Agriculture and the Indo-Europeans – Steppe and South Asia

Proto-Indo-Europeans were farmers and not pastoralists

It is interesting to note that while a couple of decades ago and perhaps more, agriculture was not considered a part of Proto-Indo-European culture, it is now no longer the case. It was mistakenly believed that the Indo-Iranians must not have practiced agriculture because apparently the Indo-Iranians did not share an agricultural vocabulary with the rest of the Indo-Europeans (i.e. the European IE). However, more recent research has clearly shown this to be an error and it is now well accepted that the Indo-Iranians shared quite a significant amount of agricultural vocabulary with the other Indo-Europeans, sufficient enough to posit agriculture at the Proto-Indo-European stage.

The overall pattern of agricultural terms has been a persistent topic in IE studies, much of which has been stimulated by the observation that while stockbreeding terms appear to be widespread across the entire range of IE stocks, agricultural terms tend to be confined more closely among the European stocks and are, from a traditional point of view at least, scarce in the Indo-Iranian languages


there is no case whatsoever for assuming that the ancestors of all the Indo-European stocks did not know cereal agriculture. While there may have been speculation in the past as to whether some terms might have applied originally to the gathering and processing of wild plants, terms for the plow, cultivated field, and techniques appropriate to the processing of domesticated cereals whose home range lay outside of most of Europe, suggest that all the earliest Indo-Europeans knew agriculture before their dispersals. (Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Mallory & Adams, 1997).

The term that is cited as the major culprit for this error denotes a cultivated field in European languages while in Sanskrit it simply means a plain.

The second term (*haegˆros) has caused much discussion as the European cognates indicate a cultivated field (e.g. Lat ager, OE æcer [> NE acre], Grk agro´s, Arm art, all ‘field’) while the Skt a´jra- means simply ‘plain’ with no indication of agriculture. This divergence of meaning led to the proposal that the Indo-Iranians separated from the Europeans before they had gained agriculture so that we might posit a pastoral Indo-Iranian world and an agricultural European. Such a distinction is not borne out by the abundant evidence that Indo-Iranians also shared in an agricultural vocabulary… (The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Mallory & Adams, 2006).

the Proto-Indo-Europeans possessed an economy based on domesticated livestock and domestic cereals. Earlier models such as those developed in detail by Wilhelm Brandenstein (1936) that suggested a marked dichotomy between arable Europeans and pastoral Indo-Iranians (or Tokharians) cannot really be sustained (Mallory 1997b) and despite a considerable number of differences there is still a substantial amount of shared agricultural vocabulary between European and Asian languages (Table 1 and 2). While the lists of cognates can certainly be criticized in certain specifics and they may well be an over-optimistic summary, I fear that there would still be a sufficient assemblage of words to indicate that both Europeans and Asiatic Indo-Europeans shared inherited words for both livestock and arable agriculture… (Twenty-first century clouds over Indo-European Homelands. Mallory 2012).

Continue reading Agriculture and the Indo-Europeans – Steppe and South Asia

Hinduism in Afghanistan

An argument has been made that there was no Hindu Afghanistan. This is unfortunately wide off the mark. Afghanistan was not just Buddhist but Hindu and Buddhist and Hinduism was the other major religion of the region besides Buddhism.

The evidence of Hinduism in Afghanistan is quite overwhelming and it begins to appear already during the Indo-Greek period, and continues during the Kushan period, the Kidara, the Hephthalite and the Kabul Shahi period.

The earliest evidence of Hinduism in Afghanistan among the Indo-Greeks is as old as 180 BCE and it comes north of the Hindu Kush for good measure.

The first known bilingual coins of the Indo-Greeks were issued by Agathocles around 180 BCE. These coins were found in Ai-Khanoum, the great Greco-Bactrian city in northeastern Afghanistan, but introduce for the first time an Indian script (the Brahmi script which had been in use under the Mauryan empire). The coinage depict various Indian iconography: KrishnaVasudeva, with his large wheel with six spokes (chakra) and conch (shanka), and his brother SankarshanBalarama, with his plough (hala) and pestle (masala), both early avatars of Vishnu.[22] The square coins, instead of the usual Greek round coins, also followed the Indian standard for coinage. The dancing girls on some of the coins of Agathocles and Pantaleon are also sometimes considered as representations of Subhadra, Krishna’s sister.

Hinduism is also evident in Afghanistan during the Kushan period. The first great Kushan king or emperor was Kujula Kadphises and he never ruled any territory east of the Indus. Yet he is already shown on his coins as a devotee of Shiva.

Contrary to earlier assumptions, which regarded Kujula Kadphises as Buddhist on the basis of the epithet of the ‘satyadharmasthita’ epithet, it is now clear from the wording of a Mathura inscription, in which Huvishka bears the same epithet satyadharmasthita , that the kingdom was conferred upon him by Sarva (Shiva) and Scamdavira (Candavlra), that is, he was a devotee of the Hindu God Siva. It is striking to see that Kujula Kadphises has already adopted the worship of Siva and the use of Kharosthï script at such an early date.

A coin of Vima Kadphises with Shiva standing before a Nandi on the reverse.


Hinduism was either practiced or patronised by all later Kushan emperors but then they were also rulers of much of North India in addition to Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. The last of the Great Kushans was named Vasudeva. This is as Hindu as it can get.

The Kushans were succeeded by the Kidarites, after a brief interlude when Sassanians captured Kushan homeland Balkh, who claimed descent from the Great Kushans. The Kidarite or the Lesser Kushans, had little political control beyond Indus or Punjab. But they are credited with spread of Hinduism in Sogdiana no less. Have a look at this –

Although largely faded, the once–bright blue colors used to depict the body of the Hindu deity Shiva still dominate this image. Framed by a decorated arch supported by two half-columns, this complex representation of Shiva depicts the deity with a halo, poised in what some scholars believe is either a dancing or an alidhasana stance, with one leg bent at the knee and the other stretched forcefully to the side.

This is a Ganesha statue from Afghanistan which was installed by a king known as Khingila, whose identity is a matter of debate. Scholars speculate that he may have been from the Turki Shahi dynasty but the dating is uncertain and therefore the statue or Murti is dated anywhere between 6th to 8th century CE.

Hinduism lasted in Afghanistan as a major religion right upto the conquests of Mahmud of Ghazni.

The Zunbil and Kabul Shahis were connected with the Indian subcontinent through common Buddhism and Zun religions. The Zunbil kings worshipped a sun god by the name of Zunfrom which they derived their name. André Wink writes that “the cult of Zun was primarily Hindu, not Buddhist or Zoroastrian”, nonetheless he still mentions them having parallels with Tibetan Buddhism and Zoroastrianism in their rituals.

“During the 8th and 9th centuries AD the eastern terroritries of modern Afghanistan were still in the hands of non-Muslim rulers. The Muslims tended to regard them as Indians (Hindus), although many of the local rulers and people were apparently of Hunnic or Turkic descent. Yet, the Muslims were right in so far as the non-Muslim population of eastern Afghanistan was, culturally linked to the Indian sub-continent. Most of them were either Hindus or Buddhists.”

I think this brief information should be sufficient for understanding that Hinduism was a major religion in Afghanistan for at least a 1000 years before the coming of Islam. It is only natural to expect this as Afghanistan south and east of Hindu Kush was always a part of the Indian subcontinent geographically, culturally, politically and genetically.


Afghanistan was never “Hindu”

Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road has an extensive section on Afghanistan. The Bamiyan Buddhas reminds us what the texts make clear: up until 900 AD the highlands in an around modern Afghanistan were heavily Buddhist. The Turki Shahi kings of Kabul seem to have patronized Buddhism. In contrast, their successors, the Hindu Shahi kings, seem to have tilted toward what we would call Hinduism.

Because I’m posting a Substack on Afghanistan soon the civilizational and cultural identity of Afghanistan is on my mind. After my reading and reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the area and the people can be thought of as a crossroads between Persian, Central Asian, and Indian. Central Asia includes both Iranic and later Turkic cultures, while the Persian influence reflects a deeply west Iranic sensibility. Finally, it has hard to deny that India and much of southern and western Afghanistan are deeply connected geographically, biologically, and culturally.

And yet some Indians keep claiming that “actually Afghanistan use to be Hindu…” This is false. At least by any comprehensible definition of “Hindu.” It is true that Afghanistan was once heavily Buddhist, but Buddhism is not Hinduism. It is true that there have long been Indians in Afghanistan, but there have been Indians in Southeast Asia as well. It is true that the Iranian pagans, like the Nuristanis, worshipped gods and practiced traditions that descend from one’s affinal to the Vedic Aryans, but the pre-Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans was not Hinduism as we’d understand it.

To a great extent, this sort of cultural imperialism is harmless and cringe. But it’s a bit on the insensitive side given what’s going on in Afghanistan, where ironically Indian-origin Deobandi Islam is is reigning supreme…

Nepali Brahmins tend to have Tibeto-Burman ancestry

I ran a Clubhouse last night on Nepalese genetics. I said something to the effect that most Nepalese Brahmins have Tibetan admixture. A Nepalese Brahmin came up on stage to tell me this was inaccurate, and that they did not intermarry with native people.

To give the benefit of the doubt I went back and double-checked, and Toward a more uniform sampling of human genetic diversity: A survey of worldwide populations by high-density genotyping, which has a diverse set of Nepalese. What you see on the PCA is pretty straightforward. Except for the Madeshi, who is presumed to descend from recent migrants from India, all the Nepalese are Tibetan shifted.

The rank order is what you’d expect, with the Magar being mostly Tibetan, and the Brahmins being mostly non-Tibetan. But the Nepalese guy was totally full of shit. I’m sick of listening to people contradict genetics when it’s so clear.

Truth will win

Figuring things out

Nature of truth is like gravity, it will reveal itself, in decades if not in eons. What failed in afghanistan was not the american sciences dept, the guns, the humvees , the blackhawks all work well enough, what failed was the american humanities dept.  The primary source of support for taliban was pakistan, over time american generals were chummy with pakistani generals and hoped that they could influence them to change their ways, but failed to see the ideological investment and their inability to substitute with anything else and were confronted with the recognition of value of pakistan as annoyance vs annoyance of terrorist groups, and as Biden once said to Hamid Karzai, “pakistan was 50 times more important than afghanistan”, it being a nuclear state. It might eventually also have icbm capabilities in future. And in anycase,  while they were depended on them for logistical reasons, they could not push them more . It made no sense in the end to apply force on pakistan for teaching courses in gender studies in afghanistan.


What India should do is shield itself from the lunacy and wishful imagination of american and western humanities dept.we are not an island surrounded by ocean on both sides and our gdp per capita is poor compared to western countries. Their belief that peoples wills did not count and it could be mended with power and wealth, that you could buy out the loyalty of poor people in third world country. That jihad is not really jihad, it is a badly expressed post colonial protest movement. And religion never really was a force in medieval period, it was a cover for economic and political maneuvering.

Never has there been an opportunity as good as now to give strictures to western humanities dept and the romanticism of medieval islamist states they indulged in, this essentially sends mixed signals to muslims on what to aspire for, if abbasid caliphate were a golden age of islam , it should be possible to have islamic state and also  develop science as well. As long as liberals and left never come to power in muslim majority states , they are but losers to islamists and we should take no lessons from them on this. We should state this in every argument, from here on. Those who lost to goat herders should not be listened to.

One more benefit of this afghanistan debacle was that america never really stole anything from afghans, there was no oil. So this ends leftwing lies. sure , people can make conspiracy theory of defense contractors leeching of this disaster , but it would be ridiculous, as it was their presidents who made decisions and they did not seem to have benefitted from this personally. 

A way to go about busting left liberal ideas  is to try to come up with graphs, of various variables over time. To pit different variables of economic reasons to political reasons to religious reasons. For example, if the claim is that political/economic reasons explain some acts of bigotry, then over time political leaders should undermine religious authorities and try to develop a secular alternative independent of religious figures and go about legitimizing their rule under those terms. This would lead to a graph that would rise in the political expressions devoid of use of religious legitimacy over time, and value economic goods over religious sensibilities. On the other hand, if religion keeps interfering , then it would be stuck and fluctuate over time and never rise beyond a certain threshold or it would rise far more slowly compared to other religions that are not as interfering or totalitarian in nature.

As we found out about classical physics, the patterns reveal themselves when paired over time. The same is the hope I have in humanities dept as well, that some day, using vectors, graphs, we could set machines and some day AGI to go about discovering causal models in human behavior . To take the human out of the loop and let it go about discovering various domains and come up with both novel explanations and also discovery of bias and bigotry, both in present academic discourse and the past. What we should aim for is to have the autonomy to survive this period of mlecchas spreading their delusions which is going to be a function of autonomy over religious bodies, schools, temples to go about preserving values and gain the economic wealth and the technological and military capabilities . With the rise of china, there is now space for us as well to kick off the western authority in humanities for good. Remember, only those who survive enjoy the fruits of future, dead and their legacy are at the mercy of the living. 

An example of this ,the witch trials and the role of religious competition. One could make a case for this with violence by mughals against sikhs and as a proxy to measuring bigotry across Indian history. The period of confrontation between saivas and vaishnavas in southern India during the time of ramanujacharya.


we could pair various variables, diversity of beliefs, the production of mathematical knowledge in India , desecrations of religious places over time, those very graphs would themselves produce a visual evidence for everyone to see.  But our aim should be much more, we should not limit ourselves to be neocolonial slaves and restrict ourselves to Indian history, we should aim to do more work, study classical greece, china and its history and the entire world and try to undermine the value and authority of harvard and oxford and such humanities dept in west, this would require commitment of govt to have to invest a lot in order to do this.

we are not brown characters playing ethnic roles in western movies, we are lead characters looking into the world to understand and to explain it. Let us first begin to study the chinese history, not merely due to the rise of china but for our own sake to understand the world and everything in it. 

What do Hindu nationalists think of the Taliban? Do they envy them?

I saw theses on some Instagram political meme pages (don’t ask, Herald and Newsline aren’t around and this is how satire gets passed around once the world and the economy make magazines un-viable) and I was left with some questions.

My query was:

Are Hindu nationalists jealous of the Taliban’s success?

How do they really feel about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan?

Browncast: Major Amin on the Age of Strategic Anarchy in Afghanistan

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above.

This episode was recorded over the phone, so please excuse some minor audio issues. As many of our readers know, we posted an article from Major Amin a few days ago, arguing that the US had made a brilliant strategic move out of Afghanistan (even though the disengagement has been handled poorly). In this podcast, he repeats this view and has a few salty words about this and related topics.. Enjoy.

Comments welcome.

Btw, my own random amateur views can be found at this link. 

Postscript 1: Several friends have said that they cannot take his views seriously if he thinks “lower middle class” is such an insult, etc. But I no longer use that particular filter too much. I think people can have very “problematic” AND insightful views simultaneously. If we are interested in learning (and not just in virtue signaling) then we can filter them out and still find something useful. Of course, friends will do that all the time with each other, but I admit that it is a more complicated question when we talk with strangers online, so if you feel strongly about this issue, this may not be the podcast for you.

Postscript 2: Is there anything in the podcast that I should have objected to during the conversation? I think yes, there is. I should have suggested that we cannot really say “the only good Chinese is a dead Chinese”. Other than that, I have no regrets 🙂

Onward on the steppe!

After a long delay, I’ve dropped part 4 of my continuing series on the Eurasian steppe and its history (I am currently planning on going down to the 13th century AD…so this should take me into 2022 since I’ve barely made it beyond 2000 BC as of now). The next installment is planned to be on the early Indo-Iranians and their connection to the Fatyanovo–Balanovo culture, and subsequent expansion in the Andronovo expansion (this will compliment my two pieces on India from last January).