The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, August 20, 2000

Was Akkadian the language of the
 Indus Valley civilisation?
By Ajay Pratap Singh

THE Indian literary tradition hallowed by time, distinguished by its vast expanse, is perhaps unique in human history. And yet when we talk of particulars, we are at a loss. Sanskrit literature has two epics and eighteen major Puranas, all pertaining to the India’s past. The earliest known form of Sanskrit is the Rigvedic language. The roots of this language can be traced back to the Aryas who presumably came from Central Asia. Ultimately these studies culminated in the formulation of a proposition since then known as the Indo-European Theory.

The Indo-European Theory’s assumptions were based mainly on the reference to a clan called Aria (or Arya) in the Rigveda, and on the linguistic similarities between Greek, Latin, Iranian and Sanskrit. The technique used for the domestication of horse and the use of iron for weapons was assumed to be their forte. This superior technological knowledge was supposed to be the cause of their victory over the barbaric races inhabiting northern India. The Indus valley civilisation was discovered and at once it added three millennia to Indian history. The Indus valley civilisation spread over a vast area from the foothills of the Himalayas to Baluchistan. Its lifespan extended over twelve hundred years begining from 3100 BC. The Indus valley is known for its manifold achievements, such as the standardisation of all products, use of standard weights and measures for commercial purposes, its monumental architecture, town planning and strict administrative system.


Dr Malati Shendge It is this very premise that Pune based Indian Indologist, Dr Malati J. Shendge has questioned. Dr Shendge has worked for almost two decades on her book The language of Harappans; From Akkadian to Sanskrit, published by the Nehru Centre, London. Her work differs from the earlier hypothesis which, basing itself on circumstantial evidence considers Proto-Dravidian to be the language of the Harappans.

In her, earlier work, The civilised demons : The Harappans in Rigveda, she identified the Harappans with the Rigveda and the Vedic literature. She showed that the events described in the Rigvedic poems actually took place on the banks of the Indus and its tributaries. A re-examination of the Rigveda shows that it speaks of the source and their allies, the Rakashas, Pishachs, Yakshas and the Grandharvas. These were the names of the clans that were residing in the Indus Valley before the Aryas came there, defeated, dispossessed them and look their land. Their attempts to settle down in the Indus Valley led to a long drawn conflict with the settled population. The Asuras were defeated by fair means or foul. The event described in Rigvedic poems, actually did take place, and these conflicts form the theme of these poems.

The Asura culture, as described in the Rigvedic poems bears a close resemblance to the Indus Valley culture.The Rigveda, and in fact all the four vedas were stolen from the Asuras. The evidence for this is found in the Samhitas. The authors of these works were of Asura origin, and wrote about their own people and land, that is, the region of the Indus. Essentially, the culture described in the Rigveda is the culture as practised by the Asuras in the Indus Valley. This directly links the Rigveda with the Mahabharata, whose first chapter speaks only of the Asura kings, their kingdoms their descendants etc.

After this new hypothesis the question of the language of the Indus civilisation crops up. Basing her theory on archaeological evidence, Shendge says, "The earlier works and other details mentioned in the context of the Asuras proves that the Harappan language was related to their Iraqi counterparts." She proves that the language of the Indus Civilisation was essentially the language of the Asuras, and was Akkadian, the earliest known semitic language. Amongst the words which cognate in Sanskrit and Akkadian are the names of all the Vedic gods, as well as the presently popular deities like Vitthal, Vithoba, Shiva, Uma, Shankar; names of Rig Vedic poets like Laba Baru etc; names of priests such as Vasishtha, Atri ; names of Asuras kinship terminology ; words for body parts, body defects, horse, furniture and a variety of other words. Comparisons of Akkadian and Sanskrit words yielded at least 400 words in both languages with comparable phonetic and semantic similarities. Thus Sanskrit has, in fact, descended from Akkadian. So Sanskrit is a local language and not brought over by the Aryans as widely believed. Even the Vedic literature, Shendge points out maintains that Asuras language was stolen by the Devas. This language was purified by the Devasand become Sanskrita i.e cultivated and purified.

The most important contribution of Shendge’s work is that it establishes a cultural continuity from the Indus Civilisation to the Vedic literature, to the present day.