The Week Magazine
August 9, 1998

Holes in Vedic Valley Theory

The focus and motive of the article ‘Looking beyond Indus Valley’ (July 26) seem to be to elevate the Vedas and the people associated with them, rather than to edify and bring to light the truth of our past. Archaeologist Ravindra Singh Bhist, described a Sanskrit scholar calls the Rig Veda, "the world's oldest literary record". If what he says is true then how is it that the first epigraphic evidence of Sanskrit occurs only in 150 AD?

The earliest epigraphic evidence on languages employed in India comes from the inscriptions of Asoka inscribed in third century B.C. Asoka took care that his messages were intelligible to all and he used a particular kind of Prakrit. Even more remarkable is the fact, which has been recently discovered, that for those people who at the time lived in Afghanistan, his message was given in Greek as well as Aramaic. One of the Greek inscriptions is a translation of the Kalinga Edict, and the Greek of the inscriptions is not inferior in style to the classical Greek of Greek literature. In such circumstances neglect of Sanskrit by Asoka, if the language were in use, would be contrary to all his practice. So, the absence of Sanskrit in his inscriptions indicates that it did not exist at that time.

An inscription dating around A.D.150 in the Brahmi script attests the first evidence of classical Sanskrit. It records the repair of a dam originally built by Chandragupta Maurya, and also contains a panegyric in verse, which can be regarded as the first literary composition in classical Sanskrit. It is at Girnar in Kathiawar and was inscribed by Rudradamana, the Saka Satrap of Ujjayini, on the same rock on which the Fourteen Rock Edicts of Asoka were also found. It is significant that Rudradamana employed classical Sanskrit in a region where about four hundred years before him Asoka had used only Prakrit. This definitely proves that in the second century AD Sanskrit was replacing the dialects. Even so the language did not replace Prakrit everywhere, but it continued to be used in inscriptions for something like one hundred years or even more after this date. However, from the fifth century A.D. classical Sanskrit is seen to be the dominant language in the inscriptions.

From the bibliographical evidences we find that the Vedas were written rather late, and thus, the entire correlation in the article lacks credibility. Also, as the renowned historian A.L.Basham puts it, "The Harappa religion seems to show many similarities with those elements of Hinduism which are specially popular in the Dravidian country". And he further states, "Some Indian historians have tried to prove that they were the Aryans, the people who composed the Rg Veda, but this is quite impossible".

DR. ALEXANDER HARRIS
CHENNAI

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