Archive for the ‘Dravidian studies’ 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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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 Mediterranean connection

June 26, 2010

The Mediterranean connection by Sirpi Balasubramanian

http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article482105.ece

Sirpi-Balasubramanian

Sirpi-Balasubramanian

Theories abound on the origin and diffusion of the Dravidian race and its languages. Australian, African, Lemurian and Harappan origins have been widely discussed by anthropologists, historians and philologists again and again.

In 1963, a scholarly work Dravidian origins and the west by Dr. N. Lahovary, translated from his original French work, was published in English and sadly it did not receive the attention it richly deserved. In the words of eminent historian K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, Lahovary seeks to demonstrate that just as the Indo-Aryan Languages of Northern India are related to the Indo-European languages of Northern and Eastern Europe, so also the Dravidian Languages of South India are more or less closely related to a near Eastern and Mediterranean agglutinative group of languages of Pre Indoa-European Times.

Mr. Lahovary tries to establish a close relationship between the oldest elements in Basque – a Pre-Indo-European Language which still survives in the Pyrenness on the border land between France and Spain. Mr. Lahovary is of the opinion that the near east (comprising Syria, Palestine, Persia, Mesopotamia with its extension to India ) is the cradle of the first civilization from where the ancestors of the Dravidians fanned out to the West and East in successive migrations.

The Worship of Mother Goddess, Aphonomenin, if Dravidians still survive in the sub-consciousness of the Mediterranean Christianity through the veneration paid to the ‘Black Virgin’s’ in Italy, Spain and France. The emblem of the Mother Goddess was fist and reminds us of Minakshi of Madurai. As mother of plants she is symbolised by the fig tree in Asia minor and in Mediterranean Europe. This symbolism finds and echo in the binding of peepul branches in the marriage court yards in Tamil country. The mother goddess is also connected with the serpent worship, in the Pre-Hellenic Mediterranean world and the worship of the serpent is still in existence in South India.

It is also said that other ties between the Pre – Indo – European civilisations of the Mediterranean and the Pre- Aryan India is noticeable in the Megalithic structure in the Dravidian India and the Mediterranean Europe. As found in ancient Mesopotamia and parts of Mediterranean world the placing of the dead in terra-cota jars was frequent in ancient South India.

Tamil or Dravida was probably Dramil or Dramiza in its oldest forms according to the author. The Lycians of Asia minor, a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean people called themselves Trimmili. Herodotus has noted that the Lucians, the Original inhabitants of Crete, were known by the name ‘Termilai.’ After devoting a chapter on the similarities of phonetic peculiarities in Basque and Dravidian languages. Lahovary concludes that they have the closest ties among all the languages of the peri-mediterranean family.

When he deals with the structural and morphological parallels, the author is convinced of the essentially suffixial nature of basque and Dravidian which separates them from Western Hermitic. Dr. Lahovary sets apart half of the book giving example of etymological parallels. The reader will be surprised at the large number of common words in Basque and Dravidian languages.

Some examples: Dravidian and Basque – AL (male), Ar (male); Odal (body), Odal (blood); Mukku (nose), moko (beak); Kella (thief), Kaldar (thief); Ubbu (swelling), Ug-atz (breast); Wisar (sweat), Izerdi (sweat); Kuru (small), Korro (small); Alal (crying), Aldia (lament).

In spite of its short comings, Dr. Lahovary has unraveled the distant relationship between Dravidian languages and pre-Europen Languages especially Basque.When the book was published in 1963 in English, the author did not live to see the happy event.

Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola

June 25, 2010

Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola

http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article485447.ece

Asko-at-Coimbatore-2010

Asko-at-Coimbatore-2010

The underlying language of the Indus script was Proto-Dravidian, Asko Parpola, Professor-Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, Finland, said on Friday.

Declaring that “an opening to the secrets of the Indus script has been achieved,” Prof. Parpola said the results of his readings kept within narrow limits: fertility cult connected with fig trees, a central Hindu myth associated with astronomy and time-reckoning and chief deities of Hindu and Old Tamil religion.

Delivering the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Endowment Lecture on “A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem” at the World Classical Tamil Conference here, the Indologist said the readings were based on reasonable identifications of the signs’ pictorial shapes. The results made good sense in the framework of ancient Indian cultural history.

“These readings have been achieved with strictly adhered methodology which is in full agreement with the history of writing, methods of decipherment and historical linguistics including the comparative study of Dravidian languages,” he told the audience that included Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

Displaying nearly two dozen illustrations of Indus seals and inscriptions, he dwelt upon the topic by explaining two broad aspects — underlying language and type of the script — that were essential in the decipherment of an ancient script. He also substantiated his thesis with an etymological analysis of certain Tamil words such as ‘muruku’ and ‘miin’.

Hinting that Harappan language had a genetic relationship with the Dravidian language family, Prof. Parpola said 26 Dravidian languages were now mainly spoken in central and southern parts of India. However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, had been spoken in Baluchistan of Pakistan for at least one thousand years. In contrast to Burushashki, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages, very small minority languages in south Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one-fourth of the population in India.

Loanwords from the Dravidian family had been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around 1100-600 BCE. Besides, Indo-Aryan had several structural features that had long been interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. “Historical linguistics thus suggests that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language.”

Referring to the type of writing system, Prof. Parpola said the number of known Indus signs was around 400 “which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for the script to be syllabic or alphabetic”. Though word divisions were not marked, many inscriptions comprised one, two or three signs and longer texts could be segmented into comparable units. The Indus script was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed.

Pointing out that the confirmed interpretations and their wider contexts provided a lot of clues for progress, he acknowledged there were still serious difficulties in the decipherment of the script. “One is the schematic shape of many signs which makes it difficult to recognise their pictorial meaning with certainty. Possibilities of proposing likely readings and their effective checking are severely limited by our defective knowledge of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary, compounds and phraseology.”

The problem of the Indus script resembled to some extent that of the logo-syllabic Maya script, where advance was phenomenal after Mayan speakers were trained in the methods of decipherment.

The Indologist said those who had good acquaintance with the realities of Indian culture and south Asian nature could make useful contributions in suggesting possible pictorial meanings for the Indus signs. For this, there was no need to be a Dravidian speaker.

Iravatham Mahadevan, eminent archaeologist, presided over the event.

Acceptance speech of Asko Parpola, recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award

http://www.thehindu.com/news/resources/article483967.ece

Your Excellency the President of India, Srimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, distinguished dignitaries, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Vanakkam!

It is indeed a very great honour to receive the first Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award from the President of India. Yet I feel embarrassed, because my work is only partly related to Classical Tamil, while there are Classical Tamil specialists who really would have deserved this award. But as this is not the only time when the award is given, I humbly accept that this is my turn. I am most grateful for the very considerable support for my continued work in this field.

The Government of India has rightly recognized Tamil as a classical language, a status that it fully deserves in view of its antiquity and its rich literature that in quality and extent matches many other classical traditions of the world. Yet, Tamil is not alone in possessing such a rich heritage in India, which is really a very exceptional country with so many languages having old and remarkable literatures, both written and oral. Sanskrit with its three thousand years old tradition has produced an unrivalled number of literary works.

Sanskrit goes back to Proto-Indo-Aryan attested in a few names and words related to the Mitanni kingdom of Syria between 1500 and 1300 BCE, and to earlier forms of Indo-Iranian known only from a few loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages as spoken in central Russia around 2000 BCE. But none of these very earliest few traces is older than the roots of Tamil. Tamil goes back to Proto-Dravidian, which in my opinion can be identified as the language of the thousands of short texts in the Indus script, written in 2600-1700 BCE. There are, of course, different opinions, but many critical scholars agree that even the Rigveda, collected in the Indus Valley about 1000 BCE, has at least half a dozen Dravidian loanwords.

Old Tamil texts constitute the only source of ancient Dravidian linguistic and cultural heritage not yet much contaminated by the Indo-Aryan tradition. Without it, it would be much more difficult if not impossible to penetrate into the secrets of the Indus script and to unravel the beginnings of India’s great civilization. In my opinion the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilization. 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 civilization.

Nanri! Tamizh vaazka!

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.)