On Ongoing Memetic Annoyances Concerning The Canardic Conflation Of Dasas / Dasyus With The IVC And/Or ‘Dravidians’


Every. Dang. Time.

Where to begin with this. Now we shall leave aside the words of Wikipedia (for the moment) and just go for the tweeter’s intended sentiment. Which, going by some comments, would appear to be some sort of Indra contra Dasyu thing … as insistently misapprehended by some sorts on the internet to being some kind of Vedic against ‘Dravidian’ thing.

So, let’s be clear.

There is no ‘war’ between Indra and South India. Quite the contrary. We actually find prominent historical attestation for significant Indra Worship going on even in the ‘deep south’ – the weeks long annual Indra Vizha festival amongst the Tamils, for instance.

The SECOND thing to be said is that the meme about there being some sort of dysjunction between ‘Vedic’ or ‘Arya’ religion and South India … is worse than wrong – it’s downright an inversion of reality.

If you want to find the most conservative of Vedic religious practitioners – you go South. This is a prominently acknowledged fact even in Western academia. Vedic ritual understandings that were supposed to be ‘extinct’? Still able to be performed in the South.

THIRD – this idea that ‘Indra fought Dasyus’ being then ‘projected’ out onto something to do with modern-day South India is a nonsense.

Where to begin with THAT.

One way might be to make explicit what the tweeter in question likely intended to imply:

He probably thinks that Indra / Aryas contra Dasyu verses of the RigVeda mean the aforementioned smashing up the Indus Valley Civilization.

And is then situating South India in general as being the IVC’s inheritors in cultural and/or genetic terms.

Except here’s the thing. Dasa / Dasyu doesn’t connote a specific ethnic group in RigVedic usage. Some of the time it’s referring to demons or otherwise overtly non-human entities. Archaeological excavations of the IVC are yet to unearth a tricephalic skeleton – as would surely be entailed if we were to take, say, the “salaksam trisirshanam” (six eyed and three headed) descriptor for the Dasa encountered therein at face value.

And if we don’t want to take it face value … then ok, sure, but why are we insisting on, say, taking all the other physical descriptors utilized for various Dasa or Dasyu in the RV at literal ‘face value’ then?

Let’s use an example. RV VII 5 3 has Agni driving back a group referred to as the “visha […] asiknir”. Visha means ‘peoples’ or ‘tribes’, and ‘Asiknir’, yeah you can definitely translate as ‘Dark’.

So. Agni drives back the ‘Dark Tribes’. Or ‘Tribes of Darkness’.

And yeah, sure, the Horace Hayman Wilson translation from 1866 renders those words as “dark-complexioned races”.

Except here’s the thing. Asikni has a primary sense of ‘dark’ as in ‘Night’. Agni, is a God .. a Fire God .. and is also the literal Fire – meaning that what the verse actually renders as is something like “Fire Drives Back The Hosts Of Night”. Fire banishes darkness. Funny, that.

But I digress.

Modern scholarship has pretty seriously moved away from attempting to identify the Dasa / Dasyu that may be human groups, with the Indus Valley Civilization. Professor Michael Witzel, for instance, has instead observed that other (non-Vedic) (Indo-)Iranian tribes are quite plausibly meant. He can demonstrate it, too.

I personally tend to presume upon the basis of a few factors that the (non-Indo-European) Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) is plausibly also identifiable as one of the human groups that more euhemeric readings of various RV verses might link the Dasa / Dasyu to. This is also not a position unfamiliar to modern mainstream academia – indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was one with significant acceptance therein.

In any case, we can tell that it’s not the pre-Indo-European denizens of India that are meant … precisely because the relevant terminology under discussion also occurs in the Zoroastrian corpus.

The Zoroastrians, for all their various faults, did not invade or otherwise migrate into the Indus Valley Civilization (rather being formed … quite some time after the era of the RigVeda’s composition … from Iranics that were back out in Central Asia, initially around Balkh before heading westward in a big way to Media).

Which means that we are left with the obvious situation: that elements which form a ‘common denominator’ for both textually attested archaic Indo-Iranic spheres … are most likely to have been elements pertinent back out on the Steppe and prior to the Indo-Aryan entry into India.

So, to sum up this phase of rantery ….

i) no, no we can’t actually assert that Indra (and/or other Gods) fighting Dasa / Dasyu are axiomatically to be taken as descriptions for some kind of war against human opponents of different ethnic background.

It’s quite clear that various verses pertain to fighting demons (including some demons whose features identifiably also co-occur in other Indo-Iranian and even broader Indo-European branches, as it happens); are figurative descriptions of decidedly other traits and beings than what the ‘memetic take’ would quite like; etc.

ii) while we CAN viably hypothesize that SOME RV verses DO pertain to mythologized or mythically-infused conflicts against non-Arya human groups … the evidence that we have (and this comes from an array of spheres – linguistic, archaeological, and even archaeogenetic if we’re going to get into skin-colour … ) DOES NOT support the IVC being identified in such a manner.

Instead, as a general term for ‘adversary’, we seem to find it utilized to describe other (non-Arya) Indo-Iranian groupings, the (non-IE) BMAC, and perhaps other (now forgotten) denizens of the Steppe (or Steppe-adjacent) demesne of the archaic (and likely Andronovo era) Indo-Iranians.

Now, finally – as applies that allegedly-offending sentence in the Wikipedia entry for ‘South Indian Culture’ … we would observe that it is probably not a great idea to be basing one’s entire perception of a really quite broad spectrum of peoples off of a single sentence on that particular site.

I definitely would not have thought to summate “South Indian Culture” as being all about exalting “the beauty of the body and femininity”.

Although then again – when I went to ponder what an immediately identifiable “South Indian Culture” element might be … one of my first thoughts was the Kalaripayattu complex of Indian martial arts.

And I suppose that being able to wield those various weapons with such grace, dexterity, and prospectively lethal force … well, that’s a “beauty of the body” in a certain sense, sure.

Yet having said that – I also do not think that there is anything wrong with having a positive and healthy attitude toward “the beauty of the body and femininity”, either.

The idea of “the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body and femininity” is most certainly not an unfamiliar one to the cultural spheres of Europe over the past three thousand years.

Indeed, if one were asked to describe the high culture of the Romantic era in Europe … there would be an awful lot of ‘beauty of the body’ and ‘femininity’ on show. It wouldn’t necessarily be in the manner one might think, either – as applies the latter, you’d see female national(ist) personifications coming to light in a big way. Quite literally ‘expressing’ that principle, ethos and ethnos in ‘femininity’ characterized form.

Perhaps this tendency aforementioned may assist us in explicating why the German National Anthem’s second verse both begins and ends with an exaltation of German women, as well.

And some might suggest in retort to what I have said above that while it might be fine to have “the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body and femininity” … but not as the entirety of one’s culture –

Well, what can we say. Other than that I don’t think that actually is the entirety of South Indian culture? Any more than European painters in the centuries following the Renaissance often choosing to depict a female form when rendering a transcendental meaning … means that “the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body and femininity” is the entire summation of European culture, either.

But again I digress.

The final final thing that I shall say upon this matter is also quite a simple one.

Indra had “unfinished business” at a rather pertinent point in the RigVeda’s mythic spectra of narrative – that bit wherein He had gone off somewhere, thus being (thankfully only temporarily) unavailable to smite a rather particular and most dire foe (that is also, per RV II 11 2, referred to as a Dasa) of the Aryas.

This incident is detailed most directly, for our purposes, within RV VIII 100.

Which, as it should happen, has as its effective major theme – Lord Indra coming back to “finish what He started”.

And you know what?

He was only able to do so through the aid and availment of Vak Devi. The in-universe expression of Rta, the Absolute (an “eternal universe”, we may perhaps suggest).

“Femininity”, it seems, is not in contradiction with male nor martial power.

No wonder that RigVedic Hymnal is one we also, rather pointedly, find the Goddess “celebrated” therein.

Jai Mata Di.

And Hail also to Indra – Worshipped in South India, or otherwise.

[-C.A.R.]

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