The earliest Indian inscriptions date from the third century before Christ. Archaeological and palaeo-anthropological evidence, as well as the Indian oral tradition, consistently point to the continuity’ of the Indian Civilization back to a much earlier date. However, the question of the origin of Indian Civilization prior to that period remains open. There are three main schools of thought in this regard. Proponents of the Indo-European theory suggest that the Sanskrit language and civilization were an intrusion into India from the West. Proponents of the continuity theory, on the contrary, believe that they arose locally. The third school of thought proposes that the current scholarship is insufficient to trace the Sanskrit language and civilization back to pre-historical times, and that further research is required to develop a fair comparison between the European languages and the Indian languages. Published literature in the field often reflects one or the other of these perspectives, rather than offering an integrated view.
This volume seeks to address this gap, by proposing a possible resolution to this seemingly intractable issue. It results from a symposium held at the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth in July 2011, with invited scholars representing each of the various camps. During the seminar it became apparent that these different traditions are actually much closer to one another than what is usually believed. Accordingly, this is an essential volume for scholars seeking a balanced view on the quest for the origin of the Indian languages and civilization.
Dr Angela Marcantonio is Associate Professor of linguistics at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. Her principle area of research and teaching is ‘historical linguistics’, with particular reference to the Indo-European and the Uralic language families, as testified by numerous articles and two major The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics (Oxford! Boston: Blackwell (2002)), and Angela Marcantonio (ed.), The Indo-European Language Family: Questions about its Status (Monograph series 55, Journal of Indo European Studies, Washington DC (2009)). Angela is a member of the ‘Philological Society’ and the ‘Societa Italiana di Glottologia’. She is also in the editorial board of Rivista di Studi Ungheresi, Vedic Venues and Journal of Eurasian Studies, and is a consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary.
Dr Girish Nath Jha is Associate Professor at the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University GNU). He has an honorary appointment at the Center for Indic Studies as Mukesh and Priti Chatter Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA. Dr Jha has studied computational linguistics from JNU and from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. He has publications from Springer Verlag, Cambridge Scholar Publishing, Lambert Academic Publishing, among others, and is on the editorial board of a leading journal from Springer.
Indian Civilization, considered as the only living ancient civilization, has remained the fancy of scholars, travellers, businessmen, rulers and seekers of truth for millennia. This level of broad interest in people throughout the history has obviously attracted controversies of all kinds, including debate about the Indian Civilization’s origin itself.
There are a variety of aspects which have been considered in the past by scholars to examine the origin and practice of Indian Civilization. These have included traditional fields of studies such as linguistics, archaeology, history, philosophy, and, of course, politics, but lately other more modern and scientific fields have begun to explore and compliment the information obtained from traditional fields. These fields have included natural history, genetics, physics and astronomy, mathematics, computer science, psychology and neuroscience.
In 2006, the Center for Indic Studies at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, organized a symposium on the Origin of Indian Civilization, inviting historians, philosophers, astronomers, archaeologists, geneticists, linguists and mathematicians. This was the first open meeting of this sort, and there were sparks of disagreements on usual fault lines of political entrenchment of disciplinary scholarship. However, progress was made to the extent that scholars from different fields were able to learn and appreciate perspectives of disciplines other than their own.
Proceedings of the 2006 Symposium is now published by D.K. Printworld, a reputable publisher in Indology. The book has received very good reviews, and is being already used as a reference book by several institutions. I learned of a report from Johns Hopkins that the multiple authorship of volume is particularly attractive to instructors, as it obviously brings out several different perspectives. Such a response vindicates our strategy of utilizing multi-disciplinary approach to address an issue such as the origin of an ancient civilization. As is true for any other problem of science and technology, it is important to address a problem from all aspects of knowledge and expertise, and it needs to be done in an integrated way. This has remained generally a difficult issue in humanities and social sciences, where disciplines are more defined by individual opinions than reproducible objective data.
As the Director of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, I was confronted with the issue of facilitating the presentation of Indian Civilization in the most appropriate and academic way so that not only the Indian community living in the United States feels proper representation of their heritage but also the global community which should be informed of the most accurate information in today’s world. Over 25 million strong Indian diaspora has its presence in virtually all the countries of the world. More and more people from across the world are moving to India for job and education. Many Indian businesses are acquiring corporations around the world. These developments make it more important to create a better understanding of the Indian Civilization.
It would only benefit all if most authentic, accurate and appropriate information is available on Indian Civilization. Its origin is critical because it is a continuing civilization, and its current practices are in many ways connected to its original practices.
The first symposium on the Origin of Indian Civilization raised many issues, was contentious and left many issues unresolved. The most contentious issues were about the linguistic history of Indian Civilization. I had promised to revisit the issue again after five years, and continue to plan holding conferences on Indian Civilization every five years until the fundamental issues of its origin have been settled.
Much progress has taken place since 2006 on the question of the origin of the Indian Civilization, and there is room for expanding the list of scholars who have been working in various fields addressing this question. One of the goals of the Center for Indic Studies has been to foster dialogue (or multilogue) on this and many Indic subjects.
The 2011 conference on the Origins of Indian Civilization was fulfilment of the promise I made in 2006. There was a deliberate effort to pluralize the origin to invite Various possibilities, allowing scholars to remain open to various perspectives and to the possibility that there may be more than one origin to a diverse civilization like that of India. We wanted to pay special attention to the linguistics, and were very fortunate to have Dr. Angela Marcantonio take a lead role in suggesting Indian linguistics scholars with varying perspectives. Dr. Nicholas Kazanas was very helpful to both Dr. Marcantonio and my self in contacting scholars. Not everyone we invited was able to join for a variety of reasons, we were pleased that five scholars (Clackson from Cambridge University, jha from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kazanas from Omilos Institute, Greece, Marcantonio from the University of Rome and Prasad from Stevens Institute of Technology) addressed the linguistic issues of Indian Civilization. In fact, Dr. M.G. Prasad was an impromptu addition after he commented on the oral traditions of Indian languages and their degree of preservation to date.
Although linguists dominated the discourse at 2011 symposium compared to 2006 conference where geneticists and physicists opened new ways to look at the origin and chronology of Indian Civilization, empirical scientific data was clearly presented in support of indigenous and continuing culture and traditions in India. Once popular pseudo-historical theories based on invasions by “Aryans” have given way to scientific methods based on art history (Rao of Soka University) archaeological (Schaffer from Case Western Reserve University) data, and astronomical calculations (Achar from University of Memphis) to set dates of events mentioned in Vedic and epic texts.
There is always a question in the minds of most people trying to learn about Indian Civilization — why arid how the facts get distorted, even though many academic scholars are involved in such projects? Prof. R.P. Singh, a philosopher from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, emphasized that a discourse on civilization involves the dialectics of Power and Civilization. A dominant civilization explains macro outcomes by aggregating a large set of civilization concepts which are under domination. He felt that the corresponding institutions of cultural, linguistic, technological, economic, political or military-diplomatic knowledge are the key indicators in determining the extent of a civilization. To understand the origin of any civilization, its description cannot be divorced from prevailing power structure of the time.
Discussions at the conference were intense yet very civil and collaborative. This appeared a long journey from the 2006 symposium. The outcome was a better understanding and reconciliation of data and observations. There were Eastern and Western perspectives but in the spirit of creating a common understanding. There were indigenous and external perspectives but with the goal of reconciliation of data and frameworks. At least at this conference both Eastern and Western perspectives were discussed but a consensus emerged through linguistics only the origin of Indian Civilization can not be ascertained, opening the possibility that the Indian Civilization is largely indigenous. More work and a lot more discussions need to happen in years to come. More scholars with varying and even opposing views need to sit across the table. The Center for Indic Studies is committed to this discourse, and will continue to facilitate this multilogue. It is hoped that Indian scholars themselves will engage in the comprehensive research to explore critical components of the consensus developing on the origins of the Indian Civilization.
However, it must be pointed out that, so far, India as a nation state has failed to provide a cohesive scholarly construction of its past, primarily due to its complex society which may have had varying narratives, but also due to lack of confidence and initiatives by its scholars. The idea of varying narratives is happening now in the rest of the world as the diversity takes root in the Western world as well. This would be right time to engage scholars from East and West to develop robust scholarly frameworks encompassing indigenous and universal features of all the civilizations.
1.The Main Thrust and Novelty of the Volume
1.0. The reader who takes this volume in his hands might ask: Why another symposium (after several already, as reported in the “Preface”), and another book on the issue of the origin of Indian1 Civilization, given that this is now a long-standing, intense debate, going on at least since the time of the English colonization of India? Furthermore, this academic debate has recently been extensively summarized in the volume by Bryant (2001) and Bryant & Patton (eds. 2005), as well as on the pages of several issues of the Journal of Indo-European Studies [see for example vol. 30, 2002 and vol. 31 (1 & 2), 2003], volumes that have brought into the fore, through the so-called “Aryan Debate”, the two most popular theses regarding the origin of the Indian Civilization, polarized into; “intrusive vs indigenous”.
Thus, what does this volume, with its contributions, add to the overall debate on the origin of Indian Civilization? We believe that the main thrust of the volume, and its novelty, is “to reconcile” the various perspectives, the various theses put forward thus far on this issue. This means, in practice, an attempt to reconcile Eastern and Western perspectives. However much odd this may look at first, this is indeed the case, as the reader will realize going through the contributions of the volume, whose main claims and results are summarized in the four points listed below. More specifically, the claims reported in point (1) to (3) further confirm and reinforce the results of previous linguistic and archaeological research, whilst the claims reported in point (4), to our knowledge, represent fresh views on important methodological aspects regarding the search for the origin of pre-historical languages and civilization in general, and Sanskrit and the Indian Civilization in particular.
1.1.Let us then have a look at the results achieved by the present volume.
First (point (1)): The absence of archaeological evidence in support of the Invasion/Migration Theory (the corollary of the Indo European (IE) linguistic theory), that is, the thesis that the bearers of the Sanskrit language and civilization originated outside the Asian subcontinent, somewhere in the West, and then moved into it later on (as emerges from the article by J. Shaffer & D. Lichtenstein and K. Elst; see also the contribution by N. Rao).
Second (point (2)): The unbroken nature, the continuity of the early Vedic language and culture from old (however much undefinable) times well into the Harappan culture, down to more recent times. As a matter of fact, reading the contribution of those scholars that point this out, independently but unanimously (the contribution by R.P. Singh, N. Rao, N. Achar and M.G. Prasad), it looks like the question: “is the Indian Civilization indigenous or not?” does not even arise, or, at least, not explicitly: only the concept of “continuity” is highlighted and dealt with. There is one exception: the contribution by G.N. 31w.
Third (point (3D: The existence of a South Asian “linguistic area” / Sprachbund, involving the various, numerous languages! language families of India, as first pointed out by Emeneau (1956), and reaffirmed by subsequent research by several scholars, in particular by Masica (1976 & 1991). This in practice means that Sanskrit and the other Indo-Aryan languages share so many features (at any level of language) and in such an intricate way, with the non-Indo-Aryan languages of India that it is mostly difficult to trace back the precise origin (or rather, origins) of these features, and therefore to draw a clear-cut path of descendant for them contrary to received wisdom. Actually, the situation is even more complex than this, because of the existence of what Masica calls the “persistent in anacronism of the Indo-Aryan literary languages”, as clearly illustrated by the following statements (Masica 1991: 53-54):
Indo-Aryan” historical linguistics is complicated, despite the documentation of various early stages, by the fact that the languages recorded at successive stages are often not in direct historical relationship with one another 1. . .3. It was often a different dialect or dialect mixture that formed the basis of the literary language at each stage I. . .3 e.g., Classical Sanskrit, Pali, Sauraseni Prkrt, Literary Apabhrama, and various forms of Western Hindi all do represent in a general way the language of the midland at various stages.
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