How Ancient Is The Vedic Tradition
Dr Kenneth Chandler
Origins Of Vedic Civilisation
How did it begin ? Was it the creation of a people who invaded India from outside, as many European scholars believed for centuries ? Or did it arise among an indigenous people of northern India ?
According to the Vedic tradition, the Veda is eternal. It exists within the eternal fabric of consciousness itself. As such it is uncreated. But even so, we can ask, when was the Veda first cognised ? And when did the tradition of reciting the Veda begin ? Many myths about the Veda and Vedic tradition have formed that must be dispelled before we can get an accurate picture of its origins.
One myth is that a race of light-skinned Aryan peoples invaded India from outside, pushing the dark-skinned natives, called Dravidians, into the south. According to this theory, the lighter-skinned race invaded India in an incursion that took place, some scholars project, around 1,500 BC. This myth persisted long after an overwhelming body of scientific evidence, and a consensus of archeologists, showed that it is completely untenable. It must be discredited before we can get an accurate picture of the character of Vedic Civilisation.
As we will see, the Veda was first “cognized,” not by invading races from outside India, but by a people who had lived continuously in India for thousands of years. Also, the dates commonly ascribed to the origin of the Vedic tradition are probably off by many thousands of years. Archeologists at Harvard, Oxford, and other top universities in the US and Europe are now widely agreed that there was no invasion of India from outside that displaced the peoples of the Saraswati and Indus river valleys. This civilisation arose within northern India and there is evidence that Vedic civilization was either a precursor to the Indus-Saraswati civilisation or an early contributor to its cultural and spiritual heritage. Vedic civilisation arose in India many millennia before the speculative mythologies of the past suggest.
Origins of the Indo-European Hypothesis
Linguistic similarities between Indian and European languages were recognised by the earliest European scholars. In the late eighteenth century, it was observed that Sanskrit, Iranian, and most European languages share many common words and grammatical structures. Early linguists classified Vedic Sanskrit and the majority of European tongues in the same “family of Indo-European languages.”
Sir William Jones was the first to show that there are many common cognate words shared by Sanskrit and European languages. Speaking to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta on February 2, 1786, Jones made a statement which was soon to become quite famous :
…the Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.
A quick glance at some of the common cognate words of English and Sanskrit shows definite family resemblances that Jones spoke about :
Common Cognate Words English and Sanskrit
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In nineteenth century, the German linguist Friedrich Schlegel suggested that the main body of European languages were derived from Sanskrit. Schlegel’s suggestion was widely rejected, mainly because European scholars did not like to think that their language and culture derived from India. But the early nineteenth century it was widely recognized that all European languages and the Indic languages belonged to a common “family,” distinct, for example, from Chinese, African, and American Indian language families and groups. All but a few of the European languages, such as Basque for example, belong to this distinct family of Indo-European languages. Thus, the idea that an Indo-European language was at the root of the family of the main body of European languages came into prominence.
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