Bhagwan Singh versus Michael Witzel!

Michael Witzel: rattled rat at IIC

Bhagwan Singh

22 July 2009

I was really sorry for Prof. Michael Witzel. After all, he was our honoured guest! Dr. Singh should not have pounced on him so mercilessly, playing the cat and the rat game – the cat looking ascetically resigned tossing the rat, the rat pretending to be dead, breathlessly looking from the corner of his eye to judge the cat’s next move, running for his life, only to be pounced upon and tossed up again. The Chair kept smiling all through at this plight of the powerful brainy Harvard Professor of Sanskrit!

Frankly, I enjoyed the wild play. Prof. Witzel was in a state of trauma: nervous, edgy, twitching his lips, dropping his eyelids recurrently, looking askance to avoid his interlocutor, constantly using his hanky to rub his nose, murmuring something inaudible to explain his errors, occasionally seeking help from his votaries who were present in good number, but more ignorant than their demi-god, and hence themselves dazed. Singh smiled all the way, his smile mischievous, eyes sadistically aglitter, untrue to his true nature, but true to the occasion.


The occasion was a lecture on the Rgveda by Prof. Michael Witzel, at the India International Centre, on 10 July 2009. Presided over by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, it was attended by scholars of different hues and expectations. No one suspected that Witzel with his claim to be a ranking Vedic scholar knew so little that he could not answer a single query. Indeed, he appeared blank as far as the Rgveda was concerned. He rose nervously to speak on the Veda, but actually spoke on the Aryan migration from Afghanistan to Punjab !

The lecture merely reiterated what Prof. Witzel has written years ago: that north-western India was populated by Munda speaking people when Indo-Aryan speakers arrived on the scene. Old Indo-Aryan was influenced by the substrate Proto-Munda. He proposed a time bracket of 1500-1250 BC for composition of the Rgveda and suggested Book IV and Book VI were the oldest, advantage Book IV.

Witzel painted Rgvedic society as nomadic pastoralist, illiterate and with little interest in agriculture and sedentary life. There was virtually nothing in his speech that was not lifted from nineteenth century archives. He showed no awareness of recent researches in archaeology, anthropology, literature or historical linguistics, and presented even Kuiper with his pathological distortions.

Many archaeologists and professors of history attended the lecture, including your writer, Vedic scholar Bhagwan Singh. When the floor was thrown open for discussions, Bhagwan Singh introduced himself as the author of The Vedic Harappans, and said that his data contradicted each and every statement made by Witzel; he sought permission to exchange notes on a few issues. With the Chair’s permission, Singh said:

– You have reordered the Rgvedic strata, rating IV and VI to be the oldest and the rest belonging to intermediate and late stages. I have no objection to your sequence, but find your chronology miserably on the lower side. There is a reference to white pottery in one verse in Book IV (4.27.5). White pottery is a distinctive feature of Hakra Ware dated to 3000 BC. This goes against your dating of 1500-1250 BC for the Rgveda.

Witzel was dumbstruck. He murmured something inaudible, avoiding the audience, looking sideways. He tried to explain that the sequence arranged by him was based on the number of verses in a book, the smallest being the oldest. It caused Kapila ji and others to smile openly. I could not make out the reason and reminded him that Book IV is shorter than Book VI; but the shortest book is Book II! So here again, he was caught on the wrong foot.

He hesitantly managed, “There is no evidence of chariot or horse in India earlier than the mid-second millennium.”

–         But Professor, the aśva in Rgveda, whatever could it have been, was brought from sea bound areas, even the aśva in the horse sacrifice, mentioned in Book I, hymn 163.

Prof. Witzel had no choice but to bite his lips in desperation.

–         You say that the wheel and chariot were invented by Aryans when they were in Central Asia , but in the Book IV itself, Bhr.gus are given the credit for manufacturing wheels (4.16.20). Chariot and wheel was therefore not Aryan, but a Dravidian invention.

Witzel pretended that the inventors might have been Aryans and manufacturers Dravidians! He now forgot the antiquity of Book IV, which according to his suggestion, could have been written in Central Asia, older even than Book VI, composed entirely in Northern Afghanistan ; Dravidian speakers must have been there as well.

–         You talk of substrate effect of Proto-Munda and suggest no role of Proto-Dravidian at the early stage. But Kipper had concluded that three ethnic groups participated in a cultural process. The three are conspicuously present in the Rgveda, Bhr.gus Dravidian, Angirasas Mundari, besides the Sanskrit speakers.

Prof. Witzel mumbled something for a minute; his nervousness was apparent in his evasive gestures.

Kapila ji must have taken pity at his visible discomfort. She invited others to raise doubts, if they had any. Someone at the extreme end of the hall asked a question on the distorted reading of the Sankhyayan Śrautasutra, which had exposed his culpability half a decade back. Witzel responded by referring to an article written by him, without telling us what his defence was!

After a few worthless queries, the debate shrunk back to Michael Witzel, Kapila Vatsyayan, and Bhagwan Singh.

–         The problem with you, Professor, is that you are not familiar with the content of Book IV even. Hymn 57 of Book IV gives a graphic depiction of advanced agriculture, with a plough almost similar to the one that was common in India up to the mid-twentieth century, drawn by a pair of bullocks and driven by a ploughman in service. And in one of the Ŗics, the poet talks of milking the earth as a cow, year after year. It testifies to advanced agricultural activities with sedentary population and belies the myth of nomadism, pastoralism, and barbarity.

The Chair could not hold her laughter; Witzel shook in dismay.

The last nail was hammered by Kapila ji herself. In a jocular vein, she said, “The theme of the lecture was Rgveda. Vedic poetry is known for its sublimity and rare beauty. I expected Prof. Witzel to speak something on it, but he did not say even a word on the theme.”

Witzel agreed that the Hymns on Uşā are really beautiful.

I interjected, “not only Uşā Sūktas professor, the entire Rgveda. Some of it could never be surpassed, such as the Nāsdīya Sūkta, with such expression as tama āsīt tamasā gūlhmagre, darkness was entrapped within darkness.

All in all, it was an interesting evening, if not for the presentation by Prof. Witzel, then for his discomfiture.

Prof. Bhagwan Singh is a Marxist scholar who accepted the archaeological evidence against the theory of Aryan invasion of India

Tags: , , , ,

24 Responses to “Bhagwan Singh versus Michael Witzel!”

  1. vedaprakash Says:

    Remember what Wichael Witzel wrote on July 19, 2009:

    …Nothing untoward happened, except that the infamous Hindutvavadin Bhagwan Singh (who has identified the Indus and the Vedic civilizations)
    refused to give his name in the question period. He did so only after the chair, Kapila Vatsyayana, had insisted 3 times. His aim: he wanted me to publicly revoke a one line sentence in an old, 1995 paper. I merely referred him to a paper of mine of 2001, end of discussion. — This talk at the India International Centre was well attended by the general public. However I saw a watchman there too.

    Thus, it is evident that Witzel-like people have decided to use and exploit the “Hindutva-bogey” to counter / accuse every thing instead of using their so-called acquired wisdom / knowledge.

    Really, if Kapila Vatsyayan or others also give their accounts, it would be more revealing.

  2. vedaprakash Says:

    Dr N. S. Rajaram has responded like this:

    Bhagwan Singh is a Vedic scholar and author of The Vedic Harappans (Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi). I am struck by Bhagwan singh’s description: “Prof. Witzel was in a state of trauma: nervous, edgy, twitching his lips, dropping his eyelids recurrently, looking askance to avoid his interlocutor,…”

    This is exactly how I saw him react when I confronted him at Dartmouth at a seminar organized by Dr. Balram Singh.

    It is further support that we should focus on issues and foundations and not spend too much time on personalities like Witzel.

  3. vedaprakash Says:

    It is surprising that the scholars, historians and others have been rehashing the old stuff without updating Indian history. In the name of science and scientific methodology, it is intriguing to note that they have been forcing falsities on the people, In fact, why these people say “Germans” with professorship from “Wales” working in “America” and coming to “India” and talking about the old stuff that “Aryans” came from outside?


    Witzel’s theory about the Aryan invasion is that “the actual movement of Indo-Iranian speakers must have involved a succession of waves,”32 and that all the historical Indoaryans and Iranians, ie. the speakers of Rgvedic and post-Rgvedic Skt., of Median and Persian, and of the various Avestan dialects are representatives of some of the later waves that entered the Indo-Aryan area.”33

    Thus, Witzel’s theory involves the old division of the Aryan invasion into two waves: an older wave of pre-Vedic Aryans, and a later wave of Vedic Aryans.

    The pre-Vedic Aryans, according to him, were the four tribes, the Yadus, TurvaSas, Anus and Druhyus: “By the time of composition of most Rgvedic hymns, the Yadu-TurvaSa and the Anu-Druhyu had already been well-established in the Punjab” They retain only the dimmest recollection of their move into South Asia.”34 These tribes “do not figure much in the Rgveda.”35

    The Vedic Aryans proper were “the PUru, and their subtribe the Bharata, who play a major role in most books ;”36 and it is “the PUru to whom (and to their dominant successors, the Bharata) the Rgveda really belongs.”37

    But even here, Witzel sees two waves of invasion after the earlier settlement of the four tribes in the Punjab: “The next wave is represented by the PUru, although their movement into the subcontinent had also become a done deed by the time most Vedic hymns were composed. The PUru are thus included among the “Five Peoples” whom they initially dominated. Finally, the PUru contained a subtribe, the Bharatas, who were the latest intruders and who thoroughly disturbed the status quo.”38

    All these different tribes, in different waves, came into the Punjab from the northwest, according to Witzel: “Their previous home is, thus, clearly the mountainous country of Afghanistan to the west (especially along the Haraxvaiti-Helmand and Haroiiu-Herat rivers corresponding to the Vedic SarasvatI and Sarayu).”39

    The Rigveda was composed by the priests of the PUrus and the Bharatas, and “most of Rgveda was composed as the PUru and the Bharata were moving into the Panjab. Portions composed before the PUru assumed a central role in the Panjab (in about three generations) were subsequently recast in their style.”40 [Here, incidentally, Witzel suggests a phenomenon roughly similar to that suggested by scholars like Pargiter and Shendge, who visualise parts of the Rigveda being already in existence in the Punjab before the arrival of the Vedic Aryans, and being revised and incorporated by the Vedic Aryans into their text. But while these parts, according to Pargiter and Shendge, were originally composed by non-Aryans in their non-Aryan language, Witzel sees them composed by non-Vedic Aryans belonging to an earlier wave of invasions.]

    The corpus of the Rigveda was thus, according to Witzel, “composed primarily by the PUrus and Bharatas, and spans the story of their immigration.”41

    And here we come to the crux of Witzel’s endeavour: Witzel’s main purpose in analysing the Rigveda is to reconstruct a chronological and geographical framework out of the data in the Rigveda, which will corroborate his theory of the migration of Aryans from Afghanistan into the Punjab.

    And the chronological and geographical picture he reconstructs from this data places the six Family MaNDalas in the following order: II, IV, V, VI, III, VII. Among the non-family MaNDalas, he counts MaNDala VIII among the early MaNDalas, probably after MaNDala IV or MaNDala VI, but definitely before MaNDalas III and VII.

    According to him, MaNDala II, which he refers to repeatedly as “the old book 2” 42 is the oldest MaNDala in the Rigveda. This MaNDala ‘focuses on the Northwest, in the mountains and in the passes leading into South Asia from Afghanistan.’43 During this period, the Vedic Aryans were still ‘fighting their way through the NW mountains passes’44, and had not yet entered India proper.

    The subsequent MaNDalas record “the story of the immigration: the initial stages (beginning with their stay still on the western side of the Sindhu) in books 4, 5, 6 and 8, and the final stage ( including the defection of the PUrus and the victory of the Bharatas in the battle of the ten kings) in books 3 and 7.”45

    MaNDala IV, which Witzel refers to as “the comparatively old book 4�,46 represents the commencement of their movement into India, but �still places the Bharatas on the far western side of the Sindhu.”47

    Witzel’s geographical picture of the Rigveda, with the MaNDalas arranged in his chronological order, is as tabulated in the chart on the next page.

    Witzel thus concludes that he has established the immigration of the Aryans into India on the basis of an analysis of the Rigveda.

    We will now proceed to examine his analysis and his conclusions.

  4. vedaprakash Says:

    “Sandhya Jain” has reported that there have been two comments, as mentioned below:

    M. Pande

    I was present at the lecture and was amused to hear some old and discarded text-book material from the Harvard professor. Bhagwan Singh’s questions to MW remained unanswered since the Professor could not find any answer. Kudos to Bhagwan Singh and to vijayvaani for informing those interested.


    I am glad MW was exposed at Delhi whereas he was shielded and protected in Chennai. He lives in the last century, pretending to be a great philologist and historian whereas he is supposed to have studied Sanskrit. Now even his knowledge of Sanskrit is exposed to be dubious.He has been pushed into India by people like N.Ram of The Hindu.

  5. vedaprakash Says:

    The Indian responses are posted here to show that the biased research against Indian cannot be accepted.

    From: Virendra Parekh
    To: witzel@fas.harvard. edu
    Cc: Sandhya Jain
    Sent: Thursday, July 23, 2009 5:08 PM
    Subject: Fw: from Michael Witzel to Sandhya Jain

    Dear Mr. Witzel,

    The interaction between yourself and Dr. Bhagwan Singh both at IIC in New Delhi and your response to his article in your mail to Sandhya Jain are characteristic of the entire debate on the AIT.

    (1) You were invited to speak on Rgveda and you devoted the speech, largely if not wholly, to the AIT. The Rgveda makes no reference to Aryan migration into India , and your speech had no reference to actual contents of that great and sacred book. In fact, in the whole body of ancient Sanskrit literature, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Vedic Aryans came to India from outside; there is no mention, reference or even allusion to any previous homeland of the composers to Rgveda. And yet, that has not prvented the likes of you to make careers out of a Nineteenth Century concoction.

    (2) Dr. Bhagwan Singh was clear, specific and consistent. He backed his assertions with hard facts and flawless logic. In your mail to Sandhya Jain, you relied on emphatic but unconvincing denial, relying on your authority, such as it is. In the AIT debate also, the opponents of AIT cite concrete facts and back their conclusions with irrefutable logic. AIT supporters just ignore them and keep repeating old and disproved certainties.

    (3) Dr. Singh was able to refute your internal chronology of Rgveda as also the date of Rgveda. Srikant Talageri ( a name I know you are familiar with) has done a great work on the internal chronology of Rgveda’s Mandalas. If only you had read him instead of abusing him, your replies on the subject would have been more consistent and factual.

    (4) That brings me to the last, but not the least important, feature of the debate. People who know very little about ancient India , who have little sympathy or understanding of its great civilisation, have managed to occupy positions of great authority and prestige that should have gone more deserving people. From the olympian heights of their official positions, these intellectual pigmies dominate the debate. It is below their dignity to even to look at the work done by others. It is even more below their dignity to give any evidence in support of their opinions.

    Once in a while, as it happens, they meet the likes of Bhagwan Singh. And then the truth about the emperor’s clothes is out.

    Virendra Parekh

  6. satyam Says:

    Bhai lagta hai ab Bitzel nahin aayega India mud ke, itni chaante khaane ke baad aur itni be-izzati hone ke paschaat. Baawle ko raat ke supne mein Bhagwan Singh ji hi dikhya karenge, lath leke khade huey. Good riddance to this copy paste ‘scholar’.

    p.s. sunne mein aaya hai ki Romila Thapar aunty ko dil ar dimaag ka daura padya yeh sab dekhne baad, hona hi tha, shishya jo thehri Bitzel ki. Dono baith ke plaan banate the ab bhugto. Bhagwan (singh ji) ke ghar der hai, andher nahi.

  7. DEVAPRIYA Says:

    We should invite Witzels here and expose there missionary purposes.

  8. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    Here is the complete , comprehensive solution to the so-called Aryan problem
    Part one is a high level overview. Part two is much more interesting
    This is one of the longest research papers published in a peer-reviewed journal since independance.
    Part two is the most important

    Links to the journal
    Part one
    Part Two


  9. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    Even if a small linguistic component is added – rebus principle or punning (Witzel Kyoto, 2009 or Sproat in his presentations) or acriphony is added, it qualifies for full literacy. I assume some ’sound coding’ would have been useful to them atleast on some occasions.. the longest seal is 17 characters non-analomous and 26 characters analomous. I have never said that what Farmer is saying is necessarily fully wrong, but even Parpola has been reading them mostly as logograms with a linguistic component. So how much of what Farmer is saying is new apart from the fact that he popularized the idea? These men have been saying almost the same thing and fighting with each other?Till 2900 BC Egypt and Mesopotamia were considered proto-literate even if their texts are shorter(not non-literate!!!!)- even if there is small difference between the 2 maybe the Indus system was more expressive than Egyptian proto-literate- because conditional entropy, order of signs, combinations probably did play a major role in meaning in the Indus script (Korvink). ????Terminologies pertaining to literacy cannot be changed unless all scholars agree – and any demands to change terminology must be met with suspicion, naturally. Only a very small portion of the IVC has been excavated, you know, 5% maybe! Even Farmer agrees “Judging from modern examples and research in the linguistic history of South Asia, the Indus Valley was probably intensely multi linguistic throughout its history. This may have provided the Indus emblem system with an advantage over ordinary writing as a means of providing the civilization with social cohesion. The fact that the majority of inscriptions rely on a surprisingly small core of symbols suggests that the meaning of Indus signs could have potentially been known by almost or all (ALL!!) of the population, resulting in a pervasive quasiliteracy far beyond that achieved in Mesopotamia or Egypt.” No other civlization mass produced writing or (”writing”!!). Where else did they have public signboards then apart from the Indus?
    I can instead cite Farmer and declare it the most literate civilization on erth. And he and I could be saying the same thing. I say such terms must be avoided. if they had learned how to use the rebus principle , they would have used it whenever the need arose. Seal writing is always short . Sproat’s smoking gun cannot be used to test the stability or the complexity of the system. It has weaknesses. It cannot also be used to prove that the Indus script didn’t have a linguistic component.

    Making fun of ancient people is absolutely disgraceful.It is in poor taste~!!!!

    I hope more Indians take up research. people are taking us for a ride.

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  10. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    September 24, 2010 at 8:37 am | Reply
    Please find the response by Steve farmer . He is happy that India is no longer represented in a new book. Then why do they have to be indologists? Let them resign. This is not an isolated instance. This happens with them all the time.

    re: [Indo-Eurasia] BOOKS: Visible Language

    This book is not actually out yet, but when it is, it will be available for sale
    as well as for download free of charge at:

    Some teasers from the exhibition installation are appearing on facebook at

    -Chuck Jones-

    —- Original message —-
    Steve Farmer wrote:
    > New book out from the Oriental Institute, passed on
    > from the Agade List.
    > Note how the so-called “Indus script” — which is
    > certainly not a “script” as linguists view that term — is
    > slowly but surely disappearing from the world of international
    > scholarship. About time, and I’m happy with Michael and Richard
    > to have started that process.
    > Steve

    P.S Indology should flourish in Harvard and elsewhere – that is what we all want . But is this the ideal? I invite other commentors to judge. This is not an isolated instance!!

    The link to the book was below the mail on IER.


    Posted by Steve Farmer – Thu Sep 23, 2010 12:01 am

    These are only isolated examples

    People should be aware of all these before spending so much on courses.
    This will hold good until the joker duo are around.

    Earlier they were using (deliberately?) wrong terminologies pertaining to literacy (just to confuse the public?)

  11. Davis Kieff Says:

    I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information :.”

  12. Darshana Natarajan Says:

    This is why I keep going to this site. I can not believe everything
    you’ve put up since last time!

  13. Sujay Rao Man davilli Says:


    Please find my two papers below and circulate amongst the skeptics, particularly!

    To state the obvious, the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script and a lost corpus did exist.

    Published in the ICFAI journal of history and culture, January 2011

    Published in International journal of philosophy and journal sciences , November 2012

    I am also introducing logo-syllabic thesis B in this paper

    The paper is very self-explanatory! does anybody still beg to differ?

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  14. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    I am publishing my sixth research paper directly online as it is an extension of my previous papers. Kindly read pages 4 to 18 as it contains a detailed discussion of the term ‘Aryan’. This paper explains why the Dravidian, Vedic and Paramunda Indus theories are not tenable.

    Methods to reconstruct the languages of the Harappans were presented in the present and previous papers.

    The older papers were written taking the 19th century school of Indology as a base and working backwards. These may appear to be outdated now (at the end of our very long journey). However, the fundamentals are still correct

    Part one

    Part Two very,very important!

    the first 5 papers were published in peer-reviewed journals — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:51, 16 April 2013 (UTC)

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  15. Personal Site Says:

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites
    I stumbleupon every day. It’s always exciting to read through content from other writers and use something from their sites.

  16. Hemant Dave Says:

    Was the lecture by Harvard Professor filmed?

  17. Anil Kishore Yadav Says:

    Dr Bhagwan Singh has devoted a full chapter on said learned professor, of his book प्राचीन भारत के इतिहासकार published in 2011.
    This reader introduced himself with the work of Dr Singh more than a decade back. That was his novel अपने अपने राम । Later on, I have been keenly reading his books on history and culture of this subcontinent. Simply speaking, it seems to be quite difficult to disagree with him on most of the controversial issues- given quality of evidence he has collected across multiple disciplines. It’s due to subjective dynamics of our system that a scholar like him doesn’t get the recognition he deserves…

    • vedaprakash Says:

      Thank you!

      That is why, I have included his research under this “ontogeny, phylogeny, epigenetics”!

  18. आषाढ़ पूर्णिमाङ्क, 2074 वि., [वर्ष-2, अङ्क-12], रविवार | मघा Says:

    […] में हुई एक संगोष्ठी में Michael Witzel से आप के प्रश्नोत्तर बहुत चर्चित रहे जिनमें आप ने उनकी कुछ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: