Rig Veda, Story of India and Michael Wood

One of the subjects I did not want to get into in this blog is the age and source of Rig Veda.  This has been a very contentious issue and, in my opinion, has taken away the resources and energy that should be devoted to understand and appreciate the depth of the knowledge that the Vedic Rishis exhibited in their composition of many subjects that are complex even by 21st century standards.  Having said this, I watched again the 2008 documentary  “The Story of India”, by Michael Wood.  Mr. Wood did  comes across as a responsible journalist for the most part in this documentary.  But his presentation of Rig Veda in the first episode, (now that I have read and researched Rig Veda and related subjects a little bit  more) did not present all evidences and presented many of the hypothesis and theories as facts.

Drawn by his inaccurate presentation, I wrote this letter to him about a month ago.  While I was not expecting a reply, I waited for a possible response before presenting this letter in this public blog.


Dear Michael Wood:

In response to Kamala in your blog, you have stated “our series was not made to support ‘shameful’ or ‘despicable racist behaviour’ or ideas, or to ‘vandalize’ Indian history”.  It may well not be your intent; however in the end your episode “beginning” will do just that – promoting unproven theories as facts and emboldening people in India and abroad to promote “despicable racist behavior”.

Here are some of my strongest objections to your documentary, as it relates to the origin of Rig Veda:

Linguistic evidence – In your series and in your response to Kamala, you have considered the linguistic ties between Sanskrit and European languages as the primary reason for your conclusion that Rig Veda originated outside Indian subcontinent.  You imply that linguistic evidence supersedes all other evidence.  To this end, you have taken what may be a universally accepted theory that Sanskrit and European languages have a common ancestral language (proto Indo-European language) and cleverly leaped to the conclusion that since proto Indo-European language is outside of India, both Sanskrit and Rig Veda must be from outside of India.  This logic is irrational, irresponsible and not supported by factual evidence.  We will never know the geographical birth place (“homeland”) of proto Indo-European language – despite your claim by ‘Time-depth’ linguistics on the reconstruction of the language. While most linguistic will agree that there was a proto Indo-European language, they will also agree that reconstruction of such language is conjecture at best.

Even if we assume Proto Indo-European language originated outside India, how does that prove that Sanskrit was from outside India?  And even if we assume Sanskrit was from outside India, how does that prove that Rig Veda was composed outside India?  Any study or research you or your staff may be able to present to support your irrational conclusions is conjecture and cannot be proven.

Applying your logic to other scenarios can lead some very absurd conclusion.  For example, we can conclude that American Declaration of Independence was written in Athens – after all both Greek and American English have a common ancestral language.  And your approach would have no problem ignoring all other evidence – including those in the document itself.

Horses and Chariots – You site lack of any evidence of horses in the subcontinent prior to the arrival of “Aryans” as a case for Rig Veda’s origin outside the subcontinent.  However, bones of horse were found in many of Harappan archeological sites.  The bones found at Surkotada in 1974 were subject to considerable and contentious analysis.  In 1994, Sandor  Bokony, Hungarian archaeologist and one of world’s leading horse specialist concluded that these bones were horse bones.   As Harappan civilization preceded Vedic period, horses were not new when the “Aryans” came to the subcontinent.  Likewise, tablets with wheels and spokes have been found at Harappan sites – evidence that they used chariots – before the arrival of “Aryans”.

DNA Evidence – The DNA of people in the subcontinent remained remarkably unchanged for thousands of years, until the arrival of Greeks around 500 BCE.  You acknowledge this and compare it to how the British did not leave a significant DNA impact in the subcontinent.  While this appears to be a clever argument, the two situations are not comparable.  The “Aryans” made the people of subcontinent to abandon their culture and language for those of the “Aryans”.  That did not happen with the British.  If “Aryans” did not mingle with the people of the subcontinent, where did they go?  We know the British went back to their island, but there is no evidence of “Aryans” DNA in the subcontinent or elsewhere.  This can only mean that the “Aryans” – as defined by Europeans – did not exist.  In Rig Veda the term “Aryans” refers to noble men who followed Vedic way of life.  Rig Veda also recognized others who did not follow Vedic way of life.  They both were indigenous to the subcontinent when Rig Veda was composed.

Eastern Migration – You state that Rig Veda discusses eastern migration.  From this you conclude that Rig Vedic composers migrated from Europe.  You ignore the possibility that it could be eastward migration within the subcontinent.  You have also ignored many other hymns that lead to the conclusion that Vedic composers were in the subcontinent for a long time.

As I have previously acknowledged, you have stated that your intent was not to support shameful behavior.  However, this is contradictory to your own statement in the documentary when you say that “this (your conclusion that Rig Veda came from outside the subcontinent) is very controversial in the subcontinent”.  You choose to imply that while this is controversial in the subcontinent, and not anywhere else.  To me this clearly documents your colonial bias and guilt.

Ravi Chandran