Dialogue  January-March, 2010, Volume 11 No. 3

Indo-European: The Mosaic of Euro-Imperialism

Prof. Lokesh Chandra

The great mind who saw the basic affinity of Classical and contemporary European languages with Sanskrit was William Jones (1746-1793). He was a judge of the Calcutta High Court, an eminent scholar of the Classic, a master of Sanskrit, and above all he conveyed to Europe the beauty of Sanskrit literature in its poetic and dramatic genres. The British administrators were young intellectuals who had a firm grounding in Classical education, as many cultural, political and social institutions had their birth in Classical times. The roots of European civilization lay in Greece and Rome. An understanding of their origin was a valuable preparation for the appreciation of modern problems and they provided clarity for their solution. Besides their socio-political significance, the precision of Greek and Latin, the logic of Latin and the beauty of Greek were unsurpassed in imparting clear thought and expression. Etymology, phonetics, classification of parts of speech, and the precise meaning of words formed a staple element of Greek education since the early 6th century BC. The Renaissance from the 14th century onwards aimed at using Classical antiquity to serve modern man. Before the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, Greek literature was saved from the advance of the Turks. The scientific treatises in Greek gave rise to the natural sciences when learning shifted from the theology of God to the homocentric natural sciences. The largest number of successful candidates in the Classical honors examination at Oxford and the Classical tripos at Cambridge came to the administrative branch of the civil service. Business firms gave preference to trainees with a good grounding in the Classics. Emerging nation states in Europe and expanding Western empires across the globe were inspired by vast conquests of Greece and Rome covering two thousand years from 1500 BC to 500 AD. William Jones was a product of this Classical linguistic culture, political thought of imperialism and European superiority. William Jones gained “great fluency” in Sanskrit and with his deep knowledge of Greek and Latin, he realized the genetic relationship of Sanskrit and European languages in less than four months after he started learning Sanskrit. On 2nd February 1786 he said:

                “The Sanskrit language, whatever may be its antiquity, is of wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could have been produced by accident; so strong that no philologer could examine all the three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and Celtic, though blended with a different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit, and the old Persian might be added to the same family.” (Asiatic Researches 1.422-3)

It became the starting point of comparative linguistics. At once he conceived of “some common source” so that IE (Indo-European) languages were not derived from Sanskrit but from some original extinct language. He also spoke of the “first progenitors of that [Hindu] race before their dispersion” (Asiatic Researches 2.289). Thus he laid down certain basic concepts of (i) an extinct original language, (ii) dispersion of the Hindus leading to the migration and Aryan invasion theory, (iii) Sanskrit as a daughter language like the others. The idea of a lost common ancestor was to relegate Sanskrit to lesser position. How could an impoverished and repressed, decadent and dark India be the roots of European languages? The Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC) speaks of the class of the Greeks with the barbarians i.e. the Persians even when the Persians had won in the battle of Thermopylae. Stunned by the victory of the barbarian armies of Xerxes he investigated the origins and causes of wars and what had led to the victory of the barbarians. He found relief in the fact that Pakthas or Pathans who formed the vanguard were not Persians. To William Jones too Europeans were superior to the Indians and other Asians by reason of their minds, and he cited Aristotle the sage preceptor in the Asiatic Researches in 1801: “Though we cannot agree with the sage preceptor of that ambitious Prince (Alexander) that the Asiaticks are born to be slaves, yet the Athenian poet seems perfectly in the right when he represents Europe as a sovereign princess and Asia as her handmaid”.

To exclude Sanskrit as the origin, inspite of its “wonderful structure”, “more perfect” grammar and “more copious” vocabulary a hypothetical languages was concocted. It had to be spoken by “a people, and they had to have “a” home: both in the singular. An imaginary IE people were envisaged and in the context of the biblical myth of Japhet’s descendants in Iranian lands they were placed in this region in the earlier stages of linguistic studies. To explain the presence of IE languages in far-fetched lands, the theory of “invasions” seemed to be a logical proposition. All these surmises had Biblical undertones of “one” or unicentrism: one language, one people, one homeland, and a uniform pattern of aggression. Unicentrim is a direct offshoot of monotheism with its concomitants of The Absolute, fundamentalism, and finality of a dogma as an unquestionable fact. When Jones wrote his famous letter on the genealogical connection of languages, he must have wondered whether Sanskrit was the foundation of the IE languages, with its rich declension of nouns and conjugation of verbs whose fragments alone could be seen in Greek and Latin. The prefix, root and suffix was clear and alive in Sanskrit, while it was mostly a petrified element in these two languages. The living creativity of Sanskrit was in stark contrast to fossilization of generative grammar in Greek and Latin. With due deference to his Biblical faith and appropriate imperialistic concerns, Jones wrote in diplomatic politeness that they “had the same origin with the Sanskrit”. Jones was fully aware of the highly complex and cultivated civilization of Sanskrit and he stated in his English translation of Sacontala or the fatal ring, an Indian drama, by Calidas (published from Calcutta in 1789): “Whatever the age when drama was first introduced in India, it was carried to great perfection in its kind, when Vicramaditya, who reigned in the first century before Christ gave encouragement to poets, philosophers, and mathematicians at a time when Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanumat”. Please mark the end.

Jones was definitive in his faith in Christianity but wanted to avoid controversies (“the vain warfare of controversial divinity”).

In his article ‘On the philosophy of the Asiaticks’ in the Asiatic Researches 4.174 he wrote: “Our divine religion, the truth of which (if any history is true) is abundantly proved by historical evidence”. The Biblical notion was that all nations of Asia and Europe, besides the Semitic and Hamitic, were descended from Japhet one of the sons of Noah. After Jones, Japhetic was the only term for IE nations and languages. Jones followed the Biblical trail to the Ark whence sons of the three branches of the human family “proceeded from Iran where they migrated at first in great colonies.” It was natural for him to look for the homeland of his forebears in Iran or Central Asia. This track continued to be relevant even after the scientific study of linguistic interrelations and systematic correspondence had replaced the Japhetic theory. Every IE word needed a counterpart in Avesta which was the language of Iran in the Japhetic migration. An analogous case of the Uralic past of the Finns may be cited: “In the 17th century scientific authorities in the country [i.e. Finland] named Noah as our forefather. When the Finish national epic the Kalevala appeared in 1835, the Finns delved into its heroic world to find their roots. Today, we are closer to the truth. … Millenia ago our forefathers wandered from the Volga region to the Gulf of Finland, took a liking to the place and settled down… We hang on to our Uralic language (Pirkko Puoskari, The Finish paradox: eastern tongue, western features, p. 43). The Urgrund of Biblical Truth (with a capital T for theocratic propriety) has to be replaced by scientific facts which are complex because of the several socio-political and ethnical interactions over many millennia. Biblical shimmerings and Eurocentric concepts still condition a correct understanding of the tangle of the evolution of IE languages. 

The mono-nationalism of Europe found expression in the very first words of William Jones and it was confirmed by the first IE linguist Franz Bopp that European languages cannot be considered to be derived from Sanskrit. A hypothetical simplification was sought in the reconstruction of an IE language, an imaginary people who spoke it, a fancied homeland where they lived, and their dispersion to account for the immense geographic distribution. IE invasion of India was a cautious proposition when mooted, but assumed factual certainty as time passed by and most Western linguists have supported it with vehement thoroughness, particularly in Germany.

The 19th century was one of the understandable and visible superiority of Europe in science and law, in experiment and analysis, in constant improvement as perpetually open in all fields of life. Europe had succeeded in conquering vast parts of Asia and Africa in their Drang nach Osten “Push to the East”. This Zeitgest has lasted till our times. Prof. Manfred Korfmann from Tubingen carried out excavations in the city of Troy described by Homer. He said in November 1989: “It was politically essential that the Trojan War can be interpreted as a struggle of the West against the East, Europe against Asia.” The formulations of Jones, innocuous in their wording, had implicit undercurrents of “victor’s justice” of the 18th century, that continues to haunt even Indian academic perceptions, carefully defended by protectionist bounties to scholars.

‘We above all’ (¥uber alles) mindset of European scholarship has escalated into a protection syndrome whereby even if the IE theory has untenable problems it has to be sustained as the Truth. The IE theory is a product of imperialism, evangelism and protectionism. In the new era of globalization, when civilization shines on all countries and on all peoples equally, we need a correct theorization of the multi-level relations of Sanskrit and other languages. It has to be “dogma-free concept” which honors the complexity of interconnections of languages as well as avoids anachronism. How can we equate Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Germanic, Salvic and other groups which are millennia apart in time.  It is a unity in the vast diversity of time and space, which needs new formulation. The romanticized Western notion of the Aryan invasion was the academic counterpart of imperialistic colonization so that India could accept and own an honorable ignominy. The IE theory in Japanese is gyokusai ‘jewel smashing’ which means to smash the jewel of one’s own precious life. The IE people, their original home, and their invasion have remained the “Absolute Defense Zone” with obsessive persistence, and none dare question it.

We can introduce the new term SE (=Sanskrit-European) to denote a family of several distinctive languages (not an original languages or Ursprache), with a strong base of Sanskrit-derived basic vocabulary and inflexion. It is to avoid confusion with the various perceptions of the imperialist Eurocentric and fundamentalist Judeocentric concept of a single protolanguage of Indo-European, a single hypothetical IE people who spoke it, and their Urheimat. Two hundred years of toil and genius have gone into this wild goose chase to keep Sanskrit out. Mallory 1989:94 points out: “That Italy was Indo-Europeanised from some time after 3000 BC and prior to 800 BC there is little doubt,” indicates that Indo-Europeanisation was a linguistic acculturation of non-IE peoples.

Controversial historical phenomena have to be studied in the context of a new world order where imperialism, eurocentrism, theocratism are being replaced by realties. We have to comprehend our past in its totality of international exchanges in prehistoric times as they contributed to far- reaching social and economic changes. Intertribal tiers from the fifth millennium BC onwards have been crucial to the linguistic evolution of common elements in SE (Sanskrit-European) languages. They are reflected in the multi-level vocabulary of the different groups of European languages. The 18th and 19th century tradition is replete with “trimming” history to conform to contemporary political contexts. It has to be replaced by new blueprints of objective analyses. Some linguists have speculated about words that do not exist. The SE languages do not have a common word for ‘tiger’, then where did the hypothetical Urvolk live. Can the absence of a common SE word for ‘milk’ force us to conclude that the babies of the Urvolk did not feed on milk? It questions the very existence of the hypothetical Urvolk, and raises the probability of ethno-diversity as reflected in linguistic dissimilarities. When Hutton’s Theory of the Earth challenged the Biblical account of creation, “custodians of the Pentateuch were alarmed by the prospect that Sanskrit would bring down the Tower of Babel. To anticipate the danger, they pilloried Sanskrit as a priestly fraud, a kind of pidgin-classic concocted by Brahmins from Greek and Latin elements” (Frederick Bodmer, The Loom of Language, London 1945, p.181). In the terminology of the “custodians of the Pentateuch” IE is a ‘concoction’ where Latin holds primacy, for example in IE *ekwos for Skt. a«sva, k of IE reflects q of Latin equus. In Latin equus has no root and is a frozen word, while in Sanskrit asva is from the root as ‘to be master of’: the horse gave mastery over lands, it was the fastest conveyance and hence of strategic importance.

While the monogenetic IE language, a people who spoke it, and their diffusion through migration or invasion was taken for granted, their original home posed insurmountable problems. The imperialistic mind-set of the 19th century gave rise to three implicit or subconscious hypotheses of (i) albinism or a superior white race, (ii) Biblical creationism, and (iii) Eurocentrism. All of them conditioned the location of the homeland of the Indo-Europeans. Mallory (1989:267) represents the (i) first hypothesis in the following words: “Naturally, if these early Aryans were the ancestors of the Europeans, then they too must have been part of the superior white race.” He repeats it on the next page 268: “the common opinion of most scholars prior to the later 19th century was that the Aryan homeland must lie in Asia. While no one doubted that the Aryans belonged to the white race, up until the end of the 1860s most believed that this race originally dwelt somewhere in the vicinity of the Hindu Kush or Himalayas.”

(ii) The Biblical theory is that humanity is the descendent of the sons of Noah and the non-Semitic and non-Hamitic peoples have descendent from his third son Japheth. They lived somewhere in the Mesopotamian region. This has unconsciously led linguists to trace the original homeland in Asia Minor or Central Asia.

(iii) The anti-Romantic attitude of Hegel is inseparable from his criticism of the Romantic glorification of India. “Hegel never loses his Occidental and anthropocentric self-confidence. Such self-confidence reflects Europe’s historical position at the beginning of the 19th century (Halbfass 1988:95). Halbfass (p.96) echoes the feelings of Hegel: “European thought has to provide the context and categories for the exploration of all traditions of thought.” Hegel found “infinite absolute negativity in the thought of F. Schlegel and sharply criticized his Romantic fascination with ancient India. Schlegel had to convert to Catholicism in 1808 and relocated the “cradle of mankind” to Biblical Mesopotamia (Halbfass p. 75).

Hegel was an advocate of the superiority of Europe over the rest of the world and he justified the historical necessity of Europe’s colonial expansion in his Ph¥anomenologie des Geistes (6th edition p.19). In 1870 Lazarus Geiger supported a homeland in Germany. Eight years later, in 1878 Theodor Poeshche, placed the IE in the Pripet marches of Eastern Europe. The IE were fair and the highest incidence of albinism is in Europe. Hegel held the view that history had decided in favour of Europe, and his European horizon transcended all others. Hegelian thought has conditioned most of the future location of the original homeland.

In 1805 Frederick von Schlegel (1772-1829) delivered all languages from Sanskrit (Ma.26). Only three years later, under Hegelian compulsion, in 1808 he gave up the study of Sanskrit, his enthusiasm for India came to an end, he converted to diehard Catholicism, and located the homeland in Biblical Mesopotamia (Halbfass 75). In 1816 Franz Bopp wrote: “I do not believe that Greek, Latin and other European languages are to be considered as delivered from Sanskrit. I feel rather inclined to considere them altogether as subsequent variation of one original tongue” (Ma. 27). Sanskrit was part of Western historical self-exploration, and it was not a study sui generis.

J. Schmidt believed that the IE homeland was adjacent to the Babylonian empire (Ma.37). Tamaz Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Ivanov have published a thematical glossary of IE in two volumes. On the basis of this glossary, material culture (animals, food products, plants) spiritual culture and social structure they conclude that Asia Minor and Northern Mesopotamia could have been the original homeland.

According to Renan the Bible suggests that Central Asia was the home of mankind. In 1859 he placed the IE homeland in the Pamir plateau in Central Asia. In 1873, Albert Pike suggested Sogdiana, in 1888. Max Muller located it “somewhere in Asia”, in 1907 Joseph. Widney devired the IEs from the steppes of Central Asia, and in 1921 C.F. Keary set it between the Jaxartes and the Oxus (JIES. 1.28, 30, 33, 41, 42).

Megasthenes “transferred his observation into his own Greek framework of understanding; only Greek names and concepts are used to describe and interpret Indian cultural and religious phenomena” (Halbfass 1988: 14). The same mind can be observed in the frantic efforts to find a European home of the IE people. Actual data is conflicting and leads to several possibilities. The evidence has been over-interpreted, without consideration of the canons of logic. It is a one-sided subjectivity based on the peak of Europe’s intellectual progress. James Mallory has given a short history of the homeland of the IE peoples, in the Journal of Indo-European Studies (1973:1.21-65). We cite here the views of scholars about it during the last 150 years.

1851       R.G. Latham: Lithuania (p.28)

1852       A. Scheleicher: Caspian Sea (p.28)

1878       Theodor Poesche: Baltic region based on physical anthropology (p.31)

1880       A.H. Sayce: “This Aryan family of speech was of Asiatic origin”

1890       A.H. Sayce: “This Aryan family of speech was of European     origin”. 1927  A.H. Sayce: “it was in Asia Minor that the IE languages developed” (p.143)

1886       Karl Penka: Scandinavia based on linguistic paleontology (p.31-32)

1890       Daniel Briton: Western Europe (p.35)

1890       Otto Schrader: South Russia (p.36-37)

1892       Herman Hirt: Baltic region (p.37)

1902       M. Much: NW Europe (p.38)

1906       Pappe: North Europe (p.40)

1912       F. Knauer: Volga (p.41)

1913       Sigmund Feist: South Russia (p.41)

1922       Harold Bender: Lithuania (p.43)

1922       P. Giles: Pannonian plain of Hungary (p.43)

1926       V. Gordon Childe: SW Russia (p.44)

1934       T. Sulimirski: South Russia (p.47)

1935       Walter Schulz: North or Central Europe (p.47)

1935       Gustav Neckel: North or Central Europe (p.48)

1936       Hans Seger: Europe (p.48)

1936       Julius Pokorny: Central Europe (p.49)

1937       C. Uhlenbeck: from the Aral- Caspian steppes by way of South Russia (p.50)

1939       N.S. Trubetzkoy: between the Finno- Uric and Caucasian   peoples (p.50)

1943       Stuart Mann: North of NE Europe (p.50)

1948       Ernst Meyer: North or Central Europe (p.51)

1953       Pual Thieme: North German – Baltic region (p.54)

1955       High Hencken: SE Europe and SW Russian steppe (p.55)

1957       Hans Krahe: Old European (p.56)

1958       Gustav Schwantes: Northern Europe (p.57)

The racial theories of a Nordic race: the characterization of ‘Old European” by Hans Krahe by the flora and fauna of Europe resulted in a distinctly Europe home. Indo- Iranian was dismissed as a “major problem” (Mallory p.54). Opinions have varied from one extreme to the other: from ‘a common genetic origin’ (a common language, p.53) to the contrary position that ‘a single Ursprache’ was not necessary for explaining the IE languages family (Mallory 1989 p.50). A vague idea of “an indigenous non-IE speaking substratum or an imported IE language” (Mallory p.48) comes up occasionally.

The criteria for the authentic reconstruction of Proto-Indo European (PIE) or Indo-European (IE) were based on (i) Common inflection: the declension of nouns and the conjugation of verbs, (ii) words of common origin preserved in languages situated as far as possible (e.g. Skt. PIE medha, Celtic midvo), (iii) words which existed in the most ancient languages (Skt.yuga, PIE yuga, Hittite yuga: all meaning yoke). The criteria of space and time lent authenticity to the reconstruct.

     The monogentic theory of all IE languages going back to a single hypothetical language faces serious problems;

          (i)   A common word in two or three European languages going which has no cognates in other IE languages esp. Indo-Iranian cannot be IE.

         (ii)   The distinctive flora and fauna of lands is not and cannot be shared in all IE. The names of trees reconstructed for the PIE landscape “have no Asian cognates while there is abundant correspondence in European languages. The basic rule is that there must be at least one cognate in Europe and one in Asia” (Mallory 1989:115).

        (iii)   Even basic words like ‘milk’ and ‘hand’ cannot be reconstructed in IE.

       (iv)   While in most European languages the words for brother and sister are cognates of Skt. bhr"atar and svasar, in Greek they are adelphos ‘brother’ and adelph"e 'sister', and they are again different in Homer kasignetos 'brother' and kasign"et"e ‘sister’. When there are different words for such basic relationships, how can we speak of a monogenetic base of all the SE Languages.

        (v)   IE is such an artificial construct of linguists that it cannot be pronounced. A language has to be and is spoken. When it cannot be uttered, how could it have been a living system of communication or a real language. The word for dog is *pKuon (Ma.275 n.23), and s]mH ‘pair’ (JIES 1.111): can they be pronounced? An American professor came to Delhi to speak on IE culture. I asked him: how do you pronounce IE words. His reply was: they are not meant to be pronounced.

       (vi)   Anna Morpurgo Davies (The linguistic evidence, in G. Cadogan ed., The End of the Early Bronze Age in the Aegean, Leiden, 1986: 93-123) examined and found that Greek vocabulary is 40% of transparent IE etymology, 8% of non-Greek origin, and 52% with no clear etymolory. The most ancient European language is thus 60% non- Indoeuropean. IE is an overlay over ealier languages whose non IE vocabulary survives but whose inflexion has been Indoeuropeanised.

                For example, king in Greek is basileus which is not attested by any another IE language (Burk 1949: 1321). Similary, Gk adelphos ‘brother’ and adelpphe ‘sister’ are non-SE words (ib. 107). They represent the non-SE substratum language.

      (vii)   Julius Pokorny (1936) showed that Spain, Italy and Greek had a non-IE substratum (JIES. 1.49). Marija Gimbutas (1963, 1970) points out that the Old European Civilisation was clearly non-IE (ib. 58).  Mallory says (1989: 258): “we tend to shy away from making the IEs anything but a numerical minority in their relations with the substrates which they eventually assimilated on a broad scale this is probably correct, yet we have no reason to exclude the development of IE majorities in many local situations that brought about the progressive assimilation of non-IE speaking neighbours. Further on, Mallory 1987:258-9 elaborates: “When two languages come into contact, people speaking one of them do not immediately abandon their own and adopt the languages of the other. A prerequisite to language shift is societal bilingualism. This may remain quite stable over a long period but in the case of Indo-European expansions it was obviously a prelude to the adoption of Indo-European. We assume for the expansion of the Indo-European languages that native populations became bilingual for a time, speaking both their own language and adopting that of the intruder. Normally social context determines which language is spoken. For example, natives might have spoken their own languages at home but IE in the market place or at ceremonial activities. If the intrusive language is employed in more and more different contexts, it will eventually lead to the total replacement, or language death as it is sometimes called, of the native language.”

     (viii)   “That Italy was Indo-Europeanised from sometime after 3000 BC and prior to 800 BC there is little doubt.” (Mallory 1989:94). This statement implies that (i) there were already a people who naturally had their language, (ii) their language was IEised by new-comers, (iii) this took place after 3000 BC, (iv) and they were not descendants of a single hypothetical IE language speakers but became members of a new linguistic family as they shared the majority of its vocabulary and inflexion.

       (ix)   Harald Haarmann (1995) deals with “the continuous process of transformation in which non-IE patterns were gradually superceded by IE ones.”

Several strata are embedded in the SE languages, and all have left their traces in the vocabulary. While transformation was going on for millennia in grammar and lexicography, nature specific to the area (like flora and fauna), and social categories that resisted change have retained specific words in different language groups of SE. We can speak of four major strata:

          (i)   The non-SE substratum language

         (ii)   Pan-European vocabulary, as in flora and fauna

        (iii)   Superstratum of Sanskritisation in grammar and basic


       (iv)   Latinisation of European languages in early and later Christian centuries

We have to distinguish between the two layers of IE: (i) Pan-European vocabulary which has nothing to do with Sanskrit and should not be considered IE/PIE. It obviates the problem of the Urheimat, which was never a contiguous geographic area, but several zones inhabited by the pre-IE Celtic, Germanic, Romance, Slavic, Baltic, and other people. (ii) The second layer of IE words is the superstratum of Sanskrit words and inflexions borrowed by the groups that led to an overarching unity of SE languages.

The Sanskritisation of SE languages began around the fifth millennium BC. The time depth for phonetic changes has been estimated by Mallory (p. 145) “broadly within the period 4500-2000 BC. This intuitive sense of reckoning also implies a stratigraphy of IE wherein widely separated linguistic groups must have been Sanskritised at different epochs. The word for God in four language groups is:

Greek theos

Germanic god

Romance, Baltic deus

Slavic bog

Greek theos is not found in any other IE language. It is cognate to Skt. dhi_s]nya]h ‘devout, pious’ of the {Rgveda. It is the earliest word for ‘god’ and represents the first period of Sanskritisation. The second period is represented by the ritualistic term god, from the Skt. root h"u make an offering’. It is to invoke a deity, as in Indrah"u, devah"u, pit_rh"u in the {Rgveda.

The fourth and last period of Sanskritisation is represented by the Slavic bog from bhaga ‘gracious lord’ (applied to gods, esp. Savit_r).

For the ‘day’ there are three main words. (i) GK. emera (no etymology), (ii) Engl. Day, German Tag from Skt. d"agha ‘heat’, nid"agha ‘summer’, (iii) Slavic/Baltic de«n, diena from Skt. dina.

The hydronymy of Eastern Europe includes the major rivers whose names are from d"anu ‘river’ in the {Rgveda. The Don, Dnieper (from d"anu apar"a ‘river to the rear’), Dniester, Danube (Celtic Danuvius) (Mallory p.78 fig. 48). Skomal and Polome explain the Baltic river names Indus, Indura, Indra as related to Skt. indu ‘drop’ (ib. 276).




The Sanskrit speakers must have travelled along rivers in the early millennia (5000-2000 BC), as the population lived on them. Even in 2000 BC Europe was a dark forest. As they faced opposition from the residents on the rivers (d"anu), they became d"anava who are implacable enemies of the devas in the {Rgveda. The word d"anu in RV 1.54.7 means a class of demons.

Indian merchants must have gone to these distant and dangerous lands of Europe for trading purposes. India had a strong agricultural economy with oil from sesame and other seeds, as distinct from lard used for cooking in Europe to this day. Pliny has said that clothes grow on plants in India, referring to cotton which provided the most comfortable and aesthetic dressing material, again in contrast to the use of animal skins for garments in Europe, so much so that it survives in cotton wool. India had discovered the sugar-came for manufacturing sugar, while the rare honey was the only sweetening agent elsewhere in the early millennia. How early are such discoveries and what is their role in Indian trade with the West?

Mallory (p.145) says: “the evidence of IE vocabulary indicates that the PIEs should have existed broadly within the period 4500-2500 BC”. This time-depth of 2000 years for the development of phonetic changes is realistic. The Sanskritisation of the language groups happened in waves of migrants at different times and hence the differences in vocabulary are marked. The horse was introduced in the West in the second millennium BC. The word asva shows three streams of correspondence:

          (i)   Skt. a«sva Hieroglyphic Luwian asuwa, Mitanni asus-sanni ‘horse-trainer’ (Sanskrit asva-sani).

         (ii)   Avesta aspa, GK hippos, Gaulish epo-. The p is from Avesta, where Skt. va becomes pa.

        (iii)   Lat. equ-us, Toch. A yuk Toch. B. yakwe, Mycenean i-qo, Venetic eku-, Old Irish ech, where Skt. «s is q or kh.

Mallory (p. 115) notes: “A survey of the standard IE handbooks reveals that anywhere from three to eighteen trees have been reconstructed for the PIE landscape. The main problem here lies in the paucity of cognate names in any of the Asiatic languages and the abundance of correspondence that can be found in the European languages.” Where these trees did not exist in the area where Sanskrit and Avesta were spoken, it is natural that these languages had no names for them. The words for trees are the Pan-European stratum of every languages group and to put them into the PIE is to force the argument.

The discovery of Mehrgarh of the seventh millennium BC documents sedentism, the beginning of food production and the village farming way of life (Possehl 1990:261). The earliest stratum evidences domesticated barley, wheat and Indian jujube (Hindi ber). These Indians must have travelled across the wooded lands for trade from the fifth millennium BC onwards. In the process Sanskrit vocabulary and inflexions were introduced into the local languages as the Indians were more advanced than the local populations. They completely merged with them and the linguistic innovation of a Sanskrit vocabulary and inflexions were thus an integral part of the languages spoken by persons of differing ethnic identity. In the 14-15th centuries BC the Mitanni were Indians who ruled over a Hurrian population. A Mitanni King Matiw"aza concludes a treaty with the Hittite king Suppiluliumas in ca 1380 BC where he swears by Hurrian gods followed by Vedic gods Mitra, Varu]na, Indra and N"asatya. A treatise on horse-training and chariotry by Kikkuli the horse-trainer (assussani-Skt. a«svasani) from the land of Mitanni has Sanskrit numerals for the courses that a chariot makes about a track: aika (eka), tera (tri), panza (pañca), satta (sapta) and na (nava). This text was discovered from the Hittite capital. The Mitannis introduced horse-drawn war chariots and replaced the ass in West Asia. This “militarisation” became a potent force in the rise of Mesopotamian cities and civilization. The horse had a military function and a sovereign function by enhancing the power of expansion. The Sanskrit word a«sva is from the root a«s ‘to become master of’ in the {Rgveda, ‘to pervade, penetrate, fill’ in Y"aska. Indians enshrined the sovereign function of the horse into the word a«sva itself. The mobility of the Indians was enhanced by the horse, and gave them an opportunity to dominate large political territories: that is how the Indian Mitannis (Skt. Maitrâyani) could govern the Hurrians, though ultimately they merged into them. The Mitanni empire lay in Northern Syria but they expanded from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Zagros mountains. They came into conflict with the Egyptians. They exported horse-drawn war-chariots to Egypt. The Egyptian king married the daughter of the Mitanni King Sutarna. In 1410 BC King Tvi]sratha of the Mitanni wrote a letter to the king of Egypt. Tvi]sratha means having a ‘chariot of terror’. The names of some other kings of the Mitanni are: Artasumara (Skt. {Rtasmara), Artad"ama ({Rtadh"am"a), Matiw"aza (Mativ"aja), ParÃsasatar (Para-«s"astar), Saušsatar (Sauk]satra), Sudarna or Sutarna (Sudhara]na). The maryannu or military nobles in the Mitanni state were men of rank who could support a chariot or two horses who could be summoned for service to the king in any emergency. In the {Rgveda the marya are retainers of Indra, always in chariots with the war-god. The science of warfare of the Indians had a striking power that was bound to have linguistic repercussions.

In the 16th century B.C. Indian deities Suriaš (S"urya) and Marutaš ‘Wind God’ are invoked by the Kassites.

The terms of chariotry have cognates in the IE languages. The word ratha is attested in Iranian, Italic, Celtic, Baltic and Germanic. Words for wheel/wagon, shaft of a wagon, harness, axle, navel, yoke have correspondence to Sanskrit. Hannas A. Potratz (Das Pferd in der Fruhzeit, 1939) says that horse-training must have been introduced in the 18th century BC to West Asia. The kingdoms of Hittite, Kassite and Mitanni kings in West Asia and their military superiority had far-reaching consequences. Young Achaean or Greek princes were sent to the Hittite capital for training in chariotry. The new military strategy enabled the Achaeans to destroy the Cretan capital Knossos in the 15th century. In 1180 BC they destroyed Troy. Kings of Greece in the second millennium BC were the sons of Zeus or Dyau]s. According to the Homeric epics, Zeus was armed with lightning with which he exterminated his enemies.

The might of the Indian horse and chariot, the superior technologies of India arisen out of agricultural development, the sophistication of language that promoted both poetic elegance and technical precision, made Sanskrit a universal language from the fifth millennium onwards. Crucial words of SE languages were derived from Sanskrit and their inflexion was substituted by that of Sanskrit. The time depth, pronunciation habits (s became kh or c of centum) and other factors led to phonetic changes. In the long historic processes of evolution, words of the earlier substratum, Pan-European words, SE words, and the enrichment of European languages by Latin in the early centuries of the Christian era are the clearly definable multi-stratum of SE languages. A hypothetical IE language never existed, there could be no speakers and no home (Urheimat). The only constraint has been: how could European scholars say that Sanskrit the language of subject Indians (in 19th century) gave rise to the languages of Europe over a time-depth of about three millennia (5000-2000 BC).

India needs a new, creative, un-biased vision of her history by scholars whose spirit absorbs her expanse, the strength of her land, her vastness and will (krnvanto viœvam âryam). This historic quest has to roam about the visions of the rich past millennia as well as the dreams of the limitless possibilities of the future. To cite the great poet Rabindranath Tagore: “Fortunate countries find the everlasting image of their land in their own history. It is history that serves as the introduction to one’s own country during one’s childhood itself. In our case it is just the opposite thing that happens: it is the history of our country that has kept our own land obscured to us.”

A review of the chronology due to new archaeological discoveries with the knowledge of ultramodern technology, will reveal that our roots, hundreds and thousands of them, have been the spiritus movens of the very heart of our land and people for the last ten thousand years. The eerie hush of time invites a new look on the roots and the top where the head of Bharata soars into the sky.

                                                                                                            Literature Cited

Buck 1949

Carl Darling Buck, A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal IE languages, The University of Chicago Press. 

Davies 1986

Anna Morpurgo Davies, The linguistic evidence, in G. Cadogan (ed), The End of the Early Bronze Age in the Aegean, Leiden.

Haarmann 1995

Harald Haarmann, Early Civilisation and Literacy in Europe, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter.

Halbfass 1988

Willhelm Halbfass, India and Europe, State University of New York Press.

JIES = The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 1 No. 1, 1973.

Ma = James Mallory, A short history of the Indo-European problem, JIES 1973: 1.21-65.

Mallory 1989

J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-European: Languages, Archaeology and Myth, London, Thames and Hudson. 

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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