Thursday, 30 April 2020

Āryas, Dāsas and Dasyus in the Rigveda

Āryas, Dāsas and Dasyus in the Rigveda

Shrikant G. Talageri

Three very important words in the Rigveda are ārya, dāsa and dasyu. They are at least very important in the historical interpretation of the Rigveda, and it is necessary to understand exactly what they mean.

I have given the meanings many times in my books. In fact, in my third book, after the twelve chapters, I added a "postscript" chapter "Identities Past and Present" (TALAGERI 2008:355-370) specifically for two issues: first, to clarify the exact meaning of the words ārya, dāsa and dasyu in the Rigveda, and second, to clarify that the ancient clans, tribes and communities named in the Rigveda cannot by any stretch of the imagination, after so many millenniums and so many historical and ethnic changes in the country, be identified directly with any castes, territorial groups and communities in present-day India, not even if they bear the same names: e.g. the Yadavs of today are not the descendants of the Yadu of the Rigveda. Nor are the people of Haryana descendants of the Pūru of the Rigveda or the people of the Punjab the descendants of the Anu of the Rigveda. Nor, as I pointed out, are the different Brahmin communities in India―which claim descent from actual rishis of the Rigveda through gotras and pravaras―their actual descendants: there have been so many ethnic admixtures and co-options down the long and eventful millenniums that connections, if any, can only constitute a tiny fraction of the ancestry.

As I put it to make things very clear: "take a direct example, the Saraswat Brahmins of the south (to which community this writer belongs) have a strong traditional history of having migrated from the areas of Kashmir and the Sarasvatī river, and even the name of the community testifies to this claim. Moreover, a linguistic analysis of the Konkani language spoken by the Saraswats shows different archaic features (pitch accents, an inflexional morphological structure, and many crucial items of vocabulary) which corroborate this tradition. But are the Saraswats themselves actually direct ethnic linear descendants of the Pūrus or their priestly classes? Clearly not: the physical features of the Saraswats are clearly identifiable with the physical features of other castes and communities of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.
In short, the history of Vedic times is just that: the history of Vedic times. It has to do with the history of civilizations and language families, and must be recognized as such; but it does not have anything whatsoever to do with relations between different ethnic, linguistic, caste or communal groups of the present day. The biases and the conflicts of ancient times are the biases and conflicts of ancient peoples with whom present day peoples have no direct ethnic connections." (TALAGERI 2008:365-66).

But to return to the main point of this article, the question of the exact identity of the ārya, dāsa and dasyu in the Rigveda is one which keeps on popping up in any discussions on "Aryans" or Rigvedic history, including in comments and queries on my other articles. I have already dealt with it in detail, but then I cannot expect that everyone has read all my books and articles and, further, learnt them by heart. I myself sometimes have to do quite some searching to trace out something that I know I have dealt with in my earlier writings but require the exact quotation or details.

So this article will deal only with the issue of the ārya, dāsa and dasyu in the Rigveda:
1. The ārya in the Rigveda.
2. The dāsa and dasyu in the Rigveda.

I. The ārya in the Rigveda

A great deal of energy is usually spent on trying to uncover the etymological meaning of the word ārya. Koenraad Elst, in an article on the subject, has pointed out some of the attempts by scholars in this direction:
1. From the root *ar-, "plough, cultivate" (cf. Latin arare, aratrum), which would make them sedentary people as opposed to the nomads and hunter-gatherers.
2. From the root of Latin ire, "to go", so as to make it an apt name for a nomadic population.
3. From a root *al-, "other" (greek allos and Latin alius, 'other'), then turned round to mean "hospitable" (those who are hospitable to strangers or others)!
4. From a root *h2er- (connected to Arabic-Hebrew root hrr, "to be free")
5. From a root *ar-, "possess, acquire, share".
6. From a root *ar-, "orderly, correct, dexterous".

It does not really matter at all from which of the above roots (or if from some other root) the word is derived. What we require is to understand what the word means in the Rigveda.

There are basically two opposite viewpoints: the view of the Indologists who back the AIT, and the view of Indian scholars opposed to the AIT:
The western Indologists have interpreted the word as referring to "Aryans" who invaded, or migrated or trickled into, India in 1500 BCE from Central Asia.
The Indian scholars opposed to this have interpreted the word to mean "noble" or "good", as it indeed does in later times.

The two views then get expanded: those in the Rigveda who are not ārya (there is no such word as anārya in the Vedic texts) or are opposed to the ārya, then become non-Indo-European "natives who were invaded by the Aryans" in the eyes of the supporters of the AIT, and "bad people" (or, in the words of many such scholars, "fallen Aryans", a term I have never been able to understand) in the eyes of its opponents.

It will be seen that the AIT-supporters give an ethnic meaning to the term, which is then variously expanded to include skin-colour, colour of the eyes and hair, and other distinctly racial characteristics. Even those scholars who are cautious in emphasizing such racial aspects, or even outright reject them (e.g. HOCK 1999b), continue to use the term at least in the linguistic sense: ārya means "Indo-European", and the word refers to an original linguistic difference between incoming “Indo-Aryans” and native “non-Aryans”.
Many even give it a twist to suggest that the term may have been extended by the invaders to co-opt within its framework even some natives who adopted the language or Vedic religion of the invaders. In any case, for the actual interpretation of the Rigveda in invasionist terms, it is more convenient to suggest linguistic, religious and cultural factors rather than directly racial ones such as skin, hair, eyes and physical characteristics.
This is clearly ridiculous: the concept of "language families" is a modern concept discovered by modern linguists. Although the difference between "Indo-European" languages and languages from other families is a real one, it is impossible that ancient people could have looked at other people as "speakers of languages belonging to our language family" and "speakers of languages belonging to other language families". Ancient Mesopotamia was a hotbed of different warring ethnicities: it is impossible that the Mitanni and the Hittites, among them, could have regarded each other as "Aryans" and the other Semitic, Elamite and Sumerian language speaking people as "non-Aryans". Even in the twentieth century, long after the linguistic theory was established, Hitler and the Nazis, who considered Germans to be the purest "Aryans", massacred Aryan-speaking gypsies in concentration camps, and treated Aryan-speaking Slavs as an inferior race, but the Uralic-speaking Finns were considered (by, for example, the Nazi theorist Himmler) as among the purest of "Germanic-Aryan" races and Finland as part of the Original Indo-European Homeland!  

The opponents of the AIT, naturally, reject any ethnic associations with the term, and insist that the term refers to "good people". But the truth is that the word ārya is definitely used in the Rigveda by its composers to refer to themselves. And it cannot be in a purely moral sense, since many references also refer to enemies: these could hardly be references to "good enemies". At the same time, as we will see presently, the opposite term is even used for the patrons being praised by the composing rishis in some hymns.

The word is used 36 times in 34 hymns:
I.51.8; 59.2; 103.3; 117.21; 130.8; 156.5.
IV.26.2; 30.18.
VI.18.3; 22.10; 25.2; 33.3; 60.6.
VII.5.6; 18.7; 33.7; 83.1.
VIII.24.7; 51.9; 103.1.
X.11.4; 38.3; 43.3; 49.3; 65.11; 69.6; 83.1; 86.19; 102.3; 138.3.

A. So what is the exact meaning of the word ārya as used in the Rigveda?

The word ārya in the Rigveda is nowhere used in reference to Indo-European language speaking people as opposed to non-Indo-European language speaking people. It refers to Pūru as opposed to non-Pūru.
In the Avesta, the same word (airya) is used in reference to Iranians (or perhaps the particular Iranian group composing the Avesta) as opposed to non-Iranians (or Iranian groups other than the particular Iranian group to which the composers belong).
As we will see presently, the main rivals of the Vedic Indo-Aryans (Pūru) in the Rigveda are the proto-Iranians (Anu). So how could the same word in two different texts refer respectively to the two rival entities?
The answer is simple: the connotation of the word, whatever its etymological origin, is “belonging to our tribe/community”, and in that sense it is a “communal” word.
Among the Saraswats of Karnataka, there is a word "amchigelo" which is used in exactly this same sense of “belonging to our community”. In earlier, more parochial, times, a Chitrapur Saraswat would refer to another Chitrapur Saraswat as "amchigelo", but to a Gaud Saraswat as "not amchigelo"; and, at the same time, a Gaud Saraswat would refer to another Gaud Saraswat as "amchigelo", but to a Chitrapur Saraswat as "not amchigelo"―now, the term has become a more liberal one, and is used by most people in both the communities to include each other as well.

Basically, ārya in itself did not mean Pūru: it was used in the Rigveda in that sense because the composers and their tribes were Pūru.
The word is generally found in the hymns in general contexts where it is not identity-specific, except that it is clear that it is used for the People of the Book. However, when it is used in specific contexts, it is clearly in reference to Pūrus:
a) In reference to individuals, it refers to Divodāsa in I.130.8; IV.26.2 and VIII.103.1.
b) In a tribal sense, it clearly refers only to Pūrus: in I.59.2, Agni is said to be produced by the Gods to be a light unto the ārya, and in the sixth verse of the hymn, in I.59.6,  it is clear that the hymn is composed on behalf of the Pūrus. Likewise, in VII.5.6, Agni is said to drive away the dasyus and bring forth broad light for the ārya, and in the third verse of the hymn, in VII.5.3, the deed is categorically said to be done for the Pūru.
c) The word is never used for non-Pūrus: e.g. although the Tṛkṣi kings Purukutsa and Trasadasyu are praised to the skies, and Trasadasyu is even described as a “demi-god” in IV.42.8,9, in recognition for some crucial help rendered by them to the Pūrus (I.63.7;  IV.38.1; VI.20.10; VII.19.3), neither of them is ever called an ārya. Nor are any of the other non-Pūru patrons of the rishis in the New Books (VIII.1.31; 4.19; 5.37; 6.46,48; 19.32,36; 65.12, etc) ever referred to as ārya.

B. Who are the Composers who use this word?

Of the 34 hymns which use this word:

a) It is used in 28 hymns by composers belonging to the Bharata family itself or its two closely affiliated rishi families, the Angirases and the Vasiṣṭhas: I.51.8; 59.2; 103.3; 117.21; 130.8; 156.5; IV.26.2; 30.18; VI.18.3; 22.10; 25.2; 33.3; 60.6; VII.5.6; 18.7; 33.7; 83.1; VIII.24.7; X.11.4; 38.3; 43.3; 49.3; 65.11; 69.6; 83.1; 86.19; 102.3; 138.3.  

b) It is used in 3 hymns by partially affiliated families like the Gṛtsamadas and Viśvāmitras: II.11.18,19; III.34.9; V.34.6.

c) And it is used in 2 hymns by totally neutral families like the Atris, Kaṇvas, Bhṛgus and Agastyas: VIII.51.9; 103.1.

d) The 1 last reference, by the most unaffiliated and ritualistic families of composers, the Kaśyapas, represents the first and only use of the word in the Rigveda in a purely symbolic and non-personal sense (the exact sense of which is widely debated): IX.63.5,14.

Both the references by the neutral families are by Kaṇvas, and the two references again emphasize the fact that the āryas are the Pūrus: the Kaṇvas were a neutral family with numerous patron kings, named in the New Rigveda, from all the different (non-Pūru) tribes, and:
a) VIII.51.9 diplomatically refers to both the āryas and the dāsas as being the beneficiaries of Indra’s bounty, while
b) VIII.103.1 refers, as we saw, to Divodāsa―so that even Kaṇvas, who never refer to a single one of their numerous non-Pūru patrons as an ārya, reserve the word for Pūrus.   

C. Who are the enemy āryas in the Rigveda?

Even more significant is the fact that there are nine hymns which refer to āryas among the enemies of the particular hymns.
These references make little sense in the AIT interpretation, except for the generalized conclusion that the “Aryans fought among themselves” as also with the "non-Aryans". What the AIT scholars fail to realize is that all these hymns establish a pattern, which logically shows that there was only one section, from among the people (the Pūru) calling themselves (and recognizing each other as) ārya, which were the real People of the Book in the Rigveda, while there were other sections, also recognized as ārya, which were not.
Of course, those determined to find “complex” situations in the Rigveda could argue that the different hymns referring to ārya enemies could each have a different group of protagonist āryas and enemy āryas, so that the protagonist āryas of one hymn could be the enemy āryas of another, and vice versa. But logic shows that this would be unlikely, since the hymns are clearly a collection belonging to one particular group of people. 
The references, however, make sense in our analysis, where the particular People of the Book are the Bharata Pūru alone, so that there are other sections of Pūru, also recognized and referred to as ārya, who are not directly among the People of the Book. These references to enemy āryas prove our case to the hilt: of the nine references to enemy āryas (IV.30.18; VI.22.10; 33.3; 60.6; VII.83.1; X.38.3; 69.6; 83.1; 102.3), two are by Bharata composers, and all the remaining seven by the two rishi families closely affiliated to them, the Angirases and Vasiṣṭhas.   

This is not only by chance, or simply because most of the references to āryas (also by chance?) are by these three families of composers. There are seven other hymns which again refer to the same situation in different words: they refer to jāmi (kinsmen) and ajāmi (non-kinsmen) enemies. Of these seven references (I.100.11; 111.3; IV.4.5; VI.19.8; 25.3; 44.17; X.69.12), one is by a Bharata composer (a descendant of Sudās, who attributes this late hymn, X.69, to Sudās himself; and this same hymn, it may be noted, also has one of the ārya-enemy references; see above) and all the remaining six are by Angirases and Vasiṣṭhas.

In addition, one more (VI.75), by an Angiras, likewise refers to sva araṇa (hostile kinsmen) and niṣṭya (non-kinsmen) enemies. 

There is more. There is one hymn which refers to the same situation in yet other words: X.133.5 refers to sanābhi (kinsmen) and niṣṭya (non-kinsmen) enemies. This single reference is by a Bharata composer.

The force of all this evidence will be even clearer when we see that there are only 19 hymns composed by Bharata composers out of a total of 1028 hymns in the Rigveda. But 3 out of 34 hymns in the Rigveda which use the word ārya, 2 out of 9 hymns in the Rigveda which refer to "both ārya and dāsa enemies", 1 out of 7 hymns in the Rigveda which refer to "jāmi and ajāmi enemies", and the only hymn which refers to "sanābhi and niṣṭya enemies", are directly by Bharata composers: in all, 4 out of 18 such references are by actual Bharata composers, and the rest by their affiliated rishis, the Angirases and Vasiṣṭhas. 

Finally, as if all this were not clear enough, we have one more reference, this one by the Viśvāmitras, which clinches the case: it is in one of the two hymns (III.33, 53) which directly refers to the period when the Viśvāmitras, before the Vasiṣṭhas, were closely affiliated to the Bharatas as the priests of Sudās, and it is the only hymn in this Book which actually mentions Sudās by name. It refers to prapitvam (relationship) and apapitvam (non-relationship). The last verse, III.53.24, tells us that the Bharatas (specifically named as such) do not recognize non-relationship or relationship when dealing with their enemies in battle.

Note that the Rigveda refers to the Pūru (meaning particularly the Bharata Pūru) throughout the Rigveda in a benevolent and first-person sense. But in two cases, where there is some conflict or difference of interest between the Bharata Pūru and the other or non-Bharata Pūru, to whom the word then refers, the references are critical: VII.8.4 and VII.18.13. One of the two references is in the battle hymn.
Therefore, it is clear that the protagonist āryas of the Rigveda are the Bharatas, and the enemy āryas in a few hymns are the other, non-Bharata, sections among the greater conglomeration of tribes of which the Bharatas are a part, i.e. among the Pūrus, who are otherwise clearly the People of the Book in a broader sense (which the Anus, Druhyus, Yadus and Turvasus are definitely not)

So the word ārya in the Rigveda has neither a racial-ethnic meaning nor a linguistic meaning, and nor does it have any kind of moral-ethical or qualitative meaning: it is simply a "communal" word meaning "of our community" and referring to the Pūru in general and the Bharata Pūru in particular.

II. The dāsa and dasyu in the Rigveda

The two words usually, and correctly, pitted against the ārya in the Rigveda are the dāsa and dasyu. It must be noted at the same time that these two words, unlike the word ārya, have also acquired very heavy mythologization, so that in a very large number of cases, they represent mythological entities (primarily associated with the demons of the air who attack the phenomena of nature, such as rain and the dawn, and are therefore vanquished by Indra) at the same time as they represent historical entities. In many cases, the references are so vague, and the mythological and historical symbolism so intertwined, that it is hazardous to draw historical inferences from them.
Nevertheless, they are, at the base, derived from historical entities, so we can examine the general historical bases of the two words without trying to interpret every individual reference in historical terms.

These two words are found in the Rigveda as follows:

Dāsa: 54 Hymns, 63 verses:
I.32.11; 92.8; 103.3; 104.2; 158.5; 174.7.
II.11.2,4; 12.4; 13.8; 20.6,7.
III.12.6; 34.1.
IV.18.9; 28.4; 30.14,15,21; 32.10.
V.30.5,7,8,9; 33,4; 34.6.
VI.20.6,10; 22.10; 25.2; 26.5; 33.3; 47.21; 60.6.
VII.19.2; 83.1; 86.7; 99.4.
VIII.5.31; 24.27; 32.2; 40.6; 46.32; 51.9; 56.3; 70.10; 96.18.
X.22.8; 23.2; 38.3; 49.6,7; 54.1; 62.10; 69.6; 73.7; 83.1; 86.19; 99.6; 102.3; 120.2; 138.3; 148.2.

Dasyu: 65 hymns, 80 verses:
I.33.4,7,9; 36.18; 51.5,6,8; 53.4; 59.6; 63.4; 78.4; 100.18; 101.5; 103.3,4; 104.5; 117.3,21; 175.3.
II.11.18,19; 12.10; 13.9; 15.9; 20.8.
III.29.9; 34.6,9; 49.2.
IV.16.9,10,12; 28.3,4; 38.1.
V.4.6; 7.10; 14.4; 29.10; 30.9; 31.5,7; 70.3.
VI.14.3; 16.15; 18.3; 23.2; 24.8; 29.6; 31.4; 45.24.
VII.5.6; 6.3; 19.4.
VIII.6.14; 14.14; 39.8; 50.8; 70.11; 76.11; 77.3; 98.6.
IX.41.2; 47.2; 88.4; 92.5.
X.22.8; 47.4; 48.2; 49.3; 55.8; 73.5; 83.3,6; 95.7; 99.7,8; 105.7,11; 170.2.           

The popular Indological approach is to treat the dāsas and dasyus in the Rigveda as "non-Aryan" natives of India in opposition to "invading Aryans". And, although "non-Aryan" should mean linguistically "non-Indo-European" and nothing else, the dominant and mainstream Indological academia has never seen fit to explain its claims about "non-Aryans" on linguistic grounds, by showing that the dāsas and dasyus, and countless other natural phenomena and entities in the Rigveda that they convert into historical "non-Aryan" entities, are linguistically Dravidian, Austric, Burushaski, Sino-Tibetan, Andamanese, Semitic, Sumerian, or any other known linguistic entity. They simply brand them as "non-Aryan" and insist, like spoilt brats, that their claims should be treated as "scientific". As all this is very, very, old garbage in the AIT-OIT debate, we will not go into it here. We will see what the words dāsa and dasyu mean, rather than what they do not mean.

It is not that no serious scholar has ever comprehended the real meanings of the words: Dr. B.R. (Babasaheb) Ambedkar, for example, emphatically rejected the idea that dāsas and dasyus were linguistically “non-Indo-European”; and concluded, instead, that the words were merely indicative of “different communities of Aryas who were not only different but opposed and inimical to each other” (AMBEDKAR 1990:87), and even that the dāsas were Iranians (AMBEDKAR 1990:104). George Erdosy, an AIT scholar, accepts that “Arya and Dasa were only horizontal divisions, denoting groups of people living in their separate territories in north-western India” (ERDOSY 1989:39), that dasyus were only “a segment of Dasas” (ERDOSY 1989:37), and also that the term paṇi was used for people who were “rich and niggardly” and possibly “usurers”, and that the group of paṇiscross-cuts the otherwise horizontal stratification of non-Aryas, […] and may denote either an occupation or simply a set of values attributable to anyone” (ERDOSY 1989:37).
Emile Benveniste also notes that "the Avestan word for 'country' dahyu (anc-dasyu) has as its Sanskrit correspondent dasyu" and that this "reflects conflict between the Indian and Iranian peoples". But he tries to fit it into the invasionist paradigm by suggesting that "the name by which this enemy people called themselves collectively took on a hostile connection" and was later applied to natives of India: therefore in the Rigveda "dasyu may be taken as an ethnic" of India (BENVENISTE 1969/1973:260-261)!

The words dāsa and dasyu, clearly refer to the Others in the Rigveda: i.e. to the Other-than-the-Pūrus. But it is clear, from two circumstances, that the words originally and primarily referred to the proto-Iranians (the Anus), even though also used as a general term for all non-Pūrus:

The evidence for this very significant:
1. The words oŋha (by itself) and daŋhu/daŋhзuš (in suffixes), the Avestan equivalents of dāsa and dasyu, are found in personal names in the Avesta: oŋha, Daŋhu.frādah, Daŋhu.srūta, Ātərədaŋhu, Jarō.daŋhu, Ərəzauuaṇt-daŋhзuš. And both the words have pleasant or neutral meanings.
2. The word daha in certain Iranian languages (e.g. Khotanese), even today, has the meaning “man”.
3. Greek texts refer to an Iranian people known as the Dahae, who were prominent in Iranian history in Central Asia.
4. The word dāsa is used in a friendly sense in only three references in the Rigveda (see TALAGERI 2000:206-208), and as all three of them are dānastutis, or hymns in praise of patron or donor kings, it is clear that the uncharacteristic friendly sense of the word has to do with the identity of the donor kings. In two of these hymns, the names of the patron kings have been identified by many western scholars, (incuding Hoffman, Wilson, Weber, Witzel and Gamkrelidze) as proto-Iranian names: Kaśu Caidya in VIII.5 and Pṛthuśravas Kānīta in VIII.46. And the name of the patron king in the third hymn, Ruśama Pavīru in VIII.51, may well be a proto-Iranian name too: MLBhargava (BHARGAVA:1964) identifies the Ruśamas as a tribe of the extreme northwest from the Soma lands of Suṣomā  and Ārjīkīyā.  This clearly places them in the territory of the Iranians.
[The three hymns, VIII.5,46,51, along with another hymn VIII.6, constitute a group of four unique hymns in the Rigveda, in a separate class from all the other hymns:
a) three of them (VIII.5,6,46) donate camels to the rishis rather than cattle.
b) three of them (VIII.5,46,51) speak well of the dāsas.
c) three of them (VIII.5,6,46) have proto-Iranian names (see above)]

But what is the exact relationship between dāsas and dasyus?
In the Rigveda, it is clear that dasyu was a name for a section among the dāsas: this is specifically stated in IV.28.4, and is noted by scholars like Erdosy (ERDOSY 1989:37). But the exact nature of this sectional identity is not comprehended by the scholars: the dāsas were the tribes and the dasyus were the priestly class among the non-Purus, and this is crystal clear from the references: 

a) The dasyus are referred to in terms of hostility which have to do with religious or ritual differences: ayajvan (I.33.4), anyavrata (VIII.70.11; X.22.8), adevayu (VIII.70.11), akarman (X.22.8), abrahman (IV.16.9), avrata (I.51.8; 175.3; VI.14.3; IX.41.2), amanyamāna (I.33.9; II.12.10), grathin (VII.6.3), ayajña (VII.6.3), avṛdha (VII.6.3), aśraddha (VII.6.3), akratu (VII.6.3), māyāvat (IV.16.9), apṛṇat (V.7.10), anṛc (X.105.7-11) and anās (V.29.10).
Not one of these words is used even once in reference to dāsas.  

b) The dāsas find mention in all the Books of the Rigveda, except the most ritualistic Book (Book 9), and in the hymns of all the families of rishis except the most ritualistic priestly family, the Kaśyapas.
By contrast, dasyus find mention in the hymns of all the families of rishis, except the one non-priestly family, the Bharatas. 

c) The dāsas (being tribes and kings) frequently figure as powerful entities to be feared, whether the word is used for human enemies or symbolically for atmospheric demons: in seven hymns (I.104.2; 158.5; VIII.24.27; X.22.8; 54.1; 69.6; 102.3), the composers ask for protection from dāsas, or are rescued from them by the Gods. In three others (I.32.11; V.30.5; VIII.96.18), the dāsas are powerful demons who hold the celestial waters in their thrall.
The dasyus, on the other hand, are rarely shown as particularly powerful. In fact, they are depicted as sly creatures who incite others to hostile acts (V.24.18).

d) The dāsas are sometimes depicted together in one bracket with the āryas, with both depicted as enemies (in VI.20.10; 33.3; 60.6; VII.83.1; X.38.3; 69.6; 83.1; 102.3) or both as friendly entities (in VIII.51.9).
The dasyus, however, do not figure even once with āryas in such references. The logic behind this is obvious: only same-category entities can normally be bracketed together. Thus, we would say “Muslims and Christians” (communities of people), or “mullahs and padres” (priestly groups), but normally not “Muslims and padres” or “mullahs and Christians”. Clearly, in the Rigveda, āryas and dāsas are communities, and can therefore be bracketed together, but dasyus are priestly groups and cannot be similarly bracketed together with āryas.

The Rigvedic hymns are basically the compositions of priests, and hence the hostility towards rival classes of priests (dasyus) is sharper in the hymns than the hostility towards non-Pūrus (dāsas). Thus the word dāsa, like the related Avestan words, must have originally had a good connotation, and this is found in its use in the early name Divodāsa. Likewise, of the 63 or so verses which refer to dāsas, only 38 talk of direct physical violence against them; and, as we saw, three are even friendly references by donation-accepting priestly composers.

On the other hand, every single one of the 80 or so verses which refer to dasyus is uncompromisingly hostile, and 76 of them talk of direct physical violence against them. And, although, like the word dāsa, the word dasyu must also have had an originally good etymological connotation, it is never used in a good sense even when it is part of a name (e.g. Trasadasyu: “tormentor of the dasyus”).

[Incidentally, the reference in X.49.3, where the composer expresses his refusal to call a dasyu by the name “ārya” makes sense only in the above contexts. If ārya and dasyu were ethnic-linguistic terms, the question of calling a “non-Aryandasyu an ārya would never arise at all, and the verse makes no sense. But ārya means a Pūru, and the dasyu referred to in this particular verse may be a Pūru (an ārya by community) who has joined a rival priestly class of the non-Pūrus, just as a branch of the Bhṛgus after Jamadagni, who were Anus, joined the priestly classes of the Pūrus].      

The words dāsa and dasyu, therefore, have nothing to do with any “non-Aryan”, in the sense of “non-Indo-European”, contexts.


AMBEDKAR 1990: Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, volume 7. Ambedkar, B.R. ed. Vasant Moon, Education dept., Government of Maharashtra Publications, Mumbai 1990.

BENVENISTE 1969/1973: Indo-European Language and Society. Benveniste, Emile  (translated by Elizabeth Palmer), Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1973 (first 1969).

BHARGAVA 1964: The Geography of Rgvedic India. Manohar Lal Bhargava, The Upper India Publishing House Ltd., Lucknow, 1964.

ERDOSY 1989: Ethnicity in the Rigveda and its Bearing on the Question of Indo-European Origins. Erdosy, George.  pp. 35-47 in “South Asian Studies” vol. 5. London.

HOCK 1999b: Through a glass darkly: Modern “racial” interpretations vs. textual and general prehistoric evidence on ārya and dāsa/dasyu in Vedic society. Hock, Hans H. pp.145-174, in “Aryan and non-Aryan in South Asia: evidence, interpretation, and ideology” (proceedings of the International Seminar on Aryan and non-Aryan in South Asia, Univ. of Michigan, October 1996).

TALAGERI 2008: “The Rigveda and the Avesta – The Final Evidence”, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008.


  1. Just Brilliant, a very well written article. This is the kind of information I am looking for to clear by biased mindset or rather long lingering doubts. Thank you Shrikant Talageri ji.

    But sir I have now many follow up questions to what you stated above. You stated "like the word dāsa, the word dasyu must also have had an originally good etymological connotation", what could possible be the "good etymological connotation" for the two hostile terms "dāsa" and "dasyu" then?

    Secondly, most AIT supporters will say that the Arya's coined the term "Dasa" for the so-called natives, now is it plausible that the Aryas (Purus) coined this term for the non-Aryas ( non Purus ) or was it a term that the non-Purus used to call themselves which the Aryas simple used and changed it into a negative connotation?

    Thirdly how do we explain the fact that "Arya" is not a name of a tribe but "Dasa" (Dahae) is, and at the same time refers collectively to all the non-Arya tribes ( Proto-Iranians) ?

  2. The word dāsa may have been a name of one of the more prominent Iranian (Anu) tribes, extended by the Bharatas to refer to all Anus, and (since the Anus to the west were their closest neighbours with the closest interaction: even in the earlier period, Abhyavartin Cayamana was an ally of Divodasa in an area close to Haryana) then extended, perhaps in the pre-Rigvedic or post-Divodasa period, to all non-Purus. We can only guess from the limited data available.

    But the fact that both the words appear in Iranian names shows that they must have had a good meaning: the fact that dāsa is used in the name of Divodāsa, and is taken to be derived from the root damsh, meaning "to shine", also indicates this. And dasyu may be a diminutive form of the word dāsa (and also an important part of Iranian names), and so the Bharatas applied it to the priestly class of the dāsa, in imitation or parody of the name of the more distant druhyu. All this is, as I said, guesswork from the limited available data.


    Dear Shrikant Talageri ji, please look at this article above called "Aryan invasion and genocide of Dasyus" and let me know your thoughts.

    1. The article is just a garbled mass of hate-opinions and quotations. It treats the dāsas and dasyus as exactly the same, and treats all the epithets of dasyus as epithets of both dāsas and dasyus. Funniest is when he says that the dāsas and dasyus are called brahma-dvishah in five verses: V.42.9; VIII.45.23; X.36.9; 160.4; 182.3. In fact the words dāsa and dasyu are totally absent in all these five hymns!
      The only thing I got was the reference to anrc in X.105.8, which refers to dasyus but not exactly in the same verse: dasyus are referred to in verses 7 and 11.

  4. Dear Shrikant Talageri ji, can you write a blog that lists all the tribes that are mentioned in the Rig Veda and who are they exactly. It be great to have all the tribes listed in one place. Thank You.

    1. I don't think so. there are people who have undertaken this kind of exercise, and arrived at different lists. We have innumerable names in the Rigveda, many of which seem to have no context (or have had artificial contexts manufactured later) in other later texts: the Asvin hymns have lists of people rescued by them in the seas or given medical aid of some kind, there are names of peoples and tribes destroyed by Indra, there are many danastutis which name otherwise unknown kings. It is also not easy to decide which of these names are of individuals, which are of tribes, and which are of mythical atmospheric demons. Also, only someone having great knowledge of the Vedic language, and who goes through every verse, may be able to uncover most of the names: see how the translators of the Rigveda (western and Indian) sometimes translate the same words differently: some as names and some with the literal meaning. Thus Kavi cayamana and the Prithu-Parshu, for example, are not found in Griffith's translations. It would not be my cup of tea.

  5. Do the Puranas ever mentioned the Daśarājñá war?

    1. No, which shows why we must be careful before treating Puranic information as the base for interpreting the Rigveda historically. The Rigveda contains incidental data which appears without motive, while the Puranas contain narratives meant to be treated as history; the Puranas deal with the whole of northern India, and contain very much later interpolations, and are heavily mixed with myths (of a different kind from the nature myths of the Rigveda).

      The dasarajna battle was the most important single event in the Rigveda, and its international historical repercussions make it very important for our analysis today. But to the Rigvedic people themselves, it was an ancient event of ancestral times, already half-forgotten except for the two-three hymns which referred to it half-heartedly.In fact, it is just mentioned once in passing in the Atharvaveda 20.128.12, and later Vedic texts retain garbled memories of the event:

      Witzel notes: “It is interesting to note that later texts show confusion about the participants in the battle, notably JB 3.244 which speaks of Pratrd instead of his descendant Sudas”. [These “later texts” include the other Samhitas:] “the shifting of the tradition (has) already (taken place) in the early YV Samhitas: MS 3.40.6, JB. 3.244, PB 15.3.7 have substituted other names for Sudas and Vasishtha”’ ... “even these relatively early texts manage to garble the evidence. Thus the JB (§205) calls Sudas Ksatra, while KS 21.10:50.1 has Pratardana and MS 37.7 Pratardana Daivodasi” (WITZEL 1995b :335,340).

    2. Well thanks, I didn't know about this. I honestly thought that the dasarajna war was a contemporary battle.

      To my knowledge there are references to three kinds of wars in the Rig Veda:

      1. Druhyu war
      2. Dasrajna war
      3. Varsagira War

      The Puranas should have made some kind of reference to any of these three historical wars that took place. I find it very strange that they don't.

      Sir, you mostly make reference to the Dasrajna war but not the other two to that extant. Is is possible if you can write a blog that discusses the two wars in detail and if its supported in the Puranas?

    3. There is no reference to the Druhyu wars in the Rigveda, because it is all pre-Rigvedic. It is recorded in the Puranas, and I have given the references in every single book and article of mine concerning the Druhyu migrations.

      The Varshagira war is found recorded only in IV.30.18 which refers to the battle beyond the Sarayu and I.100 which mentions some of the participants, who include Sahadeva on the Bharata side and the Shimyus in the oppostion. The Iranian texts record some garbled details, and, in different places mention Hushdiv (Huzdaeva) and Humayaka (Sahadeva and Somaka), and such as they are, I have given the details in my book (TALAGERI 2000:2015-220). If I want to go further in this much more research of the Iranian material will be required, and I don't want to put up a garbled or hashed-up job.

    4. Thats very interesting. So what you saying is that the Rig Veda is not the starting point of recorded Indian history but rather its only a midpoint, probably a couple thousand years have past when the Rig Veda was first composed after these tribes actually settle down.

      Here comes an interesting question, then where do the Puranas locate these Vedic tribes prior to the Rig Vedic composition? According to the Puranas these five tribes are supposedly descendant from Pururavas.

      How do the Western scholar interpret the Puranas if the Puranas themselves locate all these tribes further east?

    5. The Puranas locate all the tribes in India as descendants of "ten sons of Manu Vaivasvata", who include Ila and Ikshvaku, who represent the Lunar and Solar race; but they only elaborate on the branches of these two "sons". The "five sons of Yayati" appear long down the Puranic Lunar line. The "five tribes" of the Rigveda are obviously the inspiration for the names of the five sons of Yayati in the Puranas. We cannot literally take these tribes as "descendants" of some person named in the Puranas. But we can take the descriptions of the locations of these five great tribes, given in the Puranas, since it fits in exactly with the Rigvedic evidence. We should take the Puranic data as providing broad guidelines about the different tribes of India (certainly in analyzing the Vedic data), and not as literal lists of the exact descent of tribes from actual "ancestors", name by name from father to son. Pargiter, who analysed the Puranic data, realized that the earlier people were all in the east and that any "movement" was an east-to-west movement, but, as he accepted that "aryans came from outside" he tried to show that they all came from the north of the Himalayas. Other western scholars ignore the Puranic data completely or derive the Puranic dynasties from the Vedic people who were invaders from the northwest.

      The Rigveda is the text initially of one subtribe (Bharata) of one Great Tribe (the Purus). How can it be the starting point of Indian history when it is clear from the Rigvedic data itself that the other Puranic tribes already existed to their east and west?

  6. Dear Shrikantji, This is a very interesting concept and the logic is very appealing.
    Any reason why when Purus have the tribe name Anus, they should also use Dasa?
    Also like you have reference of Anus as Dasas in the Rig Veda, does the Avesta have any reference to Purus in any way?

    1. The Avesta is a much later text. Most of the Gods and nature myths of the Rigveda (retained even in European mythologies) are lost and new terminologies have taken over, so there is no direct reference to Purus or Bharatas as enemies. Whatever common data is there has already been discussed by Iranologists, except that they blindly place the events in Central Asia in a pre-Rigvedic period.

      The Rigvedic people used the word Dasa for the Iranians (Anus)in particular and also for all-non-Purus.

      No-one can always explain why, in the course of history, people choose names and change names. I always take available examples from my own community to illustrate any point: both Chitrapur Saraswats and Gowd Saraswats in Karnataka speak Konkani (and therefore are Konkanis), but, for unknown reasons, Chitrapur Saraswats refer to Gowd Saraswats as "Konknyanche" (Konkanis). Who can go back into the past to find out the logic behind such things?

    2. Sir have you checked Arnaud Fournet's review of your 2008 book? Below is the link:

    3. Of course. He had written it in 2009. It was so cheap that I did not bother to reply to it. But, in 2010, someone sent me an email message about Fournet boasting on some site that I could not reply to his "review".
      So I immediately wrote a very scathing and abusive reply (sinking to his low level): "A Reply to a Joker's Review of my Book", in which I tore him to pieces. He could not answer it, but made two more attempts to cut me down, to which I exposed his stupidity further.

      I have the reply, but I suspect it is too polemical and combative to put on the blogspot. However, I am wondering whether I should.

    4. Please do, I also like to have a good laugh.

    5. Please post your reply to Arnaud Fournet's review of your book. I like to see it.

  7. It seems that Western scholarship is slowly leaning to Talageri's analysis. Take the Rig Veda date for example. First Max Mueller dated it to 1200 BCE. Then it was the classic 1500/1400 BCE. Now it is 1700 BCE. And I believe Witzel has placed Older Rig Veda as early as 1900 BCE. See the pattern?

  8. Talagiriji"

    Have you considered working with Vasant Shinde and Niraj Rai in putting forward a complete book of textual, linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence for the OIT?

  9. In your opinion Shrikant, why are Western scholars so vested in keeping this AIT/AMT theory alive?

  10. Its seems as the more and more Indian iron age is getting older, the farther back in time western scholars push the earlier Rig Veda.

  11. Anonymous:

    "Its seems as the more and more Indian iron age is getting older.."

    Have you seen this presentation from Anil Suri?

    The iron age in India begins at 1900 BCE and they hypothesize bronze age migrations around 1500 BCE. Besides tin was big in Central Asia at the time and there is no evidence for tin coming in. In Suri's view the lack of tin in India can be used to support OIT. Since tin is needed to make bronze the steppe cultures were emigrates from India where the society had moved into the iron age.

    1. Iron age began early as 2400 once as evident from iron artifacts found in Telangana.

  12. "Iron age began early as 2400 once as evident from iron artifacts found in Telangana."

    Even better. Did not know that. Which sit?