A few years ago I made a passing reference to the “Kali Yuga” (I had been reading the Mahabharata), and an interlocutor expressed alarm. “Isn’t that an ‘alt-right’ idea?”
The truth is that the concept has become entrenched in parts of the Western Right through the influence of Theosophy and Julius Evola, but its origins and primary usage is non-Western. Obviously. Westerners repurposed the concept for their own usage (“appropriated” one might say).
I thought of this when our resident archetype of a particular type of “social justice” narrowly “liberally” educated commentator made an observation that some phrases had particular connotations among white nationalists. This was true on the face of it, but it struck me as illustrative of the pantheon of the powerful in the mind of this individual. The phrases in question, relating to anti-Semitism, are actually much more common among non-Western people today.
But this is not of any great consequence for many. Non-Western people do not exist except in relation to Western people, and non-Western people and their views are seen as purely derivative and reactionary to Western people.
In other words, Western people are the agents of history, the only observers of Schrodinger’s Cat.
I was having a discussion with a young person of subcontinental origin who is completing a STEM Ph.D. An open-minded and curious person and they asked me to exposit to them why a post-colonial paradigm that reduces all non-Western/white peoples to being objects in a narrative driven by Western/white agents is built on false premises. My candid opinion is that this is not something that one can explain in a single conversation, or in a single article. The reason is simple: if you don’t know much you are ultimately relying on someone else’s credibility.
I think I’m a credible person, but obviously I would think that. Unfortunately, history is messy, complex, and filled with shades and textures that can only be appreciated through direct consumption, not description. You need to read the history yourself and reflect upon it deeply in a first-person sense.
The reality is that there are plainly mendacious actors out there who launder their credentials to promote lies. This behavior knows no ideology but is quite common and pervasive. Often these “public historians” do not lie or spread falsehood directly, but they obfuscate and redirect attention in such a manner so that their audience draws particular ‘natural’ conclusions which are at variance with reality as we understand it.
I particularly recommend history written about the time before 1800, because the foundations of the present often run quite deep, an assertion which directly undercuts the logic of post-colonialism, where the recent overwhelms the past.
On occasion, readers will question why it is so important to know broadly and deeply to understand the particular. That is due to the reality that the particular is simply the terminal node in a tree of decisions which fans out into the past and across continents.
This book is a great review of the rise and fall of classical Europe, from the earliest civilizations in Crete and Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. The authors are professional historians and remarkably free of either Left or Right wing cant. They provide an excellent summary of the rise of Mediterranean civilization and the origins of the notion of Europe. They manage to pack a remarkable amount of facts into this book, including quantitative data where possible (“X percent of all crockery at this site changed from Greek to Etruscan between Y and Z years” kind of thing). Greco-Roman nerds will know many more details obviously, but even they will not be disappointed with how much information and perspective the authors can fit into a small space. Well worth reading.
[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]
I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur
In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.
Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.
People now and then ask me why JR contributes to this weblog when I think he’s profoundly wrong on some issues. First, being wrong is no sin. Even being offensive is no sin. I am a traditionalist in regards to expression.
Second, JR presents what I believe to be the wrong position with a reasonable command of the sources and in a logical and coherent manner. He has not convinced me, but I have sharpened my own views (and to be frank, I believe that both of us have changed positions over the last four years as new data has emerged). Unfortunately, this is in contrast with the bluster, ad hominem and incoherence of many opponents of the idea of the exogenous origins of the Indo-Aryans. I used to think these people were malicious, but I think a lot of them are just stupid. So I hold it less against them.
JR presents what strikes me as an Indocentric view. He is quite clear that he sees his project as compensatory and reactive to the traditional Eurocentric view. My own position is quite naively positivistic, and I attempt to be cross-cultural. Of course in the details, I fail because to be subjective is to be human (my own view is going to be Eurocentric because my cultural orientation is American). Knowledge of the empirical world accumulates despite our shortcomings. JR has made an appeal to me as a person of subcontinental origin on occasion, but this lever is pulling on a string of emptiness. I am one of the Last Men who are weak in regards to racial self-conception.
Sometimes you really know what people are about by what they don’t talk about. Americans don’t talk directly about money, but we care about it a great deal. Indians don’t talk about caste directly in personal detail, but clearly they care about it a great deal. And the converse is also true. Much of my bluster about R1a1a-Z93 is that I find lineage to be a humorous and frivolous fixation, though I am latitudinarian is accepting that others may differ with me on this. It is a matter of disposition for me, not a deep principle. AMT or OIT has little emotional valence for me.
Finally, I have to admit that I have become disillusioned with the calm and conscious lying and obfuscation which I know to occur in sciences with which I am familiar. When Westerners have strong ideological priors and beliefs at stake, scholars abandon fidelity to the truth so as to tack to the winds and align themselves with the regnant ideologies of the age. They are servile creatures who bend to power. I do not have it within me to look down upon Indians for their bias and motivated reasoning when I know that Janus reigns supreme in Western academia. I thought “we” were better than this. I know now that that was a delusion. The courage of men fails. They will forsake friends and break bonds of fellowship. The truth is nothing next to these betrayals.
But I still vainly hold to the ideals of the old religion. Truth above all, strive for it even when it discomfits, and when you miss the mark so often. Knowledge is its own regard.
JR’s post, The Unravelling of the AMT, consists primarily of marshaling evidence from archaeology and linguistics (genetics being secondary). The contention is that the lack of archaeological disruption during the period between 2000 BC and 1000 BC, as well as no evidence in the extant literature of Indo-Aryan recollections of foreign homeless, should argue against an exogenous origin for Indo-Aryans. As I have no deep knowledge of these two fields, let us grant these assertions.
The reason that JR’s extensive argumentation does not convince me is that even granting the low probability of AMT conditional on the facts which he brings to the table, the probability of OIT is even lower conditional on the facts we know about other Indo-European societies. Alone, and isolated, if I grant the level of archaeological disruption to be minor, and if I grant that indeed Indian oral history does not record an external homeland, the model of mass migration in the period between 2000 and 1000 BC does strike me as unlikely (let’s put the genetics to the side).
But, if you reject AMT for this period, then we must explain Indo-Europeans in Europe and in the Near East. Logically the rejection of AMT entails OIT, and OIT presents far greater problems to me than AMT. From a cross-cultural perspective, a model that explains the current distribution of Indo-European languages must explain all of the different branches and their locations as parsimoniously as possible. There will be errors and loose ends in the model, but we have to iterate from a plausible starting point. AMT resolves more problems than it creates. OIT creates more problems than it resolves.
And yet to be entirely frank…I do think JR’s arguments will gain more and more traction with Indians. Indians are entirely Indocentric quite often, so arguments that operate within this framework will be persuasive. I find this personally uncongenial, but I am getting the sense as I get older that I have an abnormal interest in a disparate array of cultures and societies (some commentators, who may or may not have low IQs, express frustration that I refer to other societies and cultures since they are clearly ignorant of things beyond their shores). Here in the United States, there are “Ethnic Studies” departments that seem to exist so that people of a particular ethnicity can study their own history. They are quite popular and ideologically motivated.
The broad world out there is fading for the positivist vision. The age of science is giving way to the age of magic. The time for public discussion and calm inquisition of the facts has probably passed us by. Truth, understanding the shape of reality for its own sake, is a small cultic affair. And yet do well to remember, the lies that give you comfort are lies nevertheless!
I don’t know what to think about these sorts of memories, but after spending a day (for various reasons) looking at mtDNA (direct maternal) and Y (direct paternal) ancestry in various groups: I am more and more convinced it is plausible that much of Bengal was inhabited by a Tibeto-Burman people.
The reason is that in Bangladesh it looks to be that ~10% of the mtDNA and ~10% of the Y chromosomes are East Asian. This is in line with the genome-wide ancestry. To the west and south of Bengal, there are peoples with even more East Asian ancestry, the various Munda tribes. But these groups have a different profile. 30% of their ancestry is East Asian. But 60% of their Y chromosomes are East Asian, while 0% of their mtDNA is East Asian.
One thing we know about the Munda is that they speak Austro-Asiatic languages. Genetically their East Asian component seems to have mixed with people deeply related to the Andaman Islanders, before mixing again with a people with affinities to South Indian tribal people. Additionally, the Munda have almost no “steppe” affinity. This is curious because this occurs only among some South Indian tribal groups. Even among non-Indo-Aryan South Indian populations, such as the Reddy of Andhara Pradesh, there is some steppe ancestry.
Genetically it seems that the earliest mixing of East Asian and “indigenous” ancestry in the Munda dates to the period between 4,000 and 4,500 years ago. I am now open to the possibility that the Munda arrived in the Indian subcontinent via the Bay of Bengal. And that the northern Munda languages are actually expansions from a southern expanse.
In any case, the situation in Bengal seems to be different. If there were Munda in Bengal, they didn’t leave much of an imprint from what I can tell. The admixture into the Bangladeshi genomes dates to about 1,500 years ago. Rather than an intrusion of Tibeto-Burman people into the plains of Bengal, this may indicate an expansion of Indo-Aryan agriculturalists into the lands of slash and burn Tibeto-Burman agriculturalists.
Special thanks to Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar for sending this. I would start watching this excellent Dari Farsi documentary 1 minute 19 seconds in. There are many excellent ancient maps of central and south Asia.
I just want to watch this again and again, just to listen to the narrator’s voice. Majestic, wise, soft and sweet. For those so sure Afghanistan will fall; any nation with voices like this is perchance stronger than she appears. This may be where the homo sapien sapien modern civilization was born.
Five thousand years ago the greater Egyptian, Sumerian, Eastern (defined as pan Arya plus China) civilizations were very mathematically oriented. Many caucasians appear to believe that these ancient civilizations were racist. Possibly because of this many caucasians believe that math is racist.
Another possible reason many caucasians appear to believe that math is racist is because they fear it might unfairly advantages “brown” people (Asians, Arabs, Latinos) and “brown” cultures (eastern philosophy including Toaism and Confucianism, native american religion) at the expense of caucasians in the new global artificial intelligence, neuroscience, genetics economy.
Could part of the anger against math come from fear that mathematics, science, technology, seeking the truth through thought, seeking the truth without thought might be haram or blasphemous? (Obviously most Abrahamics do not believe this and this is not a critique of Abrahamism.)
I believe that mathematics is part of art; and that it derives from beyond normal gross thought. From what in Sanskrit is called Buddhi, Vijnayamaya Kosha, Ananda Maya Kosha, Sukshma Sharira, Kaarana Sharira, the subtle heavens.
Perhaps the anger against mathematics is part of a deeper anger against the subtle heavens? If so, one possible way to look at this is that to transcend the subtle heavens (including mathematics) it might be helpful to love them and love our way through them. Or to love and respect the racist (subtle heavens–including mathematics) until we transcend the various subtleties of thought and feeling.
To sum up, how exactly the Indo-Aryanization India happened would remain unclear unless we get more ancient DNA samples, especially that of male individuals, from various Harappan sites and Gangetic regions as well. Until detailed studies are conducted on them, we can only speculate about the ancient events. Thus, far from validating AIT, these two papers, both Narasimhan et al and Shinde et al, leaves out many unresolved issues.
In my opinion, based on the current genetic data we have, we can now safely reject the kulturkugel BMAC proxy theory and the theory of large scale male dominant invasion into Swat valley which were modelled by the Indo-Europeanists and Indologists for Aryan expansions into India. Also since Indus periphery/Harappan ancestry overwhelmingly peaks among ANI group whose closest descendants are North Indian Indo-Aryan speakers, it is likely that the Indus periphery/Harappan ancestry would have represented some early Indo-Aryan or perhaps other related groups.
A common refrain for several years has been “let’s wait for ancient DNA.” Now that it’s here, is there more clarity?
On some questions, yes. On others, no. It seems now that while the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) was influenced culturally and demographically by the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), the BMAC did not impact South Asia demographically (though perhaps culturally via the Indo-Aryans; e.g., soma). This is definitely something that was learned.
But ancient DNA has not, and may not, solve the “Aryan question” in regards to origins and impact. Ultimately a synoptic take is probably necessary, where many disciplines and regional histories and archaeology are brought to bear. The main critique I have of the “Indian take” is that it is often substituting Indocentrism for Eurocentrism.
The reality is that the categories at issue, European or Indian, didn’t really make sense before the Iron Age, at the earliest (I would argue that a modern European self-identity really comes into being with the rise of Islam and the sundering of the Mediterranean). The early Indo-Europeans helped create the categories of the world around us, they were not of it.
A reader pointing me to a paper whose hypothesis is novel to me. But, I have to say that reading the paper, I am now convinced this is highly likely. The paper is The Munda Maritime Hypothesis:
On the basis of historical linguistic and language geographic evidence, the authors advance the novel hypothesis that the Munda languages originated on the east coast of India after their Austroasiatic precursor arrived via a maritime route from Southeast Asia, 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Based on the linguistic evidence, we argue that pre-Proto-Munda arose in Mainland Southeast Asia after the spread of rice agriculture in the late Neolithic period, sometime after 4,500 years ago. A small Austroasiatic population then brought pre-Proto-Munda by means of a maritime route across the Bay of Bengal to the Mahanadi Delta region – an important hub location for maritime trade in historic and pre-historic times. The interaction with a local South Asian population gave rise to proto-Munda and the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. The Maritime Hypothesis accounts for the linguistic evidence better than other scenarios such as an Indian origin of Austroasiatic or a migration from Southeast Asia through the Brahmaputra basin. The available evidence from archaeology and genetics further supports the hypothesis of a small founder population of Austroasiatic speakers arriving in Odisha from Southeast Asia before the Aryan conquest in the Iron-Age.
For me, the Brahmaputra migration always implied that Bangladeshis should have lots of Munda ancestry. And yet that is not clear from genetics (though a few individuals are shifted in that direction). In contrast, they do have a strong affinity to the Khasi. This paper proposes that the Khasi are quite distinct from the Munda.
Rather, the Munda are placed further south, and their arrival in South Asia was through maritime means. One of the possibilities suggested is a relation to the Aslian subgroup of Austro-Asiatic languages in central Malaysia. This could actually help explain the enrichment for AASI in the Munda: the indigenous Negritos of Malaysia are similar to the people of the Andaman islands!
Remember, the arrival of Austro-Asiatic farmers in northern Vietnam dates to ~4,000 years ago. The Munda could be relative latecomers to South Asia…