Karunanidhi and Asko Parpola: An Unlikely Duo

via Dr Vijaya Rajiva published on July 6, 2010

Karunanidhi, leader of the DMK and Chief Minister of Tamilnadu is an  egocentric politician, self proclaimed anti Hindu clown and promoter of the balkanization of Bharat through various schemes, such as pitting the South against the North. Asko Parapola is a scholar and academic, professor Emeritus at the University of Helsinki ,who recently attended the much hyped Tamil Conference in Tamil Nadu and presented a paper entitled ‘A Dravidian Solution to the Indus Script’ (reproduced in The Hindu, June 25,2010).

At first glance it would seem that the two have nothing in common other than their interest in the Dravidian theme. The reader is invited to read Dr.Parapola’s paper.It is well written (although his work is not widely accepted by the world of scholarship), argued with conviction and represents years of research on the topic of the proto Dravidian basis of what used to be called, and he still calls it, the Indus  civilization ( There are also allegations of political partisanship in his work,and regrettably, financial inducements). He uses later words from Tamil to link up with proto Dravidian, which is a wider construct than the present living language of Tamil.

Today Indic scholars call it the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization because of the discovery of the lost river Sarasvati, mentioned in the Rig Veda some 72 times as a mighty river and which dried up sometime after 1,800 B.C. Satellite photography has ascertained the existence of a dried up river bed which fits with the Rig Vedic Sarasvati.

Secondly, the sites on the Sarasvati river of the Harappan civilization are more numerous than those on the Sindhu (the Indus river after the Greeks named it so).

There is another dimension to Parapola’s work which links with Karunanidhi. He and
his colleague Iravathy Mahadevan (former civil servant and now with several years of
 research behind him on the topic of the Dravidian basis of the Sarasvati Sindhiu civlisation) continue to uphold the now outdated Aryan Invasion Theory(AIT) according to which the Indo Aryans entered India circa 1,500 B.C. and defeated the Sarasvati Sindhu inhabitants and as well the Dravidians and the tribal Vanavasis (speakers of the Munda language) and thus commenced the Hindu civilization. The basis of Karunanidhi’s exaggerated (and histrionic) dislike of Hinduism  is derived from his ignorance of the origins of that religion in prehistoric
India, and the support he gets from the  work of Parpola and Mahadevan. This work, it
must be emphasized, has not been accepted by most scholars in the field. Ofcourse, one cannot discount the political returns from such posturing.

The theory of an Aryan invasion has now been rejected by Indic scholars who argue that the so called Indo Aryans (speakers of Sanskrit) were an indigenous people and they commingled with the contemporaneous peoples of the subcontinent and the fusion of all these peoples is the beginning of the Hindu civilization. Hence, the Vedas and the Vedic people are very much a part of what used to be called the Indus civilization. The Aryan migrations went outwardly from India to other parts of the world, chiefly, Iran and Europe. Not vice versa.

Thus, the Parpola-Mahadevan adherence to the Aryan Invasion Theory readily fits in
with the malignant designs of the ego centric Karunanidhi who wishes to establish a
divide between north and south, between the imaginary Aryans and the indigenous Dravidians. This was also the intent of the colonizing British power and is to day also welcomed by the evangelical Christians groups who would like to see a divided Hindu population.

Fortunately for Bharat,  this project will not seriously materialize, as the majority of South Indians (Tamils, Telugus, Keralites, Kannadigas etc.) are very grounded in their ancient Hindu religious tradition.

However, whatever the motivations of Parapola (and one hopes they are academic and
scholarly ones ) it will be a useful exercise for Bharatiyas to read his paper carefully and see where the gaps in his thinking undermine his major thesis of the Dravidian solution to the undeciphered Sarasvati-Sindhu script. Linguistics is  not a rocket science, nor is it some  gobbledyguk known only to a select group of people. Any lay person can understand its main premises quite successfully and certainly in the case of Parpola’s article the task is made easier because he himself begins with some of the problems in deciphering the Indus script. A good dictionary will elucidate the technical terminology he uses in his article.

Since Parpola does not take into account the above mentioned changes in the study of ancient Indian history, he commits  a petitio principi , a circular form of reasoning.
In other words, he sets out to prove what he has already assumed, an important flaw in any methodology. For example, he bases his reading of the pictograms of the Harappan pottery on his assumption that these are loan words from ancient Tamil(itself a construct). It must be pointed out that the most ancient Tamil literature, i.e. from the Sangam age is not earlier than the 3rd century before the Christian era. And by this time the loan words from Sanskrit are already present in Tamil. Vedic Sanskrit, is by common consent, much earlier than that, approximately 1.800 B.C. or even earlier, possibly 3,000 B.C. Hence, an explanation of the pictograms can go in the direction of Sanskrit words, rather than the alleged proto Dravidian  or the alleged ancient Tamil.

The loan words from Sanskrit to Tamil are 60%, according to Dr. S.Kalyanraman,Director of the Sarasvati Research Center. Dr. Kalyanraman’s own studies in the field have led to the conclusion that the various ethnic and linguistic groups  influenced each other at that earliest period of the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization. In his correspondence with colleagues he cites the definitive refutation by B. B.Lal of Parpola’s work (to which the latter has not replied to date):

‘ Some Observations on Harappan Script’ (1969)


In  correspondence  with colleagues  Dr.Kalyanraman writes:

“ According to the most authoritative Tamil dictionary(Tamil lexicon,Madras
   University),my educated guess is that about 60% of the glosses in Tamil are
   loan words from Sanskrit.

   Gregory Possehl in one volume of his trilogy, titled Indus Age, the writing system,
   rejects Parpola’s claim of decipherment. B.B. Lal rejects Parpola’s claim and
   Lal’s critique made in 1969 has NOT been answered so far by Parpola. Witzel
   rejects Parpola’s claim that Dravidian loan words are found in Rig Veda. Kuiper,
   Przyluski and other scholars have also noted the existence of Munda words in
   Sanskrit and have not noted any Dravidian words in Rig Veda.

   Parpola’s use of Old Tamil (assumed to be concordant with his ‘proto-dravidian
   hypothesis) to explain the glyphs of Indus script using the rebus method exludes
   the possibility that Old Tamil itsel could have borrowed from or loaned words
   to other languages of the Indian linguistic area. . .The so called ‘proto-dravidian’
   has not been defined so far: all that has happened in language studies is a
   Dravidian etymological dictionary. Out of 5000 words in this dictionary,4000
   words have been shown to have cognates in Indo-Aryan and Munda  languages
   (Kalyanraman, 1992, Indian Lexicon ):


   Language studies exemplified by scholars of language studies and archaeology
   like FBJ Kuiper, Colin Masica, Murray Barnson Emereau, Franklin Southworth
   point to a linguistic area where many languages interacted with one another and
   absorbed language features from one another. . . . .

   This is why many words used even today are commonly found in the many
    languages of the nation, ranging from Munda,prakrit, to Sanskrit,Tamil,Telugu,
    Malayalam, Kannada, Sindhi, Kashmiri and other languages which are the
    lingua franca of the nation.

    Many of these words can be traced to the time of the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization
    which produced these inscriptions in a unique pictorial writing system. It should
    be noted that over 80%of the archaeological sites of the civilization are on the
    Vedic river Saravati . . . . .

    The civilization did not vanish; the cultural legacy continues even today in many
    parts of India. . . . .”

 The present writer hopes that Bharatiyas  will read the Parpola paper not only for  its own intrinsic merits(or lack thereof) but also because any pretensions to  Linguistics being a Martian discipline inaccessible to a lay person should not be used to further the Karunanidhi project.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

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