Friday, July 28, 2017

Geography of the Avesta

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There are two distinct theories, which deal with the origin of the Vedic people. One theory proposes the Aryan invasion or migration in India and other deals with indigenous Aryans migrating from India to the West. Though the Indian Urheimat Theory had its origin in the 18th century, it was put forth in renewed enthusiasm by scholar Koenraad Elst and has been enthusiastically promoted by Shrikant Talageri, Kalyanraman, David Frawley and NS Rajaram. It is also supported by the eminent scholars like Kazanas

We have already discussed as to how the migration involving entire society or tribe deserting its original habitat is a wrongly founded hypothesis. It is not possible that a comparatively backward society like that of the Vedics, which supposedly immigrated to India to overwhelm a culturally advanced society like that of Indus and yet did not leave any archaeological or anthropological mark. The linguistic evidences that have been produced time and again to prove the migration theories are so fragile that they do not support any PIE language theory. We have also discussed in elaborate details as to whether the Ghaggar river could have been the Vedic Saraswati on the geological and Rig Vedic grounds. We have also noted that there is not even the slightest proof to connect the Ghaggar with the mighty Rig Vedic river Saraswati. On the same grounds, the Indian homeland theory, too, collapses. There is no proof of migrating Indigenous Aryans to spread out in the Western world as well!

The Invasion theory has now been almost abandoned by the scholars because there is not even slightest evidence that can remotely prove the invading tribes subjugated the IGVC and to establish their rule, to enforce their culture and languages overwhelmed their population.

As Allchins observes in regard with the invasion theories, “The intruders would have been able to rename the rivers only if they were conquerors with the power to impose this. And, of course, the same is true of their Vedic language: since no people would bother of their own free will to learn a difficult, inflected foreign language, unless they had much to gain by this, and since the Aryan immigrants had adopted the ‘material culture and lifestyle’ of the Harappans and consequently, had little or nothing to offer to the natives, the latter would have adopted the new language only under pressure. Hence, here again we discover that the substratum thinking is invasion and conquest.

Dr Nicholas Kazanas says, true in this regards, "…But invasion is the substratum of all such theories even if words like ‘migration’ are used. There could not have been an Aryan immigration because (apart from the fact that there is no archaeological evidence for this), the results would have been quite different. Immigrants do not impose their own demands or desires on the natives of the new country: they are grateful for being accepted, for having the use of lands and rivers for farming or pasturing and for any help they receive from the natives; in time it is they who adopt the language (and perhaps the religion) of the natives. You cannot have a migration with the results of an invasion." 

Both the Alchins and Kazanas support what we have discussed in the first chapter of this book. In both cases, the scholars agree that there was no invasion in India. Applying the same logic, apparently, there could not have been migration of the indigenous Aryans from India to the West because we do not find any archeological proof to support this theory. Outgoing hoards of Indigenous Aryans, too, could not have enforced their language and culture on the natives of the Western world for the same reasons, if at all they migrated. Hence, there was no migration in India of the Vedic tribes or there could not have been any migration of the indigenous Vedic Aryans to the West! We do not find any archaeological or cultural elements resembling to those of IGVC or pre-IGVC anywhere in the West. If human beings move to another area in masses, they will naturally carry their culture along with their language. We do not find any proof to support the migration theory from either direction. 

Bryant discusses both the theories on linguistic basis and finally concludes, “… there is not likely to be more consensus in this regard among scholars in the present than there has been in the past.” 

There cannot be the consensus because both the parties to the debate have stuck to the migration theories, from either direction. Dr Nicholas Kazanas, interestingly, wants to stretch back the time of Rigveda by almost one and half millennium to adjust his theory with the preconceived time when supposedly Satlej or Yamuna was feeding into the Ghaggar channel, i.e. the pre-Harappan era.

However, unfortunately, as we have seen in the last chapters, geological surveys in the Ghaggar channels do not support his theory.  Hence, the possibility of Vedic Aryans being indigenous can also be ruled out. In response to those who keep claiming that there was Aryan Invasion or migration in India, Kenoyer remarks, “….Although the overall socioeconomic organisation changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices, settlement organisation, and some regional symbols show that the indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. For many years, the 'invasions' or 'migrations' of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilisation and the sudden rise of urbanisation in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley. This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts....” 

We must understand that all scholars do not support migrations of the Indo-Iranians from Andronovo culture. CC Lamberg-Karlovsky emphatically states, “There is absolutely no archeological evidence for any variant of the Andronovo culture either reaching or influencing the cultures of Iran or Northern India in the second millennium. Not a single artifact of identifiable Andronovo type has been recovered from the Iranian plateau, northern India or Pakistan.” 

This is in line with our argument that the migration theories including peaceful trickle down from any direction need to be abandoned in the light of the material evidence. Lamberg-Karlovsky further confirms that the BMAC (Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex) culture that was spread in Iran and Afghanistan was independent of other cultures of those times. The skeletal remains of BAMC sites and of Harappa, too, were profoundly different showing ethnic diversity of both the people. This defeats the purpose of the Vedicist scholars who blatantly want to claim India to be Vedic Aryans homeland from where they dispersed to the west.

Having stated and quoted as above, being choiceless, we see that the both sides of the migration debate mostly agree that at some stage, Indo-Iranians were situated in present day Afghanistan from where they took different paths. It means that at the least for a few centuries, from wherever they might have come, the so-called Indo-Iranians, as migrationist scholars claim, lived together in the regions of the Iran that included modern Afghanistan. The Indigenous Vedic Aryan theory, even if no migration attached to it, is problematic because the material evidence does not prove it. The language of the Avesta and the Rig Veda are quite close to each other. So much so, J. Harmatta observes, “In Antiquity, for example, the Avesta stood so near to the Vedic Sanskrit that by making use of the phonetic correspondences between the two, we can transpose whole Avestan sentences word by word, sound by sound, into Vedic Sanksrit.”  

In my opinion, originally, the Rig Vedic dialect must have been quite closer, phonetically too, to that of the Gathas than the language we find in presently available Rig Vedic texts. The Rig Vedic language, from internal as well as external evidence, clearly appears to have gone through significant modifications before it was compiled to the present form, which made Witzel to determine Rig Veda being less archaic over old Avesta. 

However, despite the fact that the PIE language theory stands on the conjecture of single location origin and the subsequent migration, we have conclusive and irrefutable proof that there are striking similarities in the languages of the old Avesta and the Rig Veda, which is not to be found elsewhere except of few superficial resemblances. It is not a mere coincidence that the geography, too, is commonly shared by both the holy scriptures. Besides, there is no archaeological evidence available to prove that the Indo-Iranians came to their respective locations from any other place. Neither the Gatha’s, nor the Rig Veda support any other homeland. However, the linguistic closeness, striking similarities in personal names as well geographical names leaves us with no room to think but accept the fact that both the societies lived in the close proximity in that era from time unknown.

It will be pertinent to attempt to fix the exact location from where Mazdayasni religion emerged to understand the possible location of the Vedic tribe(s). There can be little doubt that Avestan and Rig Vedic tribes were settled in close vicinity, having not only the provincially independent, but also similar dialects because of their geographical closeness.

We must not forget here that the scholars usually connect the date of Avesta with the hypothetical movements of the so-called Aryans. Sixth century BCE date of Zoroaster that was fixed earlier based on generation calculations by the Zoroastrian priests, which was 258 years before the date of Alexander’s conquest of Persia, has now been mostly discarded. Other Greek sources indicate the date of the prophet to be 5,000 years before the Trojan War, i.e. 6,000 years BC. Based on the assumption that the PIE speakers entered Iran from Sintastha, Boyce dates the Gathas of Zoroaster as upper limit of 1,500 BCE to lowest limit of 1,100 BCE. Mary Boyce holds that, as cited by Bryant, the oldest Avestan texts do not mention the regions west of the Iran and that they do not mention urban centres as well, indicating the prehistoric period.  Boyce’s view does not help to stretch back the Avestan history. However, it proves that it is one of the oldest scripture. 

We must keep it in mind here that the scholars have heatedly discussed the dates of the Avesta and the Rig Veda and there has been no consensus on it so far. Max Muller fixed the time of the Rig Veda at 1,200 BC. However, it has been questioned, debated and played with to suit individual theories, such as that of the Avesta. Likewise, of late, the time of Gathas too has been decided almost whimsically to prove Gathas were composed long after the time of early Rig Veda. Talageri is one such scholar. It is rather noteworthy that the exercises of dating of the Gathas and the Rig Veda are mostly hypothetical, unsubstantiated by any material proof, mostly based on the hypothetical date of separation of so-called Indo-Iranians. And this is why, in absence of definitive proofs, not only Vedic, but Iranian scholars too tend to stretch back the period as much as possible…with single motive to prove remote antiquity of their respective religion/culture.

Naturally, there is disagreement over the period of both the scriptures. Most probable era of both the cultures could be contemporary with BAMC (Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex) period that ranges from 2,300 to 1,700 BCE. Some physical proof of Avestan Haoma (Rig Vedic Soma) sacrificial practices are traced with the finds of the floral remains of leaves, grains which after due analysis were proved to be the remains of Ephedra, a mild intoxicating herb.

Besides, the burial practices, fire altars, fire temples etc found at various BMAC sites are linked to the proto-Zoroastrian identity by the scholars.  Though some of the identifications are obscure to relate with Zoroastrians, we can safely conclude that the Zoroaster and his reintroduced religion prospered during sometime between middle of the BMAC phase, i.e. 1,500 till 1,300 BC among variety of the ethnicities that lived in the vast region of ancient Iran and slightly contemporaneous with the early Rig Vedic era. 

Geography of Avesta

The geography of the Avesta is not certain but various locations mentioned in the Avesta are within and outer boundaries of ancient Iran. Different scholars believe that the possible candidate for Airyanam Vaeja are either Hindukush, north of Syr Darya, north-eastern parts of Iran or Afghan highlands etc where Zoroaster was born to Pourushaspa. Some scholars find the identity of Airyanam Vaeja to be most insoluble or simply that the land being mythical having no real existence. The land is thought to be most important to locate because it is considered the place where Zoroaster was born and delivered his first sermon.

Whitney suggested in the nineteenth century that, “Respecting the region in which the Avesta had its origin we may speak with more confidence: it was doubtless Bactria and its vicinity, the northeastern portion of the immense territory occupied by the Iranian people.” 

Gherardo Gnoli  states, “If we compare the first chapter of the Vidēvdād with the passages of geographical interest that we come across mainly in the great yašts, we can conclude that the geographical area of Avesta was dominated by the Hindu Kush range at the centre, the western boundary being marked by the districts of Margiana, Areia, and Drangiana, the eastern one by the Indo-Iranian frontier regions such as Gandhāra, Bunēr, the land of the ‘Seven Rivers’, Sogdiana and, possibly, Chorasmia (which, however, is at the extreme limits) mark the boundary to the north, Sīstān and Baluchistan to the south.” 

The late Avestan scriptures describe Airyanam Vaeja as bellow:-

“The Daraja river is in Eranvej, on the bank (bar) of which was the dwelling of Pourushasp, the father of Zartosht. Zartosht, when he brought the religion, first celebrated worship and expounded in Eranvej, and Maidyok-mah received the religion from him.”  (Eranvej is transformed from Airyanam Vaeja in middle Persian texts.) 

Though the exact location of Airyanam Vaeja is not certain, the verses are indicating undoubtedly that it was the birthplace of Zarathustra and the place where he delivered his first sermon. Touting it as an original homeland or first settlement of the Indo-Iranians while on move from South Russia would be a grave mistake as there is no proof to support such a theory. The Iranians could have been settled in the same region, as they are now, for thousands of years even before the Zoroaster preached his religion. Excavations at BMAC sites clearly suggest that the region was populated since well before 6,000 BCE. Small incoming or outgoing immigration (in any region for that matter) causing some mutual interactions and influence is not ruled out. However, it would not be logical to imply that it was the homeland or temporary settlement of the PIE people while on the move because the same texts prove that it was not the homeland of the entire or some PIE’s, but mere birthplace of the Prophet.

We must also note that before Zoroaster preached his religion, historical religions to which he opposed and to which he reformed were already in existence. “3. About Ohrmazd's disclosing the religion first among mankind to Yim [Jamshed]; its non-acceptance by Yim [Jamshed] owing to attachment (asrunoih) to the religion of the ancients; and the acceptance of other things to develop, extend, and improve the world thereby. 4. About the reason of the needfulness of making the enclosure that Yim [Jamshed] made (var-i Yim kard), the command and instruction by Ohrmazd to Yim [Jamshed], the making by Yim [Jamshed] just as Ohrmazd commanded and instructed, and whatever is on the same subject.” (Nask 19: Vendidad [Jud-dew-dad] (legal) (44)).

The Nask makes it clear for us that even before Ahurmazda religion was introduced to Yim (Sk. Yama), religion of the ancients did co-exist.

If we look at the Avestan mythology, we find that Gaya Maretan was the first mortal person who became disciple of Ahur Mazda. (Farvardin Yasht, 13.87) He was succeeded by Hushang, Tahmuras and then by Yim. Later, it appears, Yim abandoned Mazda Yasni religion and became a sinner. (Gatha 32.8) This implies that various faiths such as of Daevas and phallic worshipers did exist simultaneously in Iran and neighboring regions in those times and their followers fought with each other for religious supremacy.

It is evident from the Gathas that when Zoroaster was born, the Mazdayasni religion had already declined and he reformed it. Thus, finding provenance of any religion is almost impossible. Different faiths do emerge in various societies seeking followers but they do decline with the abandonment of faiths by the people on own accord or by force, depending on the socio- political environment. Cultural convergence and divergences is a constant process that continues in every region and society.

This means that the Iranians were never on the move but had settled in respective regions following different faiths and fought with each other for religious and political supremacy from ancient times. Some faiths survived, some did not, but the process seems to have continued over a longer period when Zoroaster became the reformer of a declined religion.

Some of the territories mentioned in Avesta have been identified as those situated within and border regions of Iran. Skajervo concludes from internal evidence that they were composed in north-eastern Iran and travelled from there to the south and southwest. 

However, even if considered that the Avesta gradually shaped up in different regions, it does not indicate the movement of the people. It merely shows how the tradition of compositions was taken up by the followers of the religion of different regions in course of the time depending on the royal patronages they received. Most of the religions have evolved and spread in this manner. Except for Airyanam Vaejo, its neighbouring regions like Sukhdho, Mouru, Bakhdhim are identified with Sogdhd (north-western Tajikistan, Samarkand), Merv & Murghab (Turkmenistan) and Balkh (North Afghanistan) respectively. Being the Prophet’s birth place, if the land was glorified to the extent of its being first region created by the Lord, we should consider it to be the faithful poetic imagination instead of taking the climatic indications mentioned in the glory of the land as the factual truth.

The King of Balkh (North Afghanistan), Vishtasp, was the first disciple of Zoroaster. (Farvardin Yasht 25.99) The legend goes that Zoroaster was killed by a Turanian in Balkh. Turia, which is enumerated as adjacent to the land of Airyanam Vaejo, is identified with Turan. In all, probabilities the Turvasas of Rig Veda could have been Turanians of the Avesta, coming from ‘far afar’ to assist them in the wars! Farvardin Yasht (9.38) mentions several wars with Turanians.

Hence, in all probabilities, although Zoroaster must be roaming in nearby regions to spread his message in his lifetime, gathering disciples and patrons, he seems to have been associated more with Balkh for a long period in his life.  Airyanam Vaeja can be a place within or from neighbouring regions of Balkh, but we cannot be so certain about which it was. Possibly, the Aryanist scholars were fascinated with the word ‘Ariya’ and therefore, they debated it over very seriously.

Considering that Zoroaster was the noblest of the noble man to the Iranians, it is no surprise that his birthplace was extolled as ‘Ariyanam Vajea’ by his followers.

Out of 16, the 10th land or regions enumerated by Zoroaster is Harahvaiti, (VENDIDAD: Fargard 1.12) which today is known after the Arabic corrupt form as Arghandab, a major tributary to Haetumant (modern day Helmand and enumerated by Zoroaster as an 11th land created by the Lord). Among the regions enumerated is Hapta Hindava (Fargard 1.18) which normally all scholars have connected with Punjab, the basin of the Indus. However, let us not forget here that ‘Sindhu’ was not always meant to be the name of river. Alternatively, the term has also been used to denote the rivers.

Rather for Hapta Hindava, observes P. O. Skajervo, “The seven rivers may have denoted the seven world-rivers, as suggested by an Avestan fragment in the Pahlavi commentary of Videvdad 1.19.”  Skajervo emphatically states further, “…it is said in the Avesta : from dawn-side river to the evening-side river, as well as a passage in the hymn of Mithra, where the two hindus ‘rivers’ and the Ranha denotes the farthest point of the earth:….”  If serious consideration is to be given to this, the identity of Sapta Sindhu or Hapta Hindava cannot always be equated with Indus region, i.e. Punjab, such as in this case.

The number seven seems to have acquired some kind of reverence for both the Avestan and Rig Vedic people. This is evidenced from the repetitive use of the term like Saptarshi (Seven Seers), Haft Keshvar (Seven Regions) etc. Hence, the identity of the Hapta Hindava or Saptasindhu (seven rivers) remains ambiguous.

However, even if considered the identification with the region of seven rivers, i.e. Indus, this just would indicate that the farthest region towards southeast of Afghanistan known to Zoroaster (or Iranians) was Indus region. The Avesta does not mention any region beyond that of Indus, nor its mighty tributaries by name. The Rig Vedic tribes, too, knew no land beyond Indus and its tributaries at the time while the Rig Veda was being composed. The river they lavishly praised was Saraswati, cognate of Harhvaiti of Vendidad, on whose bank the bulk of Rig Veda was composed and numerous fire sacrifices were performed. The Rig Veda mentions few names of the western tributaries of the Indus, unlike the Avesta, because they were closer to the Indus Valley, if not in the Indus Valley itself! Hence, their knowing the names of the western tributaries of the Indus is no surprise.

Rig Vedic geography does not mention regions of far west, beyond Parshu. (Persia or the region of Parshu tribe, which seems dominant over the time than of Airyanam, i.e. Iran.) On the other hand, the Avestan geography does not go beyond Hapta Hindava. It also does not mention anywhere what it constituted of, which in a way clearly demarcates the northern geography of Avesta and the southern geography of Rig Veda. This also settles the problem of respective geographical positions of the people following a certain faith or mixture of the faiths, like the Vedics where we find the mixture of the both Daeva and Ahura (Deva and Asura) cultures/faiths in the form of Asur Varuna-Mitra and Indra (Daeva) worship, which contradicts the Avestan faith. This is an interesting mixture of the faiths that we find in single scripture contributed by the seers hailing from different background and tribes. On the contrary, the Avesta throughout follows the Asura (Ahura) faith, placing Daevas as demons in opposition with Ahur Mazda, Indra being one of them. Similarly, it is possible that other tribes, too, followed some or other faiths apart from Daeva and Asura like of Shisnadeva (phallic God). However, let us discuss first on the other aspects related with the present issue under discussion.

We have seen the geography of Rigveda and if we compare it with the Avestan geography it will be clear to us that both the religions flourished almost simultaneously in Afghanistan and bordering regions. It would be unjust to conclude from this that in the later course of time, the Vedics did migrate to India. Rather I will show that the Vedic religion came to India via a handful of the Vedics which cannot be called demographic migration. 

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