No, Śarva, The Archer Theonym Of Rudra, Is Not Of Non-Indo-European Origination

I am, it would appear, once again infuriated. This time, by that most frequent of annoyances, Academic Shenaniganry. Specifically pertaining to Lord Shiva. An associate had directed my attention to a recent work by Lubotsky that attempted to set out that a rather large and integral swathe of Vedic religion … was non-Indo-European. And was, in fact, of BMAC [Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex] origination.

We have encountered these sorts of claims before. We have addressed a few specific manifestations of these elsewhere. Including such clangers as ‘Indra’s a BMAC deific – and has supplanted / replaced an ‘original’ IE Dragon-Slayer’, and ‘Soma … and Fire-Sacrifice … is non-IE, honest!’ 

Now, usually when somebody wants to try and artificially chisel out Shiva from the Indo-European sphere, they mount some claim about this being a “Dravidian” deific, or perhaps an IVC [Indus Valley Civilization] figure. However Lubotsky has taken a different tack. 

He argues that what he terms *Ćarwa – the Proto-Indo-Iranian underpinning for Sharva (anglicized variously as Śarva, Zarva, etc. – शर्व if we are being proper and using Devanagari) – is of BMAC origination.

At least he did not try and say it was something unknown to the Proto-Indo-Iranic sphere and specifically from India. He would have run into the attestation for ‘Sauruua’ (alongside an ‘Indra’ and ‘Nanghaithya’ (i.e. ‘Nasatya’ – The Asvins / Horse-Twins)) identified as ‘Daevas’ in the Zoroastrian scripture, the Vendidad. Which, interestingly, means that the figure of ‘Sarva’ is therefore one that would have been known to the pre-Zoroastrian Iranic religious sphere. As that is what the Zoroastrians were quite literally demonizing with those theonymics there. 

But what is this ‘Sharva’ ? Well, the most usual translation is, simply, ‘The Archer’. And certainly, that is what He Is. We find this to be an indelibly ancient Indo-European understanding: everybody knows Apollo; and we have recurrently demonstrated the concordancy between Rudra and Apollo in particular regard to that ‘Archer’ saliency … as well as, more generally, the fashion in which the weapon of the ‘Archer’, the Bow-And-Arrow, is a direct ‘resonancy’ for what elsewhere in the Indo-European sphere is the Spear of the Sky Father (i.e. Odin’s Gungnir, Lord Shiva’s Trishula, the Lightningbolt of Zeus, Bident of Hades, Trident of Poseidon, the Thyrsus of Dionysus seems also to be related, and so on and so forth). 

So, in other words … Shiva – Shiva as an Archer – is not at all a ‘foreign’ understanding. It did not come from the BMAC into what became the Vedic Arya faith and mytho-religious corpus. It is something spanning right back to the Urheimat, we can fairly safely conclude. 

But that is the underlying concept. What of the word itself ?

Well, Lubotsky is the professional and academic-grade linguist … yet it seems most curious to me that the rather overt Proto-Indo-European predicates for ‘Sarva’ have seemingly gone overlooked. 

Now, to be sure, we are dealing with … several rather closely intertwined concepts. Sharva, as we have said, can mean ‘Archer’. Terms for ‘Arrow’ (for example शरु – ‘Sharu’) are therefore pertinent. As are terms for ‘Shoots’ – in the sense of lengths of plant-matter, from which arrows are, of course, constructed. However, Sharva has also been rendered – quite understandably – as ‘Injurer’, ‘Harmer’. Partially, this is because that is exactly what an Arrow does. 

So where does that get us?

Well, Pokorny’s etymological dictionary observes an Avestan ‘Sari’, ‘Breaking’, as coming from, as it reconstructs the PIE root – “k̂er-4 und k̂erə- : k̂rē-“. Interestingly, this also produces some rather handy Greek words for ‘plundering’. There’s also an ‘Old Indic’ śari- noted, although annoyingly, the dictionary hasn’t given us the Devanagari. So it could be an ‘Arrow’ or ‘Injure’ term (viz. शरि ) … but we can probably do better. In the form of Srnati ( शृणाति ; and yes, Pokorny identifies this as coming from the aforementioned PIE root) – which, helpfully, we have a pretty good idea for the root of in Sanskrit, that being ‘Sr’ ( शॄ – injure, rend, destroy). Which we mention, because … surprise surprise, it turns into ‘Shaara’ ( शर ) – ‘Arrow’. 

Meanwhile, his entry for “k̂er-, k̂erə- : k̂rā-, k̂erei-, k̂ereu-” – i.e. ‘Horn’ (or, for that matter, ‘Head’) , *ḱerh₂- in Buck’s style formulation, also produces some terms that could plausibly give us our ‘Sara’, ‘Sarva’ in Sanskrit. This is as it should be. After all, an ‘Arrowhead’, the sharp and rather ‘horn’ like element, is certainly a logical way to come to refer to such a weapon and via extension, its wielder.

We should also observe the ‘arrow construction’ components in various Vedic texts for the Trikanda – the Three-Arrow of Rudra. This is quite directly … well, that which turns into the Trishula in the later iconographic representation, yet also we find relating to that Arrow shot against Orion in the Hellenic sphere. 

There is some suggestion of a potential cognate for the Sanskrit ‘Arrow’ terms with some other ‘Sharp Weapon’ terms in the Germanic languages, per Wiktionary – and this should, indeed, prove most intriguing if it bears out. As we do not often think of an Arrow and a Sword in the same breath. And yet … there are an array of Vedic occurrences wherein, particularly within the comparative Indo-European mytholinguistic & theological schema, it does appear that ‘Arrow’ and ‘Sword’ have some perhaps (un)surprising crossover. However, I have not directly sighted in an actual academic work (i.e. not Wiktionary – which nevertheless is a prudent and useful resource .. most of the time) the attestations for this in linguistic terms.

Now, with all of this in mind – there is one pretty obvious question to be asked here.

Given we can sketch out pretty viably that ‘Arrow’ and ‘Archer’ terminology applied to Rudra as Sarva is of archaic Indo-European provenancy – rather than being of BMAC origination – the question is why we would run into a rather senior academic making the opposite claim.

The answer is a regrettably familiar one. Academia is an important and vital sphere for a lot of what we do. But it is very easy for people to end up with a certain ‘siloing’ or ‘tunnel vision’. Or, in some cases, to become so heavily invested in the entirely artificial structures of this or that theory … that they now have a vested interest in not looking at the matter more broadly. I do not mean to impugne Lubotsky of having a deliberate mindset of malfeasance here. I do not know enough about his work and areas of activity to say so.

But it has certainly seemed to crop up elsewhere where the BMAC is concerned. Academic careers built in ruins, and then seeking – with all the confidence of the proverbial man who only has a hammer (in this case, superglued to their hand) – to turn everything else into the proverbial ‘nail’ in consequence. 

There is also the occasionally inferred motivation to try and ‘de-Indo-Europeanize’ Hinduism. The incipient logic for which appears to run that it cannot and should not somehow be the case that the Vedic faith can have preserved and thence carried forward such an integral archaic Indo-European canon of belief – it must have had ‘outside influences’ from somewhere, so they seem to suggest. Even if these ‘outside influences’ have to be spun from whole cloth … and, as applies some of the BMAC-pertaining theorizing, involve elements found right at the core of the religion in question.

Which has always seemed most peculiar to me. What kind of religion that manages to maintain an unbroken line of initiation and transmission for three and a half thousand years and more and counting, would suddenly incorporate into it at its very heart, all of these purportedly foreign concepts. 

As we know so very little about the BMAC, it seemingly invites all manner of projection and postulation. Since the BMAC have not – as far as we know – passed down any written texts, and we don’t even really have a very good idea of what their language might have been (currently, stabs are made by trying to ID words in Tocharian and the Indo-Iranic languages that seem to lack PIE origination) … well, one can say almost what one likes. 

And because the BMAC exerts such an ‘aura of mystery’ – it is an area of considerable attraction and interest (and therefore, funding, attention) to speculatively ‘explore’ it in such a fashion. Much more interesting than, in this case, the far more likely truth – that Sarva, a Vedic Indo-Aryan theonymic of Rudra … has an Indo-Aryan theonym of Indo-European origination. To go along with the Indo-Aryan of Indo-European origination theology and mythology which otherwise characterizes He. 

To reference some of the first lines of Vedic scripture that I ever heard (those being the beginning of the Sri Rudram, and in particular the iteration found in the Taittiriya Samhita of the Krishna Yajurveda – IV 5 1):

‘Hail Rudra ! My Salutations (Namaste) to Your Anger (Manyava) and also to Your Arrows (Ishave)
My Salutations to Your Bow and also to Your Two Limbs / Hands (Bahubhyam) [With Which Bow And Arrow Are Drawn To Fire]

By Favour of Your Arrow, Bow (Dhanuh), and Quiver (Sharavya), which have Shed Their Anger and Turned Auspicious (Shiva), Please render us Happy.’

ॐ नमः शिवाय

One thought on “No, Śarva, The Archer Theonym Of Rudra, Is Not Of Non-Indo-European Origination

  1. Pingback: No, Śarva, The Archer Theonym Of Rudra, Is Not Of Non-Indo-European Origination – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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