Archive for the ‘Asko Parpola’ Category

IATR and the World Classical Tamil Conference

July 24, 2010

IATR and the World Classical Tamil Conference

Noboru Karashima

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article528744.ece

Dr. Noboru Karashima. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan
The Hindu Dr. Noboru Karashima. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan

A new International Association of Tamil Research must now be created to function as a real academic body.

The World Classical Tamil Conference that was held in Coimbatore last month attracted lakhs of people, according to reports. The International Association of Tamil Research (IATR), which is an older academic organisation of international scholars and of which I am President, kept its independence from this Conference. I will explain here the reasons for this and also contemplate the future of the IATR and Tamil studies in general.

Circumstances that led to the formation of the World Classical Tamil Conference

In September 2009, I was informed that the Tamil Nadu government had decided to hold the 9th session of the IATR conference in January 2010 in Coimbatore. I was greatly surprised as I had not been consulted on this matter. For accepting the government’s kind offer to sponsor our 9th Conference, I put forth the following as conditions.

1) A period of at least one year to organise the conference, as I felt it was impossible to organise any big international academic conference within four months. The earliest possible date of the Conference, I said, could be December 2010 or January 2011.

2) The clear demarcation of the academic sessions of the IATR conference from the political events and programmes associated with it.

3) The release for distribution by the Government of the five-volume Proceedings of the 8th IATR Conference held in 1995 in Thanjavur sponsored by the then State Government. These had been ready for distribution in 2005, but had been kept in the Tamil University despite repeated requests for their release to the present Government.

In response, the State Government postponed the Conference from January 2010 to June 2010, and accepted my second and third points. I was strongly urged to accept this offer, as the Government could not put off the date later than June 2010 in view of the expected State Assembly election. I however held to the position that the conference should not be held earlier than December 2010. Incidentally, in the case of the 14th World Sanskrit Conference that was successfully held in Japan in September 2009, the first circular was issued two years before the conference.

Having consulted many internationally reputed scholars in various countries on this matter and having secured their support, I sent my final answer to the Government in the negative — with a statement, however, that the Government could hold any Tamil Conference of its own, if it did not involve IATR. Accordingly, the Government decided to hold its own conference, the World Classical Tamil Conference, in June 2010 in Coimbatore.

History of the IATR and past conferences

The IATR was established by some eminent scholars who were deeply concerned about the development of Tamil studies on the occasion of the 26th International Congress of Orientalists held in New Delhi in 1964. The first IATR Conference was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1966, and the second in 1968 in Madras. The 1960s witnessed the culmination and triumph of the Dravidian Movement, and the government headed by C.N. Annadurai of the DMK was voted to power in 1967 — just before the IATR conference in Madras.

It was quite natural that the Madras conference turned out to be a massive political celebration of the victory of the Dravidian Movement, though the conference showed its strength academically too. Therefore, the political statement made by this academic conference was understandable and probably permissible, although politics cast a shadow over the following conferences held in Tamil Nadu. The 5th Conference held again in Tamil Nadu in 1981 in Madurai, under the sponsorship of the AIADMK Government, became a political show again as the government made it a platform for the forthcoming elections. The 6th Conference, which was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1987, was equally affected by regional politics, as it was attended by a large group of Tamil Nadu politicians.

Although I was absent from the 7th Conference held in Moka in Mauritius in 1989, I was elected President of IATR on that occasion. I therefore organised the 8th Conference held in Thanjavur in 1995 with the sponsorship offered by the Tamil Nadu Government. Although I tried my best to separate the academic session from the political programme, two lakh persons attended the closing ceremony held in the stadium. Moreover, the conference was spoiled by the deportation of some Sri Lankan scholars. Though I sent a letter of protest to the then Chief Minister asking for an explanation, I did not receive a reply.

Historical role of IATR

The Dravidian Movement, or the Non-Brahmin movement as it was called, arose in the 1910s spearheaded by the Justice Party. Language became the focus of the movement by the late 1930s, and great emphasis was placed on the economic and political struggle by the South (Dravidian) power against the North (Aryan) power. The movement demanded the overturning of the North/Aryan ‘oppression’ of the South/Dravidian.

From the 1970s, however, the situation changed in accordance with the changes in caste society and the gradual economic growth of the South. The Dravidian Movement could be said to have fulfilled its historical role to a certain extent. From the 1980s, we see a shift in the aims of the movement. The political mobilisations by the DMK and AIADMK, and their appeals to the regional sentiments of the Tamil people, were primarily aimed at the expansion of their political vote base.

The Proceedings volumes of the 8th IATR Conference held in Thanjavur in 1995 still remain in Tamil University without distribution. The World Classical Tamil Conference was the best opportunity for their distribution. In the Preface (of the Proceedings), I have suggested that IATR should change its structure, free its conferences from politics, and respond to new academic trends.

It is true that IATR had not been able to conduct the 9th Conference since 1995. However, it is important to note that IATR originally planned to hold the 8th Conference in London in 1992, but as that did not materialise, it recommended in Thanjavur in 1995 the U.K., U.S.A. or South Africa as the venue for the 9th Conference. However, none of the IATR national units of these countries came forward to invite IATR to hold the conference; they were daunted perhaps by the inevitable political overtones that enter the conferences.

As for new trends in research, the “Tamil Studies Conference” organised by the University of Toronto has held its fifth conference, although on a much smaller scale, in May 2010. Some workshops and seminars on specific areas have been held in various places in the last ten years. I do not deny the advantages of large conferences, provided they are free from politics. However, the time has come now for small-scale workshops and seminars for comparative studies with other fields, instead of big conferences covering all aspects of Tamil studies.

Renaissance for Tamil Studies?

The time has come for the IATR to assume a new avatar. It has completed its historical role by making people realise the importance of Tamil studies, just as the Dravidian Movement did in respect of its original objectives. A new IATR must now be created to function as a real academic body.

My only satisfaction as President of IATR and a lover of the Tamil people and culture who has devoted his life to Tamil studies is the conviction that IATR has defended its academic freedom by keeping its independence from the government-organised and politically oriented conference held last month in Coimbatore.

However, IATR must be resurrected in a new way. Its renaissance rests on the shoulders of young and sincere scholars of Tamil studies.

(Noboru Karashima is the President of the International Association of Tamil Research and Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo.)

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Rebuttal of Sproat, Farmer, et al.’s supposed “refutation” by Rajesh Rao

July 13, 2010

Rebuttal of Sproat, Farmer, et al.’s supposed “refutation”

[Updated: July, 2010]

This article is reproduced here, with due acknowledgements, as it has bearing on the Dravidian researches going on here in Tamilnadu.

Particularly, Asko Parpola had delivered his lecture at Coimbatore and Chennai, but full details are not provided to general readers, as these issues affect them socially and politically.

In 2004, Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat, and Michael Witzel published a paper in “Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies” (entitled “The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization”) claiming that the Indus valley civilization was illiterate and that Indus writing was a collection of political or religious symbols.

The publication of our paper in Science elicited hostile reactions from them, ranging from off-the-cuff dismissive remarks such as “garbage in, garbage out” (Witzel) to ad-hominem attacks (labeling us “Dravidian nationalists”) and a vicious campaign on internet discussion groups and blogs to discredit our work. Their first knee-jerk reaction was to call the two artificial control datasets in our study “invented data sets” (Farmer). This was followed by Sproat and others on a blog claiming to have constructed “counterexamples” to our result. Sproat has even attempted to publicize his claims using an article in Computational Linguistics and a web page entitled “Why Rao et al.’s work proves nothing”(!), despite the fact that our work has now been published in journals like Science, PNAS, PLOS One, and IEEE Computer.

Here, we respond to their arguments in a point-by-point fashion. First, their arguments:

(1) Two datasets, used as controls in our work, are artificial.

(2) Counterexamples can be given, of non-linguistic systems, which produce conditional entropy plots like those presented in our Science paper.

(3) Conditional entropy cannot even differentiate between language families.

(4) The absence of writing material and long texts is “proof” that the Indus people were illiterate.

We view arguments (1)-(3) as arising from a misunderstanding of our approach and an overinterpretation of the conditional entropy result. Some of these arguments are made with a narrow computational linguistics point of view without considering other properties of the Indus script and the Indus civilization (see below). The last argument has been controverted by several other researchers as discussed below.

Here is the point-by-point rebuttal:

(1) As stated in our Science paper, the two artificial data sets (which Farmer et al. call “invented data sets”) simply represent controls, necessary in any scientific investigation, to delineate the limits of what is possible. The two controls in our work represent sequences with maximum and minimum flexibility, for a given number of tokens. Though this can be computed analytically, the data sets were generated to subject them to the same parameter estimation process as the other data sets. Our conclusions do not depend on the controls, but are based on comparisons with real world data: DNA and protein sequences, various natural languages, and FORTRAN computer code. All our real world examples are bounded by the maximum and the minimum provided by the controls, which thus serve as a check on the computation.

(2) Counterexamples matter only if we claim that conditional entropy by itself is a sufficient criterion to distinguish between language and non-language. We do not make this claim in our Science paper. As clearly stated in the last sentence of the paper, our results provide evidence which, given the rich syntactic structure in the script (and other evidence as listed below), increases the probability that the script represents language.

The methodology, which is Bayesian in nature, can be summarized as follows. We begin with the fact that the Indus script exhibits the following properties:

  • The Indus texts are linearly written, like the vast majority of linguistic scripts (and unlike nonlinguistic systems such as medieval heraldry or traffic signs);
  • Indus symbols are often modified by the addition of specific sets of marks over, around, or inside a symbol. Multiple symbols are sometimes combined (“ligatured”) to form a single glyph. This is similar to later Indian scripts which use such ligatures and marks above, below, or around a symbol to modify the sound of a root consonant or vowel symbol;
  • The script obeys the Zipf-Mandelbrot law, a power-law distribution on ranked data, which is often considered a nec­essary (though not sufficient) condition for language (see our PLOS One paper);
  • The script exhibits rich syntactic structure such as the clear presence of beginners and enders, preferences of symbol clusters for particular positions within texts etc. (see References), not unlike linguistic sequences;
  • Indus texts that have been discovered in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf use the same signs as texts found in the Indus region but alter their ordering. These “foreign” texts have low likelihood values compared to Indus region texts (see our PNAS paper), suggesting that the script was versatile enough to represent different subject matter or a dif­ferent language in foreign regions.

Given that the Indus script shares the above properties with linguistic scripts, we claim that the similarity in conditional entropy of the Indus script to other natural languages provides additional evidence in favor of the linguistic hypothesis.

We have recently extended the result in our Science paper to block entropies for sequences of up to 6 symbols (see IEEE Computer paper for details):

IndusBlockEntropies-RajeshRao

IndusBlockEntropies-RajeshRao

The language-like scaling behavior of block entropies in the above figure, in combination with the other properties of language enumerated above, could be viewed in a Bayesian framework as further evidence for the linguistic nature of the Indus script.

The above figure also addresses objections raised by some (e.g., Fernando Pereira) who felt conditional entropy (which considers only pairwise dependencies) was not a sufficiently rich measure.

Let us now consider the nonlinguistic systems that have been suggested:

  • Mark Liberman, Sproat, and Cosmo Shalizi in a blog constructed artificial examples of nonlinguistic systems whose conditional entropy was similar to the Indus script but their examples have no correlations between symbols – these examples do not exhibit the entropy scaling property exhibited by the Indus script and languages in the above figure, let alone other language-like properties like those exhibited by the Indus script.
  • Two natural nonlinguistic systems that have been suggested, medieval heraldry and traffic signs, are not even linear, nor do they exhibit other script-like properties such as those listed above.
  • The Vinca markings on pottery are linear but scholars have established that the symbols do not appear to follow any order – the system thus can be expected to fall in the maximum entropy range (MaxEnt) in the above figure.
  • The carvings of deities on Mesopotamian boundary stones are also linear but the ordering of symbols appears to be more rigid than in natural languages, following for example the hierarchical ordering of the deities. This system can thus be expected to fall closer to the minimum entropy (MinEnt) range in the above entropy scaling figure than to natural languages.

We therefore believe that the new result above from our IEEE Computer paper, showing that the block entropies of the Indus script scale in a manner similar to natural languages, when viewed in conjunction with the other language-like properties of the script as described above, adds further support to the linguistic hypothesis.

(3) Sproat has endeavored to produce a plot where languages belonging to different language families have similar conditional entropies, thereby claiming that the conditional entropy result “proves nothing.” This claim is once again based on an overinterpretation of the result in our Science paper. We specifically note on page 10 in the supplementary information that “answering the question of linguistic affinity of the Indus texts requires a more sophisticated approach, such as statistically inferring an underlying grammar for the Indus texts from available data and comparing the inferred rules with those of various known language families.” In other words, conditional entropy provides a quantitative measure of the amount of flexibility allowed in choosing the next symbol given a previous symbol. It is useful for characterizing the average amount of flexibility in sequences of different kinds. We do not make the claim that it can be used to distinguish between language families – this requires a more sophisticated measure.

(4) With regard to the length of texts, several West Asian writing systems such as Proto-Cuneiform, Proto-Sumerian, and the Uruk script have statistical regularities in sign frequencies and text lengths which are remarkably similar to the Indus script (Details can be found in http://indusresearch.wikidot.com/script). These writing systems are by all accounts linguistic. Furthermore, the lack of archaeological evidence for long texts in the Indus civilization does not automatically imply that they did not exist (“absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”). There is a long history of writing on perishable materials like cotton, palm leaves, and bark in the Indian subcontinent using equally perishable writing implements (see Parpola’s paper below). Writing on such material is unlikely to have survived the hostile environment of the Indus valley. Thus, long texts may have been written, but no archaeological remains are to be found.

As regards the argument for literacy from the point of view of cultural sophistication of the Indus people, we believe Iravatham Mahadevan has addressed this adequately in his op-ed piece below (see also Massimo Vidale’s entertaining article).

References

  • Final version of the Science paper (including Supplementary Information), 2009:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/ScienceIndus.pdf

  • IEEE Computer review article with new block entropy result:
    Probabilistic analysis of an ancient undeciphered script, 2010:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/ieeeIndus.pdf

  • PLoS One paper: Statistical Analysis of the Indus script using n-grams, 2010:

o        http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0009506

  • PNAS paper: A Markov model of the Indus script, 2009:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/PNASIndus.pdf

  • Asko Parpola’s point-by-point rebuttal of Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel:

o       Parpola A (2008) Is the Indus script indeed not a writing system? in Airavati: Felicitation volume in honor of Iravatham Mahadevan (Varalaaru.com publishers, Chennai, India) pp. 111-131.

http://www.harappa.com/script/indus-writing.pdf

  • Massimo Vidale’s “The collapse melts down: a reply to Farmer, Sproat and Witzel”:

o        http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=9163376

  • Iravatham Mahadevan’s “The Indus non-script is a non-issue”:

o        http://www.hindu.com/mag/2009/05/03/stories/2009050350010100.htm

  • Syntactic structure in the Indus script:

o       Koskenniemi K (1981) Syntactic methods in the study of the Indus script. Studia Orientalia 50:125-136.

o       Parpola A (1994) Deciphering the Indus script. (Cambridge University Press), Chaps. 5 & 6.

o       Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) A statistical approach for pattern search in Indus writing. International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):39-52.

http://www.harappa.com/script/tata-writing/indus-script-paper.pdf

o       Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) Segmentation of Indus texts. International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):53-72.

http://www.harappa.com/script/tata-writing/indus-texts.pdf

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation: Asko Parpola

July 7, 2010

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/79062/sanskrit-has-contributed-indus-civilisation.html

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Ancient civilisations and long un-deciphered mysterious scripts have always been hauntingly engaging challenges to the human consciousness.
Fired by John Chadwick’s classic in archaeology, ‘The Decipherment of Linear-B’, that chronicles how the secrets of the late Minoan and Mycenaean civilisation in ancient Greece were unveiled, renowned Indologist Prof Asko Parpola set out on an equally challenging task over 45 years back to crack the script of the Indus Valley Civilisation. For someone who has done a lifetime of monumental research on ‘Deciphering the Indus Script’ even using modern computerised tools, Parpola, whose path-breaking study on ‘A Dravidian Solution to the Indus Script Problem’ had bagged the ‘Kalaignar M Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Award’ at the ‘World Classical Tamil Conference (WCTC)’ in Coimbatore, is remarkably self-effacing and realistic. A diligent scholar from Finland in both ‘Vedic’ and ‘Dravidian’ studies,spoke to M R Venkatesh of ‘Deccan Herald’.

Excerpts:

What prompted you to undertake this amazing intellectual journey?

Well, my interest in the Indus Script was aroused during my student years. I also studied the classical languages of Europe, Greek and Latin, when I became a student of Helsinki University in 1959. At that time there was much discussion whether the ‘Linear-B Script’ had been deciphered or not. Actually it had been deciphered in 1952. A book on it by John Chadwick came out in 1960. I read it and it was quite fascinating. I was quite convinced that this (decipherment) is correct though there were still some Greek scholars who were sceptical. And then, my childhood friend Seppo Koskenniemi who was working for IBM in Finland asked if I would like to try computers for any problem in my field. He volunteered to do the programming; so at that time I thought we might do something useful to promote the study of the Indus Script. Because compiling statistics (on the frequency with which signs are repeated, etc.) has been very useful in all decipherment
attempts. My brother Simo who studied ‘Assyriology’ also joined the team.

How did you use computer technology in this study of Indus Script as India’s renowned epigraphist, Iravadham Mahadevan says you are the first person to have done it?

Asko Parpola: Well, it is not me. Seppo Koskenniemi and his brother Kimmo Koskenniemi, who is now Professor of Computer Linguistics at the University of Helsinki, assisted me. They have been there from the beginning.

On your seminal work on the Indus Script, what effected your change of approach to include sociology, anthropology and linguistics, instead of just an epigraphist approach that failed to make headway earlier?

Well, actually, I have not changed my approach. It has been there all the time.
I think every aspect has to be taken into consideration. We have to take advantage of every possible source (of knowledge) at our disposal.

Your solution to the Indus Script riddle – that the underlying s a syncretism rather than a collusive view of Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian family of languages. Your comments please?

Yes, I think these two language families have been in contact with each other ever since the Indo-Aryan speakers entered South Asia. It is impossible to leave Indo-Aryan sources out of account. They have preserved very important information of Harappan heritage.

One of 20th century’s greatest philosophers Wittgenstein had said understanding a language is understanding a whole form of life. Has your findings on Indus Script vindicated that insight on how language works?

Well, may be. You are putting it in very lofty words. I think every language is a unique way to see the world. I am using this phrase in connection with the tragic situation that is prevailing now in the world. So many languages, minority languages, are disappearing. At the moment, we are still having may be some 5,000 languages in the world, but very rapidly a large number of them have disappeared. It is just as with plant and animal species. Once they have gone, you can’t get them back and each of them is a unique
creation which is very valuable.

But these linguistic identities, when politicised, could lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences. So how is a harmonious understanding of world languages possible?

Yes. Besides Tamil, there are other Dravidian languages that have descended from the proto-Dravidian. But Tamil has preserved the language structure in a very archaic form. And also it has very ancient sources that are very precious. But at the same time, we must say that ‘Sanskrit’ has also preserved a very important part of the Indus heritage. So, it is impossible to say that there is something like ‘pure Dravidian’ or ‘pure Aryan’. They should not be pitted against each other. I mean, there has been mixture from the beginning. And even if you look at the history of Tamil Nadu, the ‘Brahmins’ were here
already in ‘Sangam’ times. So, they have also contributed hugely to the Tamil civilisation. So you have at least these two main language groups in India from very early times, side by side.

Your next project: will you continue your work on the Indus script?

I think it will be difficult not to continue, but actually my PhD was originally on ‘Sama Veda’ and I have been doing ‘Sama Vedic’ research in South India for many decades. There is a lot of material which I have not really had a good opportunity to work on, but which I would like to publish. Also, the ‘Thirukkural’ (of Tamil Saint-poet Thiruvalluvar) is a timeless book. I am working on a translation of it into Finnish and I would like the Finns also to have it.

How do you see the WCTC’s significance? Has it provided a platform to take forward your work on the Indus script?

Yes, I think so. For the Indus script it (WCTC) is certainly very important, a big boost to draw the attention of more Tamil and other Dravidian scholars into this venture. Scholars should get funds to pursue the studies further.

“The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and the Wild Ass” by Asko Parpola and the debate thereafter

June 30, 2010

“The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass” by Asko Parpola and the debate thereafter

Vedaprakash

Venue (Backside of CPT): Roja Muthiah Research Library, 3rd Cross Road, CPT Campus, Taramani, Chennai 600113

28-06-2010 (Monday) 4,00 pm: when I entered the Roja Muthaiah research Library premises, Venkatachallam[1], the old man was sitting in the Indus Research Centre (IRC), a room allotted to them on RHS.  Then I saw K. V. Ramakrishna Rao[2] and Orissa Balasubramaniam[3] entering the room and all started discussing about something with some papers.

The women / girls started rearranging chairs and tables at the entrance hall leading to the lecture hall. Two persons started displaying the books they brought on the tables. Only three-four persons were there for attending the meeting.

4.22 pm: Iravatham Magadevan came inside the room of IRC. Then he went to meet Asko Parpola, who was there already in the Computer room. Few more added.

4.40 pm: Tea came. Stil, people started coming slowly. Most of them have been elite, rich coming in cars. Then one woman came, identified as Rani Gift Siromoney, the wife of Gift Siromoney.

Then came P. R. Subramaniam, Narasaiah, Ramamurthy, Kavitha, Solomon, Vasanthi, Subbu, Ravichandran, Malar Mannan, Haran, K. V. Gopalakrishnan, ……………………and so on. And of corse reporters from the media.

4.50 pm: People started going inside the lecture hall. Hardly 20-25 were there. Some went and sat in the first two rows and others were hesitating and settling down in the last rows.

5.20 pm: the lecture not started, obviously, they were looking for some group to come. Then came the group from the Madras Christian College.

Iravatham Mahadevan He started explaining his relationship with Gift Siromoney from 1968, when he met him at the 2nd World Tamil Conference, where both came to present papers. He was praising his analysis of Kolam carried with the primitive computer in those days. He claimed that Gift was responsible for finding out the significant of “Pulli ezhuthu” that differentiates Tamil Brahmi from other Brahmi. He pointed out how he prepared charts showing the inscriptional way of development of Tirukkural written. He told that one Abdul Haq was the first to bring out computer analysis of the IVC. Pointing to his wife, he lamented that Rani was so worried as Gift was quoting from his concordance brought out in 1968 than the Bible.

Prof. Mrs. Rani Siromoney started his speech invoking god etc., Repeating the above with intermittent invoking god for all happenings.

Mrs & Mr Siromoney

Mrs & Mr Siromoney

R.W. Alexander Jesudasan, though not introduced to the audience by name for unknown reasons, the Principal of the Madras Christian College was called to say few words and he started his sermon praising the lord, Gift and others. He claimed that the Tamil studies of the college might come to end, but continues. He mentioned about Parithimal Kalainjar (V. Suryanarayana Sastri) of their college. However, he did not explain how it continues (He did not mention about M. Deivanayagam[4] who has been creating problem now or Moses Micheal Faraday[5] who confuses Siddhas with Christians).

R W Alexander Jesudasan

R W Alexander Jesudasan
M. Deivanayagam

M. Deivanayagam
Moses Michael Farradey

Moses Michael Farradey

The invitation card read as follows: Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library  invites you to the inauguration of the Gift Siromoney Endowment Lecture Series Welcome address Dr. Iravatham Mahadevan Inaugural Lecture Prof. Asko Parpola on “The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass”.

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

6.10 pm: Asko Parpola started his speech showing the ppt. The first slide shoed that the same papers was presented on 25-06-2010 at Coimbatore on the occasion of the World Classical Tamil Conference. He delved upon the seal M-1690a, but revealed that it was missing long back.

“In a paper to be presented at the World Classical Tamil Conference, I am going to discuss recent developments in my study of the Indus script. In the book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge 1994), I interpreted the ‘fish’ sign as Proto-Dravidian *miin ‘fish’ = *miin ‘star’, and its compounds with preceding signs as names of heavenly bodies attested in Old Tamil. One newly deciphered sign depicts “a hoofed animal’s hind leg.” It occurs once before the plain ‘fish’ sign. Old Tamil taaL ‘leg’ has a Toda cognate meaning “thigh of animal’s hind leg” and denotes a star in PuRam 395. The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Is the reading taaL ‘(hind) leg’ meaningful in this context?

“Just one Indus seal has the wild ass as its iconographic motif; it was excavated in 2009 at Kanmer in the Kutch, next to the only wild ass sanctuary in South Asia. Bones of wild ass come from Harappan sites in Baluchistan, the Indus Valley and Gujarat; the salt deserts of this very area have always been the habitat of the wild ass. Bones or depictions of the domestic horse and the donkey are not found in South Asia before 1600 BCE.

“Tamil kaZutai or “donkey” has cognates in Malayalam, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Kodagu, Tulu, Telugu, Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Gondi and Kuwi. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti reconstructs *kaZ-ut-ay and asserts that Proto-Dravidian speakers knew of the donkey. More probably *kaZutay meant ‘wild ass’ in Harappan Dravidian, and the term was transferred to the similar-looking donkey when this newcomer came to South Asia from the west through the Indus Valley. Rigvedic gardabha – ‘donkey’ has no cognates in Iranian; it is a Dravidian loan word with the added Indo-Iranian animal name suffix –bha-. I explain *kaZutay as ‘kicker of the salt desert’, from *kaZ(i) / *kaLLar ‘saline soil’ and *utay ‘to kick’. The wild ass lives in the salt desert and is a vicious kicker.

“There is a Hindu myth explicitly associated with the wild ass, the Dhenukavadha of Harivamsa 57. Krishna and Balarama came to a palmyra forest occupied by the fierce ass demon Dhenuka and its herd. Wanting to drink the juice of ripe palm fruits, Balarama shook the trees. Hearing the sound of falling fruits, the enraged ass demon rushed to the spot. Seeing Balarama beneath a wine palm, as if holding the tree as his banner, the wicked ass bit Balarama and started kicking him hard with its hind legs. Balarama seized the ass by those hind legs and flung it to the top of a palm. The ass fell down with its neck and back broken and died. Dhenuka’s retinue met with the same fate, and the ground became covered with dead asses and fallen palm fruits. The palm forest, horrible when terrorised by the asses, impossible for humans to live in, difficult to cross, and with a great extent and salty soil (iriNa), now became a lovely place.

“The description of the palm forest as a salt desert confirms that wild asses are meant. The palm tree, Sanskrit taala from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ, is prominent in the myth and its earliest sculptural representations. The wine palm is associated with the wild ass, which inhabits the palm forest and finally falls down from the top of the palm like its ripe fruits. The wine palm is connected also with the ass’ killer (his successor as the god of its drink), Balarama, whose addiction to toddy is “an essential part of his character.”

“The myth also refers to the palm emblem on Balarama’s banner (tâla-dhvaja). In the Rigveda, Indra is invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa). In Kutch today, such ponds are called taalaab. This Persian word comes from Indo-Aryan taala ‘pond’, from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ ‘low place, depression.’ Like the camel, the wild ass can quickly drink an enormous amount of water, becoming through homophony the prototypal toddy-drinker. Further homophones of taaZ connect the wild ass with the ebb of tide and its mythical cause, the mare-faced demon of the netherworld who drinks the whole ocean.”

He also relied upon his paper “Equus hemionnus & Equus Kiang and their vernacular names” along with Juha Janhunen.

Though, he mentioned about “wild ass” i,e, Asiatic Wild Ass[6] prevalent in different parts of the world, Asia in particular, he kept silence as to how they crossed over to Kiang in China. However, he went on as follows:

The Asiatic wild ass in Harappan, Dravidian and Indo-Iranian record
Asko Parpola University of Helsinki, Finland This abstract summarizes my part of a longer paper written in collaboration with Juha
Janhunen (who deals with the Turkic, Mongolic and Tibetan terms), entitled “The Asiatic  wild asses (Equus hemionus & Equus kiang) and their vernacular names”, to be published in full in the Proceedings of this roundtable
[7].


“After an introduction on the taxonomy and geographical distribution of the
different ass species and subspecies, I discuss one grapheme of the Indus script (no. 46 in the sign list of Parpola 1994: fig.5.1), proposing that it depicts the wild ass. The sign has realistic (cf. fig.1 a & b) and schematic variants (fig.1 c). The wild ass is present in the Harappan osteological record at least in Baluchistan, Sindh and Gujarat, but probably also in the Punjab and Rajasthan. Moreover, there are terracotta figurines of the wild ass, but it is
not among the “heraldic” animals of the Indus seals, probably because the ass was already an animal of ill omen: later on it was associated with Nirrti
‘Destruction’.


“The principal Harappan language, and apparently the only one in which the Indus texts from South Asia were written, was Proto-Dravidian (cf. Parpola 1994). Attested in 13 Dravidian languages, representing all the subgroups except North Dravidian, is a word for ‘ass’ (DEDR no. 1364). Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (2003: 12 and 525) reconstructs this  etymon for Proto-Dravidian as *kaz–ut-ay. Franklin Southworth (2005: 269-270) accepts this recontruction, proposing that instead of the domestic ass, the word originally denoted the wild ass, and that this animal was once present even in South India. This does not seem impossible in view of the continuous belt of semi-arid thorn-desert and dry tropical savannah from Kutch to Tamil Nadu, although there is little osteological support for this hypothesis. The wild ass assumption is endorsed by a new etymology that I propose for the word, as a Proto-Dravidian compound of *kaz- – ‘salt desert’ (DEDR no. 1359 + Turner 1966 no. 2954) and *utay ‘kick’ (DEDR no. 616). Desert, especially salt desert, is the habitat of the wild ass, and figures in the names of the onager in Sumerian (anše-eden-na) and Persian (χar-e daštī). On the other hand, the ass is famous for its kicking, and represented as kicking in the myth of the (wild) ass demon Dhenuka (cf. Harivamśa .57).  Sanskrit gardabha- ‘ass’ is very probably derived, with the animal name suffix -bha- (of PIE origin but still productive in Indo-Aryan), from the Dravidian word for ‘ass’, as proposed by Thomas Burrow and Murray Emeneau
.”

Conclusion: taaL (from *taaZ, preserved in Old Kannada) ‘(hind) leg, stem of tree’ (whence taaZ ‘tree with a prominent stem’ > ‘wine palm’) is in many ways connected with the wild ass[8].

7.11 pm: Discussion and questions: Surprisingly, Iravatham Mahadevan this time allowed questions from the audience with with conditions[9]. There were only six questions and they are as follows:

1. K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: your claim is confusing about the words – தாள்/தால்/தாழ், கழ்/கழு etc. What you mention about தாள் of Puram is different from your interpretation of தால்/தாழ்.

Asko Parpola accepted the possibility of other interpretations of the words. When Rao told that there had mean specific words used for ass and horse in the Sangam literature, he requested to provide them.

2. White bearded person: Taking the reference that Indra was invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa), he asked as to whether the “wild ass” drank urine………so that it could be salty.

Asko Parpola replied that it was only figurative.

3. Dr. Vasathi: In our field excavations, we found the pictures / rock paintings of ass / horse and there have been may references in Sangam literature about ass / donkey. Whether the “koverukazuthai” and “wild ass” as mentioned by you are one and the same?

The Neolithic and megalithic findings of south India have been dated after the Wild ass of IVC.

4. A man with namam on his forehead: You mentioned about camel as one of five things to be sacrificed. Does camel to do anything in the context?

Asko Parpola went back to his slide that shown the five things for sacrifice:

Man Purusha Kimpurusha
Cow Gau Gavya
camel
Sheep Mesha
Goat Aja

He explained that hunting wild ass ws royal pastime and in ritual, it could have found place.

5. Kavitha (who does Ph.D in Indus script, as introduced by IM): Why there was no wild as in South India?

They entered India through IV before proto-dravidians.

6. Ramamurthy (very old man shaking…………As IM himself called him so): ……………………Researchers fall trap to such interpretations and also others to, but without coming to any specific conclusion……………………….

Asko Parpola accepted that his decipherment is incomplete and all the seals cannot be read like that and multi-interpretation is possibe! However, it s ironical that media reports that Asko reads IVC in Dravidian, Tamil and so on, as if, it is final. Iravatham Mahadevan intervened to accept that “multiple-interpretations of the seals are possible and nothing is final in the decipherment”.

Conclusion: The function started as Christian crusade, went on as Dravidian propgandist lecture and ended with confessional statement that the decipherment was not final!

Meanwhile, the press has carried on undue publicity about the meeting, of course, bth The Hindu and New Indian express do not publish the responses posted in their websites:

1. The Indus script and the wild ass – published on June 23, 2010

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

For this, “The Hindu” has published three responses in its site.

2. ‘Dravidians headed south before Aryans’ arrival’ –  published on 29-06-2010

http://expressbuzz.com/states/tamil-nadu/dravidians-headed-south-before-aryans-arrival/185399.html

3. பேராசிரியர் அஸ்கோ பர்போலா சொற்பொழிவு

http://www.dinakaran.com/tamilnadudetail.aspx?id=9283&id1=4

Vedaprakash

30-06-2010


[1] An enthusiastic IVC researcher, who concentrates on the weights and measures of IVC. He was accusing that Bryan Wells used his findings without mentioning his name.

[2] Independent researcher in Chennai.

[3] Comes from Orissa, but now in Chennai doing maritime and other connected research  on the antiquity of the Tamil maritime activities etc.

[4] Incidentally, Deivanayagam claims that I Mahadevan helped Devakala his daughter for her Ph.D. Now, both father and daughter have indulged in attacking Tiruvalluvar, Hindus etc.

[5] Now he has been the HOD of Tamil department of the Christian College.

[6] Several authorities, including “Mammal Species of the World”, list as individual species Equus

hemionus, Equus kiang and Equus onager, and several subspecies are built on these, such as E.

kiang polyodon. Also Equus luteus has been used synonymously with onager and hemionus

[7] http://woodstove-jack.blogspot.com/

[8] Ironically, the entire thing was already published in “The Hindu” and there have been three responses also: see at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

[9] I understand that K. V. Ramakrishna Rao requested IM that there should be discussion.

The Indus script and the wild ass – Asko Parpola

June 23, 2010

Parpola brings out meaning of Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’
http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Chennai/article490698.ece

“The Hindu” has come out immediately with the following brief, ignoring, the interactions that took place at Roja Muthaiah Library onn 28th evening, when he presented his paper on  “The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass” with ppt.

After discussion and answering to crucial questions, Asko parpola clearly accepted that he did not read all the seals and his decipherment was not final.

In fact, Iravatham Mahadevan accepted  that “multi-interpretations are possible”.

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Noted Indologist Asko Parpola on Monday delivered the ‘Gift Siromoney Endowment Lecture Series”’organised by Roja Muthiah Research Library, trying to read the old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ in the context of the newly deciphered sign depicting “a hoofed animal hind leg.” He was talking on ‘The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and the Wild Ass.’

He said “Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ had a Toda cognate meaning ‘thigh of animal’s hind leg’ and denotes a star in PuRam 395.” The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Besides pointing to various physiological features of the animal, which lived in the desert and could survive even after losing 30 per cent of the water of its body, he narrated many stories associated with the wild ass.

Noted epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan said more young researchers should enter the field of epigraphy, continuing his work and that of Professor Parpola. He pointed out that he had already reached 81 and Parpola was only 10 years younger to him. Gift Siromoney was a professor at the Madras Christian College. Though a mathematics student, he had prepared many field reports, including the fauna of Tambaram area and Thirukkural written in different scripts of the last 2,000 years. Rani Siromoney, wife of Siromoney, also spoke.

The Indus script and the wild ass

Asko Parpola

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

[Thanks to The Hindu for the photo and article. As “The Hindu” generally does not encourage the other view of any issue, we have no other way but reproduce it and circulate for discussion and debate]

Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence 'hind leg' + 'wild ass' (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence ‘hind leg’ + ‘wild ass’ (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

In a paper to be presented at the World Classical Tamil Conference, I am going to discuss recent developments in my study of the Indus script. In the book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge 1994), I interpreted the ‘fish’ sign as Proto-Dravidian *miin ‘fish’ = *miin ‘star’, and its compounds with preceding signs as names of heavenly bodies attested in Old Tamil. One newly deciphered sign depicts “a hoofed animal’s hind leg.” It occurs once before the plain ‘fish’ sign. Old Tamil taaL ‘leg’ has a Toda cognate meaning “thigh of animal’s hind leg” and denotes a star in PuRam 395. The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Is the reading taaL ‘(hind) leg’ meaningful in this context?

Just one Indus seal has the wild ass as its iconographic motif; it was excavated in 2009 at Kanmer in the Kutch, next to the only wild ass sanctuary in South Asia. Bones of wild ass come from Harappan sites in Baluchistan, the Indus Valley and Gujarat; the salt deserts of this very area have always been the habitat of the wild ass. Bones or depictions of the domestic horse and the donkey are not found in South Asia before 1600 BCE.

Tamil kaZutai or “donkey” has cognates in Malayalam, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Kodagu, Tulu, Telugu, Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Gondi and Kuwi. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti reconstructs *kaZ-ut-ay and asserts that Proto-Dravidian speakers knew of the donkey. More probably *kaZutay meant ‘wild ass’ in Harappan Dravidian, and the term was transferred to the similar-looking donkey when this newcomer came to South Asia from the west through the Indus Valley. Rigvedic gardabha – ‘donkey’ has no cognates in Iranian; it is a Dravidian loan word with the added Indo-Iranian animal name suffix –bha-. I explain *kaZutay as ‘kicker of the salt desert’, from *kaZ(i) / *kaLLar ‘saline soil’ and *utay ‘to kick’. The wild ass lives in the salt desert and is a vicious kicker.

There is a Hindu myth explicitly associated with the wild ass, the Dhenukavadha of Harivamsa 57. Krishna and Balarama came to a palmyra forest occupied by the fierce ass demon Dhenuka and its herd. Wanting to drink the juice of ripe palm fruits, Balarama shook the trees. Hearing the sound of falling fruits, the enraged ass demon rushed to the spot. Seeing Balarama beneath a wine palm, as if holding the tree as his banner, the wicked ass bit Balarama and started kicking him hard with its hind legs. Balarama seized the ass by those hind legs and flung it to the top of a palm. The ass fell down with its neck and back broken and died. Dhenuka’s retinue met with the same fate, and the ground became covered with dead asses and fallen palm fruits. The palm forest, horrible when terrorised by the asses, impossible for humans to live in, difficult to cross, and with a great extent and salty soil (iriNa), now became a lovely place.

The description of the palm forest as a salt desert confirms that wild asses are meant. The palm tree, Sanskrit taala from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ, is prominent in the myth and its earliest sculptural representations. The wine palm is associated with the wild ass, which inhabits the palm forest and finally falls down from the top of the palm like its ripe fruits. The wine palm is connected also with the ass’ killer (his successor as the god of its drink), Balarama, whose addiction to toddy is “an essential part of his character.”

The myth also refers to the palm emblem on Balarama’s banner (tâla-dhvaja). In the Rigveda, Indra is invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa). In Kutch today, such ponds are called taalaab. This Persian word comes from Indo-Aryan taala ‘pond’, from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ ‘low place, depression.’ Like the camel, the wild ass can quickly drink an enormous amount of water, becoming through homophony the prototypal toddy-drinker. Further homophones of taaZ connect the wild ass with the ebb of tide and its mythical cause, the mare-faced demon of the netherworld who drinks the whole ocean.

Conclusion: taaL (from *taaZ, preserved in Old Kannada) ‘(hind) leg, stem of tree’ (whence taaZ ‘tree with a prominent stem’ > ‘wine palm’) is in many ways connected with the wild ass.

(The author, who will be the first recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, is Professor Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki.)

Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

June 21, 2010

Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola have to answer many questions without mincing words, which are pointed out as follows:

1. The expression, “Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist” proves the change in ideology that is not good for any scholar of his stature. IM has already brought Michael Witzel, the Rig Vedic Pundit last year here in Chennai and he talked differently. Of course, IM prevented native Pundits to question and test his Sanskrit capabilities. He was struggling to repeat few words mentioned by one of the audience.

2. That he has academic credentials “to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language”, makes no credentials, as researchers have such qualifications and acumen in their steadfast work carried on for years. Scholars respect scholars till they are biased with other motives.

3. “Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world“. Acceptance or non-acceptance of any hypothesis, theory etc., cannot be a criteria for coming to any final conclusion in a research plan, particularly, where the script remains undeciphered.

4. “When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu’s award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated”. Definitely, because, he has been known for his extremist views, racist bias and linguistic fanaticism and all couched with anti-Hindu, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindi, anti-north, anti-Brahmin and so on. Moreover, award for Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, reminds the the world war period, where the racists scholars used to be honoured in the same way by the racist regimes, because any other solution means no award!

5. “Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation”. Why some pride, they have “full / more” pride, whether they preserve or not the linguistic heritage of the Indus civilization. In fact, the queation is whether the Indus cicilization had any preserved linguistic heritage of the Tamils conclusively, instead of taking few seals and giving convenient interpretation.

6. “At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation.” Had both people descended from the same lineage, where is the question of linguistic heritage preserved by one group of people and cultural heritage by other group? His theory that “Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation” shows after the decline of the Indus civilization, the Dravidians moved to north and then came down to south. Aryans came thereafter and moved in the same way.

7. When Aryans immigrated after the decline of Indus-Dravidian civilization, there was no “Aryan invasion”. Karunanidhi would not accept such academic exercise.

8 . The time gap between the two historical processes has to be specified and explained. The peak period of IVC has been c.2250-1950 BCE. The Sangam period starts from c.300 BCE. Why then, the “Dravidian speaking people” took nearly two millinea to shift from IVC to north and north to South?

9. Why they should have taken such a long period to compose Sangam literature only at Tamizhagam insyead of IVC or north India? It is also surprising that they could not develop any script during those 2000 years!

10. The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. That Asoka should copy from the Persians and start indscribing on the stones so that Indians could read at different parts of India in the same language or in their languages! And the intelligent Dravidian speaking people / immigrant Tamils from the IVC should wait for Asoka and start copying his script to write in Tamil only from that particular period!

11. As the IV Dravidian speakers had been the expert makers of the seals, why they should wait for 2000 years to copy script from Asoka? Does it make sound?

12. Asoka and even Kharavela, whose territories were threatened with the “confederation of Dravidian kings” could write many lines, how is that the Dravidian speaking people could leave only few-line inscriptions, broken ones etc?

Vedaprakash

20-06-2010

Parpola and the Indus script by Iravatham Mahadevan

June 20, 2010

Parpola and the Indus script by Iravatham Mahadevan

June 17, 2010

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article462079.ece

He richly deserves the honour of being the first recipient of the Classical Tamil Award instituted by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

In the recent interview with Asko Parpola published in The Hindu (April 15, 2010), readers were made aware of the lasting contributions by Professor Parpola to Indological studies, especially in the field of the Indus Civilisation and its script. Having known him personally for four decades and having closely watched his great contribution to the study of the Indus script, I am in a position to amplify the information provided in the interview.

Professor Parpola’s contributions to Harappan studies are truly monumental, and these are not confined merely to the study of the Indus script. He has published a long series of brilliant papers to establish the fact of Aryan immigration into South Asia after the decline of the Indus Civilisation. As a Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist, he has the best academic credentials to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language. In addition to his linguistic skills and deep scholarship of Vedic Sanskrit and the Dravidian languages, he has harnessed the computer in one of the earliest scientific attempts to study the structure of the Indus texts through computational linguistic procedures. Professor Parpola has produced the first truly scientific concordance to the Indus inscriptions. His concordance is accurate and exhaustive and has become an indispensable tool for researchers in the field.

Equally impressive, and again truly monumental, are the publications inspired and co-authored by Professor Parpola, of two volumes of the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. These volumes reproduce in amazing clarity and detail all the Indus seals (and their newly-made impressions) and other inscriptions. I happen to know personally the enormous difficulties Professor Parpola faced in publishing these volumes, nudging and goading the slow-moving bureaucracy in India and Pakistan to make available the originals, most of which were photographed again by the expert whom Professor Parpola sent from Finland for the purpose.

He published his magnum opus in 1994, Deciphering the Indus Script. The book contains the best exposition of the Dravidian hypothesis relating to the Indus Civilisation and its writing. Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world.

Most of the Early Dravidian speakers of North and Central India switched over to the dominant Indo-Aryan languages in Post-Harappan times. Speakers of Aryan languages have indistinguishably merged with speakers of Dravidian and Munda languages millennia ago, creating a composite Indian society containing elements inherited from every source. It is thus likely that the Indus art, religious motifs and craft editions survived and can be traced in Sanskrit literature from the days of the Rigveda, and also in Old Tamil traditions recorded in the Sangam poems. Professor Parpola is aware of the Harappan heritage of both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages, the former culturally and the latter linguistically. His profound scholarship in both families of languages enables him to mine the Indian cultural heritage holistically in his search for clues to solve the mysteries of the Indus script.

It may be asked: What has Tamil to do with the Indus script that Professor Parpola should be honoured with the inaugural Classical Tamil Award? Tamil happens to be the oldest and the best-documented Dravidian language. It is mainly for this reason that the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary of Burrow and Emeneau accords the head position to Tamil entries in the dictionary. That this distinction is well-deserved is also proved by the fact that Old Tamil contains the most archaic features of Dravidian phonology and morphology, like for example, the retention of the character aytam and the sound zh. Dravidian linguists have also established that most proto-Dravidian reconstructions are in close accord with words in Old Tamil. The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. The earliest Tamil literature, the Sangam works, are from the early centuries of the Common Era, but record oral traditions from a much earlier time. It is for this reason that Professor Parpola and other Dravidian researchers consider Old Tamil to be a possible route to get at the language of the Indus inscriptions.

Professor Parpola speaks for himself in the following excerpt from his message of acceptance of the Classical Tamil Award. He says: “When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu’s award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated. Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation.”

Professor Parpola’s work on the Indus script will prove to be as important and as long-lasting as U.Ve. Swaminathaiyar’s resurrection of the Tamil Classics from decaying palm leaves. He richly deserves the honour of being the first recipient of the Classical Tamil Award instituted by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

(Iravatham Mahadevan is a noted epigraphist and Tamil scholar.)

Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola have to answer many questions without mincing words, which are pointed out as follows:

1. The expression, “Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist” proves the change in ideology that is not good for any scholar of his stature. IM has already brought Michael Witzel, the Rig Vedic Pundit last year here in Chennai and he talked differently. Of course, IM prevented native Pundits to question nand test his Sanskrit capabilities. He was struggling to repeat few words mentioned by one of the audience.

2. That he has academic credentials “to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language”, makes no credentials, as researchers have such qualifications and acumen in their steadfast work carried on for years. Scholars respect scholars till they are biased with other motives.

3. Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world. Acceptance or non-acceptance of any hypothesis, theory etc., cannot be a criteria for coming to any final conclusion in a research plan, particularly, where the script remains undeciphered.

4.  “When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu’s award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated”. Definitely, because, he has been known for his extremist views, racist bias and linguistic fanaficism and all couched with anti-Hindu, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindi, anti-north, anti-Brahmin and so on. Moreover, award for Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, reminds the the world war period, where the racists scholars used to be honoured in the same way by the racisr regimes, because any other solution means no award!

5. Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation”. Why some pride, they have “full / more” pride, whether they preserve or not the linguistic heritage of the Indus civilization. In fact, the queation is whether the Indus cicilization had any preserved linguistic heritage f the Tamils conclusively, instead of taking few seals and giving convenient interpretation.

6. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation.” Had both people descended from the same lineage, where is the question of linguistic heritage preserved by one group of people and cukltural heritage by other group? His theory that “Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation” shows after the decline of the Indus civilization, the Dravidians moved to north and then canme down to south. Aryans came thereafter and moved in the same way.

7. When Aryans immigrated after the decline of Indus-Dravidian civilization, there was no “Aryan invasion”. Karunanidhi would not accept such academic exercise.

8 . The time gap between the two historical processes has to be specified and explained. The peak period of IVC has been c.2250-1950 BCE. The Sangam period starts from c.300 BCE.  Why then, the “Dravidian speaking people” took nearly two millinea to shift from IVC to north and north to South?

9. Why they should have taken such a long period to compose Sangam literature only at Tamizhagam insyead of IVC or north India? It is also surprising that they could not develop any script during those 2000 years!

10.  The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. That Asoka should copy from the Persians and start indscribing on the stones so that Indians could read at different paerts of India in the same language or in their languages! And the intelligent Dravidian speaking people / immigrant Tamils from the IVC should wait for Asoka and start cpying his script to write in Tamil only from that particular period!

11.  As the IV Dravidian speakers had been the expert makrers of the seals, why they should wait for 2000 years to copy script from Asoka?  Does it make sound?

12.  Asoka and even Kharavela, whose territories were threatened with the “confederation of Dravidian kings” could write many lines, how is that the Dravidian speaking people could leave only few-line inscriptions, broken ones etc?

Vedaprakash

20-06-2010