Rakhigarhi and After- II: ‘Invasion’ or ‘Migration’?

Rakhigarhi and After- II: ‘Invasion’ or ‘Migration’?

The whole question of whether the Indo-European languages were brought into India by the Steppe immigrants is often converted into an endless quibble on the word “invasion”. The whole discussion in the last three decades has been described as an AIT-vs.-OIT debate: “Aryan Invasion Theory” vs. “Out of India Theory”. The basic point being discussed is of course whether immigrants from the Steppe brought the Indo-Aryan (=Indo-European) languages into India, entering through Central Asia between 2000-1000 BCE and replacing the local languages, religion and culture with their own. It has been variously described as an invasion (much more often than any of the other descriptions), an immigration, and a process of “trickling-in”. Witzel goes so far as to describe the process in the following incredible words: “small-scale semi-annual transhumance movements between the Indus plains and the Afghan and Baluchi highlands continue to this day (Witzel 1995:322, 2000) […] Just one ‘Afghan’ IA tribe that did not return to the highlands but stayed in their Panjab winter quarters in spring was needed to set off a wave of acculturation in the plains by transmitting its ‘status kit’ (Ehret) to its neighbors” (WITZEL 2005:342).

But now, with the discussion on the relevant points getting too hot for them, and with the need to present a picture of superior intelligent academicians (themselves) versus antiquated yokels (us), the AIT proponents find it very convenient to divert the discussion on to side-issues such as the exact word to be used, and our failure to use it.

Witzel, for example, tells us (without also telling us that it is the rejection of the idea of an Aryan invasion, or even immigration, by archaeologists, including western ones, that has compelled them to stop using this word) that only “revisionists and autochthonists….still depend on the old, nineteenth century idea of a massive invasion of outsiders” (WITZEL 2005:347), and that more sophisticated scholars talk of an immigration or, as we saw above, of “small-scale semi-annual transhumance movements between the Indus plains and the Afghan and Baluchi highlands” (WITZEL 2005:342).

After the recent announcement of my new book, Tony Joseph twice saw fit to tweet on the subject, confining his comments only to the use of the word “invasion”: on 12/3/2019, he tweeted “My book is not about ‘Aryan invasion’. It is about 4 ‘prehistoric migrations’ that formed the Indian population“, and on 12/7/2019, he tweeted that my book “starts off with a wrong statement. The phrase ‘Aryan invasion’ doesn’t appear in my book. Not even once!“: as if to suggest that I have attributed false quotations to him which contain the word “invasion“! Indeed, being a well-trained propagandist, he does manage to avoid using this particular word in his writings, but then I have never directly accused him (or anyone else, even when they do actually use it) of using this word but only of describing an invasion and its aftermath and after-effects.

In the above mentioned recent article by Girish Shahane, he calls the idea of “invasion” a “strawman” created by the Hindutva supporters, and writes: “Hindutva activists, however, have kept the Aryan Invasion Theory alive, because it offers them the perfect strawman, ‘an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent’s real argument’.

All this has led to some caution on the part of some of the people opposed to the AIT. Some, quite rationally, call it the AIT/AMT (the second term meaning “Aryan Migration Theory“). But some others feel bashful to call it an “Aryan Invasion Theory” at all because they feel it may draw flak from their “sophisticated” opponents, and then they get caught in the word-play trap laid by their opponents to divert the discussion into fruitless channels. It really does not matter whether you call it “invasion” or “migration”: everyone knows we are talking about the alleged arrival and spread of immigrants from the Steppes who brought the Indo-European languages, as represented by the Vedic language along with a whole accompanying religion and culture.

But we cannot allow the AIT proponents to tell us which word is politically correct and which word we should use, and to set their own terminology and rules. It is inevitable and necessary to continue to use the word “invasion“, though alternating, when it is more proper to the particular context, with the word “immigration“; and to refer to the AIT supporters as “AIT supporters” and to the AIT as “AIT“. The AIT supporters are more dishonest: they act fastidious and adopt a fake holier-than-thou attitude when it comes to the word “invasion”, and deride their opponents for using this word. But basically what they describe is nothing but an out-and-out invasion theory:

As we saw, Witzel tells us that only “revisionists and autochthonists [….] still depend on the old, nineteenth century idea of a massive invasion of outsiders” (WITZEL 2005:347), and that more sophisticated scholars talk of an immigration. In an earlier paper, he tells us that the “idea of a cataclysmic invasion has, in fact, been given up long ago by Vedic scholars” (WITZEL 1995b:323).

And then, in that very paper, he goes on to present us with a full-fledged invasionist account of the Indo-Aryan intrusion in the Harappan areas. As per this account, the Indo-Aryans fought their way through the mountains of Afghanistan, storming innumerable mountain fortresses, once after a long and bitter 40-year-long campaign, and finally reached the Harappan areas. “On the plains of the Panjab, the Indo-Aryans had further battles to fight“, and the Rigveda, according to him, is replete with numerous “explicit descriptions of campaigns“, in which the Indo-Aryans “destroyedhundreds of forts and, on different occasions, “put to sleep“, “put down” or “dispersed” 30,000, 50,000 and 100,000 natives (WITZEL 1995b:322-324)!

In another paper, he tells us that the Indo-Aryans had “new military techniques and tactics, especially the horse-drawn chariots“, and that the “first appearance of thundering chariots must have stricken the local population with a terror similar to that experienced by the Aztecs and Incas upon the arrival of the iron-clad horse riding Spaniards” (WITZEL 1995a:114).

Witzel is very frequently quoted by Tony Joseph in his book, and is one of the “Advance Praisers” of the book, whose endorsement is quoted at the beginning of the book.

Shoaib Daniyal, in the above mentioned paper, tells us: “David Reich explains that the preponderance of male Steppe DNA means that this encounter between the Steppe pastoralists and the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation ‘cannot have been entirely friendly’. This male bias is standard for Indo-European migration. In fact, when these Steppe pastoralists reached Europe, Reich’s research found an even larger proportion of male Steppe genes. In large parts of Western Europe, Steppe migrants almost completely displaced local males in a short time span, leading to one Danish archeologist postulating that the coming of these Indo-European speakers ‘must have been a kind of genocide’. This pattern, wrote David Reich in his 2018 book Who We Are and How We Got Here, ‘is exactly what one would expect from an Indo-European-speaking people taking the reins of political and social power 4,000 years ago’“.

Does all this sound like a “trickling-in” immigration, or an invasion?

Even when the supporters of the AIT, including the “geneticist” scientists, completely avoid using the word “invasion” or describing it graphically as above, the very situation they are describing is a purely invasionist situation. Let us examine what exactly they are telling us:

To begin with, their date of 2000-1000 BCE was based on a middle point between, on the one hand, the point of time, around 3000 BCE, when the different and later widely separated branches are linguistically known to have been “together” in an area of mutual interaction and contact where they still developed words and contexts in common, and on the other, the point of time, around 600 BCE, the period of the Buddha, when it is known from detailed records that Indo-Aryan languages were being spoken by settled inhabitants all over North India as far east as Bengal and Bihar.

The present genetic data, on the basis of which these geneticists and their followers have claimed “genetic evidence” for these (Indo-European speaking) Steppe people spreading through Central Asia to India, is based only on the ancestries of three groups of ancient DNA from the northernmost part of Pakistan, the Swat Valley, as late as after 1200 BCE. There is no earlier date-wise evidence, and there is no ancient evidence south of the Swat Valley.

The geneticists and their various spokespersons clearly declare that the Steppe people did not exist south of Central Asia before 2000 BCE: Tony Joseph, in his book, very categorically claims that “the Indo-European-language speakers” were still migrating “from the Kazakh Steppe” towards “present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan” after 2100 BCE: till then there were no Indo-European-language speakers anywhere in South Asia. They started “towards south Asia” only after 2000 BCE, and they “trickled-in” slowly into a till-then non-Indo-European-language speaking South Asia only during the course of “the second millennium BCE (2000 BCE to 1000 BCE)“.

In fact, Tony Joseph in one place has the proto-Indo-Aryans still to the west of the Ural mountains in 2000 BCE: “around 2000 BCE, they finally broke through – or went around – the Ural mountains and spread eastwards across the Steppe” (p.179).

This is fully in line with the regular citing of the Sintashta site (far to the north and west of Kazakhstan, from 2100-1800 BCE) as a pre-Vedic site by these AIT “scholars” (see Tony Joseph’s book). Also Shoaib Daniyal above: In his remarkable 2007 book The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, David Anthony, a professor of anthropology and one of the world’s leading authorities on Indo-European migration, pointed out that funeral sacrifices at Sintashta, an archaeological site all the way out on the Russian Steppe ‘showed startling parallels with the sacrificial funeral rituals of the Rig Veda'”.

All this very clearly emphasizes the extreme geographical distance of these “Steppe Aryans” from India, and their total non-acquaintance with India, before 2000 BCE.

The genetic evidence now cited basically has only two valid points:

a) The Harappan DNA (as proved by the three Indus Periphery specimens from the north and west of the Harappan area in the Harappan period, now confirmed by the Rakhigarhi specimen from an area east of the Harappan core areas also in the Harappan period) did not contain Steppe ancestry.

b) The present-day population all over India does have Steppe DNA as part of their ancestry.

The obvious conclusion should be that this happened at some time between the Harappan era and the present-day.

But this purely post-Harappan evidence (only from after 1200 BCE) and only from the northern Swat Valley is gratuitously treated as clinching “genetic evidence” that the Steppe people had spread all over the entire Vedic area in the period following the Harappan age, precisely between 2000-1000 BCE!

Let us, for arguments’ sake, accept all these points:

a) The Steppe people were still connected to areas beyond Kazakhstan all the way to the Urals, and totally unconnected with areas south of Central Asia, till 2000 BCE.

b) They had spread all over the area from southern and eastern Afghanistan to Haryana and western U.P. by 1000 BCE.

c) They had composed the text of the Rigveda, as Tony Joseph reiterates in his recent book on the authority of Michael Witzel, “between 1400 BCE and 1000 BCE” (p.177).

Then we end up with the absolutely incredible and impossible situation that these people who crossed over from Central Asia only after 2000 BCE (even if we assume they were waiting en masse at the borders and started pouring in like a flood as soon as the flood-gates were opened at the stroke of midnight on the New Year’s Day of 2000 BCE), had so completely replaced or transformed the entire population (the teeming millions of the massive Harappan civilization) over the whole area from southern and eastern Afghanistan through the Punjab to the whole of Haryana and the westernmost parts of U.P. within 600 years (2000-1400 BCE), that the orthodox and traditionalist text, the Rigveda, composed by them over 400 years from this point of time, has the following characteristics:

1. It contains no memories at all of any place beyond the borders of southern and eastern Afghanistan, much less memories of having come from places far beyond these areas, and in fact shows deep and traditional reverence for the geography of the local area.

2. It contains not even the faintest sign or reference showing the contemporaneous or past presence in the area of any person or entity, friend or foe, with non-Indo-European (much less specifically Dravidian, Austric, Burushaski, Sino-Tibetan, Andamanese, Uralo-Altaic, Semitic, Sumerian, or any other) names.

3. It has undoubtedly or arguably Indo-European (=Indo-Aryan) names for all the local geographical words in the Rigveda:

a) places (Gandhāri, Saptasaindhava, Iḷāspada, Kīkaṭa),

b) mountains (Mūjavat, Suṣoma, Ārjīk),

c) lakes (Mānuṣa, Śaryanāvatī),

d) trees, plants and grasses (kimśuka, khadira, śalmali, aśvattha, śimśapā, śimbala, parṇa, araṭu, vibhīdaka, pippala, urvāruka, vetasa, darbha, muñja, śarya, sairya, kuśara, vairiṇa, and in the Yajurveda and Atharvaveda: ikṣu, bilva, nyagrodha, śamī, plakṣa, pippalī),

e) animals (ibha, hastin, vāraṇa, mahiṣa, anūpa, gaura, mayūra, pṛṣatī, uṣṭra, varāha, mathra, chāga, vṛṣṇi, urā, meṣha, siṁha, śiṁśumāra, sālāvṛka, kusumbhaka, cakravāka, cāṣa, and in the Yajurveda and Atharvaveda: kaśyapa, kapi, vyāghra, pṛdāku, śārdūla, khaḍga, ajagara, nākra, kṛkalāsa, nakula, jahakā, śalyaka, kūrma, jatū, anyavāpa, kṛkavāku, kapiñjala, tittiri, kalaviṅka, kaṅka, krauñca, gṛdhra, śuka) and

f) rivers (Gaṅgā, Jahnāvī, Yamunā, Dṛṣadvatī, Hariyūpīyā, Yavyāvatī, Āpayā, Sarasvatī, Śutudrī, Vipāś, Paruṣṇī, Asiknī, Marudvṛdhā, Vitastā, Ārjīkīyā, Suṣomā, Sindhu, Triṣṭāmā, Susartu, Anitabhā, Rasā, Śveti, Shvetyāvarī, Kubhā, Krumu, Gomatī, Sarayu, Mehatnu, Prayiyu, Vayiyu, Suvāstu, Gaurī, Kuṣavā).

[Although desperate attempts have been made to find “non-Indo-European” words among the flora and fauna names in particular, it has been a failed linguistic exercise. For people who argue, without logic, that Śutudrī is a “non-Aryan” word and Kīkaṭa is an Austric word because Sanskrit words cannot begin with ki– and such words are actually Austric words (!): the first word contains the Indo-European –udr-, “water”, and the Indo-Aryan Mitanni writer of the horse-training manual in ancient Iraq was named Kikkuli].

Witzel in particular had the following to say on the river-names: “In Europe, river names were found to reflect the languages spoken before the influx of Indo-European speaking populations. They are thus older than c. 4500-2500 B.C. (depending on the date of the spread of Indo-European languages in various parts of Europe)” (WITZEL 1995a:104-105). But, in sharp contrast, “in northern India rivers in general have early Sanskrit names from the Vedic period, and names derived from the daughter languages of Sanskrit later on.” (WITZEL 1995a:105). This is “in spite of the well-known conservatism of river names. This is especially surprising in the area once occupied by the Indus Civilization where one would have expected the survival of older names, as has been the case in Europe and the Near East. At the least, one would expect a palimpsest, as found in New England with the name of the state of Massachussetts next to the Charles river, formerly called the Massachussetts river, and such new adaptations as Stony Brook, Muddy Creek, Red River, etc., next to the adaptations of Indian names such as the Mississippi and the Missouri“. According to Witzel, this alleged “failure to preserve old hydronomes even in the Indus Valley” is indicative of “the extent of the social and political collapse experienced by the local population” (WITZEL 1995a:106-107).

Even if anyone were (and very many are) stupid enough or dishonest enough to accept the above impossible situation as a possibility, could anyone in their senses deny that the whole alleged scenario indicates not a “trickling-in” immigration, but a bloody and genocidal invasion followed by a process of total mass-hypnosis and mass-amnesia?

So, let us not allow dishonest politically-motivated “scholars” to dictate to us what words to use in debate. At least in this case, “invasion” is the exact word which describes what the AIT supporters are postulating. Whatever they call it, and whatever we call it, they are supporters of an “Aryan Invasion Theory“.

Why are the supporters of the geneticists objecting to the use of the word “invasion” even when what they are describing is a bloody and genocidal invasion which is supposed to have completely and magically transformed the entire Harappan area to this impossible extent in a short period between some point after 2000 BCE (when they claim that the Steppe people first stepped into India from Central Asia) and 1400 BCE (when they claim that the composition of the Rigveda commenced) – both these claims being based purely on the strength of the alleged presence of Steppe DNA in the northernmost Swat Valley as late as 1200 BCE?

What is more, the complete transformation suggested by the AIT is not restricted to language alone: “What is relatively rare is the adoption of complete systems of belief, mythology and language from neighbouring peoples […] Yet, in South Asia we are dealing precisely with the absorption of not only new languages but also of an entire complex of material and spiritual culture, ranging from chariotry and horsemanship to Indo-Iranian poetry whose complicated conventions are still actively used in the Ṛgveda. The old Indo-Iranian religion, centred on the opposition of Devas and Asuras, was also adopted, along with Indo-European systems of ancestor worship.” (WITZEL 1995a:112) not to mention Indo-European names to replace all their local geographical words, and a sudden mass amnesia about whatever allegedly existed earlier.

The reason why they object to what they are describing being referred to as an “invasion” is because archaeology completely rejects the idea of any major change in the material culture and population in the Harappan area, which would have inevitably resulted from such an invasion:

So much so that (to take just one such example) in an academic volume of papers devoted to the subject by western academicians, George Erdosy, in his preface to the volume, stresses that this is a subject of dispute between linguists and archaeologists, and that the idea of an Aryan invasion of India in the second millennium BCE “has recently been challenged by archaeologists, who ― along with linguists ― are best qualified to evaluate its validity. Lack of convincing material (or osteological) traces left behind by the incoming Indo-Aryan speakers, the possibility of explaining cultural change without reference to external factors and ― above all ― an altered world-view (Shaffer 1984) have all contributed to a questioning of assumptions long taken for granted and buttressed by the accumulated weight of two centuries of scholarship” (ERDOSY 1995:x).

Of the papers presented by archaeologists in the volume (being papers presented at a conference on Archaeological and Linguistic approaches to Ethnicity in Ancient South Asia, held in Toronto from 4-6/10/1991), the paper by K.A.R. Kennedy concludes that “while discontinuities in physical types have certainly been found in South Asia, they are dated to the 5th/4th, and to the 1st millennium B.C. respectively, too early and too late to have any connection with ‘Aryans’” (ERDOSY 1995:xii); the paper by J. Shaffer and D. Lichtenstein stresses on “the indigenous development of South Asian civilization from the Neolithic onward” (ERDOSY 1995:xiii); and the paper by J.M. Kenoyer stresses that “the cultural history of South Asia in the 2nd millennium B.C. may be explained without reference to external agents” (ERDOSY 1995:xiv).

The present report, Narasimhan et al, tries hard to downplay the very vital objection of the archaeologists, by casually referring to it and dismissing it as follows: “Our observation of the spread of Central_ Steppe_MLBA ancestry into South Asia in the first half of the second millennium BCE…” At this point, let us pause to note that they should have said “Our observation of the spread of Central_ Steppe_MLBA ancestry into the Swat Valley in northernmost Pakistan in the late second half of the second millennium BCE…”, and as I have pointed out in my recent book, the chart in their earlier version of the report uploaded on the internet last year (I don’t know if they have cleverly changed it now) gives the lie to even this, since the Swat DNA in their chart is not shown to have the “red” and “teal” ancestral sources contained in the Steppe_MLBA DNA.

Strangely enough, let me quote the article by Girish Shahane written in 2018, listed earlier, to explain why claiming that the Steppe_MLBA DNA, with the red, teal and orange ancestries, when it enters the DNA of the Swat samples,  leaves only one of the three colors (orange) in the Swat DNA “ is like claiming you could mix three colours thoroughly and daub them onto a plain piece of paper in such a way that only one of the three colours was deposited on the paper’s surface“. Any rebuttals to your own argument, Mr. Shahane?

But to continue the shysterish presentation in the Narasimhan et al report: “…If the spread of people from the Steppe in this period was a conduit for the spread of South Asian Indo-European languages, then it is striking that there are so few material culture similarities between the Central Steppes and South Asia in the Middle to Late Bronze Age (i.e. after the middle of the second millennium BCE). Indeed the material culture differences are so substantial that some archaeologists report no evidence of a connection. However, lack of material culture connections does not provide evidence against spread of genes, as has been demonstrated in the case of the Beaker Complex, which originated largely in western Europe but in Central Europe was associated with skeletons that harbored ~50% ancestry related to Yamnaya Steppe pastoralists (18). Thus in Europe we have an unambiguous example of people with ancestry from the Steppe making profound demographic impacts on the regions into which they spread while adopting important aspects of local material culture. Our findings document a similar phenomenon in South Asia…”.

Really?!! Do we really find a “similar” replacement in Central Europe of the teeming millions of a materially rich Harappan-like non-Indo-European civilization mysteriously transformed overnight so completely, with this magical transformation immediately recorded in a new, richly detailed Rigveda-like Indo-European text recording not only the magically transformed new culture of the proportions we have seen above but also a total mass amnesia about that transformation?

So, we must understand why the AIT supporters are so desperate to stop the use of the word “invasion” and why we have to go on throwing that word in their faces.

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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".