The Second Conference of Michael Witzel at Madras University
The Second Conference of Michael Witzel at Madras University
The so-called second conference of Michael Witzel has been arranged at the Auditorium of the Madras University, Marina campus. Before the auditorium, there was a Police jeep with 8 police men and women!
When I entered by 11 am, there were only 8 or 9 persons. In the first row Michael Witzel was sitting with Iravatham Mahadevan. Prof Dass, HOD of Sanskrit Department was looking at the entrance anxiously. I sat in the last row and a police in plain cloth was starring at me.
Prof Dass, HOD, Sanskrit department (11.05 to 11.15): Then by 11.05 am, he decided to start the “Conference” and thus Witzel and Mahadevan went to the podium and sat. Prof Dass started introducing Witzel, as he was coming there after 6 years. Pointing to Iravatham Mahadevan, he recalled his paper presented at “The International Seminar on Indian Knowledge System”, that was organized there. Then he proceeded to eulogizes him in his own way: “MW needs no introduction, as he is well known from Harvard University. Harvard University Professor is the most elite in the world……………. He visited the department only for the purpose of seeing the manuscripts. He also observed our activity of ‘catalogum catalogue’ of manuscripts project going on there. We request the professor guidance for it. I assure that it would be completed by 2012. Witzel would talk about important topic. I end with a saying from Mahabhasya, where it is said that one should not live / leave with a doubt. ……..If you do not understand (Phylogeny and Epigenetics), it does not mean it is ugly…whatever lecture, he gives, and we should understand and continue our research”.
Iravatham Mahadevan (11.15 to 11.25 a.m): “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Gurudevo Maheswara; Guru sakshat Parabrahma tasmai sri kuruve Namaha” reciting this sloka, he started speaking: “WItzel has been the greatest expert in Vedic Sanskrit particularly in Rigvedic. …..I met him six years back at the Harvard University in connection with my publication of the book and at that time, he received me and took me to go around the University and the great library. To be frank with you, I do know about the topic, ”Phylogeny and Epigenetics and origin of languages”. From “gen”, I could understand that it is something connected with “production” or “origin” = to born, to produce…..I think he is going to show the unity of Indo-European languages.
“There has been misunderstanding about Michael Witzel and his work. Some two days ago, when Prof Witzel was invited to deliver his lecture at Madras Sanskrit College, some misguided elements tried to disturb the meeting and they distributed handouts. Of course, we have difference of opinion, but we should not resort to such methods. There could be difference of opinion, but we should respect our guests, as we believe in “Adhiti devo bhava” (treating / honoring the guests). I too have difference with him about his fundamental view that Indus script was not a system of writing at all, but I cannot take a gun and shoot him…….Indian culture is pluralistic and tolerant………We believe in Ekam sat bhauta vadhanti…..Such was our attitude. In the west, there was conflict between the Church and the State…. But in India we have great leaders. Buddha taught band showed a different way ………In south, we have Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. Each wrote his own Bhasya, but their followers co-existed. “Therefore, such intolerant attitude is anti-Indian and anti-Hindu and they do disservice to our nation. Such elements are confined to the fringe of our society…..In this context, I should tell few words about Ashoka who lived 2300 years ago. I request the Sanskrit scholars to read Pali verses of the inscription and memorize in the heart. I read what the Girnar inscription says –
[“The individual morality that Asoka hoped to foster included respect (//susrusa//) towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics and brahmins — behavior that accords with the advice given to Sigala by the Buddha (Digha Nikaya, Discourse No. 31). He encouraged generosity (//dana//) to the poor (//kapana valaka//), to ascetics and brahmins, and to friends and relatives. Not surprisingly, Asoka encouraged harmlessness towards all life (//avihisa bhutanam//). In conformity with the Buddha’s advice in the Anguttara Nikaya, II:282, he also considered moderation in spending and moderation in saving to be good (//apa vyayata apa bhadata//). Treating people properly (//samya pratipati//), he suggested, was much more important than performing ceremonies that were supposed to bring good luck. Because it helped promote tolerance and mutual respect, Asoka desired that people should be well-learned (//bahu sruta//) in the good doctrines (//kalanagama//) of other people’s religions. The qualities of heart that are recommended by Asoka in the edicts indicate his deep spirituality. They include kindness (//daya//), self-examination (//palikhaya//), truthfulness (//sace//), gratitude (//katamnata//), purity of heart (//bhava sudhi//), enthusiasm (//usahena//), strong loyalty (//dadha bhatita//), self-control (//sayame//) and love of the Dhamma (//Dhamma kamata//).”]
“Thus, I conclude; “Om Sahaba bavatu, sahanam bunaktu, saha viryamm karvavahai; tejastu navathi thamastu ma vidhyi savahai, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti hi.”
Prof Miuchael Wizel: 11.25-12.30: “I came here visiting several places. I visited Mahabalipuram and several institutions…..I saw the catalogue work………… My colleagues have also come down here…….When I met Raghavan, he was wearing the traditional dress…. In connection with Silver Jubliee, I was invited by the Hyderabad people. .I try to avoid the emotional and political content of my topic…………My topic is about the history of development of languages. It involves several fields – biology, genetics, etc……I have already given this talk………(at Bangalore / Hyderabad). ………….When I ask shepherd how does he call a goat, he says “meka”, but that word looks like Danish. Some may be thinking that Sanskrit is the oldest language, but it is seriously questioned based on scientific study………..the speech of men was compared with that of Chimpanzee. However, Chimpanzee could produce about 150 signs, but not all like man. The words of each language have specific use and connotation. In Indian languages, “Rama gives book” would be of “Rama book gives” type (He was showing PP hurriedly and skipping. He was showing the skull and jaw portions of Neanderthal and other man-types).
“Chimpanzee & ANM Human (Liberman)” 75 – 65 kya some people stayed here (in India), some went to SEA and some to Australia. How can we say about the language spoken at that time? For that I have a scheme.
“Indo-European Reconstruction: Taking few words, I explain this. Father Heaven is found in IE languages as follows:
Similarly hasti-haesti- asti-esti- sti-is (he/she/it is) comes like this. So also “They are” can be explained.
Even in numbers different words are used. For example, the following words are used in Indian languages and thus, what Punjabi is speaking is not understood by Tamil.
“Thus, the Indian lanuages have diversity and such system is not understood by others…..
“[The presence in Vedic Sanskrit of a number of phonetic, morphological and syntactical features alien to other Indo-European languages but common to the Burushaski, Dravidian and Munda languages, as well as the presence of non-Indo-European vocabulary, is generally held by scholars to be due to a local substratum of Dravidian, Munda, a combination of both, another, lost prefixing language (“Para-Munda”, Witzel 1999) as well as proto-Burushaski  and some other lost languages spoken around 1000 BCE in northwestern and northern South Asia. Prominent examples, adduced by Kuiper (1967, 1991) include: phonologically, there is the introduction of retroflexes, which alternate with dentals; morphologically there are the gerunds; and syntactically there is the use of a quotative marker (“iti”). A few words in the Rigveda and progressively more words in later Vedic texts were identified as being loanwords principally from Dravidian but with some forms traceable to Munda, Proto-Burushaski, and many to neither of these language families, thus indicating a source in one or more lost languages, such as Para-Munda (Witzel 1999).]
“Proto-human language (Ruhlen): Here, how certain words are found common in different lanuages. He was showing a table (as shown in the reference below in the foot notes. But he was explaing with the first 6 columns):
Language Who? What? Two Water One/Finger ,
“Out of African movement: According to Metspalu 2005, there is “out of Africa movement” is there (he was showing a drawn map). [Genetic markers transmitted through either the maternal or paternal line have been used to trace the great human migrations since Homo sapiens emerged in Africa. But attempts to trace the evolution of languages have met with less success, partly because of the impact on languages of untraceable political and economic upheavals. Metspalu and colleagues analyzed inherited variations in a huge number of samples – almost 3000 – of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) taken from natives of the Near East, Middle East and Central Asia, as well as North and East Africa. mtDNA is inherited through the maternal line, and by comparing their data with existing data on European, Indian, Siberian and other Central Asian populations, the researchers were able to create a comprehensive phylogenetic map of maternal lineages diverging from Africa and spreading towards Europe and Asia. Working in collaboration with language specialists, they found that this movement 10,000 years ago, which was probably centred on Ethiopia, could well have been responsible for seeding the Afro- Asiatic language from which all modern Arab-Berber languages are descended. The same genetic detective work has confirmed archeological evidence that the biggest movement out of Africa occurred around 50,000 years ago – which is when Africans first settled in other continents – and that it originated in a small East African population. The same genetic detective work has confirmed archeological evidence that the biggest movement out of Africa occurred around 50,000 years ago – which is when Africans first settled in other continents – and that it originated in a small East African population.]
“A fairly large number of words have been tentatively traced back to the ancestor language, based on the occurrence of similar sound-and-meaning forms in languages across the globe. The best-known such vocabulary list is that of John Bengtson and Merritt Ruhlen (1994), who identify 27 “global etymologies”. The following table, adapted from Ruhlen (1994b), lists a selection of these forms. (he showed another picture from Scientific American).
“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), Lanuage-X (UP), Khasi ( Assam ), ……..”Former Austro-Asiatic Areas?” (was shown in between the UP and MP from IVC / Rajasthan to Orissa)…..Based on “Place-names”, some scholars have shown more Dravidian words were spoken in the “Former Dravidian areas” and it is shown accordingly.
“In the case of Sri Lanka, though it appears Indo-Aryan superficially, the substratum has been Munda language. This pattern could be seen in other areas also.
“One scholar took words used in UPO area which are used for agriculture taking from Hindi and found that none of the words are from Hindi or any other Indian language, so he assigned Language-X to it. In fact, he should have taken all languages into account in his study.
Dravdian words are not my study. As Travatham Mahadevan pointed out, we can decide it amicably. So I give some references. Based on Krishnaswamy 2003 book, the Dravidian languages have been like this (showing a Dravidian language family) – various Dravidian languages.
“N-S Cline of Autosomal Data: This is based on the study done by Hyderabad people. And it is unpublished. They 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.
“Epigenetics – (showing a plain map featuring Central Asia at the centre). Kupier discussed about the epigenetics of the language formation starting at the central Asia and spreading out.
(He showed his concluding PP as follows):
- Reflexes (pronounced by bending the tongue back) as in ta, ta, na, ca etc.
- Found in most Indian languages, but originally not in Tibeto-Burmese and in Munda (ex.d)
- Heaviest concentration in the north-west even with palatals, c, ch, jh and vowels [Kalashup]
- It is regional pattern……………………(he removed the slide).
Thus, I conclude my speech.
A professor, Calcutta: First, one professor from Calcutta asked about the migration and MW answered that linguistic migration is different.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: I am Ramakrishna Rao from Chennai, an independent researcher. I would like to ask specific questions. With reference to the diagram, where the languages are shown with stratum, substratum, layered formation, overlapping etc., the following specific questions are asked:
- How the same stratum pattern is not formed in all parts of India?
- How such language stratum forming pattern could be correlated and corroborated with the strategraphical studies in the archaeological and linguistic contexts?
- What are all material evidences to prove such pattern formation exactly as you try to postulate?
- Can it be applicable to the study in the context of script, language and literature?
- How much time it takes to happen for such pattern?
Michael Witzel: The archaeological evidences do not support such pattern formation……….. Discussion is based on the available material evidences………. As I told, Hun is found in the European languages now only………….. There would be 1000 years variation in determination of dates.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: Then, why you make conclusive statements? Do not force your views on others.
Michael Witzel: The study is based on scientific method.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: Yes, what I am asking is also on scientific basis only. But, the same stuff is repeated again and again that was told some sixty years ago. You are also telling the same thing differently like Max Mueller.
Michael Witzel: Max Mueller belonged to 18th century, but we are in 21st century.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: Yes. But you are also talking like him about dolicocephalic dictionary, brachycephaic linguists etc.
Michael Witzel: My study is based on scientific data and information.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: I am also asking on the basis of scientific principles only. I give one more example – When Pingala could have evolved about binary numbers some 2000 years ago, how the same has been repeated again now?
Then I propose a simple experiment. Call one Sanskrit Pundit here. Let him recite a Sanskrit sloka. You are a Sanskrit Professor, you repeat it. Here is our scholar, Iravatham Mahadevan, let him also recite it. I do not know Sanskrit, but I will also recite it. You record the sounds. And then can you explain the differences based on your study [phylogenetics or epigenetics]?
Here, Iravatham Mahadevan intervened standing up.
K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: Sir, morning you were telling about the incidence happened two days back. Now the question is about intellectual discussion. It is only academic. Intellectual issues are to be faced intellectually, academic issues are to be faced academically [IM was moving towards the podium].
[There was some discussion between Witzel’s assistant and Rao, who were sitting in the second row. I could not listen to from sitting from the last row]
Iravatham Mahadevan (from the podium): The intellectual discussion could continue, but as the President of the meeting, let it be concluded with a vote of Thanks.
Prof. Das: Mr Rao, we will arrange a conference, where we can discuss about it.
However, two persons asked questions asking whether his findings were against Darwinian principle and so on.
Vote of Thanks: [The lady, who was making some comments in between and even asked questions and doubts in between Witzel’s lecture, delivered the vote of Thanks]
Then the Sanskrit department staff and students posed for a photograph on the podium.
I came out. I saw Haran collecting a folder from the police. Later I understood that brought the handouts for distribution, but the Police took and allowed him inside to listen the lecture.
- Really, it is surprising that for such a meager audience, Iravatham Mahadevan should have brought two loads for police to protect the Harvard Sanskrit Professor, in the secular India.
- While he talks about the pluralist India and all in the context of non-violence, how he could have conceived wrongly about the Madras / Chennai audience, who could react “violently” against Witzel?
- With that meager audience for such a BIG Harvard Universiry Professor of Sanskrit, they could have brought van-load or even lorry-loads of audience as per the present sampradhaya of Tamils or Indians, so that Witzel’s honour could have been saved!
- The Harvard Elite Sanskrit Professor could not face the Chennai audience or answer questions.
- Witzel has been evasive in answering questions.
- In fact, he did not answer the questions directly, though specific and pointed answers were asked [as per the directions of IM].
- As on 06-07-2009 Madras Sanskrit College], he did not answer one of two questions, here on 08-07-2009 [Sanskrit Department, Madras University], virtually he did not answer at all.
Let us have more conferences.
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. Here, the entire proceedings have been taped and the tape would give more details. Therefore, anybody wants to check up the proceedings, they could verify from the tape available with the Sanskrit Department, Madras University. Unfortunately, the proceedings were not videographed [also in Sanskrit college], as otherwise, it could have been an evidence to prove the capabilities of Prof Witzel.
 The number may change, as Wizel is going obn having Conferences at different places as our Indian collaborators have been so accommodative to the American friends, they are having “conferences” that too, one or two in a day! Already, he was at Bangalore / Hyderabad presenting the paper of the same title “Phylogenetics or Epigenetics…………”. On 07-07-2009, he was at Pondicherry. Yesterday (08-07-2009) afternoon, there was a conference at Roja Mutthaiah Hall, Tharamani and today (09-07-2009) he is speaking at Indian Heritage Centre / JNU.
 To what extent he is still interested in Indian manuscripts is to be noted.
 Really, it is surprising that he started with a Sanskrit sloka, as he pretends to be a pucca secularist!
 Iravatham Mahadevan, Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest to the Sixth Century A. D, Cre-A: Chennai and the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, USA, 2003.
 IM has recorded in his book: “I received an offer from Prof. Michael Witzel, the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, USA, to have the work published in the Harvard Oriental Series (HOS). I thank him for honour and I am also grateful to my friend, Mr N. Ram, Frontline, Chennai, who had earlier introduced me to Prof. Witzel”, p.x of PREFACE.
 Evolution is regarded as a branching process, whereby populations are altered over time and may speciate into separate branches, hybridize together, or terminate by extinction. This may be visualized in a phylogenetic tree. The problem posed by phylogenetics is that genetic data are only available for the present, and fossil records (osteometric data) are sporadic and less reliable. Our knowledge of how evolution operates is used to reconstruct the full tree. Thus, a phylogenetic tree is based on a hypothesis of the order in which evolutionary events are assumed to have occurred.
 As he read out fastly, I could not take down and hence quoting from the reference given. And that is why this paragraph is given in the brackets.
 However, he has not naed “his colleagues” who have come down to Chennai or any other place of India. It is also not known who are they, where are they, what Conferences they are going to conduct etc., and other details.
 Ky = Kilo years = 1000 years; thus 75 kya = 75,000 years ago YBP
 The term Proto-Human is one of a number of terms sometimes used to designate the hypothetical most recent common ancestor of all the world’s spoken languages. It has been used by the linguists Harold Fleming  and John Bengtson (2007).
 Scientific American, April 1991, p. 145.
 Kupier, Epigenetics?, 1967.
Epigenetics (as in “epigenetic landscape“) was coined by C. H. Waddington in 1942 as a portmanteau of the words genetics and epigenesis. Epigenesis (see contrasting principle of preformationism) is an older word to describe the differentiation of cells from their initial totipotent state in embryonic development. When Waddington coined the term the physical nature of genes and their role in heredity was not known; he used it as a conceptual model of how genes might interact with their surroundings to produce a phenotype.
 Incidentally, Sankaranarayanan compared him with Max Mueller singing a Sanskrit sloka. Therefore, the concept of Max Mueller to Michael Witzel to attack India has been significant. The only difference is that the former did not see India, but later had lived in India, with Indians and understood the weakness of the Indians, so that they would go on arrange “conferences”. After going to Harvard, they would publish books through Cambridge and Oxford declaring that the Sanskrit Pundits of India fell at his feet and acknowledged their defeat. They even honoured him with a title – “…….” Conferred on him at the Sanskrit College Madras by a great Sanskrit Pundit. Of course, soon or later, some Sanskrit Professor of Madras would get a chance to fly to Harvard and he would be treated nicely by the Americans.
 She might be another Professor of the Sanskrit Department.
 Just like “secularism”, “communalism” etc., now Witzel has taught us about and introducing “sampradhaya”. So let us use it in his context.