Michael Witzel

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Michael Witzel

Michael Witzel (born July 18, 1943) is a German-American philologist and academic. Witzel is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University and the editor of the Harvard Oriental Series (volumes 50-80). He is an author on Indian sacred texts and Indian history, and a critic of the "Indigenous Aryans" theory and of right-wing Hindu activists. In 2005, he attracted the scorn of Hindu activists when he opposed their attempts to influence USA school curricula in the California textbook controversy over Hindu history.

Quotes[edit]

  • “The river Yavyavati is mentioned once in the RV; it has been identified with the Zhob in E. Afghanistan. At PB 25.7.2, however, nothing points to such a W. localisation. The persons connected with it are known to have stayed in the Vibhinduka country, a part of the Kuru-PañcAla land.” [....] “A dolphin lying on the sands, dried out by the North wind, could refer to the Gangetic dolphin, as in fact it does at 1.17.6...
    • India and the Ancient World: History, Trade and Culture Before A.D. 650 edited by Gilbert Pollet (Paper by Michael Witzel), Department Oriëntalistiek Leuven, 1987.
  • “India possesses, it is true, a class of texts that proclaims to be a history of the subcontinent, the Puranas. …..Nevertheless, they have been used uncritically, e.g., by some historians such as R. Thapar, and by modern archaeologists as materials to establish their identifications of particular pre-historic cultures.”
    • 1990. On Indian Historical Writing. pp. 1-57 in ‘Nihon Minami Ajia Gakkai: Hatsubai Tokyo Daigaku Shuppanaki. Tokyo
  • The immigrating group(s) may have been relatively small one(s), such as Normans who came to England in 1066 and who nearly turned England into French speaking country- while they originally had been Scandinavi ans, speaking N. Germanic. This may supply a model for the Indo- Aryan immigration as well........However, the introduction of the horse and especially of the horse-drawn chariot was a powerful weapon in the hands of the Indo-Aryans. It must have helped to secure military and political dominance even if some of the local elite were indeed quick to introduce the new cattle-based economy and the weapon, the horse drawn chariot, - just as the Near Eastern peoples did on a much larger and planned scale.
    • in : page xxii, note 54 in Witzel, Michael; Lubotsky, A; M. S. Oort, M. S. (Eds.); 1997; F. B. J. Kuiper- Selected Writings on Indian Linguistics and Philology; Rodopi; Amsterdam/Atlanta (also quoted in Vigil, 'Thus Spake Professor Michael Witzel A Harvard University Case Study in Prejudice?' (2006))
  • Poets such as Śamyu Bārhapatasya 6.45.1, some early Kaṇvas (in book 8) [belong to the] Early Ṛgvedic level.
    • WITZEL 1997b: The Development of the Vedic Canon and Its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu. Witzel, Michael. in ―Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts, ed. by M.Witzel, Cambridge 1997 (being the proceedings of the International Vedic Workshop, Harvard univ., June 1989). Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • [the Sintashta-Arkaim culture on the W. Siberian plains east of the Urals,] "dated to c.2200/2100-1700/1600 BC", [where] "the earliest attested traces of Aryan material culture "and even of Aryan belief". ..[there we find] "remnants of horse sacrifices (aśvamedha) and primitive horse drawn chariots (ratha, raθa) with spoked wheels [....] a real tripura [....] adobe bricks (*išt) [....] frame houses (which reminds of Rgvedic kula 'hollow, family‘ [....]) [....] Most tellingly, perhaps, at the site of Potapovka (N. Krasnayarsk Dt., near Kybyshev on the N. Volga steppe), a unique burial has been found. It contains a human skeleton whose head has been replaced by a horse head, a human head lies near his feet, along with a bone pipe, and a cow‘s head is placed near his knees. This looks like an archaeological illustration of the Rgvedic myth of Dadhyanc, whose head was cut off by Indra and replaced by that of a horse. The bone pipe reminds, as the excavator has noted, of the RV sentence referring to the playing of pipes in Yama‘s realm, the world of the ancestors".
    • The Home of the Aryans. Witzel, Michael. in ―Anusantyai, Fest schrift fur Johanna Norten zum‖ 70, Geburtstag. Ed. Almut Hintze, Eva Tichy, JH Roll, 2000. Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Even now, however, three RV periods can be established, as follows:
    1. early Ṛgvedic period: c.1700-1450 BCE: RV books 4, 5, 6.
    2. middle, main Ṛgvedic period : c.1450-1300 BCE: books 3, 7, 8.1-47, 8.60-66 and 1.51-191, most probably also 2; prominent: Pūru chieftain Trasadasyu and Bharata chieftain Sudās and their ancestors, and
    3. late Ṛgvedic period: c.1300-1200 BCE: books 1.1-50, 8.48-59 (the late Vālakhilya hymns), 8.67-103, large sections of 9, and finally 10.1-84, 10.85- 191; emergence of the Kuru tribe, fully developed by the time of Parīkṣit a descendant of Trasadasyu...
    With Indo-Aryan settlement mainly in Gandhāra/Panjab, but occasionally extending upto Yamunā/Gangā, e.g. Atri poem 5.52.17; the relatively old poem 6.45.13 [sic] has gāngya [...] Even the oldest books of the RV (4-6) contain data covering all of the Greater Panjab: note the rivers Sindhu 4.54.6, 4.55.3, 5.53.9 ̳Indus‘; Asiknī 4.17.5 ̳Chenab‘; Paru ṣṇ ī 4.22.3. 5.52.9 'Ravi‘; Vipāś 4.30.11 (Vibali) 'Beas‘; Yamunā 5.52.17; Gangā 6.45.31 with gāngya 'belonging to the Ganges‘ [...] G. van Driem and A. Parpola (1999) believe that these oldest hymns were still composed in Afghanistan [...]. This is, however, not the case as these books contain references to the major rivers of the Panjab, even the Ganges (see above).
    • WITZEL 2000: The Languages of Harappa. Witzel, Michael. Feb. 17, 2000. Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • In general, the books of RV level I (RV 4-6) are thoroughly South Asian and have reference to local climate, trees and animals. We therefore have to take them seriously at their word, and cannot claim that they belong just to Afghanistan.
    • WITZEL 2000: The Languages of Harappa. Witzel, Michael. Feb. 17, 2000. (WITZEL 2000a:§13). Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Ironically, many of those expressing these anti-migrational views are emigrants themselves, engineers or technocrats like N. S. Rajaram... who ship their ideas to India from U.S. shores.
    • About Indians criticising the theory of Aryan invasions or migrations.
    • Witzel, Michael and Steve Farmer. 2000. Horseplay in Harappa Frontline, 17(20), September 30-October 13.
  • Given the scholarly inclinations among the expatriate communities in North America we may expect a slew of new interpretations, in fact, a whole new cottage industry. Their impact will appear especially on the internet.
    • Witzel, M. N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram, The deciphered Indus script. Methodology, readings, interpretation. (2000) [1]
  • “Not only the language, but also the culture of the newly arrived elite was appropriated, including the 'Vedic Tank' the horse drawn chariot.”
    • Posted in IndicTraditions Yahoogroup (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/indictraditions/) on 11 December 2000, message # 2735 (also quoted in Vigil, 'Thus Spake Professor Michael Witzel A Harvard University Case Study in Prejudice?' (2006))
  • “I have also since changed my opinion, based on new evidence, about the relative date of the bulk of RV2 which I would now include in the mid-level texts”.
    • WITZEL, Michael .2001. “WESTWARD HO! The Incredible Wanderlust of the Rgvedic Tribes Exposed by S. Talageri” in EJVS 7.2. Quoted in TALAGERI, Shrikant G. 2001. Michael Witzel – An Examination of his Review of my Book.
  • Other writers in Kazanas’ class, including D. Frawley, K. Elst, and N. S. Rajaram, have already caused significant damage to linguistics, philology, Indology, archaeology, and history.... In the fundamentalist/nationalistic circles from, which Kazanas draws support – despite his pretense of political naivete.
    • ‘Ein Fremdling im Rgveda’ (Journal of Indo-European Studies, Vol. 31, No.1-2: pp.107-185, 2003)

Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parametres[edit]

in : The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity edited by George Erdosy (Papers by Michael Witzel and P. Oktor Skjærvø), Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 1995. Quoted in Talageri, S. (2000). The Rigveda: A historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • “Something of this fear of the horse and of the thundering chariot, the "tank" of the 2nd millennium B.C. is transparent in the famous horse 'Dadhikra' of the Puru king Trasadasya ("Tremble enemy" in RV 4.38.8) ……..The first appearance of thundering chariots must have stricken the local population with terror similar to that experienced by the Aztecs and the Incas upon the arrival of the iron-clad, horse riding Spaniards.”
  • “apart from archaeology, our principal source for the early period must be. the Rigveda…”
  • Since the SarasvatI, which dries up progressively after the mid 2nd millennium BC is still described as a mighty river in the Rigveda, the earliest hymns in the latter must have been composed by C.1500 BC. (p. 98)
  • “in contrast to its close relatives in Iran (Avestan, Old Persian), Vedic Sanskrit is already an Indian language”. (p 108)
  • “In South Asia, relatively few pre-Indo-Aryan place-names survive in the North; however, many more in central and southern India. Indo-Aryan place-names are generally not very old, since the towns themselves are relatively late.” (p 104)
  • “A better case for the early linguistic and ethnic history of South Asia can be made by investigating the names of rivers. In Europe river-names were found to reflect the languages spoken before the influx of Indo-European speaking populations. They are thus older than c. 4500-2500 BC (depending on the date of the spread of Indo-European languages in various parts of Europe). It would be fascinating to gain a similar vantage point for the prehistory of South Asia.” (p 104-5)
  • “in northern India, rivers in general have early Sanskrit names from the Vedic period, and names derived from the daughter languages of Sanskrit later on.” (p 105)
  • “River names in northern India are thus principally Sanskrit, with few indications of Dravidian, MuNDa or Tibeto-Burmese names. However, Kosala, with its uncharacteristic -s- after -o- may be Tibeto-Burmese (Sanskrit rules would demand KoSala or KoSala, a corrected form that is indeed adopted in the Epics).” ... To sum up, what does the evidence of

hydronomy tell us? Clearly there has been an almost complete Indo-Aryanisation in northern India; this has progressed much less in southern India and in the often inaccessible parts of central India. In the northwest there are only a few exceptions, such as the names of the rivers GangA, SutudrI and perhaps KubhA.” (p 106-7)

  • This leads to the conclusion that the Indo-Aryan influence, ... was powerful enough from early on to replace local names, in spite of the well-known conservatism of river names. This is especially surprising in the area once occupied by the Indus Civilisation where one would have expected the survival of older names, as has been the case in Europe and the Near East. At the least, one would expect a palimpsest, as found in New England with the name of the state of Massachussetts next to the Charles river, formerly called the Massachussetts river, and such new adaptations as Stony Brook, Muddy Creek, Red River, etc., next to the adaptations of Indian names such as the Mississippi and the Missouri.
  • Between the arrival of the Aryans ... and the formation of the oldest hymns of the Rigveda a much longer period must have elapsed than is normally thought.
  • “The Indo-Aryan influence, whether due to actual settlement, acculturation, or, if one prefers, the substitution of Indo-Aryan names for local ones, was powerful enough from early on to replace local names, in spite of the well-known conservatism of river-names. This is especially surprising in the area once occupied by the Indus civilization, where one would have expected the survival of earlier names, as has been the case in Europe and the Near East. At the least, one would expect a palimpsest, as found in New England, with the name of the State of Massachussetts next to the Charles River formerly called the Massachussetts River, and such new adaptations as Stony Brook, Muddy Creek, Red River, etc. next to the adaptations of Indian names such as the Mississippi and the Missouri. The failure to preserve old hydronomes even in the Indus Valley (with a few exceptions noted above) indicates the extent of the social and political collapse experienced by the local population.” (p 107)

Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities[edit]

in : The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity edited by George Erdosy (Papers by Michael Witzel and P. Oktor Skjærvø), Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, 1995. Quoted in Talageri, S. (2000). The Rigveda: A historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • [the SarasvatI is] “prominent in Book 7: it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.95.2) - which would put the battle of 10 kings prior to 1500 BC or so due to the now well-documented dessication of the SarasvatI”. (p. 335)
  • “Book 8 concentrates on the whole of the west: cf. camels, mathra horses, wool, sheep. It frequently mentions the Sindhu, but also the Seven Streams, mountains and snow.” [This MaNDala] “lists numerous tribes that are unknown to other books”. [In this MaNDala,] “camels appear (8.5.37-39) together with the Iranian name KaSu, ‘small’ or with the suspicious name Tirindra and the ParSu (8.6.46). The combination of camels (8.46.21, 31), Mathra horses (8.46.23) and wool, sheep and dogs (8.56.3) is also suggestive: the borderlands (including GandhAra) have been famous for wool and sheep, while dogs are treated well in Zoroastrian Iran but not in South Asia.” (pp. 317-322)
  • “books 2 to 7 (usually referred to as the ‘family books’) … have been ordered according to the increasing number of hymns per book” ... “very important principle in their arrangement.”
  • By contrast, the Pürus, who along with the Bharatas appeared on the scene later, began to use the designation “Five Peoples” immediately: as dis­cussed above, they probably regarded themselves as being located at the centre. In the later books the tribes mentioned include both the older “Five Peoples” as well as the newcomers, namely the Pürus and the Bharatas.
  • We know very little about the Püru domination in the Panjab. It is only clear that they were the leaders in a coalition of Five Peoples, and some other tribes, against the Bharata chief Sudäs in the dasaräjna battle.
  • The entire book 7 is thus a snapshot o f history: the incursion o f the Bharata into the Panjab from across the Sindhu, and their battle with the “Five Peoples” and the Püru.
  • Theoretically, since Gartsamada Saunaka [the eponymous Rsi of Mandala II of the Rigveda] is made a Bhargava, he could be later than Book 6.
  • “all these geographical notes belonging to diverse hymns are attributed to one and the same poet, SyAvASva, which is indicative of the poet’s travels.” [about Mandala 5 of the RV]
  • Book 5 [...] even knows, in a hymn not suspected as an addition, of the Yamunā.
  • Book 6, again, knows of the west (including the Yavyävatp) but once mentions even the Ganga in an unsuspicious hymn [a hymn not suspected to be an addition].

Quotes about Michael Witzel[edit]

  • “Witzel quotes favourably a statement at the beginning of this rather long article about India's role as "the cultural diffusion cul -de-sac of Asia" (p.1), an idea that has "kept me occupied on and off over the past few years." This sums up Witzel's view of Indian civilisation — it is the cultural backwater and dead end of Asia, where wandering nomads can go no further, with no real civilisation of its own. Not surprisingly Witzel has little appreciation for the Vedas, Vedanta, Yoga, Buddhism or anything else India has produced. His extensive bibliographies on ancient India seldom refer to any Indian scholars, and certainly avoid mentioning any yogis like Aurobindo who have different views. You would never find Witzel chanting Om, practicing Yoga or in any other way honouring the great traditions of the region. His anti-India views reflect those of the colonial era which he is continuing. For this reason Witzel is mainly honoured by Marxists in India whose political agenda favours rejecting anything great not only in the Vedas but in Indian civilisation as a whole, which many Marxists following Marx himself see as an invention of the British. However, no one who really studies and loves the Vedas will be fooled by such theatrics. There is much more to the Vedas than Witzel's philology.
    • David Frawley. Quoted in Vigil, 'Thus Spake Professor Michael Witzel A Harvard University Case Study in Prejudice?' (2006)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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