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Aryans and Ancient Indian History


Mudit Trivedi

INDIA: HISTORICAL BEGINNINGS AND THE CONCEPT OF THE ARYAN
Text by Romila Thapar, Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Madhav M. Deshpande, Shereen Ratnagar
National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2006, pp. x 201, Rs. 65.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 2 February 2008

  At the heart of the book are two masterly surveys of the issues at stake in the interpretation of the available linguistic and archaeological evidence. J.M. Kenoyer brings his reputation as one of the most accomplished Harappan archaeologists of his generation and crafts a measured piece documenting what archaeological reason can illuminate and equally demonstrate what constitutes inappropriate questions for the discipline. Kenoyer highlights the plurality of cultures through the many regions where Aryans have been searched for and brings out the complexity of these often under-evaluated societies. What is salutary about Kenoyer’s piece is his constant stress on the contingent nature of much of our knowledge. His caution operates on two distinct levels: in reviewing the archaeological evidence from many of the distinct regions in the subcontinent he stresses that despite the extensive reportage of sites and artifacts in a meaningful and behavioural sense we understand very little about the societies who created those material cultures. The second level relates this to the problem of the known existence of the speakers of Indo-European languages in the region: Kenoyer clearly argues that without the presence of deciphered written artifacts suggested equations between material cultures and linguistic/ethnic groups cannot be treated as anything other than weak hypotheses.   Deshpande’s ‘Aryan Origins: A Brief History of the Linguistic Arguments’ is distinguished by the lucidity and eloquence with which it guides the reader through two hundred years of complex and evolving linguistic investigations. Deshpande’s history of linguistic arguments is particularly useful in its coverage, beginning with Jones and German philology and ending with an assessment of both the current moments of Areal linguistics. It is from these studies, of studying the intensive and prolonged coexistence of various language families in South Asia that Deshpande seeks to emphasize several elements of complexity which are often overlooked. Deshpande illustrates how the understanding of the complex role of language in society has undergone change. By recognizing the importance and reality of varied forms of bilingualism and disglossia and by highlighting the fluidity of linguistic identity over other divisions: religious, political and biological, Deshpande repeatedly points to the many old and new challenges in working towards an understanding of the linguistic make up of ancient South Asia. Importantly Deshpande voices the opinions of many when he observes that the (vedic) texts themselves are constituted by much discourse about identity and community, which are ...


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