Book Review: Vedic and Indo-European Studies by Nicholas Kazanas

The book under review is a volume of erudite essays from the pen of Dr Nicholas Kazanas, the Director of Omilos Meleton Cultural Institute in Athens, Greece, on Vedic and Indo-European subjects.

Vedic and Indo-European Studies. Nicholas Kazanas, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2015, xxxiii, 380, abbr., bibl., index.

The book under review is a volume of erudite essays from the pen of Dr Nicholas Kazanas, the Director of Omilos Meleton Cultural Institute in Athens, Greece, on Vedic and Indo-European subjects. A most inspiring fact is the vast range, which the work commands, a feature that makes it truly unparalleled. This involves a penetrating deliberation of many controlling principles of Indo-Aryan linguistics and a few other concepts on religion, the Veda, the plant Soma, the concept of Tad Ekam, the One Primal Power and the issue of indegenism. The Aryan Immigration/Invasion Theory (AIT) has found an intellectual exploration of a very high order in this volume (and in many other writings of the author). What is noticeable throughout is a powerful and erudite approach to the whole subject.

The author is too well known in the area of Indology/Sanskrit to need an introduction and has various publications in Greek and English, in Indian and international Journals, which have been widely appreciated. The present book is very important in that it brings out an entirely new perspective on the ancient Indic/Vedic period, while dealing with common subjects in both areas of Vedic and Indo-European studies.

Its main importance lies in the unorthodox conclusions that diverge from mainstream, usually mechanical, thinking: these follow facts rather than conjectures and reasoning rather than repetition. All this is evident in the chapters, except 7 and 9, which do not deal with the AIT. They were all written during the decade 2003-2013 and present the definite linguistic evidences that Vedic is the oldest Indo-European language and closest to the parent Proto-Indo-European (PIE); also that the ancient Indians or Indo-Aryans, as they are termed by the Westerners, are, in fact, indigenous by the fourth millennium BCE. This knocks down the prevalent notion of the Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory that has bedevilled Indic studies, since the middle of the 19th century.

To present an idea of the vast range that the book deals, I give here the list of chapters in the book: 1. Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European, 2. Coherence and Preservation in Sanskrit, 3. Rigvedic All-comprehensiveness, 4. Vedic and Avestan, 5. Indo-European Isoglosses: what they (don’t) show us, 6. Language, the Cyclicity Theory and the Sanskrit Dhātus, 7. Archaic Greece and the Veda, 8. Shamans, Religion, Soma and the R̥gveda, 9. Tad Ekam: not female not male.

A thorough reading of the RV demands new approaches, other than the many preconceived notions: the most important is the rebuttal of the AIT in its current forms, and the adoption of the indigenism. A new date of the RV may be assigned as early as the 4th millennium BCE. That the Harappan Civilization is post Rgvedic is pointedly shown by examining that culture as expressive of the Yajurveda and the Brahmanas. The author’s very learned treatment of the conceptual basis underlying the dismissal of the AIT and the adoption of indegenism is very clear in his approach. “The native Vedic Tradition has never known of a foreign invasion prior to that of the Persians in the 6th century BCE. Now, since the late 1990’s, this Invasion Theory became Immigration (or Migration or whatever)….there had been no invasion, no violence, no conquest….To these have been added geneticists, who, since the early 2000’s, aver with certitude that there has been no significant inflow of foreign genes into the Subcontinent…,” thus observes the author in his first editorial of the journal Vedic Venues (Volume 1, 2012, pp.viii ff).

The merits of the approach are apparent throughout all the articles of the present book. A large number of notions about the PIE languages, such as Hittite being older than Vedic Sanskrit, need to be scrapped or thoroughly revised, while we must re-examine radically, the theories about language and a new start be made with the IE tongues having the Vedic language as the basis. Research should really be emphasized on the Sanskrit root forms and their development into verbal forms, nouns, adjectives, etc.

Same is the case with religion, the beginning of which has to be searched in the RV- a thorough study of the bulk of which dismisses current notions. It really gives us the idea of a Supreme Being, Tad Ekam, which is neither male nor female, but is both transcendental and immanent, and from which descended other forms of religion embracing ritual, myth and superstition. It leaves out the much discussed crude animism and naturalism, yet accommodates the Sky-father-god and a Mother-earth-goddess.  Several hymns of the RV declare that all deities are expressions of that Primal Power ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanty agnim yamam mātarisvanam ahuh (1. 164. 4)

Man himself is a species and was created perfect, with the limitations of his material embodiment. The Bible and many other traditions affirm the idea of the long process of man’s evolution through many animal forms. This ‘beatific unity’ of man is lost over the period of time during which he conceived of language, law and religion, and according to the author, these were the instruments, which aided man’s return to that primal unity, and he believes that the concepts now fragmentarily found must have been complete and perfectly right at the dawn of civilization. The conclusion that homo sapiens came to exist “fully equipped with knowledge of himself and of the cosmos in complete harmony, if not unity with the cosmos” shows the author’s deep knowledge and empathy with the Vedic tradition.

The book begins with an introduction on aspects of scholarship. This itself demolishes the fictional basis of the persistent AIT, which was put out by scholars like Max Mueller in his History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1859), and which offered a conjectural theory about the age of the Vedic literature. Chapter 1 examines several aspects of Old Indic and argues that on this evidence, the rationale of IE comparative linguistics is wrong and needs thorough reconsideration. The discussion focuses on the stem for man, (Skt. nr̥/nar̥), the ablaut system, which is formed in a full and logical form only in Sanskrit, the family of retroflex i.e., mūrdhanya sounds (r̥/ṭ/ṭh/ḍ/ḍh/ṇ/r) in Sanskrit and other topics. In chapter 2, more than 400 IE lexical items, i.e., nouns, verbs etc. occurring in the IE branches are examined. Unlike Germanic, Greek, Latin, etc. Sanskrit has many words like duhitā, etc. which have root-nouns, adjectives and verbal forms, indicating the richness of Sanskrit in preserving a much larger stock and being by far the most archaic and evidently more faithful branch of PIE.

“Rigvedic All-comprehensiveness”, the third chapter, reinforces the same conclusion that the RV and its language contain most elements found in one or two of the other branches, e.g., Periphrastic Perfect (formed with the accusative of a feminine noun made from the verbal stem and with the perfect of kr ‘to do’ as auxiliary, which has as auxiliary also the verb as-/ah ‘to be’ and bhū ‘to become’) is present in Vedic, Avestan and Hittite, but not in ancient Greek or Latin; then, both strict metre present in Greek but not in Germanic and alliteration present in Germanic but not in Greek are features found in R̥gvedic hymns.

The conclusion (expanded very considerably in the next ch. 4) that the Avesta is post-Rigvedic and the Avestan language is obviously full of losses, attritions and mutations nullifies the prevalent mainstream beliefs to the contrary. The author is to be admired for his most intense and valuable contribution and the novel direction provided for new, authentic research. The migration of the Iranians out of the wider Saptasindhu to Bactria/Gandhara, then to South-East Iran and then N-Westward is another commendable conclusion of the learned author contrary to mainstream beliefs.

The extensive study of the IE isoglosses in the fifth chapter is also instrumental in knocking down the mainstream view of the AIT.  By examining numerous Indo-European isoglosses, the author establishes, yet again the indegenist position against the AIT.

Chapter 7 presents the parallels between the Greek culture and the Vedic tradition, which refer to other IE peoples by using philological considerations, wherever possible. The author’s unique combination of profound scholarship with the power of interpretation along with using comparisons with other languages, which give lasting and vivid impressions to the readers, can be seen through all the pages of the book.

The 8th chapter (published for the first time in the book) begins with the curious view of G. Hancock (2005), who opines that all religion, including the Vedic one, has been produced by drug induced experiences like those of the known shamans. Kazanas refutes this notion of “the non-ordinary drug-induced experiences” as applying to the Vedas by marshalling diverse evidences from the R̥gveda. This remarkable chapter deals with Vedic religion and Soma, the amanita muscaria or fly agaric, as the mushroom is called, from which the Soma drink of the RV may have been extracted. Following the observation that nowhere is soma said to have roots, leaves or fruit of any kind, the author seems pretty certain about the mushroom. He finds serious faults in the approaches of other scholars, like Mircea Eliade and John Brough and others, and, of course, the writer Hancock. He examines also defective ideas current in Anthropology in the very beginning. His arguments and evidences for attaining higher states of consciousness by adherence to ethical principles and simple practices of meditation, reflection, focusing of attention and the like, are most convincing. He further argues that people resorted to devolved or degenerated shamanist practices “after they had lost the ability and knowledge regarding how to attain higher states through ethical practices, attention, etc”. He, however, is in favor of further exploration than jumping to hasty conclusions.

Chapter 9 is also a new addition, arguing with much evidence from the R̥gveda and other texts that the original state of religion was one in which all deities were expressions of a Primal Power, which was unmanifest, neither male nor female, contrary to the widely held beliefs of polytheism or of a supreme male Father God or a female Mother Goddess.

All the nine chapters presented in the volume have for their starting point the R̥gveda, and there from penetrate into the horizons of Anthropology, History, Linguistics, Philosophy, Poetry, and Religion, examining one or the other aspect from a new perspective and shedding a new light on the issue.  In the chapter 4, he shows Vedic as being more archaic than even the older parts (gāthās) of the Avesta; and also points that it was most unlikely that the Indo Aryans moved away from  a putative common Indo-Iranian habitat in ancient Iran into the Region of the Seven Rivers. Rather, it was the Iranians who broke off and eventually settled and spread west and north in ancient Persia. Interestingly, the author takes cumulative evidences from different areas like vocabulary, proper names, poetic metres, grammar, etc. He checks up hymns from the R̥gveda either in their entirety, or by taking up individual stanzas or words to show their plain and unambiguous nature, which very few academics have been ready to take up till now. In the chapter 1, he clarifies that “…the RV should now be placed firmly within the fourth millennium BC”. Though, he considers R̥gvedic Sanskrit to be closer to PIE than any other branch, he never accepts it as the IE mother tongue. After much serious examination of the vowels in particular, and sounds in general, he does not find any practical purpose for reconstructing PIE and we get arguments and counterarguments in his dissection of the theme, which none has done before.

The firm belief that he nourishes about the Vedic culture as being indigenous and most archaic must have its base in a deep-rooted study of the R̥gveda in its all-comprehensiveness. Monotheism, absent from all other IE branches, is a notable feature in the RV. Being a Greek, he himself shows competence in comparative mythology and linguistics.

The outstanding merit of the present work is its minutely bibliographical references and quotations from a good number of authorities/authors in the body of the book. The present book is the result of a decade of study of the subject by a veteran language/Sanskrit scholar and is highly valuable for the elaborate treatment of all the topics it has touched upon. It is sure to have a wide appeal, but its linguistics is difficult for the non-specialist. The bibliography is quite extensive and runs into 23 pages (351-373pp.). The Index at the end (374-380pp.), also an exhaustive one, is extremely useful and enhances the value of the publication.

The book is attractively printed, and produced. For all the intrinsic merit of the work, its publisher seems to have taken full care, as this book contains no printer’s errors with practically no misprint, excepting bha in place of jha in page 22, Podeidon in page 277 and alitteration (?). The present reviewer believes that such a book is an asset to the academic world and will serve as a model for similar studies and research.  The author deserves our warm praise and reverence for this sumptuous and splendid study, which is a valuable contribution to the Vedic and IE studies. On the whole, the book provides fascinating reading, a rare experience and a genuine pleasure!

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Soma Basu, M. A., Ph. D. has a uniform academic career (securing 1 st class or division in all examinations) up to Ph. D., and worked as a Lecturer in the major UGC research project entitled ‘Studies in Scientific Thoughts and Components in Vedic Literature’ in the School of Vedic Studies of Rabindra Bharati University where, at present, she is a full-time Associate Professor.

The title of her doctoral dissertation is “Defence, Fortification and War Strategy: Ancient Indian Perspective” (pub. Warfare in Ancient India–in historical outline. DKPW, New Delhi, January 2014). She has to her credit other monographs and a good number of articles. She has participated in many national and international conferences like World Sanskrit Conference, World Vedic Conference, International Seminar on Science and Technology in Ancient India, World Vedic Workshop etc., and presented papers relating to Vedic studies, rites and rituals, Smriti and Dharmashastra, ancient Indian history, Buddhistic studies, Manuscriptology etc. She has proficiency in Manuscriptology and Paleography and knows, besides Sanskrit, German and Russian languages.