Posts Tagged ‘Michael witzel’

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):



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 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).


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


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


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


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


  • 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 ( publishers, Chennai, India) pp. 111-131.

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


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


  • 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.

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

A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem!

June 25, 2010

A Dravidian solution to  the Indus script problem

aruvar payanta … perum peyar muruka
ninn ati y-ulli vantanen
(Tirumurukârruppatai 255, 269, 279)
The Indus Civilization and its forgotten script
Stone seals inscribed with an unknown script were obtained from Harappa in the upper Indus Valley in the 1870s
and 1880s. In the early 1920s, curiosity about their origin initiated excavations at Harappa and 750 km away at
. ..
Figure 1. Discovery sites of Indus seals and inscriptions. (After CISI 2: 448.)

Mohenjo-daro in Sindh. Immediately more seals of the same kind were found. The publication of these discoveries
turned attention to a few seals of the Harappan type that had come to light in Mesopotamia. They dated the newly
found Harappan or Indus Civilization to the third millennium BCE. Radiocarbon dating has fixed the duration of the
Mature Harappan phase, during which the Indus script was used, to 2600-1900 BCE. About 30 Harappan seals
come from the Gulf and Mesopotamia, left there by sea-faring Indus merchants.
Since the 1920s, ceaseless archaeological research has revealed some 1500 Harappan sites in Pakistan and
western India. The Harappan realm in the Greater Indus Valley is one of the earliest cradles of civilization. Its urban
culture is among the first four in the world to possess a script of its own. Some 5000 short Indus texts from more
than 50 sites are known today, and much other data as well has accumulated. But the decipherment of the Indus
script has remained the most intriguing problem pertaining to this impressive city culture that initiates Indian civilization.
The Indus script vanished together with the Indus Civilization, which collapsed many centuries before hymns composed
in Vedic Sanskrit begin the historical period in South Asia around 1000 BCE.
The numerous unsuccessful attempts to understand the Indus script include a recent claim that it is not a writing
system based on language, but consists of non-linguistic symbols. Similar misconceptions prevailed about the
Mesopotamian cuneiform script
and the Egyptian hieroglyphs
before their decipherments.
Extreme shortness of texts and
their restriction to seals, small
tablets and pottery graffiti have
been adduced as proofs for this
thesis, but all these features
characterize also the Egyptian
hieroglyphic script during the first
600 years of its existence. Yet this
early form of Egyptian script was
real writing, and can be partially
read on the basis of later texts.
The high degree of sign
standardization, the arrangementof texts into regular rows, and the presence of hundreds of recurring sign sequences from different sites all indicate
that the Indus script is real writing.
Most attempts to read the Indus script apply the unsuited method of comparing the Indus signs with similarlooking
signs of other scripts and transferring their phonetic values to the Indus signs. This general error is often
coupled with the mistake of deriving Brahmi from the Indus script, though it is based on the Semitic consonant
Preparatory work
How then can the Indus script be deciphered? We may turn to successful decipherments and to the history of writing
for guidance. Most ancient scripts have been deciphered with the help of translations into known scripts and languages.
But here no such help is available. Historical information of the kind that opened up the cuneiform script is virtually
missing. Later Indian texts tell us nothing about the Indus Civilization. Contemporary cuneiform sources speak of the
most distant land called Meluhha, widely understood to denote Greater Indus Valley, but they offer little further
information. There is no related writing system to help with the phonetic values of the signs. Nor is there any fair
certainty of the underlying language, which was a great advantage in unraveling the Ugaritic and Mayan scripts. All
surviving texts are very short and probably not complete sentences but just noun phrases. This naturally hampers
grammatical analysis, as does the absence of word dividers.
In spite of all the difficulties, there are some positive circumstances. One is the relatively high number of preserved
inscriptions. Collecting and publishing all available evidence reliably and legibly belongs to the fundamental preparatory
tasks that have proved useful in all decipherments. This aim is being realized partly in the photographic Corpus of
Indus Seals and Inscriptions; its third volume has just come out.
Several versions of a standardized text edition in machine-readable form have been completed, and a thorough
revision is again being done. Computerization has enabled the compilation of concordances that systematically
record all occurrences of individual signs and their sequences, and various other indexes and statistics. Among the
things to be standardized is the direction of writing, normally from right to left and in seal stamps carved in mirror
image from left to right. Other routine tasks are location of word boundaries and search for possible grammatical
markers. One way to segment longer texts is to see if their component parts occur elsewhere as complete texts.
A crucial but difficult task is the compilation of a reliable sign list, which distinguishes between graphemes and
allographs. The allographic variation constitutes one important basis for interpreting the pictorial meaning of the
Indus signs. Signs may represent the same grapheme if their shapes are reasonably similar and they in addition occur

in very similar contexts. Based on these criteria, my sign list has very nearly 400 graphemes.
It is difficult to construct even parts of the Indus grammar on the basis of textual analysis. The positional sequences
of signs can be exploited to analyse the Indus texts syntactically, to define textual junctures, and to classify the signs
into phonetically or semantically similar groups. Such analyses have been carried out with automated methods. Data
accumulated in this way will certainly be useful in decipherment once a decisive breakthrough has been achieved —
in other words when the language has been identified and some signs have been read phonetically in a convincing
manner. But such analyses alone are unlikely to provide that breakthrough.
The language underlying the Indus script
In the decipherment of any ancient script, there are two principal unknowns to be clarified, namely the underlying
language or languages and the type of the script.
The language problem is most crucial. If the language of the Indus script belonged to a language family not
known from other sources, the Indus script can never be deciphered. This is clear from the case of Etruscan, an
isolated language written in an easily read alphabetic script. Etruscan can be read phonetically, but in spite of this is
not much understood beyond the texts covered by copious translations. But as the Harappan population numbered
around one million, there is a fair chance that linguistic relatives have survived and that traces of the Harappan
language can be found in the extensive Vedic texts composed in the Indus Valley less than a thousand years after the
collapse of the Indus Civilization.
While it is likely that various minority languages were spoken in the Greater Indus Valley, only one language was
written. The sign sequences are namely uniform throughout South Asia. This argument is reinforced by the Indus
seals found in the Near East. Some of them have native Harappan and some non-Harappan sign sequences.
One would expect that the most frequently attested Indus sign would very often occur next to itself, but this is
never the case in the Indus Valley. The combination is however attested on a round Gulf-type seal coming from the
Near East. The seal contains five frequently occurring Indus signs but in unique sequences. This suggests that
Harappan trade agents who resided in the Gulf and in Mesopotamia became bilingual and adopted local names, but
wrote their foreign names in the Indus script for the Harappans to read. The cuneiform texts in fact speak not only of
a distant country called Meluhha, but also of a village in southern Mesopotamia called Meluhha whose inhabitants
had purely Sumerian names.
According to its inscription, one Old Akkadian cylinder seal belonged to “Su-ilishu, interpreter of the Meluhhan

language”. This implies that the Meluhhan language differed from the languages commonly spoken and understood
in ancient Near East, above all Sumerian, Akkadian and Elamite. Near Eastern languages appear historically much
less likely to have been spoken in the Indus Valley than languages known to have existed in South Asia.
Because the origin of the Aryan languages is such a controversial issue, especially in India, it is necessary to trace
these languages back to their source, the Proto-Indo-European. The location and dating of Proto-Indo-European
too have been long debated, but a fair consensus concerning this problem is in sight. When the Proto-Indo-
European-speaking community dispersed, its language had a dozen terms related to wheeled vehicles. Wheeled
vehicles were invented shortly before 3500 BCE in south-eastern Europe, from where they quickly spread to areas
where the principal Indo-European languages were later spoken.
Greek and Armenian are the closest linguistic relatives of Indo-Iranian, and the protoforms of these languages
are likely to have been spoken in the Pit Grave or Yamnaya cultures which between 3300 and 3000 BCE spread
with ox carts from North Pontic steppes eastwards to the Ural mountains. The Eurasian steppes are the native

habitat of the horse. It was there that the horse was first yoked to pull a light-wheeled chariot, at the end of the third
millennium BCE. Early Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in north-eastern Europe locates Proto-
Aryan to the Volga-Ural steppes.
From the Volga-Ural steppes the horse-drawn chariot spread southwards to the Bronze Age culture in southern
Central Asia, the “Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex” or BMAC, which flourished about 2300-1500
BCE. BMAC people started moving to Iran and to the Indus Valley in the Late Harappan period, around 1900-
1600 BCE. At the same time, the BMAC sites were surrounded by nomadic peoples from the Eurasian steppes,
who probably spoke early forms of Indo-Iranian. On their way to Iran and India, these migrants took over the rule
and culture of the BMAC. Alexander Lubotsky (2001) has listed all words shared by Iranian and Indo-Aryan
which do not have an acceptable Indo-European origin. In structure, these words largely agree with the 383 foreign
loanwords in the language of the Rigveda listed by Frans Kuiper (1991). Lubotsky has suggested that most words
in both lists come from the language of the BMAC. This justified conclusion implies that these foreign words of an
unknown language were borrowed by Rigvedic Aryans before they entered the Indus Valley, or from the language of
the Daasas, an earlier come wave of Indo-Iranian speakers with a BMAC substratum. Hence these words do not
represent the Harappan language. Their use for the decipherment of the Indus script would in any case not be
feasible for the simple reason that the exact meaning of so many of them is unclear.
Although Indo-Iranian languages have been spoken in the Indus Valley since the second millennium BCE, they
were hardly spoken by Harappan people in the third millennium. The domesticated horse played an important role
in the culture of the Indo-Iranian speakers, but according to faunal remains the horse came to South Asia only after
2000 BCE and it is not depicted in Harappan art. The first appearance of the horse is in Swat, in the BMACderived
Gandhara Grave culture; its characteristic “face urns” seem to be connected with the cult of Aoevins, the
Vedic gods of chariotry.
Burushaski spoken in northernmost Pakistan is a linguistic isolate, but possibly related with the Ketic languages
of Siberia. There is little trace of Burushaski further south. Burushaski’s arrival from the north was probably preceded
by the Himalayan group of Tibeto-Burman languages, which may be connected with the Northern Neolithic of the
Swat Valley and Kashmir. The Northern Neolithic had some contact with the Early Harappans but only in its own
northern area.
In general the Sino-Tibetan languages always restricted to the Himalayan regions in South Asia are unlikely
candidates for a genetic relationship with the Harappan language.
The Austro-Asiatic languages known from Central and Eastern India, with linguistic relatives in South-East Asia

and minor participation in the linguistic convergence in South Asia, are also unlikely to have descended from the
Harappan language.
The only remaining alternative among the well-known potential linguistic relatives of the Harappan language is
the Dravidian language family. The 26 Dravidian languages are now mainly spoken in Central and South India.
Figure 4. The Dravidian languages and their subgroups. (After Krishnamurti 2003: 18.)
However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, has been spoken in Baluchistan in the northwest for at least a thousand
years, as far as the historical sources go. In contrast to Burushaski, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages,
which are very small minority languages in South Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one fourth of
India’s population.
Loanwords from Dravidian have been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around
1100-600 BCE. These six examples are from the earliest text, the Rigveda (the capital letters are retroflex consonants,

which did not exist in Proto-Indo-Iranian):
mukham ‘face, front, mouth’ < PD *mukam ‘id.’
khalam ‘threshing floor’ < PD *kaLam ‘id.’
phalam ‘fruit’ < PD *paZam ‘ripe fruit’
kuNDam ‘pit’ < PD *kuNTam ‘pit’
kaaNa- ‘blind in one eye’ < PD *kaaNa ‘not seeing’
kiyaambu- ‘watery plant’ < PD *kiyampu ‘taro, aroid, Colocasia’.
The retroflex consonants, a diagnostic feature of the South Asian linguistic area, can be divided into two main
groups. One of them is distributed over the Indus Valley and the Dravidian-speaking areas.
In addition to the retroflex consonants, Indo-Aryan has several other structural features that have long been
interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. Some of them exist at the earliest level. Historical linguistics thus suggests
that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language. With this conclusion we turn to the problem of script type.
The type of writing system represented by the Indus script
Recent American-Pakistani excavations at Harappa with meticulous stratigraphy have produced new evidence on
the evolution of the Indus script. Pottery has scratched symbols since 3300 BCE. Some of these pot-marks became
signs of the Indus script, which was created during the final phase of the Early Harappan period, between 2800-
2500 BCE. It is possible and indeed even probable that the Early Harappans got the idea of writing through stimulus
diffusion from the Proto-Elamites of the Iranian Plateau, but they did not copy the signs of the Proto-Elamite script.
Only few specimens from this formative period are presently available. During the Mature Harappan period, the fully
developed script was used without much change at all major sites. The script disappeared fairly soon after the
collapse of the Indus Civilization.
Archaic Sumerian, the oldest logo-syllabic writing, mainly consists of iconic word signs or logograms occasionally
complemented with rebus-based syllabic signs which also initially expressed “words”. Grammatical markers were
at first ignored in writing, but were gradually introduced with the growing familiarity with phonetic signs and better
ability to analyze language.
The logo-syllabic system demanded hundreds of signs. Devising the first syllabic scripts became possible around
2300 BCE, when many syllabograms were already in use in the cuneiform script. Logograms could now largely be
eliminated. The Egyptian variant of logo-syllabic writing, whose rebus puns ignore vowels altogether, enabled an
even more drastic reduction of graphemes. Around 1600 BCE, Semitic scribes in Egyptian-occupied Levant started
Asko Parpola
writing their own language with just those phonograms of the Egyptian script that comprised a single consonant.
Logo-syllabic scripts have hundreds of graphemes, syllabic scripts manage with less than 100 and most alphabetic
scripts with less than 40.
The number of known Indus signs is around 400, which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for
the script to be syllabic or alphabetic. Word divisions are not marked, but many inscriptions comprise only one, two
or three signs, and longer texts can be segmented into comparable units. This is a typical word length in Sumeriantype
logo-syllabic script, while in syllabic and alphabetic scripts many words require more signs. The Indus script
was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed, so all main criteria agree in suggesting that the Indus
script is a logo-syllabic writing system.
Methodology: the basic decipherment formula and initial clues
The prospects and methods of deciphering a logo-syllabic script without translations differ in some essential respects
from those of syllabic and alphabetic scripts. The syllabaries and alphabets form closed systems that cover the entire
phonology of the language, and can be decoded as a systemic whole. In logo-syllabic scripts, there are many more
signs, and the phonetic bond between the signs is weaker. There is no chance of building such phonetic grids as in the
decipherment of Linear B, and a complete decipherment of the Indus script is certainly not possible with presently
available materials.
Most signs of early logo-syllabic scripts were originally pictures denoting the objects or ideas they represented.
But abstract concepts such as ‘life’ would be difficult to express pictorially. Therefore the meaning of a pictogram
was extended from the word for the depicted object to comprise all its homophones. In the Sumerian script the
drawing of an arrow meant ‘arrow’, but in addition ‘life’ and ‘rib’, because all three words were pronounced alike
in the Sumerian language, namely ti. Homophony is usually language-specific, and rebuses thus enable language
identification and phonetic decipherment.
Individual signs of logo-syllabic scripts may be deciphered if four conditions can simultaneously be fulfilled: (1)
the object depicted in a given pictogram can be recognized; (2) the said pictogram has been used as a rebus; (3) the
intended rebus meaning can be deduced from the context(s); and (4) acceptably homophonous words corresponding
to the pictorial and rebus meanings exist in a historically likely known language. (Method demands strictness with
homophony; in the case of Proto-Dravidian, variation in the length of vowels and consonants is allowed, but not
much else.)
The iconic shape of the Indus signs thus constitutes one of the chief keys to their interpretation. Unfortunately the
A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
pictorial meaning of most Indus signs is not clear. In some rare cases an iconographic motif added to an Indus
inscription can suggest the intended meaning of a sign. The scene at the right end of one tablet from Mohenjo-daro
(M-478) shows a human being who kneels in front of a tree and extends a V-shaped object towards it. The person
apparently presents offerings to a sacred tree in what may be a pot shown in cross-section. If so, the intended and
iconic meanings of the V-shaped sign in the text coincide, and it can be understood directly from the pictogram. We
need not know what the Harappan word for the depicted object was.
Figure 5. Pot of offerings in the text and iconography of the tablet M-478
from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 115.)
Figure 6. (Offering of) “four pots of fish” on the tablet H-902 from Harappa. (After CISI 2: 339.)
The plain ‘fish’ sign probably has the intended meaning ‘fish’ on Indus tablets such as H-902 B which seems to
mention offering of four pots of fish. In Mesopotamia fish offerings were made in temples, in India fish and meat and
strong drinks were offered to godlings inhabiting sacred trees. That the signs looking like a ‘fish’ really have this
pictorial meaning is certified by the Indus iconography, in which it is placed in the mouth of a fish-eating crocodile.
But if phonetic decipherment is possible only in cases where the rebus principle has been employed, how can we
locate such cases, and how can we deduce the intended rebus meanings? These are certainly among the most
difficult tasks. Contextual clues include the function of inscribed artifacts. The vast majority of Indus texts are seal
stamps and seal impressions. As with iconographic clues, we can use for their interpretation parallels from elsewhere,
Western Asia and historical South Asia being most relevant.
A clay tag stamped with cloth impression on the reverse and with a square Indus seal on the obverse comes from
Umma in Mesopotamia. The Harappans’ contact with the Near East makes it highly probable that the Indus seal
Asko Parpola
inscriptions chiefly contain proper names of persons with or without their occupational or official titles and descent,
as do the contemporaneous Mesopotamian seal inscriptions.
Starting point: the ‘fish’ signs of the Indus script
In Mesopotamian and later Indian onomastics, names of gods are used to form personal names. We can expect to
have theophoric components of proper names and of priestly titles in some fairly large and uniformly distributed
group of signs in the Indus seals.
Although Mesopotamian ECONOMIC texts often record rations of fish, fish is NEVER mentioned in
Mesopotamian SEAL inscriptions. Yet the ‘fish’ sign, both plain and modified with various diacritic additions, occurs
so frequently on Indus seals that almost every tenth sign belongs to this group. This suggests that at least in the Indus
SEAL inscriptions, the ‘fish’ signs denote something else than ‘fish’ and are used as rebuses.
The most commonly used word for ‘fish’ in Dravidian languages is miin, and has the homophone miin meaning
‘star’. Both words may be derivatives of the root min ‘to glitter’.
Of course, one must check that the words in assumed readings are represented in more than one subgroup and
can be reconstructed for Proto-Dravidian. In addition, the hypotheses must be checked against script-external
evidence. Do the proposed interpretations make sense in the Harappan context, and with regard to the later South
Asian tradition, and the Mesopotamian contacts?
Figure 7. The fish-eating crocodilian ghariyal with the ‘fish’ sign of the Indus script on the seal M-410 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 98.)
A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
There is some external evidence supporting the proposed Dravidian rebus reading of the ‘fish’ sign. The motifs
fish and star co-occur on Mature Harappan painted pottery. Tamil speakers, who call these two things with the same
word, have imagined the stars to be fish swimming in the ocean of night sky.
Additional support for reading the ‘fish’ sign as a rebus for ‘star’ is the absence of a sign depicting ‘star’ from the
Indus script, although the ‘star’ symbol is painted and incised on Early Harappan pottery. The omission of a ‘star’
pictogram from the script is understandable as an economic measure, as the ‘fish’ sign covers the meaning ‘star’ as
The rebus meaning ‘star’ suits the expected meaning ‘god’ as a component of proper names in seal inscriptions.
Whenever a god or goddess is mentioned in cuneiform texts, the pictogram of ‘star’ is prefixed to the name as its
determinative, to indicate that what follows is divine. In the Sumerian script, the ‘star’ pictogram means not only
‘god’ but also ‘sky’. ‘Star’ is thought to have originally been an attribute of the sky-god An. With An as the leading
divinity of the Sumerian pantheon, his symbol would then have started to mean ‘god’ in general. Astronomy, including
the use of a star calendar, played an important role in ancient Mesopotamia, and deeply influenced the religion: all the
main gods were symbolized by particular stars or planets.
In the Near East, the ‘star’ symbol
distinguished divinities even in pictorial representations.
Significantly, a seal from Mohenjo-daro depicts an Indus
deity with a star on either side of his head in this Near
Eastern fashion.
The ‘fish’ signs could well have been
parts of Harappan proper names, for ever since Vedic
times people in India have had astral names derived
from their birth stars. There are indications that this kind
of name-giving is of non-Aryan origin.
Methodology: Checking and verifying
The hypotheses can and must be subjected to scriptinternal
checking in the manner of cross-word puzzles.
One cannot overemphasize the importance of this
Figure 8. A seated deity with stars on either side of the head on the seal operation. If we apply exactly the same assumptions
M-305 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 383.)
Asko Parpola
and methods of interpretation to signs associated with an interpreted sign in a compound sign or in a recurring sign
sequence, do we get sensible results? If yes, these provisional results must be subjected to further external checking:
Are the posited compound words actually attested in Dravidian languages and not mere imagination? Particularly
important is Old Tamil literature, the only ancient Dravidian source not much contaminated by Indo-Aryan languages
and traditions. Interlocking of consistent readings with each other and with external linguistic data and clues constitutes
the essence of all decipherments.
Compounds formed with ‘fish’ signs and Indian mythology
The numerals belong to those few Indus signs whose function and meaning can be deduced with fair certainty, partly
from the fact that they consist of groups of vertical strokes, which is the way numerals are represented in many
ancient scripts, partly from their mutual interchangeability before specific signs, including the plain ‘fish’. Reading the
sequence ‘6’ + ‘fish’ in Dravidian yields the Old Tamil name of the Pleiades, aru-miin, literally ‘6 stars’. Note that
the numeral attribute precedes its headword in the Indus script as it did in Proto-Dravidian, but by no means in every
language of the world.
‘7’ + ‘fish’ corresponds to the Old Tamil name of Ursa Major, eZu-miin. This sequence forms the entire
inscription on one big seal from Harappa (H-9).
In Mesopotamia big dedicatory seals were
sometimes presented to divinities. The stars of Ursa
Major have since Vedic times been identified with the
ancient “Seven Sages”. These mythical ancestors of
priestly clans play an important role in early Indian
Because the Pleiades constitute the first
constellation of the Vedic star calendar, its heliacal rise
at the vernal equinox is thought to have marked the
beginning of the New Year. This and the position of the
marking stars in the sky dates the calendar to the twentythird
century BCE and suggests its Harappan origin.
The Vedic people did not inherit the calendar from the
Indo-Iranian tradition but adopted it in India.
Figure 9. The sequence of signs depicting ‘seven’ and ‘fish’; these
two signs form the whole inscription of the large seal H-9 from
Harappa. (After CISI 1: 166.)
A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
Vedic texts prescribe the kindling of sacred fires under the Pleiades, because the Pleiades now have the Fire-
God Agni as their mate. We are told that the Pleiades were the wives of the Seven Sages, but are now precluded
from intercourse with their husbands, who divorced them. Therefore the Pleiades now rise in the east, while the
Seven Sages (that is, the stars of Ursa Major) are in the north. The Fire God Agni mentioned as the mate of the
Pleiades apparently represents the young vernal sun, whose conjunction with the Pleiades started the New Year.
Later Sanskrit texts tell the myth in more detail and in several variant forms. According to them, the Fire God
Agni (or the great ascetic god OEiva) seduced the Pleiades in the absence of their husbands, the Seven Sages. They
were divorced. Only Arundhatii, the faithful wife of Sage VasiSTha, could not be seduced. She could remain as the
star Alcor with her husband, the star Mizar of Ursa Major (see fig. 13).
This is really one of the central myths of the Hindu religion. In a Puranic version, God OEiva seduced six of the
wives of the absent Seven Sages in their Himalayan hermitage. The Sages cursed OEiva’s phallus to fall down. The
phallus started to burn the world and stopped only when the Sages placed it on a vulva-shaped platform and
worshipped it with cooling water-libations. This is how the cult of OEiva’s linga or phallus originated. OEiva, one of the
greatest gods of Hinduism, has mostly the phallus as his cult icon since the earliest historical times. OEiva’s Vedic
predecessor Rudra is thought to be of non-Aryan origin. In Vedic texts, Rudra is euphemistically called oeiva
‘benign’, and equated with the Fire god Agni as is OEiva in the Pleiades myth.
Banyan fig and the pole star
One recurring sign sequence with the plain ‘fish’ sign as its latter member begins with a sign whose iconic meaning
seems to be ‘fig tree’. Can we here too have a Dravidian astral term?
Figure 10. The seal M-414
from Mohenjo-Daro. The normal
direction of writing, from right to
left, is that of the impression; in
this original seal stamp, the text
has been carved in mirror
image. (After CISI 3.1: 409.)
Asko Parpola
The iconic interpretation as ’fig’ is based on a comparison with Harappan painted pottery. In the script, the fig
tree is shown as three-branched, just as on the painted pottery, except when another sign is placed inside it; then the
central ‘branch’ is omitted. In the combined sign, the branches end in fig leaves as they do on the painted pottery,
but in the basic sign with less space the fig leaves are simplified, and one or two down-going lines are sometimes
added beneath the leaves on either side; in some variants
three or four such lines replace the leaves altogether.
The ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif occurs on
Harappan pottery from the Early through the Mature
to the Late phase. In one variant from the time when
the Indus script was created, four strokes are attached
to either side of the middle stem. They are similar to the
strokes of the Indus sign, except for their upward
direction, which may be due to the direction of the two
lower stems. The strokes seem to represent the airroots
of the banyan fig.
The rope-like air-roots are characteristic of the
banyan fig, Ficus bengalensis or Ficus indica. This
mighty tree is native to South Asia and does not grow
in the parts where the Indo-Aryan speakers came from.
A post-Vedic Sanskrit name for the banyan fig is vaTa.
This is a Dravidian loanword, ultimately derived from
Figure 11. Allographs of the Indus sign (no. 123) representing a three-branched ‘fig tree’ and of its ligature with the ‘crab’ sign (no. 124), where the
middlemost branch has been omitted to accommodate the inserted ‘crab’ sign. (After Parpola 1994: 235.)
Figure 12. A painted goblet with the ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif from
Nausharo ID, transitional phase between the Early and Mature Harappan
periods (c. 2600-2550 BCE). (After Samzun 1992: 250, fig. 29.4 no. 2.)

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?



War of words in the cradle of south Asian civilisation!

May 14, 2010

War of words in the cradle of south Asian civilisation

In the heart of Pakistan, the ruins of a 4,000-year-old city have spawned a cross-continental row about language, culture – and racism in academia, By Andrew Buncombe, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Curator Mohammed Hassan
ANDREW BUNCOMBECurator Mohammed Hassan

At the quiet ruins of Harappa, one of the two main centres of an ancient civilisation that once spread from the Himalayas to Mumbai, Naveed Ahmed took in the arid hills dotted with thorn-bush. “I think the people who lived here were very different from us,” said the part-time guide. “The stones and the beads [they made]; it was as if they were more sophisticated.”

However peaceful this ruined city of the Indus civilisation may appear, the former residents of Harappa and the remnants of their society are today at the centre of one of the most acrimonious disputes in academia, a controversy that has allegedly led to death threats and claims of racism and cultural chauvinism.

Many experts in south Asia and elsewhere believe that symbols and marks inscribed on seals and other artefacts found here represent an as yet undeciphered language. Arguing it may be the predecessor of one of several contemporary south Asian argots, these experts say it is proof of a literate Indian society that existed more than 4,000 years ago.

But other experts based in the West say although the symbols may contain information, they are not a true language. They claim the judgement of their counterparts in south Asia may be swayed by regional nationalism.

Mohammed Hassan is curator of the museum beside the dust-blown ruins. Before leading a tour, the government official served tea and biscuits in his office and insisted the people of Harappa must have possessed a written language to store information. “If they were not literate, then how could they do so many things?” he said. “They had well-made pottery, big cities that were well-planned. They had a lot of knowledge about these things. They grew cotton, wheat, rice and barley. They traded with other cities.”

The Indus civilisation covered more than 500,000 square miles and lasted, during what experts term its “mature phase”, from 2,600 till 1900 BCE. The ruins, 100 miles south-west of the Pakistani city Lahore, the ruins were rediscovered in the early part of the 19th century.

The skills of its residents – at least in terms of making bricks that could endure centuries – were revealed by two British engineers, John and William Brunton, who were building the East Indian Railway Company line to connect Lahore and Karachi and needed ballast for their track. The engineers later wrote that locals told them of well-made bricks from an ancient ruined city that the villagers had made use of. With little concern for preserving the ruins, huge numbers of the Indus-era bricks were reduced to rubble and used to support the tracks heading west.

In the early 20th century, excavation of Harappa proceeded along with that of the other Indus city at Mohenjo-daro, in the south of Pakistan, and it was at that time many of the seals now on display in Mr Hassan’s museum containing symbols and images of animals were discovered. And they have continued to beguile, fascinate and frustrate scientists, causing a running controversy that has played out on internet message boards, scientific papers and at academic conferences.

Like Mr Hassan, Iravatham Mahadevan, an expert in epigraphy from southern India who has been awarded the country’s highest civilian award for his work, has no doubts the symbols on the Indus seals represent a genuine language. “Archaeological evidence makes it inconceivable that such a large, well-administered, and sophisticated trading society could have functioned without effective long-distance communication, which could have been provided only by writing,” he wrote last year in a magazine.

“And there is absolutely no reason to presume otherwise,considering that thousands of objects, including seals, copper tablets, and pottery bear inscriptions in the same script throughout the Indus region. The script may not have been deciphered but that is no valid reason to deny its very existence.”

Mr Mahadevan believes the Indus script may have been a forerunner of so-called Dravidian languages, such as Tamil, spoken today in southern India and Sri Lanka. In addition to technical clues, he says the continued existence of a Dravidian language in modern Pakistan – Brahvi, which is spoken by people in parts of Balochistan – supports his idea.

Over the years, there have been plenty of other theories both from established experts and enthusiastic amateurs. Some, with the backing of Hindu nationalists, have claimed the script may be an early Indo-European language and that remnants of it may even exist in Sanskrit, an ancient language that is the root of many present languages in north India, including Hindi. It has even been claimed the Indus script belonged to metalsmiths, and others believe it died out with the city of Harappa itself and gave rise to no successor.

Part of the problem for the experts is that, unlike for those who cracked the hieroglyphics of Egypt, there is no equivalent of the Rosetta stone, the slab of granite-like rock discovered in 1799 that contained Egyptian and Greek text. In the 1950s, academic interest in Mayan hieroglyphics intensified when experts began to study modern spoken Mayan, but for the Indus scholars there is no agreement on which, if any, modern language is the successor to their script.

In 2004, the debate was jolted into a war of words after three American scholars claimed the Indus symbols were not a language at all. In a paper provocatively subtitled The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilisation, they said there was insufficient evidence that the symbols constituted a proper language. They pointed to various factors: that there was no single long piece of text; that there was disagreement over the number of actual symbols and that other well-organised societies had been illiterate. The symbols, they argued, may well contain information in the same way that an image of a knife and fork together might represent a roadside eatery but they were not a language that could record speech.

The ensuing uproar came mainly from south Asians. One of the American scholars, Steve Farmer claimed people would approach him in tears after he gave talks and that he had even had death threats. Comments on internet discussion boards accuse him and his colleagues of trying to prove that “non-Western cultures were less advanced”. Mr Farmer, who lives in California, said he believed much of the anger was driven by those wishing to promote pet theories about Dravidians, indigenous Aryan Hindus or “the general man in the street who wants to think ancient India was of the same order as Egypt or Mesopotamia. It’s total rubbish”. He added: “I have never seen anything like the passion that there is in India. There is not that sort of passion in the Middle East about ancient things.”

More recently, the Indus controversy has been joined by a team of Indian scientists who ran computer programmes which led them to conclude the symbols almost certainly constitute a language. Central to their claims, published last year in Science, was the theory of “conditional entropy”, or the measure of randomness in any sequence. Because of linguistic rules – such as in English the letter Q is almost always followed by a U – in natural languages the degree of randomness is less than in artificial languages.

One of the authors, Rajesh Rao, who was born in Hyderabad but is now based at the University of Washington, became fascinated by the Indus culture after studying it at school. His team measured the randomness with which the individual Indus symbols appeared on seals and compared that to the randomness of several natural and artificial languages. Mr Rao said it was closest to a natural language. “The Indus civilisation was larger than the ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Mesopotamian civilisations and the most advanced in terms of urban planning and trade,” he said. “Yet we know little about their leaders, their beliefs, their way of life, and the way their society was organised. Many of us hope that decoding the script will provide a new voice to the Indus people.”

Yet as soon as Mr Rao’s team published its findings, Mr Farmer and his colleagues hit back, denouncing their conclusions and methodology. Mr Rao, whose team has since issued a detailed defence of their theory, said he was surprised at the level of contention, within south Asia and beyond, but also at some of the comments he claims Mr Farmer’s group levelled at him.

So whether the Indus is a script with hidden meanings may never be deciphered. Naveed Ahmed, a 24-year-old part-time guide, whose family has lived “forever” in a village on the edge of the ruins speaks Punjabi, an Indo-Aryan language from the same family as Sanskrit. Was it possible a linguistic thread connected the language he used with what had been spoken – and possibly written – by the people who once occupied the ruined city? “I don’t know if it is the same,” he said. “But it’s a possibility that our language came from them. It is always a possibility.”

Why Michael Witzels, Steve Farmers, Karunanidhis are so worried about IVC?

April 20, 2010

Why Michael Witzels, Steve Farmers, Karunanidhis are so worried about IVC?

If the scholars are genuinely interested in researching and presenting facts without any bias, such type of presentation could be understood by even common man by going through.

But when a certain pattern with bias, prejudice, pre-determined attack on one particular linguistic or religious group counched under the so-called not following racism, racialism etc., then there is a reason to doubt their credentials whether they are Indian, Indian born or non-Indan, European or American categories.

Therefore, the changing stands of the scholars also worry common men, as their views are picked up by the ideologically biased journalists and politicians to interprete and propagate according to their viewpoint. Here only Karunanidhi comes. He never bothered when Asko Parpola visited Madras / Chennai about 100 times. It is not known as to whether he has ever met him and discussed. In 1990s, he said that the whole affairs of fighting with each other etc., were Aryan issues! Rama and Krishna were black and Kshtriyas……………and so on! Or his friend Iravatham Mahadevan used his good offices to make him meet.

However, now he has been chosen for the award!

In deed, it should have been given to Michael wizel or Steve Farmer appropriately, as they have done excellent work. not only that, Michael could come right inside the so-called “Aryan-bastion”, the much hated “Parppaniya den” – Sanskrit College and declared that he had developed some skills to read and understand Rifvedic verses. However, he could not pronouce “Indrasul, Mitrasil,Nasatya…….”, as his tingue was not co-operating!

However, his humour has been phenomenal and epigenetic!

Kindly have more fun, dear friends cheers!

With due acknowledgments to Sanskrit Professor!

Steve wrote:

>>It is tedious to keep going over these materials, but if it’s one
we’ve learned over the years, it is that these people *only* win if you
don’t stand up to them. When you do, ignoring the smears and just
giving the facts, their plans crumble.

>> Michael will have more on Rajaram’s Hindutva Love Fest at U. Mass
Dartmouth later today or tomorrow, I believe.

Indeed, I went down to Dartmouth, MA, to take a look at the
“Symposium on Aryan/Non-Aryan Origin of Indian Civilization.”

The Aryan invasion of India is a 19th c. theory that no serious
scholar today takes seriously, but that plays a great role in current
Indian and NRI (Indian immigrant) politics in the US (as we have seen
in California recently).

Scholarly speaking, what is to be explained is the introduction into
South Asia of an Indo-European language (Vedic Sanskrit), of
Indo-Iranian poetry, poetics and religion, as well as some of the Vedic
material culture (horses, chariots, etc.) This is fervently denied by
Hindutvavadins as the cannot allow that a central part of their culture
that continues until today has come from the outside. In their eyes,
this would threaten the supposedly indigenous character of the (North)
Indian Vedic civilization, and thus, much of the roots of later

I went to Dartmouth as to take a stand in what promised to be a
Hindutva-centered meeting that was to propound the victory against the
so-called “Aryan invasion theory”.
Also, as not to leave our archeologist and geneticist colleagues alone,
exposed to severe doses of Hindutva and being unwittingly co-opted, as
has happened before (such as in the Long Beach conference some 3 years

People were flown in from as far as Europe and India to attend the
“symposium”. Clearly, some major funding is behind this effort “to
settle the theory of an Aryan Invasion” at c. 1500 BCE.

This so-called symposium was fun, if you can savor the nutty “theories”
these people propound. There were just a few exceptions among the
speakers from the Hindutva mindset (see list below):

* P. Eltsov, a young archeologist (PhD Harvard, now at Berlin) who gave
a grand view of indian civilization based on indigenous ideas of the
development of culture, from texts such as the Puranas (that have never
been used for that purpose).

* P. Underhill, well known Stanford geneticist, gave an overview of Y
chromosome studies relating to India (see below for details).

* V. K. Kashyap, of the National Institute of Biologicals at New Delhi,
gave a serious genetic paper (overview of recent mtDNA and NRY
studies related to India), but unfortunately his conclusions were again
quite Hindutva-like (see below)

* Makarand Paranjpe, (JL Nehru U., Delhi) gave a macro-civilizational,
post-colonialist speech, clearly inspired by measured nationalism . It
was a plea for the decolonizing of the Indian mind (now 50 years after
independence!), but he is not of a Hindutva mindset.

* Dr. Asiananda, Intercultural Open University, Netherlands, gave a
Blavatsky-inspired talk, free from Hindutva. Instead, he actually
quoted Parpola and Witzel with approval (what a combination!). He
proposed a grand scheme of ‘megacycles’ in history: the pre-vedic,
postvedic and transvedic civilization, into which we enter now,
supposedly: the beginning of a new Axial Age: a great Asian peace zone
expanding world wide. Sure. Just ask the emerging new powers in Asia
and South America.

As the last few cases show, the meeting was as nutty as expected. A few
characterizations about the hard core Hindutva characters and their
camp followers.

was stuck, as is usual with him, in the 19th century (Max Mueller),
though now (after having posed a historian Indologist for the past 15
years) he wants to be a scientist again, using modern science to
explain the Vedic age.

He gave his usual erroneous overview of the word aarya in the Rigveda,
underlining that aarya does not mean a ‘race’ but just is cultural term
(as long explained, unbeknownst to him, by Kuiper, 1955), that and
means ‘noble’ (which is wrong as Thieme has shown long ago). He also
denies that the Aarya distinguished themselves from others in the RV
(again untrue) and maintained that seeing Arya a “race” was a product
of European thought and was necessary for German nationalism in the
19th c. and unification in 1870/71. (Well, ask Bismarck whether he ever
read the Vedas or studied comparative linguistics).

Of course, Dr. R. is unaware of the fact that arya, aarya – he
mentions only aarya– in the RV means something else, (probably
‘hospitable’, i.e. “us’) and he is unaware of the seminal study of the
term by Thieme ( Der Fremdling im Rigveda. Leipzig 1938; Mitra and
Aryaman. New Haven 1957; JAOS 80, 1960, 301-17 the latter two in

Once again, he expressed his nonacceptance of comparative historical
linguistics, which “would not exist without Sanskrit”. A typical
Indo-centric view, that neglects that other language families were
discovered earlier than the Indo-European one, and that the
establishment of IE ling. could have proceeded without the knowledge
of Sanskrit: it merely was facilitated by Skt as the constituent
elements of words (root, stem suffix, endings) are a little clearer
their than, say in Greek or Latin.

In short, historical and technical ignorance, which characterized all
of his writings of the past 15 years. (He cannot even get the
intellectual history of the 19th c., right as he depends on secondary
and tertiary sources).

Then, he cherry-picked from other sciences, such as genetics (“which
shows that there was no recent immigration into India!” — see below),
archaeology, etc. Again, without clear understanding of the procedure
of these sciences and the way some of their “results’ are arrived at,
by speculation. Thus, when he talks about the connection between the
Harappan civilization and the Veda (“by one group of people”), he
cherry-picks some similarities and neglects the fundamental differences
between the city civilization of the Harappans and the (largely)
pastoral, semi-nomadic Rgvedic culture.

All of this as to show that a “paradigm change” in understanding early
Indian history is underway. Well, just in his own mind and that of his
camp followers. (I will not go into details here. I have discussed all
of this madness of alleged paradigm change in along and tedious
fashion in EJVS 2001)

Instead, as he has now noticed that the Rigveda represents a maritime
civilization (see below, BB Lal’s talk), he wants to move on and study
the connections between Harappan and Rgvedic civilization on the one
hand, and the S.E. Asian (such as Cambodia) ones on the other. He is
clearly inspired by the popular books of S. Oppenheimer, and his failed
“paradise in the east”, based on the Toba explosion of c. 75,000 BCE
(ironically when Homo Sap., sap. had not yet left Africa).

Focusing, like Oppenheimer, on SE Asia Rajaram attributes, against
recent botanical data, the origin of rice agriculture to the Cambodian
Tonle Sap area some 12 kya ago, thus at 10,000 BCE. But we know that
domesticated oryza japonica originated in S. China and oryza indica in
the eastern parts of N. Indian plains, all quite a few millennia later
than 12 Kya.

Obviously I opposed these points in the discussion period (as mentioned
above) and ironically encouraged him to get all departments of
linguistics abolished world wide….

(By the way, no words by Rajaram about his proposed 2nd vol. of
“translations” of the Indus signs. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him
about it. What a pity!)


This former, rather unproductive Prof. of history at the CA State
University (Northridge) was very active in the long ranging CA
schoolbook debate that he “won” — of course, only in his mind. He
wanted to show that the theory of an “Aryan” invasion or even influx
into India was just a myth, and that the Vedic and Harappan (Indus)
civilizations were connected: by identifying the area of the Seven
Rivers (Sapta Sindhavah), the Sarasvati River, and the epicenter of
Rgvedic culture.

In doing so, he did not repeat what specialists have known for long,
that the 7 rivers define the greater Panjab area, but he propounded the
strange idea that the western Panjab rivers (Jhelum, Indus etc.) were
excluded… Note that this “result” excludes much of Pakistan and E.
Afghanistan (whose rivers are of course clearly mentioned in the text)

As for the Sarasvati, he tried to show that this is a “mighty” river in
Haryana State (northwest of Delhi), again something well known to
specialists. He propounded the typical Hindutva theory that this river
flowed from the mountains (Himalaya) to the ocean (samudra), neglecting
the studies of K. Klaus (in the Eighties) that showed that samudra
means many things in the Veda, including lakes. Thus, he overlooked the
point that the Sarasvati (Sarsuti)-Ghaggar-Hakra river ended in a delta
and in terminal lakes in the Cholistan/Ft.Derawar area in Pakistan,
well east of the Indus. He also overlooked the recent studies by two
Indian and two German geologists who have pointed out (Current science
2004) that the “great river” of the Harappan and Vedic period could
not have been so large anymore as its area does not show mineral
deposits of Himalayan glaciers. This renders a perennial glacier-fed
river into a smaller, monsoon fed one that could not fill the 10 km
wide river bed of former times.

Hindutvavadins need the big river, that they say dried up in c. 2000
BCE, as they want to make it the center of the Harappan Civilization,
that they call the Sindhu (Indus) –Sarasvati civilization. (But, it
has been shown by R. Mughal in 1977 that this drying up happened in
stages, with several reversals. Not mentioned of course).

Bajpai had the great idea (not substantiated by historical leveling of
the RV) that the original Sapta Sindhu region was in the Sarasvati
area, (called “the best place on earth” in RV 3 ) and that the concept
was later expanded to include areas west and east of it. Strange that
the Avesta also has it (Videvdad), but Avestan was never mentioned by
this Indocentric person (who told me during a CA meeting that he is not
interested in materials from outside India). Nor was any attention
paid to the fact that RV 3 is a book that deals with the victorious
Bharata tribe, who settled in the Sarasvati area and naturally praised
this river to the skies… Such is the lack of background and scholarly
sense of this great historian.

His conclusion was that the Rigvedic civilization and the Harappan one
overlapped in one geographical area and also in time, as the RV “must
be older than 2000 BCE” since it still mentions the great Sarasvati
flowing to the ocean.

In sum, he now wants to reconstitute the history of the Harappan and
Vedic times: “the myth and baggage” of the Aryans as coming from the
outside must be given up. In the question period, BB. Lal (see below)
honed in on this erroneous idea that must be discarded, and Rajaram
added that scholars now need to take one more step: join archeological
and literary evidence (as if we and others had not done that, for
example at Toronto 1990 (Erdosy 1995) and in the yearly Harvard Round
Tables (since 1999).

Again, it became clear how narrow, Indocentric and uniformed the
Hindutva proponents are and how much they lack proper information on
past studies. P. Eltsov and I criticized some of the points mentioned
above. Time however always was too short during the meeting to go into
any detailed discussion of the many points mentioned, so I had to pick
and choose among some obviously inane proposals and the lack of
information and vision.

B.B. Lal

Lal is the former Dir. Gen. of the Indian archaeological service. At
that time, he has done some very good work, though he has published
little of it and is doing so only now, after severe public criticism in
India some 2 years ago.

However, after his retirement he became religious and Hindutva-like. I
still must make a streaming video of interviews he gave in 1985 to a
Japanese TV crew about his digs that were meant to follow the footsteps
of the (god!) Rama , from Ayodhya southwards across the Ganges and
beyond… Maybe I can do so this summer.
Lal too propounds the identity of the Vedic and Harappan civilizations.

Anyhow, he also billed himself as a Sanskritist this time — but he
has never heard that Vedic Sanskrit is as different from the commonly
taught Classical one as Homeric Greek is different from Classical
Greek. Consequently, he made serious mistakes in his long discussion
of Rgvedic culture.

After blaming Max Mueller and M. Wheeler as originators of the Aryan
theory, and rejecting the old explanation that the invading Aryans had
driven the Dravidians southwards, he stressed the continuity of the
Harappan and Vedic cultures, and went on a textual spree:

If the Aryan Invasion theory was right, then how come that among
Rigvedic place names there are no Dravidian ones? (He never mentioned
the fact that many words have a third language origin, loans from a
prefixing, Austro-Asiatic like language). He then talked about plants
and animals as typical Indian (forgetting about temperate climate IE
words such as those for the wolf, otter, beaver, willow, oak, etc.),
and merely mentioned that the birch tree (another IE word) is not
found in the RV (it of course occurs prominently in post-RV texts, with
derivates to this day…)

Next came M. Witzel’s “abortive attempt” to find the immigration in a
Sutra text. The passage in question (BS’S 18) has found various
interpretations, and Lal, as a non-specialist, was of course not aware
of the fact that the Brahmana-like texts play with popular etymologies:
in case that of “going, moving” (I, ay) and staying at home (amaa vas),
which is found in the tribal names involved (Ayu, Amavasu), which I
had to point out to him. His summary, predicable again, was: no Aryan

Next a discussion some terracotta “spoked wheels” in Harappan layers:
remember we need horses and chariots in pre-RV times! (An Indian
archaeologist had described them to me recently as spindle whirls,
confirming my own interpretation).

As expected he also found horses in archeology (figurines and the
Surkotada skeleton). I had to point out to him that the horse is a
steppe animal that was introduced into the near East and S. Asia only
around 2000 BCE, and that only by finding the phalanges of equids one
can decide whether we deal with a donkey, a horse or a half-ass
(onager, hemione) skeleton. Onagers still are found in the Rann of

Further a discussion of pur ”fort”, and sea trade with 100-oared boats.
As an archeologist, he had never heard that 100, 1000 are commonly used
as ‘many’ in Vedic texts and anyhow, the boat in question is a
mythological one, not one of human traders.

He also saw great rulers in the RV, just because samraat means
‘emperor’, in post-Vedic texts., Again philological failure. And so on
and so forth.

Finally, the Sarasvati again, drying up at 2000 BCE. Thus the RV must
be dated before that event. Indeed, Haryana settlements (the center of
RV culture, see above) go back to excavations showing a date of 6431
BCE (!) And genetics were thrown in for good measure (Sahoo 2006)

In sum, though the RV occupied only the northwest of the subcontinent,
it “overlaps in time and area with the Harappan civilianization”.

It is surprising how an established archaeologist can be so naïve, in
his old age, about facts from outside his field (palaeontology,
genetics, texts, linguistics) and still loudly proclaim his
‘revolutionary’ result (also in his latest book “The Sarasvati flows
on”.) I felt sorry for him that I had to point this out, but since he
is a well respected authority, it had to be done.


Kazanas is the head of a new age-like institution in Athens (Greece).
He has studied some Sanskrit way back in Britain, and has joined the
anti-Migration bandwagon in recent years.

Interestingly, his talk put the RV not at 2000 BCE but at 3000 BCE and
earlier, but he still made the same assertion of a link between the
Harappan and Vedic civilization.

No problem: he has spoked wheels in an Indus sign where a man stands
above to ‘spoked’ circles; he has “plenty” horses in India, since
17,000 BCE (but, the Sivalik horse disappeared, like its American
relatives, in the megafaunal extinction around 10,000 BCE), all of
which fits the RV evidence of horses and chariots.

However, as indicated, he has the RV well before the Indus civ. : thus,
istaka ‘brick” is not found in the RV (never mind that it also is found
in Avestan and Tocharian, an old BMAC loan); pur does not mean fort or
town (W. Rau has shown in the Seventies that it means exactly that:
‘fort’); Rgvedic people were oceangoing; the RV has no fixed, built up
altars like the (supposed) Harappan ones at Kalibangan (well, what
about, e.g., RV 2.3.7 with 3 ‘ backs/hills’ for the 3 sacred fires?);
and echoing Sethna, the word for cotton is found only in the late Vedic
Sutra, while it has been found in the Indus civ.

His simpl(istic) summary: the RV must be older than the Harappan civ.

He also believes that many ideas and myths of the RV have been
forgotten after 3000 BCE, that the genealogies (which ALWAYS are
subject to expansion and contraction) found in the Brhadaranyaka
Upanishad add up to a Vedic period of some 900 years; that Achar’s
calculation of the date of the Mahabharata at 3067 (see below) shows
the age of Indian civ..

Then, that the mighty Sarasvati (see above) leads to a period of 3200
or 3800 BCE, his time of the RV (never mind the other Hindutva dates
given above). Additionally, saras in Saras-vati does not mean a lake
but the root sr means to ‘rush’. Well, Mayrhofer’s etymological
dictionary (which he quoted!) lists saras itself and links it with a
different root, as seen in Greek helos ‘swamp,’ which he –as a Greek–
did not mention. (See my discussion of his ideas in JIES 31, (2003),

Finally, the “full agreement of “all archeologist’’ in not accepting an
Aryan invasion as there “never can be any peaceful immigration” Huh?
Which was “possible only thorough conquest by nomadic horse riding

In sum, the usual omnium gatherum of disjointed elements that all can
be disputed (as I did of course), point by point.

Simply put: horses and chariots in South Asia at 3500 BCE (before they
actually appear, after 2000 BCE)?


N. Achar gave another version of his paper (already widely distributed
on the net) that dates the Mahabharata tale to 3067 BCE, based on
the description of the movement of some planets, some eclipses, etc.
If we were to take these descriptions (found in post-Vedic,
non-standard Epic Sanskrit) as a given, the (unanswered) question would
arise: how this knowledge would have been transmitted, from its form in
the Harappan language, to Vedic and post-Vedic Sanskrit, in an ever
changing medium like the epic.

Anyhow: what would the Mahabharata be without horses and chariots (at
3067 BCE??)

In discussion, he maintained his belief that the astronomical data are
based on actual observation and somehow made it into our present
version of the Mahabharata (compiled probably only around 100 BCE.!)

Y. “Rani” ROSSER

She was, in a certain way, the most amusing highlight of the meeting.
Talking at high volume, shouting at times, she complained about the
state of schoolbooks with regard to the ‘debunked Aryan Invasion
Theory’ and that the ‘paradigm shift’ away from it does not appear in
American schoolbooks or in Summer school-like meetings that inform US
high school teachers. She has started a project collecting statements
about various scholars about the theory.

More amusingly, she took pot shots at me three or four times, laced
with faulty memory and confabulation as well as plainly wrong
information, and including even personal items. As it turned out later
she was confusing my website (where she does not figure) with that of
a second generation India group on the web (IPAC). I had to tell her “
first read, then speak…” several times.

Not satisfied with this, she accosted me in the break period, loudly
calling me, quote, “an asshole” (twice) . So much spiritualism for this
sari-clad, self-professed Ganesha worshipper.

(Others had contended themselves with complaints that I had not
answered their email (Kazanas), etc., or that I had not taken up their
invitation to speak at the meeting. Why should I legitimize them in
doing so? — After all his slander & libeling, Rajaram did not say
anything about me, of course not about his role in CA, but I
confronted him, and told him what I think of his defamation and
libeling since December. And too bad that Harvard did not buy his
libeling. No answer.).

Some such amusement apart, Rani Rosser clearly is very angry that I
disturbed her nicely planned scheme to saffronize CA schoolbooks (she
was involved in the planning and writing of the edits), and that I had
shown her ignorance on another list some 5 years ago. Another
Rajaram-like “forget me not” case.

Finally coming to some actual science:


Is a geneticist at Stanford U., and participant in our yearly Round
Tables. He gave an overview of the genetic data presently known for
India. It was loaded with caveats about what genetics can say about
ancient populations and how limited our knowledge actually is at this
moment. (Interestingly, Rajaram often interrupted and asked follow up
questions, as he now fancies himself as budding population geneticist).

Underhill stressed the fact that we have little ancient DNA, and use
modern one as proxy material that is supposed to indicate actual
historical events. Second, that there is no direct connection between
genes, language and archaeology. Third, that different population
histories can create the same genetic landscape, that certain
demographic events may be hidden, and that late arrivals [such as the
Aryans] may not be easily detectable.
Fourth, that there always is the possibility that results of genetics
are cherry-picked to suit political desires (a clear hint of Hindutva
efforts), but that good science always is self-correcting.

He then proceeded to give some details of the Y chromosome landscape of
South Asia, pointing out some haplogroups that arose in India and
others that came for the outside.

Of special interest is R1a1-M17 (which he discovered in 1995) and that
has often been attributed to the spread of Indo-European (while
Hindutvavadins let it originate in India). That is a gross
simplification. According to him, it probably arose in the area around
the Hindukush around 10,000 BC (+/- 3000 years), and spread eastwards
and westwards. It has the largest impact on S. Asia (some 25%), but is
found from E. Europe to India.
However, its resolution, that means as subgroups of M17, still are too
inadequate, so that nothing specific can be said about a possible
(re-)introduction of a variety of M17 into S. Asia [along with the

He re-asserted this in the discussion, when BB Lal wanted to know more
about the chronology of this haplogroup. I also brought up the lack of
genetic resolution for any recent movements of people such as Aryans,
Turkic Muslims and British, as the error bar still is 3000 years for
events around 1000 BCE and later. He affirmed this, taking the wind
out of the sails of those who had used the Sengupta/Sahoo papers
(2005,2006) that dealt with events around 10,000 kya, as to refute an
Aryan invasion. I also brought up the Kivisild paper of 1999 that has
been used in the CA debate to show that “genetics had refuted an Aryan
migration” — well, at 60,000 BCE, not at the likely date of 1500 BCE.

One can only hope that this and other ridiculous statements will now
disappear. Not easily, though, see the following:


Kashyap is a DNA specialist at a national institute in Delhi. He gave
an even more detailed, valuable overview of the Indian genetic
landscape based on his project of studying 415 Indian populations.
However, some strange features appeared in his talk:
Dravidian at 50,700 kya
Austroasiatic at “??”
Tibeto-Burmese at 8-10 kya
Aryan at 3.5 to 5,.5 kya.
Dravidian at 50, 000? At that time, not even the hypothetical Nostratic
ancestor language had developed, not to speak of its daughter families,
such as IE, Dravidian, etc,

He then quoted some genetic papers with pro and contra for an Aryan
migration from Central Asia, and proceeded to Sahoo (2006) and his own
study: with similar results as those in Underhill’s. So far so good.

However the local atmosphere must have shaped his actual interpretation
of the data. For, he used them to show that there are [currently, I
add] no data for an Aryan Immigration and that the Aryan gene pool is
a myth.

In the discussion, Underhill intervened and stressed again that his
agrees with Kashyap’s genetic data. But that he hesitated to put a
specific origin on some of them, such as M17-R1a1 [which Hindutvavadins
have used for an Out of India theory of IE – at 10 kya ! ]. M17
could just as easily have arisen on the Iranian plateau and then have
moved into India, just as other lineages did. The lack of informative
sub-haplogroups makes it impossible to say anything more.

In sum: genetics has nothing to say yet about the Aryan migration. Too
bad for the Rajaram’s of this world.

(Kak did not come; nor was our old favorite, Dr. K, present nor his
buddy, the budding self-appointed linguist Kelkar who lives close by in
the Boston area).

(I skipped the other sessions, such as the one on the Indian family
system — which, I hear, was just as nutty, apparently inspired by the
fear of loosing the joint family system and the Indian “racial”
identity when NRI children are intermarrying with Non-NRIs left and
right. And I skipped the “Workshop on Indian Civilization”, apparently
used for planning Hindutva style college text books,– which would have
been even a greater loss of time and energy).

In the summary session, I stressed again that the “Aryan Invasion
Theory” is dead and gone, it is a 19th c. theory. But, not to be
misquoted, that they still have to explain how a temperate climate
Indo-European language got into the subcontinent (and Iran), along with
its poetics, religion and rituals. That they finally must learn some
linguistics and philology, and explain their facts. Just to cherry-pick
and cut and paste the interpretations of the various sciences does not

In sum, as expected, another event that brought out Hindutva goals and
methods. A loss of time, sure, but these guys had to be confronted…

Cheers, M.W.

Here the official list which does not quite reflect the actual list of
speakers, as give above.
Symposium on Aryan/Non-Aryan Origin of Indian Civilization

Session I Chair: Vanita Shastri

4:00 PM – Dr. Petr Eltsov, Deutches Archaeologische Institut, Germany-
From Harappa to Hastinapura: A study of the earliest South City and
civilization from the point of view of archaeology and ancient Indian
4:45 PM – Dr. N. S. Rajaram, Indologist – The Aryan Myth In Perspective
-History, Science and Politics
5:30 PM – Dr. Asiananda, Intercultural Open University, Netherlands –
Situating Aryan/Non-Aryan Origins of Indian Civilization within a
Mega-cyclical View of Indian History
6:15 PM – Dr. Shiva Bajpai, California State University, Northridge –
Epicenter and Ecumene of the Rigvedic Aryans

Saturday June 24, 2006

Session II Chair: S. S. Chakravarti

7:30 AM – Registration and continental breakfast

8:30 AM – Dr. B. B. Lal, former Director General, Archeological Survey
of India – An Ostrich-Like Attitude Is Perpetuating -The ‘Aryan
Invasion’ Myth?
9:15 AM – Dr. Nicholas Kazanas, Omilos Meleton, Athens – Dating the
Rigveda and Indigenism
10:00 AM – Dr. Subhash Kak, Louisiana State University – Vedic
Astronomy and the Aryan Problem

10:45 AM – Break

Session III Chair: C. M. Bhandari

11: 00 AM – Dr. Yvette Rosser, UMass Dartmouth – Aryans and Ancestral
11:45 AM – Dr. Peter Underhill, Stanford University – Patterns of
Y-chromosome diversity in the contemporary South Asian gene pool
12:30 PM – Dr. V. K. Kashyap, National Institute of Biologicals, New
Delhi, India – Aryan Gene Pool in India- Reality or Myth; Evidences

1:15 PM – Lunch

2:15 PM – Dr. Makarand Paranjape, Jawaharlal Nehru University –
Symposium Roundup
3:00 PM – Break


Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University
1 Bow Street , 3rd floor, Cambridge MA 02138
1-617-495 3295 Fax: 496 8571
direct line: 496 2990

Michael Witzel and Rajaram: Interesting encounters!

April 19, 2010

Michael Witzel and Rajaram: Interesting encounters!

As I am an Indian and poor man, I could not have gone there to watch fun, but our Sanskrit Professor at Harvard have done a nice coverage to that event and I thank Michael Wizel and present the details as follows:

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id=”message_view_subject”>[Indo-Eurasia] Rajaram, in Boston, requires withdrawal of Horseplay in HarappaSunday, 18 April, 2010 8:45 PM

“Michael Witzel” <>

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“Michael Witzel” <>

Dear List,

since it is the weekend, a few amusing details about our old friend,
NS Rajaram’s, talk at MIT last week (4/10) and his subsequent
interview in the local Indian immigrants’ (NRI) newspaper Lokavani
“Voice of the People’ — sponsored by a clueless US immigration lawyer.

Along with one or two of my students, I went to MIT to have some fun.
And fun it was. Some very emotional people (among the c. 40
listeners) objected to our snickering at his “ideas” (see below).

Rajaram indeed repeated all the fantasies and unscientific nonsense
that he has propagated since he abruptly turned, overnight (why?),
from a mathematician at some US colleges and a (very occasional, but
hyped) collaborator of NASA-Houston, into a “historian” back in his
home town of Bangalore in India.

No need to repeat all of this as we have discussed it on and off over
the past decade. (Just read his interview, below)

Only a few highlights.

I thought to challenge his many fantasies (see Lokavani), but as
there was little time and chance, I merely pointed out the obvious:
that his “scientific” dating of the Vedic civilization BEFORE the
Indus civilization (2600-1900 BCE) is impossible precisely on
*scientific* grounds: before 2000 BCE, there were no horses
(caballus) in India, nor had spoke-wheeled chariots been invented by
then. Both are of course prominent in the “preceding” Vedic texts.

Rajaram and friends (e.g., an *always present* loud associate of a
local temple) took up the usual secondary and tertiary ‘arguments’
and ways out: that there were “Indian” horses with seventeen ribs in
the Rgveda (of course *not* a genetic trait of horses [that have
16-18 ribs]),and the Narmadicus horses (well, dead for hundreds of
thousands of years, — along with their 3 toes (!) ). Fun.

Or quoting a Graham Hancock film (Kathy?) … No comment.

More funnily, one young women, objecting emotionally to the husband
of my student, showed him the finger and called him an asshole.
Remember the same from our Dartmouth, Mass. meeting of June 2006?
(Where Rajaram is now invited by the miniscule setup of a “Center of
Indian Studies”, at U. Mass., Darthmouth). See my detailed June 26,
2006 report:

<http://groups. group/Indo- Eurasian_ research/ message/4278>

She also wanted to ‘correct’ my Sanskrit pronunciation of shaanti and
told us the familiar Hindutva standby that we were not entitled, as
non-Indians, to talk about Indian culture. When I told her that, in
that case, she was not entitled to talk about American culture, we
only got blank, non-comprehending stares, even after explaining it
for a 2nd time. — Fun.

But back to Rajaram. More fun: He came up to me after his 2 hour (!)
talk to “greet” me, and I told him to stop lying about me (…
forgetting, by the way, about his monthly missives to my president
and provost to throw me out of the University.. .).

**He then required me to withdraw our 2000 paper “Horseplay in
Harrappa” in the Indian magazine Frontline**
that completely destroyed his credibility, even in the then Hindutva-
led (BJP) circles.

I told him: no way.

He also told the audience that his 2nd volume on the “decipherment’
of the Indus signs would come out now. Cannot wait for more
decipherments such as “mosquito”.. .

And, that he has now shifted to a maritime interpretation (along with
David Frawdley) of the Rgvedic texts. (Good luck with traveling in
the night time sky = samudra!) And to South East Asian maritime
input on Vedic civilization — a pet idea of their part-time fellow
traveller, Koenraad Elst, in Belgium.

And, even more remarkably, researching now a connection between the
late 1st millennium CE Vedanta philosophy and … physics. On that
point, he was challenged by MIT/Harvard students, of course…

For all of this (in Rajaram’s words) see the link and mssg. quoted

At any rate, apart from the loss of our time, it was good weekend
Hope you, too, enjoy his pronouncements. …

Cheers, Michael

His interview in Lokavani: <http://www.lokvani. com/lokvani/ article.php? article_id= 6418>

For convenience, it is reproduced here:

In Conversation With Dr. Navaratna Rajaram
Ranjani Saigal 04/13/2010

(This article is sponsored by Attorney Rachel C. Tadmor)
Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram is a mathematician and scientist who after more than twenty years as an academic and industrial researcher turned his attention to history and history of science. He has authored several acclaimed books on ancient history including Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization, Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization (w/ David Frawley); and The Deciphered Indus Script (w/ Natwar Jha). He is best known for showing the connections between Vedic Mathematics and Indus archaeology and proposing a decipherment of the 5000 year old Indus script jointly with the late Natwar Jha. He is currently visiting faculty at the University of Massachusetts , Center for Indic Studies at Dartmouth.

He spoke to Lokvani about his work and the need for technically minded Indians to learn more about India and its history.

What motivated , a mathematician by profession to do research in Indian history and Indology?

I was always interested in history and history of science. My maternal grandfather Sri R. Vyasa Rao wrote Sri Krishna Caritra in Kannada (my mother tongue) based on Sri Bankima Chandra Chatterji’s Bengali masterpiece of the same name. My study of the work taught me that there advantages to looking at history from a scientific point of view. I had long planned to bring out an English version of that work, which finally happened a few years ago in my English Search for the Historical Krishna. It is not a translation though but a new work that uses a lot of data which was not available to Sri Bankima Chandra.

How did you learn the techniques required to do research in History? Do you consider your “non-training” in the colonial-Eurocentric approach to history an advantage?

I don’t think you need any special training in history except a capacity to look at all claims with skepticism and never to accept anything on authority or reputation. The same is true of science also. In that sense my training in mathematics (and math physics) prepared me well for history.

Why is the Aryan Invasion theory which we now know is a myth important to Indian historians? Why are so many scholars afraid debunking the Aryan theories?

It was important because it was an attempt by outsiders, even those hostile to us, to tell us how we should see ourselves and our heritage. Now that the Aryan myth, not just the theory is dead, we need to move to a new phase– to understand what drove Europeans and even some Indians to hold on to it long after science and history had discredited it. European scholars like Leon Poliakov and Stefan Arvidson (in The Aryan Myth and Aryan Idols) have done it from a European perspective.

But Indian scholars seem to be still reluctant and even timid to face it and hesitant to call a spade a spade and expose these Aryan theories for what they are. It is residual inferiority complex.

Why is colonial-Eurocentric approach towards understanding Indigenous culture still strongly followed in intellectual history circles ?

Inferiority complex that is programmed into Indian humanities and social science programs. This is a colonial hangover or ‘dhimmitude’ towards their former masters. Colonialism may be dead but the mindset of the colonial subject is still there in the intelligentsia. This is by no means limited to India.

Why do western professors studying the history of an Indigenous culture place no value on the multiple sources of literature and  philosophies which guide the lives of the millions in the culture they study that have evolved through the ages some of which totally contradict their writings?

It is precisely because they contradict their long-held positions! It also strikes at the root of their presumption of superiority. But here the problem lies more with Indians than with the Western scholars. A clear message should be sent out that we judge everything on its merit regardless of whether source is indigenous (Indian) or Western, and no special consideration will be shown to anyone. After all this how we judge people and their work in other fields. A theorem in mathematics must be proved, no matter who states it. Why should it be any different in history or any other subject?

What is the danger in allowing  colonial-Eurocentric works go unchallenged?

We must reject all shoddy work, Western or Indian. But because West had a monopoly on such scholarship without competition, it generated a lot of shoddy scholarship. My objection is that it has given rise to shoddy scholarship and nationalistic responses that are also shoddy in scholarship. Now that the field is opening up, we must try to lift the standards of scholarship. But people with a stake in the status quo will fight it.

You have worked on  deciphering the Harappan Script and that claim has been vociferously opposed by professors following the Eurocentric approach. Are professors  closing the doors on Academic research and shutting the window to knowledge by closing their mind and not allowing their students to  look at rational thinking?

I don’t want to make too much of the vitriolic reactions of a handful of frustrated scholars — both Western and Indian — to the solution that Jha and I proposed. Several people, both in India and the West have received our work favorably and others have offered constructive criticisms. Actually the script doesn’t tell us much more than we already know– that the Harappan civilization was Vedic and also the Rig Veda came before Harappan archaeology (of the Indus Valley).

THIS IS THE REAL ISSUE– THE VEDIC-HARAPPAN IDENTITY. The rest is just diversion. Once this basic reality is accepted, it means the collapse of the academic discipline called Indo-European Studies.

As far as the script is concerned, it is just one piece of the puzzle, not the whole solution. Jha and I and David Frawley also have much more now that relate to the Vedic-Harappan equation. Jha and I had made progress towards a successor to our book The Deciphered Indus Script that would place greater emphasis on the Vedic symbolism and the identity of the Harappans. But we decided that in the prevailing climate a book would not get a reasonable hearing and be subjected to diversionary attacks and misinformation campaign. So we decided to wait until the climate turned more normal.

Unhappily, Jha died a few years ago but I and some of my colleagues are working on books on the subject. Now that these hostile academics and their followers have discredited themselves, we may bring out our books in the next few years. But for the desperate diversionary attacks by some scholars — both Western and Indian — worried about their positions and reputations, much of this work would have been available by now. So they succeeded in delaying progress by about a decade, that is all. My regret is that Jha, who made such a major contribution is no longer here to share it.

How do you hope to create a shift in the study of indigenous cultures which are currently being dominated by some powerful academics at prestigious universities?

Ignore their unsupported claims and demand that they give evidence and proof. Look at evidence without being swayed by prestige or reputation.  Above all, don’t give them  any support– financially or in terms of students. Their programs are dwindling, and it would be unwise for a young man or woman to try to make a career or gain fame following in their footsteps.

What advice do you have for our readers?

For young readers, first, study the past but don’t live in the past. See if we can bring ancient wisdom like Vadantic metaphysics to apply to problems of modern physics like quantum reality. Incidentally, this is my current area of interest. Next don’t waste time studying nineteenth century ideas like Aryan and Dravidian, etc. They are dead, no matter what their advocates may claim. (They will also be dead.) Except for details we have pretty much solved the problem of Vedic and Harappan origins and their mutual relationship. So start looking at proto-Vedic and pre-Vedic ages. This will call for a thorough understanding of natural history from the Ice Age to the present and of population genetics.

For everyone– don’t support these hostile programs just because they are at ‘prestigious’ universities or because some of these people have big reputations, at least according to themselves. Most of these are in decline and let them die a natural death. Don’t prolong the agony by giving them any life support.

On the other hand support and organize programs that stress an indigenous perspective like yoga, vedanta and science others that have a rational basis and are scientifically and intellectualy exciting.

Thank you for your time

Thank you

The First Conference of Micheal Witzel of Harvard University!

July 11, 2009

The First Conference of Micheal Witzel of Harvard University!


It has been again Sanskrit College, Chennai. The date is July 6, 2009 on the eve of Gurupurnima[1]! There is a meeting arranged by the Sanskrit College inviting the Sanskrit Professor of Harvard University. However, the websites[2] declared it as a “conference”!

Sanskrit college entrance, Mylapore

Sanskrit college entrance, Mylapore

Dr N. Mahalingam gave the welcome address introducing the speaker Michael Witzel (hereinader mentioned as MW) as the suitable person to address the gathering at the Sanskrit College. He is 66, born in Germany and got Ph.D at the age of 29 and thus, the Sanskrit College Committee member Mahalingam went on eulogizing the so-called Sanskrit Professor of Harvard University. He says Witzel daily recites Rigveda but we Indians have forgotten Rigveda[3]. As he and been expert in different fields and “his knowledge has expanded widely”. Rigveda has 4,32,000 sounds……Tilak dated it to 8000 BCE, but its date could even go before it, though the western scholars do not accept. The British declared that Rama and Krishna were not historical persons. L. D. Swamikkannu Pillai meddled with Indian chronology at the behest of the British, But Prof Srinivasa Raghavan of Vivekananda College with his astronomical methods fixed date of many important historical events. Both Sanskrit and Tamil are the ancient languages and every person, who knew Tamil, knew Sanskrit also some 200 years ago. After the British period only difference had cropped up in the name of Sanskrit and Tamil. Tolkappiyam has been the most ancient extant Tamil work, One American writer – Frank Joseph has written book on Lost Lemuria, who locates in South East Asia region that submerged some 54,000 YBP. Thus, recently, there had been a lot of research that brought out many important facts. He requested Witzel to go into these details in his linguistic study of the ancient languages.

Dr Sankaranarayanan

Dr Sankaranarayanan

Next Dr Sankaranarayanan introduced the topic of the subject o be dealt with by MW. He was the right person to talk there on two accounts –

  1. He was the Sanskrit professor from the Harvard University and
  2. He had chosen the topic on “Rigveda and its language”[4] (perhaps, culture and civilization also).

After listing out his membership, briefing his academic profile etc., asserted that he was the right person to talk about the topic. He pointed out about MW’s work “Kataranyaka”, a rare work. Earlier it was part of Indian drama and was there in every village, but now it disappeared. Taittreya Upanishd should be read to understand it. He asked MW to present a copy of the book to the KSRI library. Reciting a sloka on Max Mueller that says that Max Mueller was a Mokshamular, he changed it by inserting MW’s name, thus making him another such specie coming from Harvatika! The date of Rigveda cannot be decided as to whether it was 1000 BCE or 1500 BCE etc. It cannot be said definitely as belonging to pre-Harappa, Harappan or proto-Harappan period. Sanskrit was new, though it was old. The word “Sanskrit” was never used to denote a language till 600 CE. It was always used as adjective, till Dandi used it to denote a language. In fact, the language of Indian should be mentioned as “Bharati”, as the language of England is English, France French, the language of Bharat should be Bharati! Amarasimha says, “Brahmi Bharati”. In a partigular type of yagna, “Bharati” is invoked several times…….. It has to be noted that the Sanskrit inscriptions were found throughout India unlike other Indian languages. MW would then talk about the culture. “Culture” connotes properly cultivated behaviour…… There should be inward perfection for good culture…….., as external perfection may not exhibit true character………. Then, comes “civilization”, as it is “civilized status with civilized behaviour……….

The compere intervened to announce as MW was preoccupied and there was shortage of time, there would not be any question answer session. He says that the e-mail of MW would be given and he would answer any question raised by the audience.

Michael Witzel then started his “conference”: “I am happy to be here……tomorrow is Gurupurnima…and we have to remember our teachers…I studied in Allahabad during 1935-37 under my teachers…..Now, here, I will not talk politics and whatever I say, you may not agree with me, but still you ask questions, I may not answer….You may have other opinion also.  As India has many sampradhayas[5], you can treat my views as another sampradhaya……….you may not agree with me, but kindly listen to me. If you have anby questions, I shall answer.

“My study is based upon the inter-disciplinary approach…….the so-called Aryan invasion is outdated. It is a political discussion, but I would not talk about it. My discussion is based on the facts from the Rigveda….the scientific data derived from it…I do not think any genetic expert is here, but my study is based on such scientific principles also. There could be scope of misunderstanding about my theory with limitations, but we have to come to consensus……no doubt Rigveda has antiquity, it is an ancient hymn collection of bronze age. It is bronze age text and not of iron age or stone age…….

“Another point may be agreed by you that the Rigveda was composed by the Rishis. It was composed with a particular type of poetics and alankara using specific syntax. The text was composed accordingly. Rigveda has geographic limits (showing a map covering north-east Punjab area and some parts of Haryana)………..In Afghanisthan also there is a Sarayu, but not that of Ayodhya.

“Rigvedic Sanskrit is not Paninian Sanskrit or Kalidasa Sanskrit. And not even Atharvavea Sanskrit. Linguistics has changed several times during the course of times and accordingly the words too connote differently during different times…..(he explained with certain words)…..”Gachathi” has different connotations…….(his speech is not clear and he was not keeping the mike properly, though repeatedly he was asked to keep it as the audience was not able to listen to him)

“Different languages were spoken in India….Para-munda in the northern India covering Punjab, Kashmir areas…….Munda in MP….(showing a map). Rigveda has a pluralistic language and it could be understood with certain tricks…..If Sanskrit is read differently, we could understand Avestha also.

“Let us take the expression “Father Heaven”… has same pronunciation in different languages. Pitram-pitrem-pitrea-piter and so on. Similarly hasti-haesti-asti-esti-sti-is (he/she/it is) comes like this. So also “They are” can be explained. This pattern is found in he evolution of languages as in IE-EIE-IIr…(showing a PP diagram). Thus, we have two categories of languages……

  1. pre-Vedic – proto-Iranian and
  2. Rigvedic –Avesthan

“Jed-sa-zd-ai etc.


This has been the linguistic sampradhaya………(he was obviously skipping the explanation). On the top of the Himalayas, certain words are used and they are not used on the plains. And these words were coming from tropical climatic areas…….The poetic-alankara used has been close to the Greek……..

“Coming to the Soma plant, it is located in Central Asia near Tajikistan and it came to Iran from Central Asia and then to India. In the words, Yama-yam…also such migration could be noted. People were living in more populated and less populated areas / clusters. The higher level of religion was dominated by the Brahmins and Kshatriyas……then comes Daas / Dasyus and they were accommodated accordingly………City formation had been there accordingly…..Recent archaeological evidences of Haryana also show such pattern.

“Different language groups existed thus in different areas (showing a map through PP). Dravidian languages were spoken in the Southern area (showing the four states – Tamilnadu, AP, Kerala and Karnataka), “Former Dravidian areas” (showing Maharastra), Indus (Sindhu area), Language-X (UP), Khasi (Assam), ……..”Former Austro-Asiatic Areas?” (was shown in between the UP and MP from IVC / Rajasthan to Orissa)…..

“The Sanskrit speaking people were moving with cattle having interaction with others……Thus the names of the Kings mentioned have been local names……At the end of Rigveda, it is interesting to note what happened………

“Coming to the so-called Siva or Pasupathi (showing the IVC seal[6], M-304), actually it is not known what is this deity. How the IVC people called him, we do not know. He – the horned god – is surrounded with four animals and there has been another figure where “a hunter killing a water buffalo in front of a seated horned deity” (Kenoyer[7]). There has been another seal where “a man fighting short horned bull” (Kenoyer[8]). You can see similar figure from Denmark also (showing the photo of Gundestrup Cauldron[9], though he did not mention so). Here also he is surrounded with four different animals If you compare both (showing both figures side by side with IVC seal inverted), we can say, he is not Siva, but some other deity….. This is Mahishashuramardhini. It is not known how the Mahishashuramardhini appears in Hinduism later. Think about it.  Is there any link?

“The people followed both burial and crematory practices…………..

“There is another figure where inside a female, a human figure is shown (showing a seal), perhaps spirit. Its significance has to be studied.

“Now genetic methods are applied to find out the details. Suppose, if your saliva is taken and tested, details would be known to tell who is your father, mother etc. But I do not know how many of you know genetics……Recently, some Indian scholars have brought out data on such genetic studies about the people of India. Their data represented show that the south Indian tribals and Kashmir Brahmins belonged to the same stock. But still, you can find some groups are left out or fall outside the pattern represented. Who are those people? They are from Assam, Nagas and others.

“The picture about the IVC and the Rivedic people has been complicated. Data and information can be obtained from different fields, but they have to be studied together carefully.

“So I stop here and I would like to answer two three questions, if any one of audience would like to do so”.

Witzel KVR at Sanskrit college

Witzel KVR at Sanskrit college

At that time, K. V. Ramakrishna Rao came to the podium and asked the following specific questions by way of clarification. Meanwhile, seeing him Iravatham Mahadevam started insisting that the questions should be short[10]. Anyway, introducing himself, he asked the following questions:

  1. There has been a Bogozkai inscription dated to circa 1450 BCE which specifically mentions about a treaty in which the people invoked the so-called Vedic gods or the Rigvedic gods as mentioned by you according to your sampradhaya[11]. How you correlate and corroborate them linguistically, archaeologically, and chronologically with your sampradhaya?
  1. You have shown two pictures one from IVC and another from Denmark and telling that the so-called deity represented is not that of Rigvedic, though the deity is surrounded by the animals. How could you differentiate it from your sampradhaya and Indian sampradhaya?

Micheal Witzel started answering, but he could not even name the so-called Vedic gods mentioned and Rao was naming as – “Indrasil, Mitrasil, Varunasil, Nasattyas”. He accepted that they were Vedic gods, though the Mittanic people were invoking them after their gods and the language used was like Vedic Sanskrit only. Of course, there is chronological gap.

Rao was asking about the correlation – pointing out how the Soma drinking, Rigvedic Sanskrit speaking people migrating from Central Asia to Iran to India could mention about such deities, how the Mittanis?

N Mahalingam

N Mahalingam

N. Mahalingam intervened and telling that there should not be discussion and Mahadevan was urging to wind up. But Rao was responding that it was important because Indians had been told about such stuff again and again for the last 60 years. He insisted that his e-mail should be given as promised and his full text of the paper also made available for discussion. When Iravatham Mahadevaninterved that it was not possible, Rao requested that at least Michael Witzel could send a copy through e-mail. Micheal Witzel was seen nodding his head and he gave his visiting card to Rao.

Of course, he did not answer the second question. In fact, one person from the audience reminded about this, but the organizers did not care.

The compe’re again intervened and proceeded to thanksgiving.

Then, Dr Deviprasad, the Principal of Sanskrit College talked to point out that the Rigvedic culture cannot be separated from the Indian culture. It is the Indian tradition that worships trees, rivers and mountains even by deification. Of course, the westerners interpret differently. He added that Michael Witzel had not completed his speech and in fact, he might take few hours to complete his talk!

Thus the meeting / Conference was over!

Sanskrit college entrance, Mylapore - centenary

Sanskrit college entrance, Mylapore – centenary

While coming out I saw Haran and another were distributing four-page handout about Michae Witzel (while entering I saw Haran and Radha Rajan were arguing with the police). So when I enquired with the police, the organizers had given a complaint asking for protection of the speaker. When I told them that those who had come there were educated and elite and not of such category as apprehended. I told that the speaker was telling that Siva is not Indian god and so on. The officer retorted, “Is it so? How then that IAS officer Iravatham Mahadevan was keeping quite? He knows everything”. The police informed that they had not obtained permission to stage demonstration against the meeting. The officer added that every body has a right to demonstrate, but they should have obtained prior permission.

Note: This has been prepared based on the notes noted down during the meeting. There are some points to be clarified. And therefore, certain points may be added or amended accordingly later.



[1] Can it be considered as “Teacher’s Day”, the real “Teacher’s Day?

[2] Some “Asiatic” website. In fact, it declares that Micheal Witzel would be participating in three conferences to be held in India!

[3] Is not the shame for Indians to confess so. Who has told Indians not to recite Rigveda daily?

[4] In fact, the full title of his paper or talk was not known, as nothing was mentioned about it.

[5] Sampradhaya is used as equivalent to tradition, traditional way of practice etc., but it might be using in the sense of “methodology”.

[6] Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 2000, p.112, fig.6.18.

[7] Ibid, p.114, fig.6.24.

[8] Ibid, p.115, Fig. 6.25, a.

[9] Myles Dillon, Celts and Aryans, Indian Institute of Advanced study, Simla, 1975, Picture.7. It is mentioned asa the Horned God (Cernumnos?) as Lord of Animals (Pasupathi).

[10] When he asked Asko Parpola last year, why his paper was prevented by Michael Witzel, whether he was presenting the same paper that he presented at Tokyo, though Asko Parpola started to answer, Iravatham Mahadevan prevented Parpola to tell the details under the pretext of shortage of time and declaed to wind up the meeting!

[11] As the expression “Sampradhaya” was used by MW repeatedly to assert his interpretation over others and insisted that his way of interpretation should be accepted by the Indian Pundits, obviously he was using such expression.