after their defeat, and scattering abroad (VII.5.3) in the westward direction (VII.6.3).

4. Book 4, belonging to the period of Sudās’ descendant Sahadeva and his son Somaka, takes the expansion deep into the west: the two central rivers it mentions are the Vipāś (IV.30.11) and Paruṣṇī (IV.22.2), clearly harking back to the early ancestral days of the beginnings of the westward expansion. One of these two hymns describes the culmination of this expansion in the battle on the banks of the western river Sarayu (IV.30.18), present day Siritoi, a western tributary of the Sindhu (IV.30.12). This book does not mention any eastern river, not even the Sarasvatī, which is prominent in every other Book of the Rigveda. It also mentions  other western rivers in other hymns as well: the Rasā (IV.43.6) and the Sindhu (IV.54.6; 55.3).

The completely western river names in Book 4 contrast sharply with the fact that the near-contemporary book 2 mentions only one river, the eastern Sarasvatī: II.1.11; 3.8; 30.8; 32.8; 41.16,17,18. This may indicate two areas of composition in the later Old period: hymns from the expanding Pūru in the western areas in Book 4, and hymns from the home area east of the Sarasvatī in Book 2. 

Many AIT-oriented scholars try to exploit the western orientation of the river names in Book 4 to suggest that Book 4 must be the oldest Book of the Rigveda with the “invading Aryans” still in the west – and some even try to suggest the same about Book 2 by insisting that the Sarasvatī of this Book must be the Avestan Haroyu of Afghanistan. This ignores both the voluminous details about the activities of the early Bharatas in Books 6, 3 and 7 (detailed above) in the east, of whom the Bharatas in Books 4 and 2 are descendants, as well as the historical narrative in these Books about the Bharata expansion from east to west. It also ignores the fact that the non-riverine references in both Books 4 and 2 are completely eastern and emphatically non-western: Nābhā Pṛthivyāh (II.3.7); Iḷaspada (II.10.1); ibha/hastin, elephant (IV.4.1; 16.14); mahiṣa, buffalo (II.18.11); gaura, Indian bison (IV.21.8; 58.2); pṛṣatī, chital (II.34.3,4; 36.2). There is, however, one new western factor appearing in Book 4: a reference to Afghan sheep: avi (IV.2.5), otherwise found only in the New Books 5, 1 and 10.

The fully eastern base of the three Oldest Books (6,3,7) is also clear from the fact that even the references to seven rivers in the form sapta+sindhu are totally missing in these three Books. These start only in the two later Old Books of the Rigveda: IV.28.1 and II.12.3,12, and are found in all the New non-Family Books: I.32.12; 35.8; VIII.54.4; 69.12; IX.66.6; X.43.3; 67.12, while the specific word saptasindhavah as the name of an area (the central region or the Punjab) appears only in Book 8 in VIII.24.27.

5. Book 5, the last of the Family Books and the first of the New Books, represents a middle position between the Old Family Books and the New non-Family Books in many ways. Its arrangement of the hymns is as per the scheme of arrangement in the Old Family Books, but its scheme of ascription of hymns is as per the system in the New Books. Each hymn is ascribed to the actual composer of the hymn rather than to the eponymous ancestral rishi as in the Old Books. The common Rigvedic-Mitanni-Avestan culture, as we saw, is already fully developed in the period of Book 5, but the base area of the Book is still rooted in the east:

a) While it does refer to western rivers in two hymns (to the Rasā in V.41.15, and to 6 rivers, Sarayu, Kubhā, Krumu, Anitabhā, Rasā, Sindhu, in one hymn and verse V.53.9), most of the western river names are in one hymn V.53 by Śyāvāśva, who also mentions the central river Paruṣṇī and the eastern river Yamunā in another hymn, in V.52.9 and 17 respectively. As Witzel points out, all these river names only indicate that the particular poet is widely traveled, and not necessarily that the Vedic people actually occupied the areas of the rivers named: all these geographical notes belonging to diverse hymns are attributed to one and the same poet, Śyāvāśva, which is indicative of the poet’s travels” (WITZEL 1995b:317).

Likewise, the reference to Rasā in V.41.15 is by Atri, who elsewhere refers to the eastern Sarasvatī in V.42.12; 43.11. The Sarasvatī is also referred to by two other composers in V.5.8 and 46.2 respectively.

b) While it refers to western rivers, Book 5 does not mention any western non-riverine names, except the Afghan sheep, avi (V.61.5, again by Atri), already mentioned in Book 4. But, it does mention eastern non-riverine names: Śyāvāśva mentions the pṛṣatī, chital, in V.55.6; 57.3; 58.6; 60.2, and Atri also mentions it in V.42.15. Another composer refers to the mahiṣa, buffalo in V.29.7,8.

6. The non-Family Books 1 and 8 represent the next chronological phase in the Rigveda (although some of the hymns in Book 1 are sometimes earlier than the hymns in Book 8 and some are much later), and Book 9, the Book of Soma Pavamāna, follows them: as Proferes, a student of Witzel, points out, “the pavamāna collection consists primarily of late authors, those from Books 1, 5, 8 and in a limited number of cases, 10” (PROFERES 1999:69).

Book 10 comes much later; so much so that, in spite of the marked difference within the language and culture of the first nine Books of the Rigveda, the language of Book 10 stands apart. As Ghosh puts it (before giving a long list of words and grammatical features to prove the point), “On the whole […] the language of the first nine Maṇḍalas must be regarded as homogeneous, in spite of traces of previous dialectal differences […] With the tenth Maṇḍala it is a different story.  The language here has definitely changed […] The language of the tenth Maṇḍala represents a distinctly later stage of the Rigvedic language” (GHOSH 1951/2010:240-243).

This makes it all the more significant that non-Family Books 1, 8, 9, and even the Family Book 5 fall into one distinct group with Book 10 (including in terms of the common Rigvedic-Mitanni-Avestan vocabulary, as New Books, versus the five Old Books 6,3,7,4,2), and it emphasizes the long chronological period covered by the New Books, as well as the chronological isolation of the Old Books from this long later period.

The geographical horizon of the four non-Family Books expands over the entire area of the Rigveda as a whole. Books 4 and 5 gave us a glimpse of the west, but these four non-Family Books show a new and comprehensive familiarity with the west that is completely unknown in the five Old Books (and even to Book 5):

a) For the first time, these Books introduce a place name from the northwest, Gandhāri, southern Afghanistan, in I.126.7; a lake from the northwest, Śaryaṇāvat, in I.84.14; VIII.6.39; 7.29; 64.11; IX.65.22; 113.1; X.35.2; and the mountains of the northwest, Ārjīka, Suṣoma, Mūjavat in VIII.7.29,29; IX.65.23; 113.2; X.134.1, as well as a reference to the snow-capped peaks of the northwest, himavanta, in X.121.4.

b) There is a flood of new names of animals of the northwest in these four Books: meṣa sheep, chāga mountain goat, urā ewe, uṣṭra camel, mathra Afghan horse, varāha/varāhu boar in I.43.6,6; 51.1; 52.1; 61.7; 88.5; 114.5; 116.16; 117.17,18; 121.11; 138.2; 162.3; VIII.2.40; 5.37; 6.48; 34.3; 46.22,23,31; 66.8; 77.10; 97.12; IX.8.5; 86.47; 97.7; 107.11; X.27.17; 28.4; 67.7; 86.4; 91.14; 95.3; 99.6; 106.5. Most of these names are found in Iranian as well as in the Avesta: maēša (sheep), ura (lamb), uštra (camel) and varāza (boar).

c) Apart from the western rivers already mentioned in Books 4 and 5—Sindhu, Sarayu, Rasā, Kubhā, Krumu—these Books mention many other western rivers for the first time, namely Tṛṣṭāmā, Susartū, Śvetyā, Gomatī, Mehatnū, Śvetyāvarī, Suvāstu, Gaurī, Suṣomā, and Ārjīkīyā: I.44.12; 83.1; 112.12; 122.6; 126.1; 164.4; 186.5; VIII.7.29; 12.3; 19.37; 20.24,25; 24.30; 25.14; 26.18; 64.11; 72.7,13; IX.41.6; 65.23; 97.58; X.64.9; 65.13; 66.11; 75.1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9; 108.1,2; 121.4.

d) The New Books, and particularly Book 8, represent the closest parallels with the Mitanni and the Avesta. Here, we now find names of patron kings who have been identified by western Indologists (including Witzel) as actual proto-Iranian names (Vṛcayā, Kuruṅga, Caidya, Tirindira, Parśu, Varosuṣāman, Anarśani, Kanīta): I.51.13; VIII.4.19; 5.37,38,39; 6.46; 23.28; 24.28; 25.2; 26.2; 32.2; 46.21,24; X.86.

Here, we also find Rigvedic names (Mitrātithi, Devātithi, Subandhu, Indrota, Priyamedha) in common with Mitanni names (Mittaratti, Dewatti, Subandu, Indarota, Biriamasda) in I.45.3,4; 139.9; VIII. 3.16; 4.20; 5.25; 6.45; 8.18; 32.30; 69.8,18; X.33.7; 73.11; and as composers of V.24; VIII.2,4,68,69; IX.28; X.57,58,59,60,75.   

e) The New Books, and particularly the extensive Book 8, clearly represent the period and area of the mature Harappan culture (although Book 10 is post-Harappan for the most part), and, in keeping with the archaeological evidence of the Harappan trade with Babylon, we find two Babylonian words associated with trade and commerce in Book 8: in VIII.78.2, we find the word manā (a measure of weight) and in VIII.66.10 we find the word bekanāṭa (money-lender).

In this Harappan period, certain eastern rivers (primarily the rivers of the core Haryana area, Dṛṣadvatī, Āpayā, Hariyūpīyā, Yavyāvatī) prominent in the Oldest era are now on the periphery of the Rigvedic horizon, and do not find any mention in the New Books. This may also be indicative of the slow drying up of the eastern tributaries of the Sarasvatī by this time. These four historical rivers do not find mention even in the nadī sūkta X.75, although the Gaṅgā still remains prominent and important and is the first river to be mentioned in this Hymn to the Rivers as the easternmost river within the Rigvedic horizon. As the Sarasvatī had three whole hymns dedicated to it in the Oldest Books (VI.61, VII.95,96), the Sindhu, Indus, has now become the most important river, to whom the nadī sūkta is primarily dedicated, and it is also now lauded along with some other deities in the last verse of a number of hymns in Book 1 (I.94,95,96,98,100,101,102,103,105,106,107,108,109,110,111,112,113,114,115) apart from other stray verses in the New Books.

The journey from the Oldest Book (Book 6 with its pre-Rigvedic background) to the very late Book 10 is clearly a long one in time (as we saw, Book 6 goes back far beyond 3000 BCE) as well as in space (the Vedic Aryans expanding from an original Homeland in Haryana in the east into southern Afghanistan).

As we noted at the very outset, certain points about the Vedic data, ignored or downplayed by the Indologists, made the AIT perspective highly suspect, even assuming a date of composition post-1500 BCE and a west to east expansion within the text:

a) the total absence of extra-territorial memories (or memories of any invasion from outside India) in the text,

b) the total absence of any entity or name identifiable linguistically as Dravidian or Austric (or of any other known non-Indo-European language) in the text, and

c) the fact that the rivers and animals of the area have purely Indo-Aryan (i.e. Indo-European) names in the text.

Now, we see that the date of the Oldest Books goes back beyond 3000 BCE, that there is solid and unchallengeable evidence of an expansion from an originally eastern Homeland into western areas that were earlier unknown, and that even in this Oldest period the Vedic composers clearly have a strong emotional attachment to the eastern region: in VI.61.14, the composer begs the river Sarasvatī: “let us not go from thee to distant countries“; in VI.45.31, the long bushes on the banks of the Gaṅgā are used in a simile (showing their long acquaintance and easy familiarity with the topography and flora of the Gaṅgā area); and in III.58.6, the banks of the Jahnāvī (i.e. presently Jāhnavī, the name of the Gangā close to its source) are referred to as the “Ancient Homeland” of the Gods. All this, before or around 3000 BCE, makes the AIT perspective totally impossible and untenable.

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Shrikant Talageri

Shrikant Talageri is a scholar and acclaimed author of The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, the seminal work on the Aryan Invasion debate. His latest work is "Rigveda And Avesta The Final Evidence."