by Paul Kekai Manansala
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|Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan|
The Austric theory is supported by all types of evidence From the horse's mouth A new theory What does the literature say? Other Vedic literature, like the Satapatha Brahmana, state that both the Purusa and Prajapati are one and the same. Indo-Europeanists have linked the Purusasukta myth with the Norse tale of Ymir, the primordial frost giant who is slain by his sons led by Odin. They then proceeded to create the world from the parts of Ymir's body. This myth is not a recurring one in European or Iranian mythology. The 'cosmogonic dive' Common spiritual and religious beliefs The hard evidence We have already discussed the horse and cow evidence, and briefly mentioned some aspects of bioanthropology. A more in-depth look at scientific evidence gives strong support to the basis of the theory suggested in this work. The archaeological trail Agricultural links Conclusion List of cultural correspondences between South and Southeast Asia Toolkits and artifacts Agriculture and livestock Religion, mythology and social aspects Flora, fauna and climate zone Recommended Reading Works with similar or relevant theme Ancient Indian geography On indigenous origin of early brahminism Skeletal anthropology in ancient and modern India Genetic history of region On zebu On horse Key original sources bearing on this theory
The 'Aryan' invasion theory (AIT) has dominated Western Indology for the last few centuries. Nowadays the specialists in this field often modify the 'invasion' part of the theory into a 'migration' or 'diffusion.'
However, this change in terminology often appears superficial. The arguments and papers that continue to be churned out still betray a definite leading toward the idea of invasion rather than migration.
Thus, it is not uncommon for Indologists to disown the old invasion theory and then go straight into a discussion on the importance of 'Aryan' military superiority in the establishment of Sanskrit in the subcontinent.
After investigating this problem for many years, I have developed a theory that is quite unique, or at least, not something that I have come across. You don't need to take online classes or have online degrees to see the relevance.
Some Indologists of both the AIT and Out of India (OIT) school have suggested something that agrees in part with my own theory. They have noted the relationship between the Indian people and those *east* of India in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Some OIT proponents have even suggested that an important part in this relationship in the formation of Vedic culture, which is what I am also proposing here.
My theory on Vedic culture follows this relationship in depth and attempts to develop it into much more than just a suggestion. There is not invasion or mass migration postulated here. Migrations did occur back and forth and that will be discussed briefly. But what is proposed here is a long continuous cultural contact between two regions dating back to the earliest times. This contact continued rather uninterrupted until European colonizers placed strict limits on trade (see new article on spice trade) and other contacts between peoples in the region.
First of all, we must remember that India falls into a zone that links it biologically with the area I shall refer to as the Austric region. The Austric region covers areas presently inhabited by Austric speakers or which are thought to have been inhabited such people previously.
The flora and fauna of India and the Austric region are more similar for the most part to each other than they are to other areas. Thus, India, or its tropical and sub-tropical regions, really are part of the Austric area, or vice-a-versa.
Thus, you have wild animals like the water buffalo, elephant, rhino, tiger and a great number of tropical trees and plants in common.
While this natural relationship does not necessarily apply to human relationships, in this case, we will argue that indeed it does.
In many ways, the modern Aryan invasion/migration theory rests on the natural evidence in the form of domesticated animals. Specifically, the horse evidence has been cited in many works and discussion in which this issue has been approached recently.
However, we shall show that the horse and other natural evidence, in fact, strongly argues against this bulwark of the Western Aryan theory. Another domesticated animal, the zebu cow, or Bos indicus, is another form of evidence against the classic theory.
The reverence and importance of the cow is not limited to post-Rgvedic literature. Even in the early sections of the Rgveda one could argue that cattle were highly considered by the Vedic people, whether they were sacrificed and/or eaten or not.
They were also one of the most important domesticated livestock from an economic standpoint if we take the book at face value.
Yet, the cow, Bos indicus, is not a Central Asian animal. In fact, the older theory that Bos indicus is a descendent of the Southeast Asian banteng now seems supported by recent genetic studies.
At one time, the older theory was replaced by one purporting that Bos indicus was a selective breed of the Central Asian Bos nomadicus, which sometimes possessed small fatty humps. The idea was that the fatty humps were useful to humans and that they eventually bred these into the larger humps of indicus.
There was one big problem that even existed before more recent biological studies, and which illustrates the often shoddy nature of early 'Aryan' scholarship. The hump on Bos indicus is muscular in nature while that of nomadicus is due to the length and curvature of the spine.
The original theory purported that since the hump allowed the cattle to take the yoke better, herders selectively bred them for larger humps. However, this would have produced a breed with a very prominent spine at the withers. In reality, the muscular hump on indicus is believed to have once acted as support for the shoulders, while now it no longer serves any purpose.
Given the importance of the cow as a religious and economic animal, second only to the horse in the Rgveda, and ascending to the top position in later Vedic literature, one must wonder at the absence of Bos taurus in India.
And there is not even a suggestion of a very high degree of hybridization of Bos indicus in India. In fact, Chinese cattle are far closer to a Bos indicus-Bos taurus hybrid than the Indian varieties.
While the Austric theory proposed here is strongly confirmed by the natural evidence, it also receives support from all the fields normally used in analyzing prehistory.
From the linguistic point of view, I have already compared the Indic languages with Austric and the results can be found at the following webpages:
The research is on going, but these will give the readers some background on the problem from the linguistic standpoint.
Also, in the fields of anthropology, genetics, archaeology, comparative mythology, cultural milieu, etc., I have been able to cull a substantial amount of evidence, although the research here also is still continuing.
Before starting, it is imperative to say that the Vedas are distinctly Indian documents taken from a definitely Indian milieu. There is no positive indication that some of the Vedas were composed in Afghanistan or elsewhere outside the subcontinent as often suggested. At the same time, India has never been an isolated region. At all times, there is evidence of contact and back-and-forth migration with other regions.
What we are trying to do is analyze some of these ancient relationships with relation to the Vedic period and the regions east and southeast of India.
The problem of Vedic origins has resulted in deep divisions among scholars and thinkers, particularly in India. There have been two main groups that have arisen in opposition to the traditional AI theory, or just generally to Eurocentric bias in Western Indology. These include the OIT school, which has often been linked with religious organizations, and a small, but growing number of traditional Western scholars, although often of Indian ethnic background.
Among the latter group is included Dilip Chakrabarti, a well-respected, Western-educated Indian scholar who has questioned the Western approach to Indology. Chakrabarti is not an OIT proponent that I'm aware of, but he has very elegantly and effectively attacked many of ethnocentric methods used to analyze and present Indian history and prehistory.
The Austric theory offers something that has not been thoroughly analyzed previously, and is a continuation of earlier research for those willing to leap over the walls of Eurocentric scholarship.
We will start off by analyzing the Rgveda. However, unlike the approach taken in Western circles we will not try to propose that the Rgveda contains more of Vedic history than all other sources combined.
The Rgveda is limited in scope as it is a book of hymns dedicated to certain gods, who might not even have comprised the entire pantheon of the people of Rgvedic times. To a great extent, the Rgveda seems preoccupied with the celestial forces of nature like rain, storms, the seasons, the diurnal day, etc. Furthermore, the Rgveda has limited scope geographically, if we take only those place names literally given in the work itself.
Nor is there really any good reason to think that the Rgveda gives more valid information on Vedic society than other Vedic works, or even post-Vedic writings.
The dating of the Rgveda is mainly accomplished by analyzing the language of the hymns themselves. Such methods involve a great deal of speculation as to the original form of the language, regional differences, rate of change, etc. Needless to say it is hardly an exact science nor one in which high confidence can be placed on the results.
Indeed, the AIT proponents don't even take the whole work into account while bolstering their claims. The date when the Rgveda was 'fixed' is highly speculative. Most agree that the entire corpus was developed over at least a few centuries. Yet, at the same time, there is a claim that the Vedic oral tradition was nearly perfect.
The perfect transmission argument lies on the premise that at the very beginning the Vedic bards were subject to unspeakable curses and social sanctions for incorrect transmission of any hymn.
Such sanctions in themselves are not at all limited to the Vedas among Indian scripture, or to India itself. What is hard to reconcile is how new material could be added to the Rgveda over long periods of time when, from the start, the hymns were supposedly inviolable. Generally it is after a particular corpus has been 'fixed' that such strict rules of transmission are applied.
One could not imagine that a person several thousand years ago would new be any more capable of adding new hymns to the Rgveda than would a Brahmin who tried to do the same today.
Another inconsistency arises when one examines Indological claims regarding other Vedic texts or post-Vedic scriptures. After claiming that the Vedic priests were nearly fanatical in maintaining the sanctity and integrity of the Rgveda, a complete turnaround occurs with the other writings including other Vedic literature.
In a sense the AIT argument revolves not around the Rgveda itself, but only certain books in the work. That which does not agree with the theory almost always seems explained away as borrowing from the "aboriginal" culture. In many cases, these suggestions are a priori.
One has to wonder how priests who so perfectly transmitted their sacred texts would so easily absorb the foreign religious elements not only into the most sacred works of the Vedas, but even into the most sacred of the Vedas (according to W. Indology): the Rgveda.
According even to many Indologists, deities such as Vishnu and legends such as the Emusa myth and Nasadiyasukta in the Rgveda are derived from the indigenous culture. And if we take one step beyond this work, yet still within the Vedic corpus, the 'aboriginal' deities and myths quickly take over.
What seems obvious is that the corpus of the Vedas must in some way relate to each other and to a particular time and set of events. Thus, all the four Vedas must have material that is equally old, and probably equally new. How could one maintain that the priests would be able to maintain such perfect uncorrupted transmission over thousands of years, and yet at the same time totally "absorb" a foreign culture?
In fact, this is often what is implied in the AI theory. Even the other Vedic texts are often portrayed as heavily influenced by indigenous, 'non-Aryan' influence. Such explanations are necessary because the milieu of the other Vedas is so undeniably connected with the subcontinent, and foreign to Central Asia.
Our approach will be to treat all the Vedas as belonging to the Vedic culture and all having more or less equal bearing on the Vedic people. By the end of this essay, we hope that the reader will understand how this is justified.
The setting of the Rgveda itself is again Indian. No directions are given indicating some far-off foreign homeland. On many occasions, native flora and fauna are mentioned and knowledge of the monsoon and of the rains coming from the sea is demonstrated.
One of the main approaches used in establishing the AI theory is to use the negative evidence contained in the supposedly older sections of the Rgveda. But the negative evidence again may be explained by the limited scope of the work. One could also use negative evidence the other way around.
For example, the Rgveda makes no mention of wheat. Yet, well before any of the dates suggested in "standard" sources for the migration of Indo-European peoples into India it is generally proposed that they were wheat and barley farmers. Incidentally, the Rgveda does mention rice in the form of odana, which usually refers to a dish of rice cooked in milk. In more recent historical times, rice is more often cooked with water buffalo milk. In the myth that mentions odana, water buffaloes are also mentioned.
The existence of a racial division is often suggested based on the descriptions of the enemy Dasa and Dasyu peoples as "dark," "noseless," or "goat-nosed."
The present author had also accepted these assertions based on the secondary sources while studying other aspects of Indian culture (see references below). However, after studying the Vedas themselves these claims seem very weak at best.
While such expressions could certainly denote something akin to racial division, it should be noted that they might be relative also. Many cultures tend to ostracize those who depart from the aesthetic norms of their society. But these norms are relative to each society. Thus, sub-Saharan Africans from a certain region may think that people with too light or too dark complexions are unattractive. But what is considered light and dark among them might differ from the same standards in another region.
More importantly, the supposed divisions of peoples into Arya and Dasyu in the Rgveda is highly exaggerated. The only people who seem consistently classed as Arya is the group referred to as the Five Peoples. Even here, the descent of the Five Peoples, and particularly Yadu and Turvasu, is often suggested as mixed. Certainly, the term Dasyu seems to refer on many occasions to spirits of darkness rather than actual people.
And the Five Peoples do not figure as the primary protagonists of the Rgveda. Their defeat on the battlefield is even lauded in the hymns. The true hero of the Vedas is Sudas. The hymns even include appeal for divine help in defeating both Dasas and Aryas. As early as the Satapatha Brahmana, the Purus are referred to as Asuras. There are also references to large numbers of Dasas who become Aryas (Rgveda VI 22-30).
All of this has lead some to claim that Sudas and the Bharatas represented orthodox Vedic society based on close adherence to the Indra cult, and their 'correct' speech. But there are many problems even here. By tradition, Sudas had ten sons reared on his wife by the priest Vasistha. This clearly seems related to a number of aboriginal sexual practices some of which still exist today. Certainly, this was not part of the social practices inherited from the ancient Indo-Europeans.
Also, in the cult of Indra, it is mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana that the proper offering to Brhaspati, the priest of the Devas, was a type of wild rice found around the Bay of Bengal. Again, it seems inconsistent that the supposedly highly-orthodox Vedic priests, so particular about Vedic recitation, would have allowed their divine ancient priest, after whom their own priesthood is modeled, to become 'indigenous.'
Even in the sense of geography, the racial divide theory doesn't seem to fit. According to some Indologists, the Rgveda represents partly the existence of the Vedic people outside of India (in Afghanistan according to Witzel) and shows gradually their movement into northwest India.
However, from the region of Kurukshetra in modern Haryana, where the Bharatas were based, one finds no clear geographical division of Aryans and Anarya. Indeed, many of the Dasa and Dasyu peoples appear located in the modern Punjab north or northwest of Haryana, or even farther into modern Pakistan.
Returning to the natural evidence, much weight is given by AIT proponents to the testimony supplied by two domestic animals -- the horse and the cow. Of these the horse is the much more important when referring to the Rgveda, but the cow ascends in other Vedic literature. Yet, we shall begin by analyzing the cow.
According to Aryan invasion/migration theory the Rgvedic people originally were pastoral folk who migrated from somewhere in 'Central Asia' to northwest India. As already stated, the literary portion of this argument is based primarily on select portions of the Rgveda. Thus, the AI theory is rather a complex rather than a straightforward one and should then require a high standard of evidence.
However, even most AIT proponents will admit that solid evidence of an 'Aryan' migration from Central Asia in the time periods usually considered is generally lacking. One of the most popular theories is that the Vedic people were related to the Kurgan culture. The most-cited evidence of 'Aryans' in India is usually ascribed to a culture that used ceramics known as Painted Grey Wares (PGW).
However, there is very little similarity between the two cultures. Furthermore, the Kurgan people buried their dead in mounds with the corpse placed in a fetal position and covered with red ochre. There is no evidence of such burials among the PGW culture and neither do such practices jibe with Vedic cremation rituals.
Regardless of this, the AI theorists usually maintain that the Rgveda people were nomadic or semi-nomadic people who relied heavily on their horses and herds. And the most important component of the latter was cattle.
Cattle and the AIT theory
As the Rgveda paints a picture of the 'Aryans' as cattle herders, we must envision a scenario in which large herds of cattle were driven into the subcontinent by the invaders/migrants. We again must note that the invasion theory has by no means been discarded by AI theorists, even those who pay lip service to a 'migration' hypothesis.
If Aryans brought their herds of cattle and their horses with them, then one should expect an abundance of evidence in this area to support the AI theory.
This brings us then to the Indian cow, known as the zebu (Bos indicus).
When European natural scientists first studied the zebu, they believed it was a descendent of the wild banteng of Southeast Asia known as Bos javanicus or Bos banteng.
There were many good reasons for this belief. First, both were primarily tropical animals with excellent tolerance of heat and resistance to tropical diseases. Even compared to many other tropical animals, these two bovines were well adapted to the tropics. One could only imagine this was the product of long residence in the tropical regions of Asia.
In addition, the zebu and banteng shared similarities in skin, coat, horns and head shape, and sometimes in the shape of the dewlap. The natural range of both overlapped.
But most importantly, the banteng was also domesticated in Indonesia where it is often found in hybrid form with the zebu. Thus, the connection between wild and domestic forms.
Obviously, the descent of the zebu from the banteng was not very supportive of the Aryan invasion theory. Eventually there arose the theory of the zebu's Auroch descent from Bos nomadicus. It was postulated that both the zebu and the European/West Asian Bos taurus cattle were the product of a single domestication event.
The new theory was a windfall to the AI school as it almost completely obliterated any possible doubts concerning eastern origins.
However, newer evidence has turned things around sharply. Firstly, in 1994, an mtDNA study was published showing that Bos indicus and the Zebu were separated genetically by hundreds of thousands of years, if not over a million years. A more recent study in 1999 estimated the separation at 600,000 years ago. Both studies came to the inevitable conclusion that the zebu and taurine cattle were domesticated separately in different regions of the world.
The first study suggested, although rather meekly, that Bos indicus progenitors might still be the wild auroch. In fact, many taxonomists even classified the zebu as Bos primgenius indicus in support of such a view.
However, even before the 1994 study, hemoglobin research indicated that the older banteng theories were not so far off the mark after all. The first study published in 1983 showed that a transitional form leading from beta A to beta B in domestic cattle was found in Bali cattle (Bos banteng).
Certain Bali cattle showed a substitution of lysine residue by histidine leading to beta B, which is the most important type found in the zebu. The change required two codon base substitutions so the researchers could confidently theorize that Bali cattle and cattle with beta B had the same ancestor. It thus concluded that Indian humped cattle must have had hybrid origins since they have very high frequency of beta B.
In fact, as the study also pointed out, earlier research involving protein polymorphisms had already suggested that the zebu at least had definite banteng ancestors and was probably hybrid in origin.
Then, in 1987 another study involving the banteng and African zebu cattle (ongole) led to another interesting discovery. The beta A chain in both the former types was compared to beta A in Herefords (Bos taurus). The researchers found that beta A in both the ongole and banteng differed from the Hereford based on a single substitution. The new type was labeled beta A zebu with the assumption that the substitution in the banteng was due to zebu admixture.
However, another explanation, which seems to be gaining ground fast, is that beta A zebu in bantengs comes from a deme that eventually led to both the domesticated banteng and the domesticated zebu. Indeed, many standard references such as Funk & Wagnalls now list the banteng as the probable ancestor of the zebu.
Many other standard sources, which used assign the same ancestor to both the taurine and indicus cattle, now state Bos primegenius as the ancestor of Bos taurus, but simply state that Bos indicus was domesticated separately in South Asia without suggesting a possible ancestor.
Even if aurochs played a part in the zebu's ancestry, the link appears to go back at least 600,000 years if not much more.
Evidence like this may be one reason AI theorists have shifted from an all-out invasion scenario to one involving a migration of only small numbers of people. Supposedly, these Indo-Europeans possessed superior organization and technology that allowed them to impose their language on the aboriginal population.
Such a shift may have been necessary since the biological evidence of large herds of livestock entering the subcontinent from Central Asia is lacking. Indeed, even from the standpoint of human biology, the old invasion scenario suffered severe shortcomings.
According to the old standard of cephalometry, or measurement of skulls, the situation in India had always presented problems to AIT proponents. The theory requires that the Vedic Aryans have some biological relationship with the old Persians of Iran.
However, the evidence available shows that Iranians are and were a markedly broad-headed people while the peoples in India including the northwest were strongly long-headed.
Broad-headed people appeared in pockets in western India around Maharastra and Gujarat and in eastern India, but the expected high frequency of such types in the northwest was not found.
The discrepancy led to AI theorists to claim that the earlier invasion had come from long-headed 'Nordics', the cousins of the broad-headed Iranians. The theory suffered some obvious weaknesses as the supposed separation of the two groups from the hypothetical Central Asian homeland was not that great. Certainly not great enough to allow divergence into broad and long head categories from a proposed proto-Indo-Iranian people.
The evidence is even more revealing when the skeletal remains are examined more thoroughly. Kenneth Kennedy, who has done extensive research on early Indian crania, has stated that the "Aryan" is missing from the early skeletal record.
By Aryan here we mean a group that would cluster with Central Asians believed to be Indo-Europeans. The skeletal record shows that in most ways the Indian population is quite unique. One thing that can quickly be dismissed, and which we will discuss more thoroughly later, is that Indians are primarily the result of recent (>4000 kya) gene flow from the north and west.
The relation of the zebu to the banteng helps point out the fact that India sits in a biological zone closely connected with Southeast Asia. The zebu is closely linked in the religious literature to the Brahmin, the caste often considered the most "Aryan" of them all. Yet, the zebu is an "eastern" species. When we delve more deeply into mythology later in this work, we will find that Indian tradition, preserved in the Puranas, epics and other works, assigns the origin of a great many things to the East.
In the story of the churning of the Milky Ocean, the divine cow Surabhi arises from the sea after it becomes milk. The Milky Ocean, as we will see, is located geographically to the east of Mt. Meru. Likewise, in the Satapatha Brahmana, the priesthood is also connected with the East, although here east could refer to eastern India.
If the zebu evidence is telling, then that presented by the horse is even more confounding to the AI theory. Those familiar in this area of study may find this statement surprising, since the horse evidence is often thought of as the 'big guns' of AIT proponents.
According to the invasion theory, the Vedic Aryans were a nomadic people who depended greatly on the horse for whom they had very high regard. The Vedas portray the horse as the kin of the gods.
Generally, the AI theory puts much emphasis on the lack of horse remains in Harappan digs, and also the fact that the Harappans did not represent the horse in their art. If the horse was as important to the Vedic Aryans as the texts suggest, we should see Harappan evidence in both cases.
The first problem with this argument is that there is not unanimous agreement on the lack of horse remains associated with Harappan sites. Archaeologists have found bones identified as belonging to Equus caballus at Harappan sites.
AIT proponents argue that these remains cannot be clearly distinguished from the onager of India and that they were not recovered in stratified context. The identification of the bones is somewhat subjective, but it is not unusual for archaeologists to accept items that are not dated stratigraphically. This issue, then, is not that clear-cut.
As for the lack of the horse in the art representations, this is a type of negative evidence from which conclusions cannot be formed. For example, representations of the horse may have been restricted to wood or similar perishable materials.
Even if no remains or artistic evidence have yet been found, this would not mean that the Indian domesticated horse is derived from a Central Asian migrant.
Deep in the specialized literature on horse classification, we can find that Indian and other horses extending to insular Southeast Asia were peculiar from other breeds. All showed anatomical traces of admixture with the ancient equid known as Equus sivalensis.
Most standard works leave a question mark as to the extinction date of Equus sivalensis. However, like that equid, the horse of southeastern Asia has peculiar zebra-like dentition. Also, both were distinguished by a pre-orbital depression. The orbital region is important because it has been demonstrated as useful in classifying different species of equids. Finally, and most importantly in relation to Vedic literature, the Indian horse has, like Equus sivalensis, only 17 pairs of ribs.
In comparison, the horses of Central Asians, Europeans and Iranians had 18 pairs of ribs. That this is not a recent phenomenon in India is illustrated by the following Rgvedic passage (translated by Wilson):
The axe penetrates the thirty-four ribs of the swift horse; the beloved of the gods, (the immolators), cut up (the horse) with skill, so that the limbs may be unperforated, and recapitulating joint by joint.
(Rgveda 1.162.18 )
So the horse of India including, that of the asvamedha sacrifice in what is regarded as the oldest part of the Rgveda, is a distinct variety native to southeastern Asia.
The horse evidence is actually supportive of neither the AIT nor OIT versions. However, since the theory proposed here has no invasion or mass migration scenario, it fits in rather perfectly.
While the horse is lacking in Harappa, it also is not strongly represented in the proposed AIT archaeological record. If we accept the Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture as belonging to the invading/migrating Aryans, the horse remains are again scarce.
Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence of the chariot, which is closely associated with the horse in the Rgveda.
In the churning of the Milky Ocean story, the divine horse Uccaihsravas arises out of the sea just like the cow Surabhi. There are different origin stories given in Hindu myth for both the horse and the cow. The Milky Ocean legend, though, is specific to the current age according to the Hindu cycles of time.
The Vedas may contain an allusion to this story when they state that the horse was born from the sea. Some have taken this as referring to the horse as a solar symbol, but another possibility is a direct connection with the Milky Ocean story.
Again, we must remember that the Rgveda would hardly be understood by modern scholars at all if not for the other Vedas and the post-Vedic commentaries and traditions. Most modern works that analyze the Rgveda depend on these other sources to explain names, personalities, myths and other details that could not be understood by reading only the Rgveda.
As we have stated, some Indologists tend even to reject other Vedic sources as references on the Rgveda, unless the information contained therein agrees with their theories. In a sense, the evidence is made to conform to the theory.
The Milky Ocean story and the Vedic concept of the horse as sea-born are not the only suggestions that give the horse a more easterly, but not necessarily extra-Indian, provenance.
Latter tradition assigned the domestication of the horse to the Asuras of Eastern India. In the Satapatha Brahmana, it is said that the Gandharvas were the first to yoke the horse. The Gandharvas were known as the musicians of the Devas, or Gods. In the Rgveda, Gandharva is the name of a solitary being that guards the Soma of the Devas.
Like the Devas, the Gandharvas were associated with the East. In the Rgveda, sacrifices are made toward the East, the home of the Gods. The Satapatha Brahmana repeatedly refers to the East as the "quarter of the Gods."
Aitareya Aranyaka 1.2 states: "Let them descend toward the east, for the seed of the gods was born in the east." Some believe the connection of the Devas with the East relates symbolically to forces of nature. But there are more reasons to believe that the orientation may also be linked to actual experience with peoples and beliefs from the East.
...from the east is the quarter of the gods, and from the east westwards the gods approach men: that is why one offers to them while facing the east.
(Satapatha Brahmana 3.1.6, translated by Mueller)
Later works such as the Asvasastra (Horse Science) state that sages acted as horse trainers, and that horses should be fed a rice diet. In this connection, we should note that early texts also link the priesthood with the East (SB 220.127.116.11).
As with the zebu, the horse evidence does not point toward the northwest or west as the AIT would suggest. If anything it fits into the same faunal relationships that exist in many other ways with the lands to the east.
The eastern direction, of course, does not necessarily mean Austric. It could refer to Sino-Tibetan or other ethnolinguistic groups. On the other hand, the southeast direction is more likely to refer to Austric speakers.
What we will propose here is not an Aryan invasion from the east, but a long history of cross-cultural contacts predating the widely recognized period of Hindu-Buddhist influence.
The demographic history of modern humans seems to change constantly with new theories sprouting up continuously. However, one can say rather confidently now that modern humans had reached the easternmost parts of Asia by at least 50,000 years ago and Australia at least 40,000 kya.
The current prevailing theory has the ancestors of today's humans hugging the coast of southern Asia after leaving the African continent. The cold climate of the north may have dissuaded early humans from moving north until they had reached the eastern limits of southern Asia.
Eventually, in possible relation to warming weather patterns, humans began moving further north. Indeed, migrations took place from all regions in all directions.
In India it is generally suggested by Western Indologists that migrations from Southeast Asia influenced the region from Northeast India to the Vindhya range. This belief is mostly based on the presence of Munda and Mon-Khmer speaking peoples
However, a close look at the evidence in the various fields from genetics and anthropology to myth and culture suggest that the influence was more pervasive. This evidence shall be outlined in the remainder of this work.
The literature of all regions is embellished with myth and legend. Yet, even in some of the most outlandish stories there is often at least a kernel of historical fact involved in the tale. As a whole, the literature of India can and has been used by all sides to interpret the history and prehistory of the subcontinent.
So what does the literature say about India's ancient foreign relations? The oldest texts that give reasonably explicit views of extra-Indian geography are the epics. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata, we find the older four-fold division of the earth according to their orientation to Mt. Meru or to Bharata.
In the epics, Mt. Meru is a geographic reality located east of Jambudvipa (the Indian subcontinent).
The Mahabharata states that Sakadvipa, Svetadvipa and the Milky Ocean are located to the east of Meru. The location of Sakadvipa in the eastern quarter is also found in the astrological text, Brhat Parasara Horasastra.
The Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavatapurana, Laghubhagavatamrta and Varahamihira's Brhat Samhita agree in placing the Milky Ocean to the east. All of these works except the Ramayana and Brhat Samhita, which do not mention Svetadvipa, also place that island in the eastern quarter.
In the Puranas, geography apparently is made to conform more to cosmographic and astronomical thinking. Mt. Meru becomes equated with the North Pole. The world is made into a series of seven concentric rings of continents surrounded by oceans. The ethnogeographic and biogeographic material, though, largely agrees with the epics.
All the Puranas that mention Sakadvipa agree that the Milky Ocean surrounds the island/continent. In the same way, those writings that mention Svetadvipa place it on the "north shores" of the Milky Ocean. This has lead some to suggest that Sakadvipa and Svetadvipa were interchangeable names for the same region.
Svetadvipa is mentioned as part of the geographic continents only in the Padma among the Puranas. The Yogavasistha also includes Svetadvipa as one of the seven island continents, but here Sakadvipa is also mentioned. Svetadvipa appears to take the place of Salmalidvipa in the Yogavasistha as compared to the Puranic accounts.
Possibly Sakadvipa refers to a region bounded by the Milky Ocean while Svetadvipa was a more specific location within the ocean itself. Another possibility is that Svetadvipa is a late name for Sakadvipa with the latter staying in usage because of tradition.
All the sources agree in explicitly giving Svetadvipa and the Milky Ocean a southerly as well as an eastern location. The astronomers Bhaskara and Lalla both agree that the Milky Ocean was south of the Salt Sea. The latter ocean is said to surround Jambudvipa. The Laghubhagavatamrta states:
Svetadvipa, like Mt Meru, the Milky Ocean and other locations have both earthly and heavenly forms as is stated explicitly in the Puranas. The heavenly form of Svetadvipa is depicted as a planet, while the earthly one as a geographical location. Both have the same type of orientation. For example, both the heavenly and earthly Svetadvipa are south of the Salt Sea and East of Meru.
"East of Sumeru (Mt. Meru) is the ocean of milk, in which there is a white city on a white island where the Lord can be seen sitting with his consort, Laksmiji on a throne of Sesa. That feature of Visnu also enjoys sleeping during the four months of the rainy season. The Svetadvipa in the milk ocean is situated south of the ocean of salt."
The Ramayana gives a detailed description of the eastern regions in the story of the Vanaras search for Sita. The account gives first mention of geographic names that would later come to dominate Indian literature describing the same area. Yavadvipa and Suvararupyakadvipani are mentioned. The name Yavadvipa would persist, while Suvarnarupyakadvipani is almost certainly the land that would later be known as Suvarnadvipa (Gold Island).
Along with these and other locations, the Ramayana mentions the Ksiroda or Milky Ocean. By medieval times, nearly the entire area of insular and/or mainland Southeast Asia became known as Suvarnadvipa. The Bhagavatapurana mentions Suvarnadvipa extending over an area southeast of India, thus, in the same general location as Svetadvipa in the same text.
The stories linked with the Milky Ocean, Svetadvipa and Sakadvipa in the early literature are quite voluminous and important in the mythical context. An interesting work by Stephen Oppenheimer, a tropical physician and geneticist, examined the relationship of myth in Neolithic Southeast Asia with that of other regions. He believed many cosmological myths found in different parts of the 'Old World' may be connected with a mass migration from Sundaland at around the beginning of the Holocene.
Many scholars have found that the Milky Ocean stories of the Puranas and Epics are similar to myths found among the Austric peoples in India and to the East-Southeast. In this sense, comparative mythology would agree with the geographic notices in the literature placing the ocean of milk to the east of Meru and to the south of the Salt Sea. Since the idea of Gods taking avataras and particularly animal and sealife avataras such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and Narasimha is very common in the indigenous belief systems of Austric peoples, Indologists like S.K. Chatterji have already proposed an Austric background for these beliefs.
The Bhagavatapurana relates that all the avataras of Narayana (Visnu) originate ultimately from Svetadvipa in the Milky Ocean, which could refer to the origin of the belief. The first three avataras Matsya, Kurma and Varaha also have their setting at least partly in the latter location.
Most scholars surmise that there was a geographic reality to both Sakadvipa and Svetadvipa alongside the obviously mythical elements. The accounts of both contain highly descriptive data and in the case of Sakadvipa some historical matters. In agreement with the southern location, Sakadvipa is said to be particularly rich in Salmali, or silk cotton trees. The Salmali is a tropical variety found in southeastern Asia and the Pacific. Most of the Puranas also state that Sakadvipa gets its name from a particularly prominent Saka tree that was worshipped by the islanders.
The Saka tree is the teak another tropical eastern (including India) species. Also mentioned as particularly abundant on Sakadvipa are the Parijata, or coral tree, and the sandal tree, again both tropical eastern varieties. The Parijata is also said to be the most abundant species on Svetadvipa.
Given that the Indian authors were familiar with both dry and evergreen forest species, the mention of exclusively tropical and eastern trees gives a picture consistent with an area south of the Salt Sea and east of Meru.
Although the accounts of the Milky Ocean, Sakadvipa and Svetadvipa are hard to date they probably were found in the earliest classical literature since all the locations are consistently mentioned in every major work from that period. Also, the main core of the mythology contained in the references to these regions is older than the classical accounts themselves.
The Narayana theme is found in the Atharvaveda, the Upanishads and even in the Rgveda if one considers the Narayana-Milky Ocean motif as linked to the Hiranyagarbha myth of the latter. The Hiranyagarbha is the cosmic egg which floats on a sea of ether, and from which creation emerges.
In the classical literature, the Hiranyagarbha is sometimes equated with Brahma, sometimes with Narayana. In the Vedic literature, Prajapati emerges from the cosmic egg, but Prajapati and Narayana basically have the same functions of creation. The Atharvaveda gives the first instance of an imagery that can help tie all these myths together. In this work is mentioned a great Yaksa, or tree spirit, resting on the primordial sea. From the Yaksa's navel emerges a lotus and in the center of the lotus is the creator Prajapati.
In later literature, Narayana takes the place of the great Yaksa resting on the cosmic sea. Linking this with the older Vedic idea of Prajapati emerging from the cosmic egg, Narayana is equivalent to the Hiranyagarbha.
A cosmic egg myth exists in Greek literature but this may be a borrowing since the motif does not appear generally in European mythology. On the other hand, the cosmic egg motif is quite prevalent east of India especially among Pacific island peoples. The latter are believed to have the 'purest' forms of original Austric mythology since they were not exposed to the waves of influences that begin to flow to Southeast Asia around the beginning of this era.
Many scholars have claimed that the Prajapati myth is a late addition to the Rgveda. This, again, seems to contradict the general position of Indologists regarding the uncorrupted nature of the work. It seems unlikely that the most sacred corpus of the Vedic Aryans would adopt the creation myths of another culture given their supposed attitudes on purity of tradition.
We might add in this regard that the another primary creation myth of the Rgveda is linked with the Prajapati myth. The Rgveda tells of the Purusa, or Cosmic Man, who sacrifices himself so that his body parts can be used to create the physical world and living beings.
However, the closest myth to the Purusasukta is undoubtedly the Pangu myth of China and Indochina. Pangu is a pantheistic deity who, like Prajapati, emerges from the cosmic egg floating on a primeval sea of nothingness. Within the egg, or within Pangu, is also the primordial yin and yang, the female and male principles.
After emerging from the egg, Pangu grows to immense size and after his death his body parts become the physical world while the parasites on his body become the living creatures. While the Pangu myth lacks the self-sacrifice motif, it shares the same pantheistic themes.
Oppenheimer believes the parent myth of this motif can be found in the Maori story of Rangi and Papa, or Heaven and Earth. Within the cosmic egg floating on a sea of nothingness are Rangi and Papa united, a concept comparable to the united yin and yang of the cosmic egg in the Pangu myth.
After emerging from the egg, the children of Rangi and Papa, who are sandwiched in between the two, push the pair apart -- the separation of yin-yang or in the Indian case, purusa and prakriti. Rangi becomes the heavens, and Papa the earth. The children then populate the earth.
This myth connects with the widespread Austric motif of the separation of earth and sky. Oppenheimer believed it may be the closest to the original since it contained most of the interrelated motifs now found scattered throughout the region of southeastern Asia and the Pacific.
The Varaha avatara is a myth of the 'cosmogonic dive' variety and is first alluded to in the Satapatha Brahmana. However, there may be another reference found in the Emusa myth of the Rgveda. In that hymn, which refers to the birth of Indra, the god shoots through a mountain with a bow to obtain rice cooked in milk, and kills the celestial boar Emusa. The latter appears here to substitute for the dragon Vrtra, which symbolically represents the water-filled rain cloud.
Rudra is known in the Vedas as the "Boar of Heaven" representing the the storm cloud as a wild boar. The boar-storm cloud idea, or myths of boar gods that control rain and weather recurs commonly in Austric cultures.
The Rgveda is characterized by hymns describing the celestial forces of nature, especially rain, the seasons and agriculture. Indra slays Vrtra, the dragon containing the floods of heaven. The storm gods Rudra and the Maruts appear in numerous hymns and even Agni and the Asvins are portrayed strongly in connection with celestial forces (the sun and the solstices).
One might even say that the Rgveda is a monsoonal collection of hymns. The intimate knowledge of the monsoons is noted by Gautam Vajracharya in his work on Rgvedic descriptions of frogs after the first monsoon rains. Vajracharya notes that this comes from what is generally considered a later composition of the Rgveda.
However, there are other indications of such knowledge throughout the work. The rains are recognized as coming from the ocean. The rainy season is in summer (Rgveda 6.32-5) and the year is divided into three seasons (later spit into six in Taittiriya Samhita). The rainy season causes torrents of water to flow down the mountains into the rivers and eventually to the ocean -- a fitting description of what happens when the monsoons hit the Himalayas.
The classical literature states that Indra collects the moisture of the monsoons on a mountain in the east. Usually this mountain is known as Jaladhara on Sakadvipa. Sometimes it is mentioned as Gandhamadana, east of Meru, where the eagle Garuda brought the amrta stolen from the gods. The Rgveda at least confirms Indra's association with the east when it states that the deity measured the eastern quarter (Rgveda 2.15.3).
The rains from the southeast appear to refer to the summer lows that move from the southeast over the Bay of Bengal during the summer and bring abundant moisture to the eastern Himalayas and to the whole area east of 78 degrees East and north of 25 degrees North.
Interestingly, the idea of rain coming from the east is strong in Vedic literature and indicates a Gangetic orientation.
While the Milky Ocean, Sakadvipa, Svetadvipa and the most important regions in the early literature, other areas are also connected with the east. Pushkaradvipa is explicitly placed in this direction. Later, the name Suvarnadvipa comes into importance for the whole region of Southeast Asia, but particularly the Malay Archipelago. In Buddhist literature, mainland Southeast Asia may be referred to as Suvarnabhumi in contrast to insular Suvarnadvipa.
The literature gives specific and at times startling evidence of intimate knowledge of these regions. They are consistent in describing the islands as lush in coral, silk cotton, teak, sandal, mango, banyan and other trees of tropical and eastern (in relation to Eurasia) provenance.
The description of the ocean in the Mahabharata's account of the Garuda-Amrta story is full of vivid detail. The classical literature gives many accounts of a submarine fire known alternately as the Vadavamukha, Vadavanala and Hayamukha.
The all-consuming fire located in the midst of the ocean is located unanimously by these works as in the east and quite far to the south. In the concentric continent world view, the Vadavamukha becomes the South Pole as opposed to Meru as the North Pole.
Does the concept of the Vadavamukha, the ocean-fire that consumes the earth at the end of the cycle, betray a knowledge of underwater volcanoes and the Ring of Fire?
Even in the Rgveda, we find numerous references to Agni as living in the midst of the sea or as dwelling in the waters. The story of Aurva, the oldest explanation for the submarine fire, is also found in the Rgvedic hymns.
One hymn tells of how the rivers collect rain to unite them for the propitiation of the ocean-fire (Rgveda 2.35.3).
The idea of volcanic activity might also be found in the Churning of the Milky Ocean story. Like the Milky Ocean, the Vadavamukha is found to the southeast of Meru, the mountain found to the east of Jambudvipa.
Some have concentrated on the quest for amrta, the nectar of immortality, in the myth as an explanation or allegory for soma or the churning of butter. Another possibility is that, like the Vrtra myth, the Churning of the Milky Ocean seeks to give a divine explanation to some natural phenomenon.
Given the nature of other two 'oceanic' avataras, Matsya, dealing with catastrophic ocean flooding, and Varaha, with the emergence of land from such flooding, the natural phenomena explanation is...natural.
The epic versions of the myth clearly describe something that is hard to explain other than in terms of volcanic activity (if one takes the natural route).
Given the geographical descriptions placing both the Milky Ocean and the Vadavamukha southeast of Mt. Meru, one is rather forced to look at the Ring of Fire when faced with accounts like that in the Mahabharata.
"...as Vasuki was forcefully pulled up and down by the Gods, puffs of fire and smoke belched forth from his mouth. The clouds of smoke became massive clouds with lightning flashes and rained down on the troops of Gods, who were weakening with the heat and fatigue...All kinds of creatures that inhabit the deep were crushed asunder by the big mountain ...and the mountain drove sea animals of all sorts, such as dwell in the submarine abysses, to their destruction...The friction of the trees started fire after fire, covering the mountain with flames like a black monsoon cloud with lightening streaks...many juices of herbs and manifold resins of the trees flowed into the water of the ocean. And with the milk of these juices that had the power of the Elixir, and with the exudation of the molten gold, the God attained immortality. The water of the ocean now turned into milk, and from this milk butter floated up, mingled with the finest of essences."
(Mahabharata, translated by J.A.B. Van Buitenen, vol. I, pp. 73-74)
In Hindu eschatology, the Vadavamukha, or the cosmic version of it, reduces the entire universe after a fiery conflagration into one cosmic ocean. The great flood of the Matsya avatara is often seen as mirroring this event in microcosm. Oppenheimer believed that this belief was related to similar Munda, Dravidian and Mon-Khmer myths involving a firestorm linked to a massive ocean flood.
While some have assigned the great array of flood myths in the Pacific and other Austric regions to Christian missionary influence, Oppenheimer has cast doubt on these assertions. Generally, there is a wide distribution of common motifs which discount the idea of Christian influence. Among the most important factors to consider:
* The Austric myths almost all involve sea flooding.
* Most do not involve rain or storms at all.
* Many include a 'super sea-wave' motif.
* Many involve a serpent motif.
* Most of those on the mainland have a fire storm motif.
* Widely-scattered myths in the region provide details of permanent coastal loss.
* Many include a mountain topping motif.
* Although Pacific island myths are considered the most suspect for missionary influence, nearly all of these contain no reference to the building or use of a boat to survive the flood. Southeast Asian myths vary in the use of boat, gourd or other device to survive the flood, although many are similar to Pacific Island myths involving taking refuge on high mountains.
One doesn't have to go far to find a plausible explanation for these myths. The submergence of Sundaland was the most demographically significant 'flood' event in recent earth history. When one factors in the role of volcanoes as an often parallel stimulus to migration, a sound basis for the wide propagation of this related lore arises. The difference in the nature in which the flood was survived is consistent with varying experiences with rising sea levels at different locations.
A number of studies have been conducted exploring the connections in spiritual belief between India and the Austric region. A number of linkages have been suggested. For example, the concept of transmigration of the soul recurs frequently in the indigenous beliefs of Austric speakers including those living in isolated regions of the Pacific.
Specialists like Kosambi and Pargiter have suggested that brahminism has indigenous, mostly Dravidian roots. I have examined the problem from a more Austric viewpoint in "The Austric Origin of the Brahmana and Rishi Traditions" (International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, vol. XXIV, Jun. 1995). The work examines the Austric links without denying the Dravidian contribution. Indeed, it is often difficult to separate the two currents of culture.
Among some of the more important links in this respect are:
* In relation to caste, the existence of the mana concept
* The protection of mana, particularly for religious castes, through restrictions on interdining and intermarriage
* The socio-religious importance of fermented or herbal beverages and their role in increasing vitality or in attaining immortality among Pacific peoples and the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia. The "drink of the Gods" concept.
* The idea of rebirth to different levels of existence based upon conduct in the previous life.
* A general concept of atman in the sense of the coexistence of personal and universal self, closely linked with pantheistic beliefs.
* The idea of transmigration between species and related totemism.
* The importance of "ascending to Heaven" as a lifetime journey.
Genetic studies have often focused more on establishing the validity of Western theories concerning the subcontinent such as the AI and West Asiatic demic diffusion theories. However, these same studies often provide evidence that supports our own theory.
Many of these genetic studies can be found at my Austronesian website in the section on South Asian relationships (see http://www.geocities.com/pinatubo.geo/austro.htm).
Studies of mtDNA and Y chromosome data have suggested close relationship between South Asian and East/Southeast Asia populations. In a global study by Hammer et al. of global Y chromosome haplotypes, South and Southeast Asians formed a single cluster. A number of mtDNA studies including those of Bamshad et al., showed close relationship between South Asians and East Asians.
Oppenheimer's work is relevant in this regard as he has been involved in genetic research concerning Indo-Pacific prehistory. In Eden in the East, the author identifies a number of hemoglobin variants extending across southern Asia which indicate east to west migrations from Southeast Asia. An HLA study by Narinder Mehra found close relationship between North Indians and East Asians. Oppenheimer explains this all in relation to Sundaland migrations.
In his theory, migrants from Sundaland spread in all directions with some going north before turning west. He bases this on the presence of Austric substratum and related mythology in more northern parts of Asia.
If we accept this view, the Y chromosome haplotypes might give evidence of at least the northern migration. The YAP+ haplotype of the Y chromosome is believed by many specialists to have an Asian origin. This haplotype originated from a unique and probably latter migration out of Africa of Hammer et al.'s haplotype 2 subtype.
Unfortunately, haplotype 2 has completely disappeared from Asia, so we have little idea of its former distribution. If the haplotype can be connected with the southern migration hypothesis of the Out of Africa theory, then it should have hugged the coast of southern Asia before going north.
Eventually, the YAP+ haplotype arose out of haplotype 2 and migrated from northern or central Asia back to Africa. However, this migration left no traces in western Asia itself. The subtype appears again in Africa before variants spread out at a later period into West Asia and Europe.
The mtDNA evidence in the form of what is known as the 9-bp deletion has left hard traces in India. Some types of 9-bp deletion show direct relationship with the same gene in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Other types show local variation, but still might ultimately be related to the Asian type. The YAP+ and haplotype 2 examples show that not much can be ascertained through genetic frequencies alone of any particular genotype because of factors like genetic drift and gene extinction. One has to look at the 'big picture.'
The other mtDNA evidence does suggest strong Asian linkages that support the 9-bp distribution. The hemoglobin and HLA evidence give further support.
The overall genetic picture indicates a very old biological relationship probably extending in part at least to the original migration out of Africa. This may account largely for some of the older Y chromosome and mtDNA clusters.
The mtDNA 9-bp and hemoglobin evidence would suggest later migrations probably after the beginning of the Holocene.
On the contrary, there is little evidence of any particularly protracted period of genetic isolation between the two regions as compared to their respective contact with other areas.
A study of all collected skeletal data published in the government-sponsored Indian Gazetteer found that the living population of India was on average of medium to short stature, mesorrhine (medium broad-nosed), rather dark-skinned and dolichocephalic (long-headed) with a tendency toward hyperdolichocephaly (extreme long-headedness).
K.A. Kennedy's work on ancient crania series from India produced similar results regarding skull measurements. The Indian Gazetteer describes the basic physical element in the Indian population as "Austric."
As mentioned previously, archaeologists tend to look at Austric influence in India as extending to about the Vindhya range as evidenced by the Aeneolithic culture of Northeast India and Copper Hoard culture of Eastern India. The Aeneolithic shares morphological similarity with the contemporary culture of Southeast Asia, while the tools of the Copper Hoard culture, while metal, bear close resemblance to the stone tools of the Aeneolithic and to copper tools of Southeast Asia. The distribution of the Copper Hoard culture overlaps much of the present distribution of Munda peoples in India and it shared many similarities with modern Munda culture (hoe agriculture, for instance).
Evidence exists of geographically more pervasive contacts however. Much of this is in the form of jewelry and common motifs. Even during the intense cultural contacts of the Hindu-Buddhist period, the material cultures of the two regions were linked archaeologically mostly through jewelry. During this period, there seems to have been a trade in beads and similar jewelry.
There never seems to have been much movement in the sense of pottery between the two regions even at the height of cultural transmission of Hindu-Buddhist or Islamic influence. Indeed, China was the most important supplier of ceramic trade items to both countries.
During the earliest periods, one finds the unusual practice of ear extension in use in both South and Southeast Asia as evidenced by the existence of associated earplugs. Disc-like pottery and shell earplugs that are inserted into extended lower earlobes are found in Neolithic and Harappan sites in West and Northwest India. Similar earplugs made of the same materials and often displaying similar motifs were also found at Ban Chiang, Non Nok Tha and numerous other early Southeast Asian sites.
This peculiar practice of ear elongation, so commonly displayed on Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art, is not found in Central or West Asia according to relevant studies. Like the related practice of stretching the lower earlobe with heavy rings (as still practiced in Borneo today), the use of earplugs was distributed throughout ancient South and Southeast Asia. In latter times, the practice was also found scattered in the Pacific islands and in the Western hemisphere.
In addition to earplugs, early Neolithic and Metal Age archaeological sites in both regions have yielded pottery and metal bangles used for the arms and legs. In Southeast Asia, burials in which the bodies were still wearing multiple arm and/or leg bangles have been uncovered. At a latter period, possibly as early as 1000 BCE, beads of South Indian manufacture begin turning up in the archaeological record of Southeast Asia.
A number of interesting common motifs appear on the jewelry, ceramics and other artifacts of both regions. These include the spiral, the sun wheel, and the "Mt. Meru" pattern of concentric circles.
Studies indicate that the distribution respectively of the Aus type of broadcast rice, the Asiatic zebu, the coix cereal, and an ancient type of 'maize,' thought to be a cross of coix and sorghum, coincide closely. Further the central area from which these items branch off also overlap for the most part.
The area of divergence extends from about Assam east into the Yunnan area and south through Indochina and the Malay Peninsula into western Indonesia. In this region, hill peoples still today grow rice as a main crop with coix or the ancient maize as a primary alternating crop. Sorghum and millet are also grown over this distribution.
The Vedic people were a 'rice people.' In this sense, we are referring to the people described in the Vedas in general and not just in the Rgveda. However, as mentioned before the rare mention of rice (as odana) in the Rgveda does not necessarily reflect on the material culture of the people. The Rgveda offers only limited evidence in this regard. One entire mandala deals mainly with the Soma drink. The hymns also do not mention wheat, yet this is not seen as a problem to the AIT school for obvious reasons. Our approach, again, is to take Vedic culture as that consistently described in the Vedic corpus as a whole.
In the Yajurveda and Satapatha Brahmana, we have a clear picture of the importance of rice as food and as a ritual item. Indeed, rice appears as the most important item of sacrifice. Wild rice is the offering for Brhaspati, the priest of the gods and the prototype for the Brahmin priesthood. Rice is the offering for the ancestors and is the only grain that can be used as a substitute for all other sacrifices.
The OIT school sometimes suggests rice as an "Aryan" (read Indo-European) grain that was not transmitted to the west (of India) because of climatic reasons. The arguments here though are rather weak. Rice appears associated with peoples of a cultural milieu that finds its strongest representation in eastern Indian and Southeast Asia. There is no evidence of any Indo-European influence even indirectly in the diffusion of rice into eastern parts of Asia.
The Satapatha Brahmana mentions gavendhuka, or coix, as an offering for Rudra. Gavendhuka is an important grain for cow herders and is used as cow fodder through much of its distribution.
Early inhumation burials at Non Nok Tha contained cattle bones of mostly young females indicating a religious significance. This theory is bolstered by the common occurrence at early Southeast Asian sites of zebu figurines. One artifact from South China displayed an undeniable ritual significance in the form of a zebu sacrificial table.
Also found in this type of burial was the placement of a socketed copper instrument on the chest region of the skeleton. If we theorize a religious significance of cattle and copper, some interesting possibilities arise. The religious importance of cattle in South Asia has already been discussed. Copper is associated in the early literature with the Brahmin priesthood and their rituals.
Returning to agricultural links, the distribution and branching of the other types of Indica and Japonica varieties of rice indicate that their likely place of origin was not much different than that of Aus Japonica. The Indica variety branches off into Aman, Hsien and Tjereh subtypes in northern Indochina. The Japonica type branches off into Aus and Bulu subtypes a bit northwest in northern Thailand or northern Burma.
Thus, an area extending from the eastern Himalayan foothills to Indochina and the corresponding area south of this region would be the likely homeland for all these types. Given the age of domestication this would indicate a connection with Austric peoples, although Tibeto-Burmese influence is also a possibility.
The Aus variety could be associated with Austro-Asiatic peoples and its presence in Japan may substantiate theories of such influence in this region. The Bulu variety may have been carried by Austronesians to Bali or by an Austro-Asiatic deme that adopted the local language. The same theory would apply to the Tjereh variety.
Of course, grains and other aspects of material culture don't need to be "carried" from one region to another in the sense of demographic migrations. The 'Marco Polo' and many other similar scenarios may account for such diffusion. However, we can surmise that these events would indicate significant cultural contact.
We can postulate that related peoples who assigned significance to cattle and copper, and who grew rice along with coix, maize, sorghum and millet, moved back and forth between South and Southeast Asia. The beliefs of these peoples seemed to have played an important role in forming the core of early brahminism.
Not only does the Vedic literature associate the Brahmin priesthood with the East, but most of the early clan founders tend to be located rather eastward in India. Brhaspati, again, is offered wild rice, which grows in East India. Vasistha is placed traditionally with the solar kings of eastern India. That brahminism eventually became centered at Varanasi may not be at all coincidental.
Dilip Chakrabarti has shown that the coming of the Iron Age in India involves sites more to the east rather than in Pakistan or Northwest India. The earliest iron and the majority of the earliest iron sites are found across a range that would suggest Austric and/or Dravidian influence. Many of these early iron sites are located squarely in Munda territory.
Chakrabarti theorizes that iron in India is independent of West Asian or Central Asian influence. Could there be a link though between iron in South Asia and Southeast Asia? Chakrabarti thinks so. In both areas, iron is linked with pig and rice cultures. These cultures like the earlier ones using copper probably also employed the domestic water buffalo as evidenced by their art forms.
Our examination has found that Rgvedic India should not be considered as a completely separate entity from the India of the rest of the Vedas (or the rest of the Rgveda). The importance throughout the Rgveda of tropical darbha grass in sacrifice and religious ceremony alone indicates a strongly Indian milieu. Certainly it does not point to people coming from Central Asia. The evidence of the horse and cow also point strongly to southeastern Asia.
The natural biosphere of greater parts of India fall into a tropical/sub-tropical pattern that links with Southeast Asia. The similar climate and biological environment would be conducive to human migrations as it would not require adaptation of new crops, livestock, supply materials, etc.
The Vedic and other early Indian literature indicate a strong orientation and familiarity with the east. The knowledge of the monsoons is intimate. The storms that cross from the Bay of Bengal and pass over the Gangetic region from east to west also seem to have early importance.
In the classical literature we hear of the Milky Ocean, Sakadvipa and Svetadvipa along with Suvarnadvipa/Suvarnarupyakadvipa, Yavadvipa and similar locations. The strong cultural contacts that existed during the Hindu-Buddhist period and during the period of Islamization seem likely to have existed prior to these times also.
The genetic and osteological signatures indicate close relationships and recent genetic flow through the mtDNA 9-bp and hemoglobin markers.
We know that during the Hindu-Buddhist period, there was mutual contact between the two areas although it is difficult to confidently detail the nature of this contact. Chinese and Muslim literature tell of travelers going in both directions. A number of grants from Suvarnadvipa kings have been recovered in India.
But classical texts indicate that the region was known long before this period. A detailed study of the notices of the Milky Ocean, Sakadvipa and Svetadvipa in latter times (the Samba story, Sakadvipi Brahmanas, etc.) would likely increase our knowledge on this subject.
The evidence put forth here indicates that the cultural contact of India with Southeast Asia and 'Austronesia' during Vedic times was much greater than normally assumed. Suggestions like this have been made previously, particularly in regard to the Nasadiyasukta and other aspects of mythology. The sum of linguistic, biological, archaeological, literary, geographical, cultural and other evidence indicate that more research in this area will likely be very fruitful.
The following list is meant as a convenient reference for archaeological and cultural correspondences between the two regions studied in this work. However, it is not an exhaustive list on this matter.
Correspondences either occur early in the archaeological record or are found widely distributed among indigenous or isolated groups at present or in recent times. However, not all are suggested as necessarily dating back to 'Vedic' times.
* Shouldered copper and stone celts with hard rounded edges used as hoes in both regions.
* Flat copper bar celts with trapeze form
* Hoe and digging stick
* Plough based on hoe
* Disc earplugs
* Multiple bangles worn on arms and legs
* Shell and stone beads
* Flake copper technology with forge finishing. Copper hoard culture is associated with Munda areas and culture.
* Copper Hoard anthropomorphic figures and Harappan female representations with hands on hips resemble similar "Mother Goddess" representations of the Jomon (a Stone Age Japanese culture with suggested southern Austric affinities) and Dong Son (Bronze Age Vietnamese) and Dong Son-related cultures.
* Iron technology? Earliest iron sites are associated with Vindhya region and otherwise south and east of Northwest India. These early sites tend to be linked to a rice and pig culture and usually overlap with present or former areas of Austric influence (latest Copper Hoard sites extend to Madhya Pradesh and western Uttar Pradesh).
* Ziggurat-like stone platforms or temples. The ziggurat-like marae of Polynesia and similar smaller platforms scattered through the Pacific islands and SE Asia. Also, it is suggested that the base ziggurat platforms of Borobudor and Angkor Wat predate Hindu-Buddhist influence.
* Similar megalithic structures (also among Dravidians) associated with the same cultural milieu
* Apical and lateral shell trumpets
* Nose flute
* Gourd whistle
* Musical bow with stick or bone rasp, bow with centrally attached resonators
* Bent copper rings, probably used as money, among Copper Hoard Culture and also in early Cambodia, Philippines and other SE Asian areas.
* Miniature animal figurines with disproportionate representation of bovines (zebu, water buffalo, etc.) as in Harappa and Somrong Sen.
* Tree and plank oil press
* Cotton cleaning bow
* Pellet bow
* Scissors trap
* Canoe outriggers
* Similar motifs on artifacts including spiral, gammadion, sun wheel and 'Mt. Meru' motif of concentric circles.
* Rice farming, probably in early times with alternating crops of coix (gavendhuka), coix-sorghum hybrid, sorghum and millet.
* Coconut, betel, areca, yam, banana, dhal, mung, tumeric, gourd, brinjal and sugarcane cultivation.
* Common cultivated or wild spices include cinnamon, black and white pepper, ginger, tumeric, nutmeg and mace?, cassia, bamboo.
* Related cattle, horse, water buffalo, pig, chicken and canine domesticated species.
* Elephants trained for service
* Irrigated terrace agriculture
* Similar pantheistic concepts (Pangu/Purusa/Rangi-Papa, cosmic egg, etc.)
* Physical universe and living beings formed out of being from cosmic egg.
* Transmigration of the soul. Usually related to deeds in former life.
* Totemistic beliefs such as Naga incarnations, animal avataras, belief in common biological descent of animals and humans from Kasyapa, horse as kin of Devas, etc.
* Similar animistic beliefs regarding trees, stones, pots, mountains, rivers, ocean, etc.
* Gourd birth or salvation from world flood through gourd.
* Great sea flood often associated directly or indiretly with firestorm.
* Generative wind/breath/prana.
* Intermarriage, interdining and other taboos, especially for religious castes/classes, based on protection of mana
* Similar atman concept of personal and universal self.
* Reverence of many of the same animals: zebu, serpent, monkey, etc.
* Separation of heaven-earth, yin-yang, purusa-prakriti, siva-sakti, etc. usually after emergence from cosmic egg.
* Place of women in society. Matrilinear alongside patrilinear lines of descent. Mother right. Female inheritance of property.
* Sacred view of sex. Ritual sex accepted.
* Ascent into heavens during one's lifetime as a spiritual goal.
* Use in religious and social rituals of rice, durva grass, coconut, betel, areca, banana, tumeric, vermillion, bamboo, pippal tree, etc.
* Use of loincloth wrapped in a similar manner.
* Eating with hands. (compare wooden spoons of early Teutons, shells of early Mediterraneans, metal and other spoons of Greeks and Romans)
* Most of the subcontinent falls in the tropics or sub-tropical region with a monsoon weather pattern
* Among the common flora include the pippal, coconut, banana, silk cotton, teak, bamboo, sandal, banyan, coral, betel, areca, wild rice and mango.
* Some of unusual common wildlife species include the Asian elephant, rhinoceros, wild water buffalo, tiger, gaur, freshwater and saltwater crocodile, cobra, peacock and junglefowl.
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Brhat Parasara Horasastra
The Austric theory is supported by all types of evidence
From the horse's mouth
A new theory
What does the literature say?
Other Vedic literature, like the Satapatha Brahmana, state that both the Purusa and Prajapati are one and the same. Indo-Europeanists have linked the Purusasukta myth with the Norse tale of Ymir, the primordial frost giant who is slain by his sons led by Odin. They then proceeded to create the world from the parts of Ymir's body. This myth is not a recurring one in European or Iranian mythology. The 'cosmogonic dive'
The 'cosmogonic dive'
Common spiritual and religious beliefs
The hard evidence
We have already discussed the horse and cow evidence, and briefly mentioned some aspects of bioanthropology. A more in-depth look at scientific evidence gives strong support to the basis of the theory suggested in this work. The archaeological trail
The archaeological trail
List of cultural correspondences between South and Southeast Asia
Toolkits and artifacts
Agriculture and livestock
Religion, mythology and social aspects
Flora, fauna and climate zone
Works with similar or relevant theme
Ancient Indian geography
On indigenous origin of early brahminism
Skeletal anthropology in ancient and modern India
Genetic history of region
Key original sources bearing on this theory
Copyright 2000 Paul Kekai Manansala
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Copyright 2000 Paul Kekai Manansala
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