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Witzel's philology

Witzel has removed the Rigvedic Aryans from all but the corner of north India according to his philological conclusions. Though the Rigveda mentions samudra, the common Sanskrit term for ocean over 150 times, as the goal of all rivers, as endless in extent and as containing great waves, Witzel will not credit them with knowing the ocean because according to him they didn't portray samudra with the correct salt content! Though the Rigveda is centred on a great river called Sarasvati located between the Yamuna and Sutlej (Shutudri) that flows to the sea, Witzel would turn the real Sarasvati into a small runoff stream in Afghanistan. That the Indian Sarasvati is the site of the great majority of Harappan ruins doesn't count for him either.

While Witzel denied that there was any monsoon mentioned in the Rigveda, when I showed him references, he conveniently placed this Vedic monsoon in the Caspian Sea. He has also located great Vedic sages like Vasishta and Agastya in Afghanistan and nearby Iran, though people in these regions seem to have no record of them or their teachings.

Vanishing Dravidians

What does Witzel think happened in ancient India instead? According to Witzel, the Harappans were a Para-Munda people related to the current aborigines of the country. It was they who produced the great cities and the seals of the Indus civilisation, neither Aryans nor Dravidians who were both intruders from Central Asia.

To quote a long article of his on this subject, "The language of the pre-Rigvedic Indus civilisation, at least in the Panjab, was of a (Para-) Austro-Asiatic nature (Early Sources for South Asian Substrate Languages by Michael Witzel, Mother Tongue, Special Issue, Oct. 1999, pg. 17)." He further claims that "This means Haryana and Uttar Pradesh once had a Para-Munda population that was acculturated by the Indo-Aryans" (p.46). Note the former barbaric invading Aryan hordes have now been reduced to clever perpetrators of `acculturalisation.'

How does Witzel know all this? Has he produced any decipherment of the Indus seals? No, he hasn't dared to. Has he found any ancient Munda records of this type? They are no ancient Munda records of any type. Are his conclusions based upon skeletal remains? No, it all based on his philology.

As aboriginal people, the Mundas have no written records or recorded history. Where they came from and what they spoke in the Harappan era is quite speculative. Such problems don't bother Witzel. His philology can reconstruct unrecorded languages over a period of five thousand years and can override what geology or archaeology might otherwise indicate. With his Munda Harappa, Witzel has the Dravidians entering into Sindh from Iran about the same period as he has the Vedic Aryans coming into the Panjab from Afghanistan (c. 1500 BCE). Like the Vedic Aryans he deems them to be illiterate semi-nomads. "The Dravida entered South Asia from the Iranian highlands. Their oldest vocabulary (Southworth and McAlpin) is that of a semi-nomadic, pastoral group, not of an agricultural community" (pg. 27). Later he states, "Dravidians were not a primary factor in the population of the Indus civilisation," and "the Dravidians apparently were just as foreign to Sindh and its agriculture as the Indo-Aryans to the Panjab" (pg. 37, note this entire section on Dravidian Immigration). He claims the evidence for this is all in the philology, mainly from reconstructing proposed Dravidian and Munda loan words in Vedic texts.

Yes, in the Witzel world it was the aborigines that produced the great civilisation of ancient India and both the Aryans and Dravidians were later uncivilised immigrants from Central Asia who conquered them, stole their culture, replaced their languages and gave them no credit! He has the Dravidians supplanting the Harappan people in Sindh just as the Aryans supplanted them in Panjab. From there he has the Dravidians migrate south, while the Aryans mainly went east, both remarkably preserving their own languages and becoming the dominant peoples of their areas, though originally just small groups of illiterate nomadic migrants!

Not content with one Aryan invasion/migration, Witzel requires a second Dravidian invasion/migration to go along with it! In a non-published proposal of his, he even says that the Munda languages also came to India from S.E. Asia! It seems that anywhere in the world but India can produce languages or peoples.

While these aborigines produced the great Harappan cities and lost all remembrance of their literature and civilisation, he allows the great Vedic literature no real civilisation of its own. The Dravidians fare no better. Their Sangam literature is later and by his account even more suspect than the Vedas.

Witzel quotes favourably a statement at the beginning of this rather long article about India's role as "the cultural diffusion cul-de-sac of Asia" (p.1), an idea that has "kept me occupied on and off over the past few years." This sums up Witzel's view of Indian civilisation — it is the cultural backwater and dead end of Asia, where wandering nomads can go no further, with no real civilisation of its own.

Not surprisingly Witzel has little appreciation for the Vedas, Vedanta, Yoga, Buddhism or anything else India has produced. His extensive bibliographies on ancient India seldom refer to any Indian scholars, and certainly avoid mentioning any yogis like Aurobindo who have different views. You would never find Witzel chanting Om, practicing Yoga or in any other way honouring the great traditions of the region. His anti-India views reflect those of the colonial era which he is continuing. For this reason Witzel is mainly honoured by Marxists in India whose political agenda favours rejecting anything great not only in the Vedas but in Indian civilisation as a whole, which many Marxists following Marx himself see as an invention of the British. However, no one who really studies and loves the Vedas will be fooled by such theatrics. There is much more to the Vedas than Witzel's philology. For my more detailed response to Witzel, please note the web site, or


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