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Scholarship or prejudice?
By David Frawley
http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/op/stories/2003030400010200.htm
 

India does not need people like Witzel to save its soul, any more than it needs Christian missionaries to do so. It doesn't need them to teach it what dharma, truth or civilisation really are. Similarly, the world of Vedic scholarship does not require them to explain the secrets of the Vedas, which clearly they don't even suspect, much less know.

MICHAEL WITZEL predictably attacks anyone who suggests any greatness for Vedic culture or any connection between it and the Harappan civilisation. The number of such Vedic scholars East and West that he has made personal diatribes against is now over a dozen, though to his lament, he has still not succeeded in reducing their numbers or weakening the appeal of their ideas.

Strange views

Yet Witzel's own views, which he seldom highlights, are much stranger. He has not only proposed an Aryan invasion/migration into ancient India in the post-Harappan era (after 1500 BCE) through the Panjab going east, he has similarly detailed a Dravidian invasion/migration of India about the same time through Sind but going south. Yet he is fair in his judgment of the Aryans and Dravidians, he regards both peoples as equally primitive and as not having even developed agriculture much less any civilisation of their own.

He has stated that both Vasishta and Agastya, the two greatest Vedic sages of north and south India, were in fact Iranians. Now he is also proposing that Buddha, called Shakyamuni, was a descendant of recent Shaka (Scythian) migrants to Bihar from Iran around 600 BCE and suggests that Buddhism itself might even be an Iranian heresy, not anything really Indian. Influenced by the story of how Biblical Moses led the Jews out of Egypt into Israel, Witzel has written that Vasishta brought King Bharata (who gave his name to the land of India) out of Eastern Iran into India! Of course, while the Bible remembers such an exodus no such Vedic or Puranic records exist, but that does not slow him down.

Instead of either the Aryans or Dravidians as the authors of the great Harappan culture Witzel has proposed the Mundas or aborigines. While he claims I have offended the Mundas and other aboriginals for questioning their ability to create the Harappan civilisation, he doesn't seem to find any problem in offending both the Aryans and the Dravidians by finding them both quite incapable of its creation (in spite of their literary and historical records of great antiquity for which the Mundas have nothing comparable). Yet he also suggests that the Mundas themselves could just as well be migrants into the region from the southeast, completing his scenario that people and culture must come to India from the outside, regardless of how many peoples and cultures India is able to produce.

Such views are much stranger than suggesting that the Vedic literature, the largest remaining literature of the ancient world, may actually be related to the Harappan/Sarasvati civilisation, the largest urban civilisation of the ancient world, particularly since both reflect the same geographical region. Such scholars ignore the great Sarasvati river and its many archaeological sites that number in the hundreds. They would place the original Vedic Sarasvati river in Afghanistan and have the Vedic Aryans strangely ascribe this name of their holiest river to a dried up stream in India on which Harappan culture had coincidently once been centred, as if the Vedic people had some intuition of the river's former greatness long before they arrived! They would equate the sophisticated and advanced Vedic literature with the compositions of uncivilised, primitive nomadic tribes, though it has managed to leave its mark on the culture of the entire subcontinent, and no other earlier literature has survived.

When I recently suggested in an article about the ecology of ancient India (which doesn't even mention his name), that India provided the ideal subtropical river system for developing civilisation, Witzel now adds that India is also an unsuitable place to live, quoting how people from the Iranians to the Moguls found the climate too hot for them to stay. I don't know if he ever counted the number of people able to live on these hot north Indian rivers compared to the deserts of Iran and Central Asia. Even in Harappan and post-Harappan times, North India was densely populated and could easily support a great civilisation and maintain its continuity through the ages.

Battle for the soul of India

Witzel's background is purely as a linguist. He does not claim a deeper study of Indian philosophy, yoga, or spirituality, for which he has never expressed any regard. So when he speaks now of the soul of India one has to wonder what he is talking about. Nor has he ever written about Indian culture or Bharatiya samskriti in a positive light or as a real entity in its own right.

His `love' for India is so well known to the Indian community in the U.S. that there is hardly an internet discussion list maintained by them where his rigid anti-Hindu and anti-India views have not been noted. Witzel's name is commonly mentioned along with Dan Burton and other India-bashers. A simple search on the Internet will reveal numerous contemptuous remarks that Witzel makes against Indians, Hindus, India and the Indian government. His open support for the Marxist historians of India is also well known. Many people have started seeing through his misrepresentations, abuse and vitriol, disguised as `scholarship.' The reader may himself refer to reviews of his writings at http://www.bharatvani.org/indology.html, including articles that question Witzel's knowledge of the Sanskrit language.

Odd endeavour

Witzel has even recently done some articles on the Vedic religion, as he claims, to show what it really was and to counter the many distortions about it that exist today (probably made by Hindus!). This is a rather odd endeavour for someone who neither believes in nor practises the Vedic religion, nor has ever shown any respect for its great ancient or modern teachers, much less sought to be a disciple in any Vedic tradition or lineage. It reminds one of the atheists on temple boards that have occurred in Kerala.

Yet for perhaps the first time, Witzel suggests in his latest response that he really honours the great civilisation of India after all, but leaves us guessing in exactly what way. Perhaps he hasn't quite figured it out yet. In any case he has not referred to which of his papers actually say this.

No, India does not need people like Witzel to save its soul, any more than it needs Christian missionaries to do so. It doesn't need them to teach it what dharma, truth or civilisation really are. Similarly, the world of Vedic scholarship does not require them to explain the secrets of the Vedas, which clearly they don't even suspect, much less know. In fact if Witzel is truly interested in real spirituality, which is the true soul of India and of the Vedas, India can provide him with quite enough teachers and teachings to keep him quiet for a long time.

DAVID FRAWLEY

 


 

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