`Paradigm shift' in history? - II
Scholarship is not local but universal. Those who want to turn it back in indigenous fashion may succeed for a while but their pronouncements will eventually be thrown out on the dung heap of history. The history of a great civilisation such as the Indian one does not deserve to be hijacked by narrow parochial, nationalistic, chauvinistic or political interests. A truly international approach is needed, with input from many sides.
SCHOLARS STILL know nothing definite of the language of the Indus (Harappan) civilisation, and have not taken a close look at the early substrate language(s) preceding the Rgveda (EJVS 5-1) as well as at the Indus words found in the Sumerian Near East (both are not Dravidian). Any Indian language family, now present or completely lost, can have been spoken there (Proto-Burushaski, Proto-Munda, Masica's Gangetic "language X", etc.). But, for Frawley et al. the Indus language was Sanskrit, and they cannot accept old, local people as originators of the Indus civilisation. Well, Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite have disappeared, too. He also complains (Open Page, March 4) bitterly about my view that certain persons or tribes have entered later than the bulk of the Indo-Aryans. While there are some textual and linguistic indications that the Rgvedic Vasishtha is a late immigrant from an Old Iranian (Avestan) speaking territory (the two languages are almost dialects of each other), I do not recall to have written that "Agastya, the ... greatest Vedic sage of ... south India, (was) in fact Iranian." Instead, I have classified his name, with others, as local Indian, though non-Indo-Aryan. (Neither South India, Sindh, Gujarat, etc., are mentioned in the Rgveda).
Frawley's most ridiculous charge is that, according to me, "Buddhism itself might even be an Iranian heresy, not anything really Indian." This is a pure fabrication. We have discussed the Shakya/Saka connection in the professional Indology list. I have pointed to a Saka (Central Asian) origin of the Shakya tribe of Kapilavastu/Lumbini, but I have expressively stated (INDOLOGY@liverpool.ac.uk, Nov. 5 and 7, 2002), that the Shakya had been Indianised. Frawley has again derived his wisdom from his co-fighters' predigested email summaries.
By now it must be obvious that Frawley speaks from an ethnocentric, indigenous, indeed Indo-centric world view shared by the current rewriters of history, such as S.P. Gupta, S.S. Misra, Rajaram, K. Elst. They are struggling, along with their various political counterparts, to capture "the soul of India." Obviously, I cannot do that, nor do I want to. As a historian of ideas, I record and discuss even those of the persons just named.
Such struggles for the soul of India are not new. In my recent small Indian history (in German) I have detailed similar developments after the Mauryas, leading to the re-invention and restoration of a new-found, restrictive Hindu identity under the Guptas. However, this expansive topic would need a detailed discussion that cannot be included here. Occasionally, we should indeed learn from history...
This brings us from the incidental, curious opinions of Frawley to the "theoretical" paper of Rajaram (Open Page, March 18), who claims a deep division over the "history of India, especially of ancient India... This is over new data as well as new methods that they demand." Rajaram's piece is, as usual, just as exasperatingly wrong in many of its details as in its major points. Like an undergraduate paper, it starts from a wrong premise, supplies faulty and incomplete materials, and necessarily reaches an incorrect conclusion. This is perhaps to be expected from a technologist turned amateur historian, after retirement some twelve years ago.
Rajaram simply cannot get his facts right, not even those as simple as the history of scholarship in the 19th/20th century, when he overstresses the role of Indo-European linguistics (his "philology") in the study of old India. Rather, philology is the study of a particular civilisation based on its texts, not "a discipline devoted to the reconstruction of history and culture based on the comparative study of ancient languages." He still lives in the 19th century as almost all those he quotes, just like his crown witness N. Kazanas (below). Worse, "theologians like Bishop Caldwell and Reverend W.W. Hunter ... continue to exert their influence on Indology." Already 35 years ago, as a student, I vaguely heard just of Caldwell, and only as the first scholar of the Dravidian language family. Even more ridiculously, he says that "secular scholars like Max Muller could not escape the influence of theology." Until now Rajaram had pictured Mueller, based on just two opportunistic sentences in his letters, as a missionary type the same Mueller who lost out, due to his liberalism, in the election for the Oxford Sanskrit chair against Monier Williams as he was not trusted by the then still locally dominant British clergy. Some decades earlier (1831), his contemporary, the German philologist K. Lachmann, had undertaken a critical philological comparison of the mutually disagreeing four official versions of the biblical New Testament, and an Indologist, P. Deussen, could already write, at the end of the 19th century, a history of the scientific, and no longer religious study of biblical (and other ancient) texts.
Rajaram, innocent of such historical details "too bad for the facts!" continues his fantasy of religious influence on 19th/20th century philology and linguistics by quoting a single passage written by M. B. Emeneau (1954): "At some time in the second millennium BC ... a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine." While the choice of the word "doctrine" is not felicitous, but understandable in the context, Rajaram again uses, just like his friend Frawley, a "method" of selective quotations. The now 99-year-old Emeneau only writes (still!) about linguistics; he is co-author, with Th. Burrow, of the magnum opus, the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary certainly a work without any theology if there is one.
Rajaram, however, has no idea how comparative Dravidian or Indo-European, or any other field of linguistics, works: "a scholarly field in the face of confessed lack of evidence bears testimony to the influence of theology on history." Apparently linguistic evidence and method is too complicated for him ("convoluted," as he says). He still has no idea that Hittite or Mycenean data actually prove (EJVS 7-3) how well the early predictions of linguistics have worked for languages that have been discovered only much later. A method that can make falsifiable predictions is part of, well, science.
Further, the study of language is largely empirical, and languages change over time in empirically visible fashion, recorded and explained by comparative linguistics (not by "philology"!) Therefore Rajaram's perceived opposition in the "current debate over methodology between a heritage based on linguistics and theology [sic!] and an approach that seeks to place empirical data at the bottom of any theory" is a doubly wrong one. It is not one shared by serious specialists from archaeology to Indology. Indeed, the almost complete lack of comparative historical linguistics (as well as comparative religion) is a serious but very real gap in current scholarship in India leading to many unchecked statements as those of Rajaram et al. Even the lone Indian Indo-Europeanist, the late S.S. Misra, unfortunately was much behind the current state of the art and has produced a truly indigenous version of Indo-European studies that nobody, from San Francisco to London and Tokyo regards as science (see EJVS 7-3).
Not surprisingly, Rajaram quotes a kindred spirit, a declared non-specialist, the Greek "philosopher" and head of a New Age institution in Athens, N. Kazanas, about linguistic procedure. He alleges: when "data ... contradict an established theory, its proponents tend to ignore or rationalise the contradictions with ingenious arguments, or "turning facts into metaphors and symbols" as Kazanas puts it. This becomes more and more complex as data from new fields like geomorphology, satellite photography and genetics have to be dealt with as is the case today. As a result, arguments become highly convoluted taking one further and further from reality." Of course, Rajaram habitually suppresses, just like Frawley, contradictory evidence and discussion: one should read the many devastating answers by diverse specialists to Kazanas' paper (Journal of Indo-European Studies, JIES, 30-31, 2002-3). Such arguments may appear convoluted to a linguistic ignoramus all sciences are complex for an outsider but they are simple and clear for initiated specialists. I do not write about relativity theory, and Rajaram should not pose as a linguist or philologist: the unfortunate results are seen in his fantastic "decipherment" of the Indus seals ("mosquito", "house in the grip of cold," etc.), and they include his ingenious computer graphics that turn the hind parts of an Indus half bull into a full Vedic horse, along with a conveniently "deciphered" inscription speaking of the Vedic sun horse (see Frontline, Oct./Nov., 2000).
A new Purana?
All of Rajaram's discussion of linguistics/"philology" and the alleged influence of theology on history writing, detailed above, is merely the setup for his introduction of the concept of "paradigm change." Since past history writing was "marred" he offers the banal truism: "Like science, history must also progress" and envisions a paradigm change that would involve the natural sciences. This "shift leads to new methodologies, ... that seek to place empirical data at the bottom of any theory," as if empirical data had never been used like this before. Obviously, B.P. Radhakrishna, quoted by him, is right in saying that scholars of just one field, e.g., "Archaeologists have no right to claim any monopoly of interpretation. Findings of other disciplines must also be taken into consideration." But all of them, including texts, inscriptions, art, philology, linguistics, biology, climatology, geography, astronomy, etc. have always provided their share, wherever possible, to the elucidation of ancient Indian history.
So where is Rajaram's sudden "paradigm change"? And more importantly, where should that lead to? Rajaram again quotes Radhakrishna: "We should build up a strong indigenous school of research in this vital area, with modern tools of underwater sampling, videography and mapping." Certainly, the more scientific data, the better. But, simple dredging, such as recently done in the Gulf of Cambay that delivered one carbon dated piece of wood, moved by the swift currents of the gulf, cannot ascertain the date of a much-touted, alleged 8th millennium "city" (whose buildings are simply derived from some scanning). As prominent scientists have pointed out, evidence from actual underwater archaeology is necessary. However, Radhakrishna continues: "Only then, can we come out with bold hypothesis to alter the entrenched `semi-colonial' perspectives of history and prehistory." It is unclear what he really means by this. His papers in the book "Vedic Sarasvati" (together with S.S. Mehr, 1999) rather point to a bold "patriotic" view, which chimes in with Rajaram's "paradigm change." Of course, both Rajaram and Frawley have contributed to this book.
The question remains: which paradigm? Rajaram et al.'s schemes lead to an indigenist version, one that excludes evidence of comparative, outside data they do not like. Thus, the imported steppe animal, the horse, must be Indian, just as the invention of the horse-drawn chariot (first attested near the Urals/Mesopotamia only around 2000 BCE); the early Indo-Iranian loan words into Uralic are neglected just as Dravidian loan words taken from Sumerian agriculture (details in EJVS 7-3). This is not just simple "patriotic" indigenism, or building up of "a strong indigenous school of research," it is Indo-centrism. What will Rajaram's "challenge before the next generation of historians" lead to if these proceed in this blinkered fashion? I suspect: a new, Bharatiya Purana. The currently increasing self-reflection and assertion of "national" features would lead to a narrow "patriotic" view of history, just as the Gupta time Puranas (composed after c. 320 CE) were a step backwards to a narrow mythological view of the world, after several enlightened centuries that saw free exchange with the outside world in trade and ideas. International reaction to such a new Purana-like historiography will be the same as that to S.S. Misra's Indo-centric Indo-European linguistics or N.I. Marr's Soviet linguistics: either derision or benign neglect.
Scholarship is not local but universal. Those who want to turn it back in indigenous fashion may succeed for a while but their pronouncements will eventually be thrown out on the dung heap of history. The history of a great civilisation such as the Indian one does not deserve to be hijacked by narrow parochial, nationalistic, chauvinistic or political interests. A truly international approach is needed, with input from many sides. For example, the Japanese scholar N. Karashima, with his meticulous, strongly data-based approach, has done so for the history of South India, against various "fashionable" theories. What is needed is not just a "bold" indigenous theory but calm, methodological, and systematic investigation, aided by all relevant disciplines.
It is in this context that we must view the current battle for the "soul of India." It is raging in the Indian media, in various sections of the general public, and among various groups of scholars. However, a detailed analysis of this trend must be postponed to another contribution that would take into account the general framework of the times: such as a narrow postcolonial reaction, general self-searching, and rampant re-invention of tradition.
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