Wrong on Sanskrit entry
By Sudhakar Raje
Encyclopedia Americana's?Sanskrit? entry, written by Murray B. Emeneau of the University of California at Berkeley, is a typical example of Indology as practised in the West. Its edifice stands mainly on the twin pillars of an Aryan Invasion and an Indo-European Language. Both these theories are myths. A number of reputed Indian scholars, including some from abroad (comprising the US) have conclusively established that, first, there was no such invasion, and secondly, a language or language group called ?Indo-European? is a figment of the imagination.
String of uncertainties
The entry opens with a string of uncertainties: Bands of ?Indo-European? speakers ?seem? to have wandered around a lot. Some of them invaded the Indus Valley ?probably? sometime in the second millennium BC, this chronology being ?very uncertain?. These nomads ?seem? to have come across the advanced Harappans, whom they ?apparently? subjugated and enslaved. These Harappans were ?possibly? Dravidians.
Puranas make a very clear statement about the emigration of major sections of Vedic Indians to strange and distant lands to the north and west.
Max Muller'sdiscarded hypothesis
As many as five linguistic theories have been pressed into service for identifying the original home of the Aryans in various locations, ranging from Poland to Arctic Russia. Among them Prof. Emeneau has chosen for advocacy the Central Asia theory proposed by Max Muller, the father of the invasion idea, in his Biography of Words, according to which the Aryans originated in the region around Samarkand or the Plateau of Pamir.
Max Muller himself abandoned it later, and veered to the view that it was hazardous to say anything beyond that the Aryans originated somewhere in Asia (which does not exclude India). Emeneau, however, clings to the original, but discarded, hypothesis, and opens his essay with it to dub the Aryans foreign invaders. If he had, instead, traced a little more closely the ancient population migrations as chronicled by the world'sancient most available record, the Rig Veda, he would have seen that the supposedly unassailable evidence of linguistics advanced by his mentor has nothing substantial to offer against Aryans migrating from rather than into India.
Substantial Rigvedic evidence
Clear evidence of the westward movements of these ancients is provided by the Rig Veda in its description of Dasarajnya, the ?Battle of Ten Kings?. This battle took place around 4500 BC between the Trtsu King Sudasa and a confederacy of 10 peoples, namely, Pakhta, Bhalana, Alina, Siva, Visanin, Simyu, Bhrgu, Prthu, and Parsu. The Druhyu king defeated in this battle was Angara. The next Druhyu king, Gandhara, migrated to the north-west and gave his name to the Gandhara country (now distorted into Kandahar).
Having narrated this the Puranas make a very clear statement about the emigration of major sections of Vedic Indians to strange and distant lands to the north and west. As many as five Puranas state that the descendents of Prachetas, the last king mentioned in most Puranas, spread out into regions to the north and west of India and founded kingdoms there. The Puranas refer to ?hundreds of sons? of Prachetas, thus making it clear that it was not the conquests by kings that was being referred to, but large-scale emigration.
The ?Indo-European? myth
The concept of an Indo-European language is the other major myth of Western Indology with which Emeneau opens his essay, so it needs to be examined in depth.
To start with, there is no unanimity on the nature of the hypothetical Indo-European. To mention only a few of the divergent views, Max Muller, Burrow and Thieme have postulated different forms of Indo-European. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that there are as many Indo-Europeans as there are philologists.
Further, the very need to postulate an Indo-European language has been questioned by at least four internationally reputed linguists?Solta, Pissani, Allen and Trubetskoy, who do not regard it as necessary to postulate the existence of an Indo-European language for explaining similarities among the languages subsumed under this category. According to them the similarities could well have arisen through borrowing. The present entry does not show any awareness of their work.
The languages classified as the Indo-European group are claimed to possess the following similarities: 1) The roots and bases of these languages are to a great extent the same, that is, they have a similar phonology. 2) The way in which nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech are formed from these roots is essentially the same. 3) The morphology or the inflexional and conjugational change of words, signifying relationship within the sequence are of the same nature. 4) The pronouns, numerals, and some of the most common words, for example those for family relationships, are the same. These are the most essential words in a language and will not be given up in favour of those belonging to a strange medium.
All these suppositions are misconceptions. For instance, Indian languages have not descended from English, but if we apply these criteria to many modern usages in them we would have to regard English as the ancestor of all Indian languages. Further, the belief that borrowing is confined only to words, not to grammatical formations, is mistaken. English has borrowed full French phrases, whereas there are Indian languages like Marathi in which many English words are freely borrowed along with their grammatical formations. Thus the view that grammatical formations cannot be explained by borrowing is untenable. The contention that words for family relationships and numbers will not be borrowed has also been falsified by widely prevalent modern usages in Indian languages.
If the basis principle in the classification of ?Indo-European? is thus found to be untenable, no great effort is required to show that the attempt to reconstruct the original ?Indo-European? on the basis of the known languages classified as Indo-European is an exercise in futility.
In fact, if the Indo-European hypothesis is to be carried to its logical end we are driven to the ridiculous conclusion that speakers of this language lived in a place where there was no air and no water, since there is no word (root) for air and water, which is common to all ?Indo European? languages. In other words, the whole argument is based on imaginary words in an imaginary language.
The Aryan-Dravidian myth
There is yet another aspect to the linguistic basis of the Aryan invasion theory which Prof. Emeneau advocates in the beginning of his essay and which is equally questionable. It is that Aryans were foreigners and the Dravidians natives. This Aryan-Dravidian divide is a myth. A philological differentiation between an ?Indo-European? group of languages and a Dravidian group is not borne out by Indian languages. For instance, Tamil has greater similarity with Sanskrit than English, and yet English is classified as an Indo-European language, but not Tamil. Caldwell'sten differentia on the basis of which he labels Tamil a Dravidian language are wholly applicable to Hindi, considered Indo-European, and this makes Hindi a Dravidian language! So also, seven of Caldwell'sdifferentia are applicable to Marathi, another ?Indo-European? language, and six to Sanskrit. According to Caldwell'scriteria, therefore, Marathi is 70 per cent and Sanskrit 60 per cent Dravidian! In such an absurd situation what remains of the ?Indo-European versus Dravidian? classification of languages? Caldwell was ignorant of Indian languages like Hindi and Marathi, and his writings show that he did not have more than hearsay knowledge of Sanskrit.
To give just one example, from time immemorial Vedic Indians have been using a luni-solar calendar. The origin of this calendar is to be found in the Rig Veda.
The Aryan invasion myth
Now the myth of an Indo-European language is integrally related to the Aryan invasion myth. In fact, these two main myths of Western Indology are interdependent. For if the Aryans, whom Prof. Emeneau first calls Indo-European speakers and then calls Indo-Aryan speakers, came from outside, the inevitable corollary would be that the language they spoke came from outside. But there was no such language in the first place, it was imaginary. So tribes speaking it invading India, specifically the advanced, civilized Dravidian-speaking Harappans, were equally imaginary. As Waradpande succinctly sums it up in the very title of his book on the subject, the Aryans were mythical, so their invasion was mythical.
Aryans? amazing astronomy
Finally, Prof. Emeneau'spicture of the Vedic Aryans being a nomadic tribe defying natural phenomena in a primitive fashion blatantly contradicts not only the very subtle and highly enlightened metaphysics of the Upanishads, whose beginning can already be seen in the Vedas, but also the amazingly advanced knowledge of astronomy they possessed. Both the Rig Veda and the related Vedic literature contain impressively accurate sophisticated calendaric astronomy, as well as advanced and modern concept like the heliocentric theory. In fact, all Vedic literature, says Dr B.G. Sidharth, show a continuous astronomical tradition from before 10,000 BC. To give just one example, from time immemorial Vedic Indians have been using a luni-solar calendar. The origin of this calendar is to be found in the Rig Veda. Thus, Varuna (literally, the ?all-encompassing? (knows the 12 moons) that is, the twelve 29.5-day months of a normal lunar year of 354 days). At the same time, he also knows the ?moon of later birth? (that is, thirteenth the intercalated month, added periodically to reconcile the lunar year of 354 days with the solar year of about 365 days (R.V.I-25). A primitive society cannot be expected to calculate the year or the lunar month or other astronomical periodicities to such a high degree of accuracy. This, in fact, points not to an illiterate nomadic tribal society, but rather to a well-settled, agrarian scholarly people. (The very word ?Arya? means one who ploughs, an agriculturist.)
Latin no comparison
Prof. Emeneau compares the position of Latin in Europe with the position of Sanskrit in India, and says the situation with Sanskrit is very much like that of Latin, which was the vehicle of classical and medieval culture of Europe, and ?still lives today in the liturgical and other writings of the Roman Catholic Church?. This comparison is deeply flawed, because in quite a few important respects Latin stands no comparison with Sanskrit.
In the first place, an important fact ignored here is that most European languages have not descended from Latin. (According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary chart only five European languages have descended from Latin, while nearly 30, including English, have non-Latin origins.) Whatever similarity one sees between Latin and these languages is largely due to the political influence of the Roman empire, where Latin was the official language.
While giving the Latin roots of English words the Concise Oxford Dictionary has categorised that root-language variously as Latin, Old Latin, Medieval Latin, Late Latin, Modern Latin, and even Ecclesiastical Latin. According to it, ?Modern Latin? is about 500 years old (the same as ?Modern English?) and ?Late Latin? 1400 to 1800 years old. Beyond this it gives no information on the age of the language. On the other hand, the history of Vedic hymn-making establishes that Vedic Sanskrit goes back to around 8000 BC, while even Pre-Classical/Classical Sanskrit (Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panini, Amarakosa?, Kalidasa ) is estimated to be 2500 to 3000 years old.
A vital distinction between Sanskrit and Latin in the modern context, of which Emeneau seems to be unaware, is that, unlike Latin, Sanskrit is not confined to what Emeneau calls ?liturgical? purposes even today. Sanskrit always had a large body of secular literature, ranging from epics and plays to stories (Katha-Sarit-Sagar is the world'slargest story collection), fables (which have traversed the whole world) and the world'sfirst ?novel? (Kadambari). This tradition continues to date in the form of journals and even newspapers that have been published in Sanskrit, news is given in Sanskrit on the government channel on Television, there are Sanskrit universities, the world-famous IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) offer courses in Sanskrit, and, thanks to the efforts of an organisation promoting Sanskrit as a spoken language, there are areas in some Indian cities and even a few entire villages where Sanskrit is used as the general means of communica-tion All this goes to show that Sanskrit is very much a living language, while Latin is dead for all practical purposes outside the Vatican.