maitrEm bhajata – Guest Post by S. Aravindan Neelakandan

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

There is a memorable scene in that Spencer Tracy classic “Inherit the wind” where the creationists clash with scientists in a courtroom. The pro-creationist lawyer asks the judge not to allow the testimonies of professors of zoology, archeology and anthropology in the courtroom, as they did not want to hear any “zoological hogwash” against Bible. It was déjà vu of that courtroom drama, when the Chennai based activist Radha Rajan in her recent article in the web-portal sneered at “Anthropology, linguistics, archaeology and epigraphy” disciplines which project them as science only to provide “their peddlers the veneer of infallibility.”

The context should be first made clear. And the context is Witzel.

Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard University, Wales professor of Sanskrit was scheduled for a meeting in Sanskrit college Chennai. This created a stir, as Witzel was known for his anti-Hindu stand in the California Textbook case where he did not hesitate to derive support from anti-Indian forces. Witzel is a strong supporter of Indo-European migration model of ancient Indian past. He also favors an “illiterate Harappa” model. In all, his academic stands have a pattern: he carefully devalues, demeans and deconstructs ancient India. He does that in an academic way and sometimes his agenda spills out as he views all Indian research as naturally inferior. He smacks of western supremacist tendencies. So are some of his colleagues. So his invitation to Sanskrit college in Chennai naturally creates resentment and pain among the section of people. This is natural.

However Witzel has been criticized academically and attacked non-academically. First the academic: It should be noted that there is no textual evidence in the Vedas for Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian region. However Witzel in his work came up with one passage Baudhâyana Shrauta Sûtra. A leading international authority on Vedic Sanskrit would later comment:

It is beyond dispute that the interpretation Witzel gives to this passage does not accord with its syntax. This was pointed out, though without considering details by Elst (1998, similarly 1999:164-5).  In e-mail message kindly conveyed to me by S.Kalyanaraman (11 April 1999), Witzel reacted to Elst’s objection and amended his rendition, referring to a passage from a forthcoming paper…. Even this however, fails to meet the requirements of syntax…. one must conclude that, without resort to unwarranted liberty of interpretation, this text cannot serve to document an Indo-Aryan migration into the main part of the subcontinent.”

[(Emphasis not in the original), George Cardona, The Indo-Aryan languages, Routledge, 2003, pp.34-35]

Witzel also acknowledges in academic circles that his Munda, Para-Munda substratum are not as well attested by proof as he would like his lay audience to believe. For example Witzel admits in an academic paper thus:

It must be stressed that neither the commonly found Dravidian nor Munda etymologies are up to the present standard of linguistic analysis where both the root and all affixes are explained. That is why most of the subsequent etymologies have to be regarded preliminary.”

(Substrate languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rgvedic, middle and late Vedic), Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 5.1, 1999)

George Cardona, an eminent linguist from University of Pennsylvania corrects many of the misconceptions that Witzel slips in between the lines in his papers. For example Witzel claims, “The spread of the narrative perfect, is a late phenomenon that it did not reach Panini at all…” Cardona states “The use of the perfect in reporting events not witnessed by a speaker is known to Panini, for his current language (Astadhyai 3.2.115…) … so that it is not precise to say “the spread of the narrative perfect …did not reach Panini at all”. (George Cardona, 2003 p.20)

In fact Cardona states in the civilized language of a venerable academician: “Without wishing to diminishing the value of Witzel’s major contribution, I have nevertheless to say that some of the conclusions and claims made are subject to doubt.” (George Cardona, 2003 p.19) Regarding one of Witzel’s pet theories on Munda substratum in Vedic language, though Cardona honestly admits he could not judge the value of the Munda vocabulary Witzel brings in, Cardona states clearly his own judgment on the Vedic terms for which Witzel proposes Munda etymology: “…although Witzel gives a long list of Vedic terms in which he sees Para-Munda prefixes, he does not, as far as I can see, give examples of entire words demonstrably borrowed from Munda and which could have served as a basis for abstracting prefixes. Moreover while asking rhetorically ‘Is the Indus language therefore a kind of Proto-Munda?’ Witzel admits, “Against this may speak first of all, as Kupier states, that the RV substrate does not have infixes like Munda.” (Emphasis not in the original: George Cardona, 2003 p.31)

The readers can note for themselves the intentional mistranslation by Witzel in order to fabricate literary evidence for Aryan migration. The readers can also note the mild language of rebuke towards the linguistic speculations Witzel puts forth with not much of credible evidence.

Now let us contradict this academic civilized culture with the way Witzel and his close associate Steve Farmer react to academic stands that go against themselves. Of course the the almost racial jabs hurled at Indians, particularly Hindus, by the learned Wales Professor of Sanskrit have made their rounds in the Internet.When in 2009 an Indian team from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library (both at Chennai), presented a paper, resulting from more than two years of sustained research it was accepted and was published in the prestigious journal Science. The paper contradicted Witzel-Farmer thesis of “illiterate Harappans”, which they had earlier presented in a sensational way. Now this paper by Indian team proved that there is credible scientific evidence to show that the Indus script is a system of writing, which encodes a language. The derision with which the Witzel-Farmer team reacted to this paper shocked among others Iravatham Mahadevan – the famous epigraphist who has dedicated his life to study the Indus seals. He wrote:

“As they say, garbage in, garbage out,” says Michael Witzel of the Harvard University. These quotations from an online news item (New Scientist, April 23, 2009) are representative of what passes for academic debate in sections of the Western media over a serious research paper by Indian scientists published recently in the USA (Science, April 24, 2009)…. The provocative comments by Farmer and Witzel will surprise only those not familiar with the consistently aggressive style adopted by them on this question, especially by Farmer. (Iravatham Mahadevan, The Indus ‘non-script’ is a non-issue, The Hindu, May 03, 2009)

In 2001, Witzel and Farmer along with a Chennai based Marxist media establishment launched a quasi-academic media lynch of N. S. Rajaram for claiming in his deciphering of Indus script that a particular broken Indus seal as a horse. While Rajaram’s deciphering did not stand the tests of science and failed on its own merit, the mistaken identification of the seal was trumpeted by Witzel-Farmer as an intentional hoax. However N.S.Rajaram need not have had recourse to hoaxing a broken seal if he wanted to prove the presence of Equus caballus. He could have mentioned the archeological reports which place domesticated horse ca 4500 BCE at the base of Aravalli Hills (Ghosh, 1989) or at the Harappan sites of Surkatoda (AK Sharma, 1979) or nearer to his own home at the Hallur excavation (Alur 1992), or at Kalibangan (Sharma 1992-3) or at Lothal (Rao, 1979). Yet Witzel-Farmer duo went about beating their drums about how they had exposed an equivalent of a Piltdown hoax by Indian nationalists.

The truth is that had anyone bothered to apply the same standards to Witzel’s mistranslation of BSS to fabricate literary evidence for Aryan migration that could have definitely merited as a “Piltdown translation” hoax than the seal misidentification could be termed as a “Piltdown horse hoax.” Emboldened now Witzel and Farmer claim that Mahadevan had distorted the Indus seals to present it as a language. So now the Indian researches are all graded from distortions to hoaxes. Steve Farmer once spoke with the same derision about eminent Indian archeologist B.B.Lal as “rightwing archeologist” and that “absolutely none of Lal’s recent work is accepted by any leading Western archaeologist.”(In an Internet post dated January 16, 2006)

Thus the pattern that emerges is clear: Witzel and his colleague Farmer carefully devalue anything Indian and at the same time also do not hesitate to attack non-academically and in an arrogant language those who disagree with them. Interestingly, the find media-platforms provided to them. One of the reasons for their increase in non-academic, political as well as media clout is the kind of attack launched on them by a section of Hindu activists. The name-calling as well as hyperbole has helped the duo to project themselves as some sort of knights in the shining armor fighting the menacing eastern monsters threatening academic freedom and research.

This being the context let us return to the article by Radha Rajan – we will see how she unwittingly complements Witzel’s agenda b her own vitriolic language and ill-tempered statements.

Iravatham Mahadevan, it is rumored, had arranged the meeting of Witzel at Sanskrit college. Perhaps Mahadevan was following the dictum of Thirukural – the Tamil classic that wants one to make the arrogant shy their evil deeds by one’s benevolence towards them. However this was also provided an opportunity for Sanskrit scholars in India to academically confront Witzel and expose him as academically weak. However Radha Rajan took it as an emotional issue. To her Sanskrit college is more than an academic institution, for it is sanctified by Pramacharya and today the evil Milecha was going to pollute it.

So she went and insulted Mahadevan.

In her own words:

I asked Mahadevan to back off and dump Witzel, Mahadevan refused, I told him I will disrupt his meeting, he snivelled, he was 80 years old, was recovering from a heart attack and would go on a fast-unto-death if I disrupted his meeting. … But like all idiot/criminal Hindus Iravatham Mahadevan decided to fast-unto-death, like Gandhi, not for Hindus and Hindu dharma but for Hinduism’s enemies. At my creative best, I made some posters – Inky Pinky Ponkey, Harward had a donkey, The Donkey rode the elephant (iravatham is Indra’s elephant),shame shame, and so on, a ten point ‘Know your Witzel’ document and went to the venue yesterday.

It is exactly through these kinds of moments that Witzels of the world become heroes. It is exactly because of such uncivilized attacks that we diminish ourselves. One should remember that it was Mahadevan who discovered the identification of Soma ritual and the Unicorn motif in the Indus seals. Remember that it was the Indian team under the guidance of Mahadevan that gave an academic blow to Witzel-Farmer “illiterate Harappans” hypothesis. And see how we Hindus repay him? Is it because he has provided us an opportunity to counter Witzel academically that we through our uncivilized behavior let pass.

Now to this article that Radha Rajan has penned down.

She calls archeology, linguistics and anthropology as tools for White Christian agenda. But what she forgets is that it was a white-skinned archeologist who disproved the “Massacre at Mohenjadaro” scenario – George Dales. It was an anthropologist – a white-skinned one at that- who exorcised the notion of Aryan as a racial or biological entity. It is archeologist B.B.Lal who today advocates academically the identification of Harappan civilization with Vedic. It was only a few decades back that some orthodox Hindus attacked him for his dating of core events of Ramayana as should have happened later than those of Mahabharatha. It was a white-skinned Belgian who exposed Witzel’s fabrication of literary data.

But here the malaise is deeper. Radha Rajan states that calling a discipline science a “veneer of infallibility.” This shows not just the prejudice of Radha Rajan but her ignorance about science. Had she at least customarily glanced Karl Popper she would not have written, what she had written. The label of science does not give a discipline the “veneer of infallibility.” On the other hand, it demands that the discipline should provide falsifiable hypothesis, which can be tested empirically. That is why we can claim Marxism and astrology as pseudo-sciences. That is why we can precisely identify some of the claims of Aryan invasionists and Dravidianists and their Nazi-like anti-Brahmin rhetoric as pseudo-scientific nonsense.

The readers can see for themselves that some of the worst indictments of Witzel have come from the very disciplines Radha Rajan so vehemently belittles. But it is the rhetoric of people like Radha Rajan that gives Witzel and his likes their extra-hours in the limelight of glory.

It is time Hindu intellectuals disown such uncivilized drivels and move forward and take up the challenge thrown at us by the likes of Witzel. Indian archeologists have done that. They did not indulge in word fights of street fight caliber nor did they pen down silly rhymes demeaning themselves. Rather they indulged in hard work. They overcame all the problems of a closed mindset of a dying paradigm. AK Sharma had to wait almost two decades before his discovery of horse bones were held valid. It is such Gandhian patience and intelligent hard work that will win the day for Hindus against the likes of Witzel. Instead if we abuse our own giants like Mahadevan, we are indulging in the sin of insulting Saraswati Herself.

As far Radha Rajan, I can only hope that she will not become furious reading this. A vain hope of course. For my fellow Hindu brothers and sisters I can only share with them the benedictory prayer Paramacharya wrote for UN:

maitrEm bhajata

Practice Friendship that wins all hearts

Now that is a sentiment even a die-hard Hindu atheist like myself can agree with.

S. Aravindan Neelakandan

16 Responses to “maitrEm bhajata – Guest Post by S. Aravindan Neelakandan”

  1. Mr. Aravindan Neelakandan says he is a die-hard atheist. That is why he is unable to empathise with people like Radha Rajan. He accuses her of being emotional. I have read almost all of Radha Rajan’s writings in Vigilonline and Vijayvaani and her writings inspire many of us only because they are fired by intense nationalist emotions. Mr. Neelakandan on the other hand because he is an atheist is offering only abuse and malice because he has no noble emotions. There are very few people like Radha Rajan. She has done a great thing by confronting Mr. Mahadevan and Mr. Witzel face to face. Did anybody else do it? Mr. Neelakandan is hiding behind a song which going by his abuse of Radha Rajan, he needs to learn first. We support you madam. Great job.

  2. Aravindan Neelakandan ji,

    “It was only a few decades back that some orthodox Hindus attacked him for his dating of core events of Ramayana as should have happened later than those of Mahabharatha.”

    Can you please provide reference for this statement.

  3. Raghuraman Srinivas does not seemed to have learnt from past defeats of Hindus that “intense nationalist emotions” count for nothing when not backed up by facts. I also read her columns & noticed that she always tries to divert criticism of Christianity to criticism of “white” people as if Christianity by itself is fine.

    Writing juvenile songs is not going to help the Hindu cause.

  4. //It was only a few decades back that some orthodox Hindus attacked him for his dating of core events of Ramayana as should have happened later than those of Mahabharatha.// In an article published in Manthan – the journal of Deendayal Research Institute B.B.Lal himself stated that orthodox Hindus on hearing Lal’s theory that Ramayana should have been composed later than Mahabharatha, threatened him that they would break his head with their thanda.

  5. “aravindan said
    जुलाई 19, 2009 at 6:46 pm
    //It was only a few decades back that some orthodox Hindus attacked him for his dating of core events of Ramayana as should have happened later than those of Mahabharatha.// In an article published in Manthan – the journal of Deendayal Research Institute B.B.Lal himself stated that orthodox Hindus on hearing Lal’s theory that Ramayana should have been composed later than Mahabharatha, threatened him that they would break his head with their thanda. ”

    Aravindan Saar,
    Please provide at least the year of publication. How else can I verify it??

  6. Yes…How else can you verify it? Silly of me to have thought you would have logically gone for the Manthan issues which dealt with Ayodhya archeology question or the one issue which carried B.B.Lal’s work as its cover page. So why give just the issue. Let me give the excerpt page number month and year of the issue. B.B.Lal writes:

    The date of the episode according to the archaeological evidence is unlikely to have been earlier than circa 700 B.C. Such a dating has shocked many for though favouring a historical basis for the epic, these people are unable to reconcile with the idea that the Ramayana episode may be as late as that. In fact some of the Pans of Ayodhya heavily came upon the present writer when he was excavating at that site. They threatened him of a danda-munda sammelana, ie their danda (rod) would fall on this writer’s munda (head) if he did not toe their line of thinking. They hold that the Ramayana event belonging to the Treta Yuga should be hundreds of thousands of years old.

    Later a conference was organized and Pandas asked him many questions. B.B.Lal explained to them from verses in Ramayana showing them how it should have been post-iron age. B.B. Lal humorously writes: “Since the writer quoted verses from the Ramayana itself, the Pandas had no way to wriggle out. …They accepted teh argument though not completely or without demur. Anyway, the writer thanked his stars that there was no danda-munda-sammelana” (B.B.Lal, Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites Project: Its Genesis and a Summary of the results, Manthan, October 1990, pages 19, 20)

    The more important point than substantiating what I said is this: Here is a scholarly article that questions some of the cherished mythological traditions of Hindus. It even mischievously teases them. Yet Deendayal Research Institute journal which belongs to Sangh Parivar does not hesitate to publish it and that too without editing it. At that time Late lamented K.R.Malkani was the editor. Such broad minded Hindu thinkers once guided and nurtured Hinduthva here – not long ago just almost two decades back,. Now just look at the kind of language we employ at our own venerable scholars like Mahadevan -with whom we may differ (i differ of course) but what language do we use against them? As i repeatedly say I am a Hindu Atheist. But even i would not dare to insult Saraswathi this way.

  7. Aravindan Saar,

    Why are you getting so angry? I asked for that reference for clarifying my doubts regarding “orthodox hindus attacking the author”.

    Now when you have quoted the original, We the “polytheistic” ordinary hindus have clearly understood the “ferocious, brutal,devilish” nature of the attacks by “orthodox hindus” on Shri B.B.Lal.

  8. Where am I getting angry? When u cannot even do the homework – cannot even make an intelligent guess and search, and ask for spoon feeding, i get irritated of course. But angry? No Sir. Now tell me: u have put within double quotes the words: ““ferocious, brutal,devilish”: Where have I attributed those words to orthodox Hindus? Do not twist words and nor do put words in my mouth that I did not utter.

  9. Aravindan Saar,

    Well. Sorry if you misunderstood my quotation mark. In fact, if you would look more closely, I have not quoted anything from your article inmy last reply. As a scholar, you should know that quotation marks can be used for many other things as well.

    But again, I don’t think this in anyway can be compared to your ambigous “orthodox Hindus attacked him comment”

  10. Is Neelakandan equating Mr. Mahadevan with Saraswati? If we accept Mr. Neelankandan’s comparison then every so-called scholar will be beyond criticism. It is obvious that Witzel came to India for reasons which are not clear and that not only Mr. Mahadevan but Sakti Sugars Mahalingam and Mr. Sankaranarayanan spoke very foolishly. Mr. Neelakandan is living in his own foolish world if he thinks he can sing songs of friendship to Hinduism’s enemies to win their hearts. People like Mr. Neelankandan are Hindusim’s inner enemies who will not allow people like Witzel to be insulted and humiliated like they insult us. We must be grateful to Mrs. Radha Rajan that she at least confronted Witzel and Mr. Mahadevan face to face for which Mr. Neelakandan and others had no courage. Mr. Neelakandan you can only write such articles after the event. You are no use when something is happening.

  11. Dear Raghuraman Srinivas,

    I am not equating Mahadevan with Saraswathi. If ever you happen to step on The Hindu – Maoist newspaper – would you not touch it in your eyes? We respect Saraswathi as embodies divinity in scholarship and Mahadevan definitely is a scholar par excellence. His work on Brahmi, his identification of Soma ritual in Unicorn symbol – are all wonderful achievements.So just because he accompanied or even facilitated Witzel’s talk should we abuse him? I am not saying we should not criticize. In Hindu tradition, we can criticize even Gods and Goddesses. But abusing an 80 year old man is sheer cowardice. Read the article and see for yourself if the article anywhere does “sing songs of friendship to Hinduism’s enemies” imagined or otherwise. My view is that Witzel’s academic sun is setting and he needs the juvenile moronic attacks of people like Radha Rajan to bolster his self-projection as knight in the shining armor of intellectual freedom. And as far as your listing me as “internal enemy” of Hinduism, I am happy. But you will have to wait till the arrival of Stalinist Hindu state of your kind, before you can purge all the “internal enemies” of Hinduism. Have a good day.

  12. Mr. Neelakandan you may attach a smiley to your comment but like another reader has pointed out, it seems you get very angry with a different opinion. I do not know you or Mrs. Radha Rajan but I came upon your guest column and when I searched google for Radha Rajan. Mr. Neelakandan you have called Mrs. Rajan moronic and juvenile. I wonder if you have heard her brilliant lecture on intellectual terrorism? When I googled Radha Rajan vigilonline I came across several of her articles posted on different websites and blogs. Uniformly all her readers have described her writing only as brilliant. Their words not mine. She is the first to have pointed to Christians cornering the bulk of the benefits of reservations in Tamil Nadu. I am a Tamilian myself and this expose was an eyeopener. Similarly she was the first to write a monograph about Indonesia’s struggle for freedom, linking it to our own freedom movement, about the role of the church in Sri Lanka and exposing the Christian hand behind the lawyers strike in the Madras High Court. Mr. Neelakandan, Radha Rajan is the most original and brilliant political thinker this country has seen in at lease two decades. Calling her juvenile and moronic is strange and it seems you have a personal anger against her, nothing more. Maybe you should talk to her about her protest against Witzel instead of writing against her. My two cents worth. And you really should try and hide your anger better if you are going to write about winning hearts with friendship.

  13. Dear friend,
    I agree with your observations on Radha Rajan. I also consider her as one of the “original and brilliant political thinkers” and I also agree that in many issues she has done wonderful documentation. I am not angry at her. I am upset by her behavior which does not suit her intellectual acumen. She lets her feelings and frustrations take an upper hand over her reason. I have also seen the videos and have been following her articles and debates. She does not understand that what she has done actually bolsters people like Witzel. Yes. I stand by my words that her action against Mahadevan was “moronic and juvenile”. I am not saying Radha Rajan is moronic and juvenile. But in this issue the way she conducted herself made the very cause she represents, suffer a setback.

  14. Aravindan-ji, if you know Dr. Rajan personally, wouldn’t it have been better to discuss this issue with her directly, or written a personal letter to her? Looks like we Hindus are damned to remain divisive and keep fighting among ourselves. Given your prominence, I’m sure you could have easily obtained her mailing or digital address, to send a letter or an email.

  15. Mr. Neelakandan, refer to this detailed account of Witzel’s disgraceful visit to Chennai as reported by Mr. B.R.Haran. This is evidently a first-hand report and his report contradicts your judgment. As per this report Mrs. Rajan was neither carried away by her emotions nor frustrations as you allege. She along with Dr. Kalyanaraman, a renowned scholar himself and Mr. Haran have met with important officials of the Sanskrit College. Mrs. Radha Rajan as behooves her age and stature has also called up Mr. Mahadevan on the phone to dissuade him from associating himself from the meeting. A clinical psychologist, I would hazard a guess that Mrs. Rajan like most women would have undertaken this protest knowing well that no one else was going to confront the Harvard professor. Women are less likely to be inhibited by image or spurious arguments and are even less likely to be intimidated by criticism or abuse. It is not surprising that all acitivists in the main in most areas tend to be women. I am not surprised at what Mrs. Radha Rajan did. If anything her acitivism is in line with her writings – they are both purposeful and intended towards a decided objective. As ready as you are to take up Mr. Mahadevan’s cause Mr. Neelakandan, I am surprised that you take offence at the very feeble but courageous protest that was undertaken against Witzel in Chennai.Mr. Haran’s detailed account makes it difficult for me to take up Mr. Mahadevan’s cause. Persons like Mr. Mahadevan make it possible for the likes of Witzel to insult us. Under the circumstances Mrs. Radha Rajan’s protest was neither juvenile nor moronic. She seems to have been alone; that surprises me, because from watching her video she is not a young lady. But knowing the general apathy of Chennai’s intelligentsia and the Hindu tendency to find excuses not to do anything, your anger against Mrs. Rajan is sad but not surprising. Hindus like Iravatham Mahadevan, for all their scholarship (sterile and soulless) pose a greater threat to Hindu interests than people like Witzel.


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