Refuting AIT using Personal Names from Rig Veda and Avesta

Scheme of Indo-European language dispersal from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the widely held Kurgan hypothesis By Joshua Jonathan (via Wikipedia)

There are many similarities between Avesta,  the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, and Rig Veda. Words are similar, like haoma (soma), daha(dasa), hepta (sapta), hindu (sindhu), and Ahura (Asura). Despite that, some of the words have reversed interpretations. For example, in Old Iranian, Ahura Mazdāh is the chief of the pantheon, and the daēuuas are considered demons or fallen gods. In contrast, the Vedic tradition considers devas as gods and asuras the demons.

The commonality of words suggests that these two cultures had a common origin and such an explanation comes from the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal. After spending time in Central Asia, a group went West and another to the East. The Westerners became Zoroastrians, and those who reached India became the Vedic people. Before the split, they spent time together in Central Asia, where the common culture developed.

According to Indian Marxist historians, Indo-European speakers had Central Asia as their habitat, and gradually over many centuries, they branched out in search of fresh pastures. According to them, these central Asian migrants wrote the  Avesta in Iran and Rig-Veda in India. They argue that people who migrated to India were dissidents of the Old Iranian; hence you find a significant reversal of meaning in concepts common to both Avesta and Rig-Veda.

Evidence from Personal Names

The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence

While this is the view AIT presents, what evidence do we get from the sacred texts themselves.? In this post, I will lean on the arguments laid out by Shrikant G. Talageri in his book Rig Veda and The Avesta: The final evidence. Spoiler alert: His text analysis does not support the AIT picture.

Shri. Talageri uses many data points to argue against AIT, but in this post, I want to summarize one of his arguments based on an analysis of personal names. Personal names identify society in time; just look at the change in names from your grandparent’s time to yours. Similarly, you see interesting patterns when you look at personal names used in Rig Veda and Avesta. It definitely shows a shared cultural environment.

If you were constructing a mental model in your mind based on the AIT dispersal, the above picture would make sense, right? This is because the personal names, developed in the common period, then carried over to both the sacred texts. Hence the commonality.

The examination of the books reveals something different. The commonality of Avesta is not with the entire Rig Vedic corpus; it’s only with certain books. Shri. Talageri looks at the personal names mentioned in all the books in Rig Veda and Avesta and concludes that the commonality is with the late books of the Rig Veda.

When we say the commonality of Avesta is with the late books of Rig Veda, it implies there is a temporal ordering of the 10 books. The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. It does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10, the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:

  • Early Books: 6, 3, 7
  • Middle Books: 4,2
  • Late Books: 5,1, 8-10

Coming back to Shri. Talageri’s argument, he noticed that in the Early Books, names with basic prefixes were common and these prefixes were simple. For example

  • Su (Good) – Das
  • Deva (divine) -sravas
  • Puru (many) – panthas
  • Viswa (every) – mitra

These names found in the Early Books of Rig Veda are also found in Avesta. This might indicate the common origin theory very well. But, these names are found in the Middle and Late books of Rig Veda.

As we move in time and come to the Middle Books, there are four Rig Vedic personalities like Turviti, Gotama, Trita, and Krsanu referred to in Avesta. When we come to the Late period, there is a flood of names common to Rig Veda and Avesta. These are complex names with both prefixes and suffixes. In the book, Talageri lists about 4 pages worth of common names. Compare that with just four names in the prior period. There are just five hymns in the Early and Middle books that have common names. When it comes to the late books, there are 326 hymns

If the common period occurred before the Aryans and Iranians parted ways, then the Early Books of Avesta and Rig Veda should have common elements. Also, as these cultures evolved over time, the common elements should diminish. But, the data shows that Avesta evolved during the period of the Late Books of Rig Veda. It shows that the common culture of Rig Veda and Avesta occurred during the period of the late books, and Rig Veda books of the Early and Middle periods predate the Avesta.

We need to update our mental model to the above diagram.

The Final Sequence

Now that we have all the pieces let’s understand what happened. Among the ancient tribes of India, the Puru/Paurava are identified with the Rig Vedic Aryans. Around 3000 BCE, they lived around and to the east of the river Saraswati (See In Pragati: Book Review – The Lost River by Michel Danino). The proto-Iranians are identified with the Anu/Anava tribe. They were originally the inhabitants of north India of the Kashmir region during the pre-Rig Vedic period. During the later part of the Early Rig Vedic period, the conflicts during Sudas’ time forced them to migrate Westward. During the middle and late periods of Rig Veda, the proto-Iranians were settled in most western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They had continuous interaction with the Vedic Aryans, and the Avesta was composed.

Rig Veda and Avesta: The final evidence is filled with evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory with some original research. This argument based on personal names is just one chapter of this book. Other evidence against AIT comes from the geography of Rig Veda, the internal chronology of Rig Veda, and the absolute chronology of Rig Veda. By analyzing textual data, Shri. Talageri shows common culture across Rig Veda, Avesta, and the Mittanis.

Nail, Coffin, Aryans

This one does not need any commentary.

Widely believed theory of Indo-Aryan invasion, often used to explain early settlements in the Indian subcontinent is a myth, a new study by Indian geneticists says. “Our study clearly shows that there was no genetic influx 3,500 years ago,” said Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB, who led the research team, which included scientists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, Chennai and Banaras Hindu University. “It is high time we re-write India’s prehistory based on scientific evidence,” said Dr Lalji Singh, former director of CCMB. “There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India or even something such as Aryans existed”. Singh, vice-chancellor of BHU, is a coauthor.[Indians are not descendants of Aryans, says new study]

Here is a link to the paper.

Summing up, our results confirm both ancestry and temporal complexity shaping the still on-going process of genetic structuring of South Asian populations. This intricacy cannot be readily explained by the putative recent influx of Indo-Aryans alone but suggests multiple gene flows to the South Asian gene pool, both from the west and east, over a much longer time span. We highlight a few genes as candidates of positive selection in South Asia that could have implications in lipid metabolism and etiology of type 2 diabetes. Further studies on data sets without ascertainment and allele frequency biases such as sequence data will be needed to validate the signals for selection.

The point is that nothing exciting happened following the decline of the Harappan civilization. The Dravidian folklore is just that – folklore. Migrations did happen to the region, but they date to much earlier period before there were Dravidian and Indo-European languages.

Indic influence in ancient Syria and Egypt

Mention ancient Egypt and the names we remember are Tutankhamen, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. For an Indic connection there is Ramesses II – the Pharaoh who had peppercorns stuffed into his nose. Though he was dismissed as a rebel and heretic, one Pharaoh who deserves attention is Nefertiti’s husband and Tutankhamen’s father Akhenaten (1353 – 1336 BCE) – the first known monotheist and probably the founder of monotheist intolerance.
Recently BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time (via Anne) had an episode on Akhenaten and one of the issues they discussed was why did Akhenaten, in a polytheistic Egypt, insist on the worship of only the Sun disk Aten? Was that a shift in theological thinking or a political move to divest the powerful priests of Amun of their power?
There is no clear answer for why in the third year of his reign Akhenaten started the construction of the new temple dedicated to his Sun god. In some incomplete inscriptions Akhenaten mentioned that things were bad during the reign of his father and grandfather, but it is not clear what was bad. This is also a bit surprising since the reign of his father — Amenhotep III — was  one of those prosperous times in Egyptian history[1].
But another possibility — one which is rarely mentioned — is that Akhenaten’s father-in-law, one Tusharatta, was a Mittani king in North Syria. His wife Kiya was a Mittani and his mother Tiye was half-Mittani. The Mittanis were a warrior elite who ruled over a Hurrian population. But what’s special about them is that they spoke an Indo-Aryan language.

In a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, Indic deities Mitra, Varun. a, Indra, and N¹asatya (Asvins) are invoked. A text by a Mitannian named Kikkuli uses words such as aika (eka, one), tera (tri, three), panza (panca, ¯ve), satta (sapta, seven), na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round). Another text has babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pi _ ngala, red). Their chief festival was the celebration of visuva (solstice) very much like in India. It is not only the kings who had Sanskrit names; a large number of other Sanskrit names have been unearthed in the records from the area.[Akhenaten, Surya, and the R. gveda2]

But is this language Indo-Iranian, Iranian or Indo-Aryan or to rephrase: did the Mittanis speak the PIE branch of India.? That matter was settled in 1960 by Paul Thime[3].

There are several reasons, but to be brief, I shall only give three: 1. the deities Indra,Mitra, Varun.a, and Nasatya are Indian deities and not Iranian ones, because in Iran Varun.a is unknown and Indra and Nasatya appear as demons; 2. the name Vasukhani makes sense in Sanskrit as a “mine of wealth” whereas in Iranian it means “good mine” which is much less likely; 3. satta, or sapta, for seven, rather than the Iranian word hapta, where the initial `s’ has been changed to `h’.[Akhenaten, Surya, and the R. gveda2]

How did this Indo-Aryan speaking population reach Syria and Palestine in the 14th century B.C.E? There are four possibilities[3].

  1. This group split away from the Iranians, colonized the Mittani kingdom and then reached India.
  2. One group split away from Iranians and moved to India, while another group went to the Near East.
  3. The Indo-Aryans reached India and then went back to Near East.
  4. Indo-Aryans, a Vedic speaking tribe from India left for the Near East taking their gods with them.

Among these (1) is not considered as serious possibility while (2) is the most commonly accepted one. Sten Konov argued for (3) while Frederick Eden Pargiter supported (4). According to H. Jacobi (who believed that the Mittanis came from India), since the worship of Vedic deities was happening in 14th century Mittani kingdom, it would have happened in India much earlier. Jamna Das Akhtar and P.E.Dumont thought that the dates were even earlier[3].
In fact there are many arguments in support of (4). Archaeologists have not found Central Asian, Eastern European or Caucasian culture in the Mittani kingdom. At the time same time they found the peacock motif – something which could have come from India. Based on this Burchard Brentjes argued that Indo-Aryans were settled in the Near East much before 1600 B.C.E[3].With all the trading relations between various parts of India and the Near East, dating as far back as 4000 BCE with the find of cotton in Dhuwelia and carnelian bead in  Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE, the migration of Indo-Aryans is not a fantasy tale.
Thus with all the Indo-Aryan culture around him, is it possible that Akhenaten got the idea of “One Truth” and the worship of the disk of the sun from it?[2]
There is another related mystery: how this concept of the worship of one God, which disappeared from Egypt, surface in Judaism much later.? The most common explanation is that probably Moses, who according to the Hebrew Bible led an exodus, took the idea to Israel. But archaeology has revealed that the Exodus as mentioned in the Bible never happened. One theory is that they adopted it from a desert people called Shasu? Is there any other explanation?
Postscript: Finally it would take Tutankhamen, the boy king who is currently in San Francisco, to restore the old Egyptian culture back.

  1. In Our Time, BBC Radio 4
  2. Subhash Kak, Akhenaten, Surya, and the Rg veda,July 17, 2003
  3. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).