Sunday, March 6, 2011

Languages of Aryan Trail

Most of the Aryan Trail has been deciphered using linguistic palaeontology extensively. In fact some reconstructions of the ancient past of the Indo European peoples are can't be supported explicitly by archaeological evidences. In such a scenario the different other languages that have influenced or have been influenced by the Indo European languages are very important to us. In the discussions on Aryan Trail we've seen how the IE loan words in Fino Ugric languages divulge interesting information about the early stages of the migrations of the IE peoples.

In this section we'll see how many other languages have preserved linguistic fossils of the ancient Aryan trail.

Below is the Aryan Trail that we're considering for all our discussions.

  1. Pit Grave Culture or Kurgan Culture (3500 - 2800 BC): The Pit Grave Culture extends over the entire Pontic Steppe. This is the late PIE (Proto Indo European) phase of Indo European unity where the PIE peoples stayed together prior to their disintegration and movement towards various destinations.
  2. Catacomb, Hut Grave Culture (2800 - 2000 BC): This is the Proto Indo Iranian (PII) Bronze Age culture that existed in the Ukrainian Steppes. Relics of the culture are widespread in the region along the Dnieper River, the coastal region the Sea of Azov, Crimea and along the Don River.
  3. Timber Grave Culture (2000 - 800 BC): Around Samara on the Volga Basin, this is the Proto Iranian Culture. The Proto Indo Iranian peoples arrived here from Azov Sea. The Iranians stayed back and the Indo Aryans proceeded further east to Arkaim-Sintashta.
  4. Andronovo Culture, Arkaim-Sintashta (2200 - 900 BC): South of the Ural Mountains this is an Indo Aryan Culture. The Indo-Aryans, the eastern branch of the Indo-Iranians eventually reached Northern Iran, Afghanistan and Indian subcontinent in the next few centuries.
  5. Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, BMAC Culture (2200 - 1700 BC): This is an Indo Aryan Culture in Central Asia. It's contemporary to the northern Andronovo Culture (1800 - 900 BC). From here the Indo-Aryans moved to northern Iran, Afghanistan and India.
  6. Vakhsh - Biskent Culture: Contemporary to BMAC & Andronovo, it's an Indo Aryan Culture. The last segment of the Aryan trail to India may be through through Vakhsh, via Vakshu or Oxus/Vakhsh, Kabul, Swat rivers.
  7. Kalash Culture (1600 BC till date): A very unique group of Indo-Aryans in Hindukush have preserved many of the Rig Vedic and early Indo-Aryan features including language and culture. Kalash is the last place in the Aryan trail before entering into the final destination of Punjab.
  8. Gandhara Grave Culture (1700 - 1400 BC): Rig Vedic Culture in Punjab in Pakistan & India
    Main Languages of Aryan Trail till 1500 BC
As it can be seen from the above diagram the Fino Ugric people stayed to the north of the locus of the early Indo European and Indo Iranian peoples. The diagram is a snapshot of the spread of the IE peoples around 1500 BC. At this point of time the Indo Aryans have already reached India, passing through the Arkaim-Sintashta, BMAC and Vakhsh-Biskent Cultures. Central Asia, the locus of the BMAC Culture, plays a very important role in the Iranian and Indic languages. In the discussions onAryan Trail we've mentioned that there are quite a few loan words in Iranian and Indic languages from Central Asia. But we don't know what language was spoken in Central Asia during that time. It's possible that multiple languages were spoken by the various peoples between Caspian Sea and Pamir but still it's likely that there was a lingua franca, which, we've reasons (discussed later) to believe, may be proto Burushaski. Now Burushaski, the language of the Burushos, is a language isolate spoken in isolated pockets of Hunza, Nagyr and Yasin, all in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Not very far from the BMAC, to its south along the coast of Arabian Sea, are the Indus Valley, Elamite and Sumerian settlements stretching from east to west. The Sumerian name for the southern Indus Valley settlement (Mohenjo-daro) in Sind and Baluchistan is Meluhha. To its west is an area referred to as Marhashi by the Sumerians. Further west is the Elamite settlement of Shimashki (refer to the diagram below). The languages of Meluhha and Marhashi are believed to be the same - we call it Meluhhan. The language of Shimashki is Elamite. BMAC artifacts have been found in all these places and also in the northern Indus areas (Harappa). This implies that there were trade links between these areas. Hence the languages of these areas are likely to have some common loan words between them. As the Indo Aryans were present in Central Asia for a considerable amount of time before moving into India it's likely that their language (Rig Vedic Sanskrit) would have substrates from all these older native languages from the areas around.

On linguistics terms the Rig Vedas can be categorized into three classes
  1. Early (1700 - 1500 BC) - Books 6, 4, 2 & 5
  2. Middle (1500 - 1350 BC) - Books 3, 7 & 8
  3. Late (1350 - 1200 BC) - Books 1 & 10
Apart from Burushaski RV has, from the earliest books, lot of substrates of a language which has similarities with the present day Munda languages. This should be the language of the northern Indus peoples with whom the Rig Vedic Aryans are likely to have lot of interaction since their early days of settlement in India. We call it a para Munda language.

RV suddenly has lot of Dravidian substrates / loan words in the books of Middle Age, especially in books 7 & 8. The books of Early Age have virtually no Dravidian substrate. This implies that the Dravidian peoples would have reached Punjab and started interacting with the Rig Vedic Aryans only around 1500 BC - the time period of the Middle Age books.

So there seems to be another language in this area - a proto Dravidian language. Many place names in Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra still bear the Dravidian palli, meaning village.Palli has become wala in Punjab (Jallianwala, Gujranwala, Dogarwala), vali in Maharashtra (Borovali, Saravali) and wari/wadi in Gujarat (Chandawari, Ambawadi, Dangrawadi) & Sindh (Kadanwari, Shanhwari, Bathewari, Fatehwari, Kardewari) - p changes to v/w and l to r. This implies that Sindh, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra are within the locus of the Dravidian peoples. It's highly possible that they were among the Indus peoples in Sindh during the last phase of Indus Valley civilization (1900 - 1500 BC) and migrated to Punjab in the north and Gujarat / Maharashtra in south around 1500 BC.

Based on the above discussions a plausible language map of Central Asia and Western India in 1900 BC, just before the arrival of the Indo Aryans, would be something like this.
Language Map in 1900 BC

The Meluhhan language of Sindh is still an elusive thing to us. The Indus scripts are yet to be deciphered. But Sumerian records have some words which are believed to be Meluhhan. These words have striking similarities with the present day Burushaski language. Such a connection is possible only if we assume that Burushaski or a related language was spoken in BMAC, whose connection with Indus peoples is supported by archaeology. Hence a proto Burushaski language is considered as the lingua franca of Central Asia before the arrival of the Indo Aryans.

In Sumerian records there are names of persons with Meluhha as personal names. Urkal and Urdlama are called son of Meluhha. There's also a village called Meluhha. The products of Meluhha include gis-ab-ba-me-lu-hha (abba wood from Meluhha), si-in-da (Sindh wood), gis-ha-lu-ub (haluppu wood), gis-gisimmar (shimmar/shimmal wood), etc. The word Sinda is quite interesting. Burushaski has the word sinda for river. It's possible that during the timeline we're talking about the proto Burushaski language, the lingua franca of BMAC peoples, had a similar word from which came the Skt. Sindhu, the name of the river that gave the identity to a country, religion and civilization. Monier Williams, in his Skt. dictionary, mentions the word Sindhu is of improbable origin. The shimmar of gis-gisimmar seems to be related to Skt. shalmali (a tree, shimul in bengali) which seems to be Munda and hence from the North Indus language.

Now let's move on to a little later period of time - 1700 BC. The diagram below shows the language map during this time. The Indo Aryans have arrived in BMAC and reached the north western fringes of India, may be Kalash in the Hindukush Mountains.

Language Map: 1700 BC

This is the early Rig Vedic period where the early books (6, 4, & 2) are being composed. The BMAC substrates have already appeared in Sanskrit. Similarly the Burushaski and para Munda (Northern Indus Language) substrates are also visible. The Hindukush is probably the place where retroflexion appears for the first time in Sanskrit. This may be an influence of the Burushaski spoken in the Pamir areas north of Hindukush.

Retroflexion has been always considered an Indian phenomenon that differentiates the Indo Aryan languages from the other members of the Indo European languages. The t in vrishti and the d in pinda need the tip of the tongue to be curled and touched against the top of the mouth to produce the correct sound. It's close to the t in street and the d in donkey as pronounced by an English rather than a French. Most of the European languages don't have these sounds.

Following are some probable Burushaski (Bur.) substrates in Skt.
  • Skt. mesha, ram ~ Bur. mesh
  • Skt. kuhu, new moon ~ Bur. kuha
  • Skt. karpasa, cotton ~ Bur. gupas
  • Skt. Sindhu, Indus River ~ Bur. sinda
  • Skt. kilala (amrita) and kilata (cheese) ~ Bur. kilay, sweet drink ~ Tamil kilan, curd
  • Skt. muja, people and also the Mujavat Mountain, the Meru Mountain ~ Mruza, the ancient self designation of theBurusho people who speak Burushaski now ~ Avestan Muza ~ Tibetan Bruza ~ Skt. Purusha, another name for Mount Meru. Muja, Muza, Purusha and Burusho all have come from the original word Mruza.
Following are some probable Munda substrates in Skt.
  • Kavasha, son of a slave girl elevated to the rank of Rishi - reminiscent of absorption of local people
  • kaparda, hair knot in the shape of cowrie shell
  • kimshuka, name of a flower/tree
  • Kikata, name of a place despised of in Rig veda. Interestingly ki in Suremian means country.
  • kinash, cultivator of land, niggard
  • kumara, boy
  • kurira, woman's head dress
  • Kurunga, name of a chieftain of Turvasha, one of the Pancha Krishti, the Five Peoples of Rig Veda.
  • kulaya, nest
  • karambha, a food
  • Kushika, name of a lineage of poets
  • Kulitara, name of a chieftain of enemy
  • sharvari, night
  • shalmali, tree
  • shakunta / shakuntaka, bird. Also related is Kunti, a tribal name
  • Shambara, name of a chieftain of enemy
  • Srinjaya, King
  • Sribinda, demon. Related is Vindhya Mountains, may be from the same root *bind
  • Rivers Ganga, Gandaki & place names Magadha, Gandhar - all may have come from Munda *gad/gand
  • Shatadru (Sutlej) River - old name Shutudri may have come from she-tu-da, tu means float in Munda
  • Vipasha (Beas) River - old name Vipash may have come from Munda vipaz/vibal. There's a Vibali River of indefinite origin in RV. The name Vishpala may also be related
There is no direct Meluhhan substrate in Sanskrit. But the Skt. mlechchha (or even mridhra) meaning out-caste, may be a derivative of meluhha. The reason why it means out-caste is also understandable - the same reason why Finnish orja, derived from arya, means slave.

Now let's consider the etymology of two words: langala meaning sickle and godhuma meaning wheat in Skt.

The words meaning sickle or 'to reap' in various languages seem to be similar. It's niggal in Sumerian, nigal in Afro-Asiatic (Egyptian), nankal in Proto Dravidian, nakel in Proto Munda, nahel in Santal (a Munda language spoken by some tribes in eastern India), ankal in Khmer and tengala in Malay.

Referring to the diagram below it's not unlikely that the languages of Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite, BMAC and Indus Valley would have many loan words related to agriculture, plants and animals because these are the terms that are transmitted through trade and commerce. The Dravidian peoples of Sindh would have taken the word nankal from the Meluhhans (south Indus). The Aryans, few centuries later, took the word langal from the north Indus peoples who spoke a para Munda language. The Khmer and Munda are both members of the same Austroasiatic language family that might have originated in India. How and when the Khmer peoples reached present day Cambodia and Vietnam are not clear.
Language Map of Asia: 1900 BC

Similarly, the words for wheat are similar across various languages - Hittite kant, Old Egyptian xnd, BMAC gantum, Dravidian godi, Avestan gantuma, Persian gandum and Rig Vedic godhuma. The Avestan, Persian and Sanskrit words have surely come from BMAC. The Dravidian godi might have come from Meluhhan.

Tracking the etymologies of words like these are classic examples of how linguistic palaeontology can help us reconstruct some obscure ancient past which otherwise hasn't left much in 'pots and pans', that's archaeology.

Next we fast forward another two centuries and we're in 1500 BC - middle Rig Vedic Age. Here suddenly we see a surge of words of Dravidian origin.
  • Skt. phala, fruit ~ Tamil (Tam.) palu
  • Skt. pinda, dympling ~ Tam. pinti, flour
  • Skt. mayura, peacock ~ Tam. mayil [The Proto Munda *mara is related]
  • Skt. danda, stick ~ Telegu danda [The Santal (one of the Munda languages) danta is related]
  • Skt. ulukhala, mortar ~ Tam. ulukkai
  • Skt. path, read ~ Tam. patu, sing
  • Skt. nagara, city ~ Tam. nakar
  • Skt. kuta, hammer
  • Skt. kunda, vessel ~ Tam. kuttam
Language Map: 1500 BC
In general the Aryans picked mostly names of places (Gandhar, Kikata), rivers (Sindhu, Vipash, Shutudri) and peoples (Shambar, Pramaganda, Kulitara) and words of local plants (shalmali), animals and large number of agricultural terms (phala, ulukhala, langal) from local languages and retained only a few from PIE vocabulary for agriculture like krish, sa(sow), sita (furrow) and sira (plough). This is quite natural for immigrating peoples like the Aryans.

As seen in the Aryan Trail the Aryans entered India in two waves. It's not unlikely that the Rig Vedic Aryans of the second wave would be little averse to the newer Dravidian peoples and the older Aryans of the first wave. Eventually they pushed both of them to the periphery of their settlement.

In Atharva Veda, composed around 1000 BC, the peoples of Magadha, Gandhara, Anga and Mujavat are referred to as despised. Magadha and Anga are areas around Vanga - to the east. With respect to the early Aryan settlement in India (Punjab) Gandhara is a peripheral area to the west and Mujavat, the land of the Mruza peoples who speak Burushaski, to the north. It's possible that the earliest of the Aryans (along with the Dravidian peoples in Punjab) were the first to make way for the younger Rig Vedic Aryans and move out to the peripheries to west (Gandhar peoples) and east (proto Bengali and Magadhan peoples) quite early, may be sometime around 1500 BC. Eventually more such batches moved out to south west towards Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. This implies that the proto Bengali and Magadhan peoples and the Gandhar peoples were all the same folks thousands of years back. Gandhar falls in the area marked 'Other Indo Aryan and Indo Iranian' in the above diagram. People here now speak mainly Pashto (East Iranian branch of Iranian), Nuristani (Iranian branch) & Khowar and Kalash (Dardic branch of Indo Aryan).

The following diagram depicts the above scenario just after 1500 BC.
Scenario just after 1500 BC

The following diagram depicts a probable scenario in India around 1000 BC where the Rig Vedic Aryans are settled in the Gangetic plains and the older Aryans along with the Dravidian peoples pushed to Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkal (Orissa) and Vanga (Bengal). There are good linguistic evidences in favor of such an scenario.

The peripheral IA languages (Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya and Bengali) are the ones that have more Dravidian influence than Hindi. Incidentally Hindi is spoken precisely in the area shown in the diagram as the locus of the Aryans since the Late Rig Vedic period.

Language Map: 1000 BC

It's quite interesting that among all the Indo Aryan languages Bengali perhaps is influenced the most by Dravidian language. This means that there was a considerable Dravidian population in Bengal where Bengali developed. This might be really the case if we believe that the oldest lot of Aryans (may be the Dasa peoples of BMAC who entered India before the Rig Vedic Aryans), along with a considerable number of Dravidian peoples, left (or were driven out of) Punjab soon after the arrival of the Rig Vedic Aryans. They eventually moved to the eastern part of India and settled in the ancient Vanga and Magadha regions. Close association with a good number of Dravidian peoples for a very long time induced strong Dravidian aspects into the Magadha Prakrit (the predecessor of Bengali) and the Bengali language.

Following are some of the commonalities between Bangali (Beng.) and Dravidian languages
  • Bengali is the only Indo European language where the negation is applied after the verb. For example in English we always say 'I'll not go' - here the negation 'not' appears before the verb 'go'. Same is with all Indo Aryan languages. In Hindi we say 'Hum nahin jayenge' - the negation 'nahin' is applied before the verb 'jayenge'. But in Bengali we say 'Ami jabo na' - the negation 'na' is applied after the verb 'jabo'. All Dravidian languages have the same structure for negation.
  • Similarly the plural forming suffix ra in Bengali comes directly from Tamil ar. For example pola means a boy andpola ra means boys - both pola and ra are of Dravidian origin.
  • Pali, the language of Buddhist scriptures, and the neighboring Magadha Prakrit languages showed some peculiarities from an early age (since the time of Buddha in 6th century BC) that are no doubt Dravidian. We seedhamma in place of dharma, kamma in place of karma, Pukkusathi in place of Pushkalavati. Buddhist scriptures are full of such derivatives of the original Sanskrit names or words. Bengali still uses these forms in colloquial conversations. It's surely a Dravidian phenomenon where two consonants can be joined only when they belong to the same varga, class. In dharma r and m, belonging to different varga were joined in Sanskrit. Following the Dravidian phonology of joining consonants of same varga, dharma is converted to dhamma. Same is true for the other words.
In all the above three cases the structure of a language itself is changed by another language. Such changes require very long and extensive interaction between the speakers of the two languages. In all other Indo Aryan languages the Dravidian influence is restricted only to loan words - mainly names of places, rivers and peoples and agricultural terms. This implies that the interaction with Dravidian peoples in all these cases has been quite limited. But in case of Bengali there are Dravidian words for a very wide range of things.
  • gurra, horse in Telegu ~ ghoda in Beng., Hindi ~ in Barishal district of Bangladesh ghoda is pronounced almost like gurra
  • akali, hunger in Telegu, Tamil ~ akal in Beng.
  • koka/kuki, son/daughter in Tamil ~ khoka/khuki in Beng.
  • khadal, sea in Tamil ~ khadi in Beng.
  • khattai, a piece of wood in Tamil ~ khonta, peg in Beng.
  • kutta, to pick, gather in Tamil ~ khonta, to pick up in Beng.
  • gandra gol in Telegu ~ gando gol, problem, commotion in Beng.
  • goda, wall in Telegu ~ goda means base or foundation in Beng.
  • pillai, son in Tamil ~ pile in Beng.
  • ban, rain in Tamil ~ ban in Beng.
  • mot, heavy luggage in Telegu ~ mot in Beng.
  • tandu, central stem like the solid portion of banana plant ~ thod in Beng. Interestingly the banana flower and the tandu or thod are used as vegetables only among the Bengalis and Tamilians.
It has been mentioned earlier that the people of Bengal may be the Dasa peoples of BMAC who were first to enter into India and eventually pushed out later to the east by the Rig Vedic Aryans. There's a striking aspect in Bengal that links the Bengali peoples to BMAC.

Below is a seal found from BMAC. It's a Goddess sitting on a lion. Doesn't it look like the Goddess Durga worshiped mainly in the eastern India, especially Bengal & Assam.

BMAC seal of a Goddess on lion: Proto Durga ??

The word durga comes from durga meaning stronghold, fort. It's also the name of an asura slain by the goddess Durga, More intriguing is the fact that Durga is also known as Tripura, the protector of the fort, durga, the tripur of the Dasas of BMAC.

In Rig Veda asura is mentioned as the God of the Dasa peoples. Subsequently the Rig Vedic Aryans make truce with the Dasas and asura is promoted to the ranks of deva, the Gods. The term tripur is not present in Rig Veda. It appears in the Brahmanas, written some thousand years later than the encounter with the actual tripur and Dasas of BMAC. By that time asura has again become a demon. But the question is who has kept the memories of tripur alive after thousand years? It has to be the Dasa peoples, the proto Bengali and the Magadhans, who still remember their ancient religious traditions of BMAC. By this time Anga has again become despised peoples and hence their God asura again becoming a demon is understandable.

1000 BC is also the time when the Avestan peoples separated from the Indo Aryans. They settled in the Airyanem Vaejo surrounded by the fifteen Aryan countries in Central Asia. The speakers of Burushaski languages reduced considerably with the decline of BMAC Culture. The Dardic branch (Kashmiri, Khowar, Kalash) of Indo Aryan languages started shaping up in the Himalayas and Hindukush.

1 comment:

diramtin said...

I am a burushaski speaker and I find this very interesting :)