Chapter 6

The Indo-Iranian Homeland

So far, we have examined the history of the Vedic Aryans on the basis of the Rigveda.

This history is important in a wider context: the context of the history of the Indo-Iranians, and, further, the history of the Indo-Europeans.

According to the scholars, the Vedic Aryans had three historical and prehistorical habitats: 

1.  An early Indoaryan (i.e. Vedic Aryan) habitat in the Punjab.

2. An earlier Indo-Iranian habitat in Central Asia (shared by the Vedic Aryans with the Iranians).

3. An even earlier Indo-European habitat in and around South Russia (shared by both the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians with the other Indo-European groups).

There were therefore two basic migrations according to this theory. the Indoaryans migrated first (alongwith the Iranians) from South Russia to Central Asia; and later (separating from the Iranians) from Central Asia to the Punjab through the northwest.

The concepts of a common Indo-Iranian habitat and a common Indo-European habitat are based on the fact that the Vedic Aryans share a common linguistic ancestry and cultural heritage with the other Indo-European groups in general and the Iranians in particular.

But the identification of Central Asia as the location of this common Indo-Iranian habitat and of South Russia as the location of this common Indo-European habitat are purely arbitrary hypotheses with absolutely no basis in archaeology or in written records.

As we have seen, the Vedic Aryans, far from migrating into the Punjab from the northwest, actually advanced into the Punjab from the east, and later advanced further into the northwest.  This certainly goes against the accepted ideas of the geographical locations of their earlier habitats.

So what is the geographical location of the Indo-Iranian homeland (the subject of this chapter) which, in effect, means the area where the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians developed common linguistic and cultural elements which distinguish them from other Indo-Europeans?

We will examine this question under the following heads:

I.   The ANgirases and BhRgus.
II.   The Avestan Evidence as per Western Scholars.
III.  The Historical Identity of the Iranians.
IV. The Iranian Migrations.


One very important feature which must be examined, in order to get a proper perspective on Indo-Iranian history, is the special position of, and the symbiotic relationship between, two of the ten families of RSis in the Rigveda: the ANgirases and the BhRgus.

While all the other families of RSis came into existence at various points of time during the course of composition of the Rigveda, these two families alone represent the pre-Rigvedic past: they go so far back into the past that not only the eponymous founders of these families (ANgiras and BhRgu respectively) but even certain other ancient RSis belonging to these families (BRhaspati, AtharvaNa, USanA) are already remote mythical persons in the Rigveda; and the names of the two families are already names for mythical and ritual classes: the ANgirases are deified as “a race of higher beings between Gods and men” (as Griffith puts it in his footnote to I.1.6), and the BhRgus or AtharvaNas are synonymous with fire-priests in general.

What is more, the names of these two families are also found in the Iranian and Greek texts, and they have the same role as in the Rigveda: the Iranian angra and Greek angelos are names for classes of celestial beings (although malignant ones in the Iranian version) and the Iranian Athravan and Greek phleguai are names for fire-priests.

But an examination of the Rigveda shows a striking difference in the positions of these two families:

a. The ANgirases are the dominant protagonist priests of the Rigveda.

b. The BhRgus are more or less outside the Vedic pale through most of the course of the Rigveda, and gain increasing acceptance into the Vedic mainstream only towards the end of the Rigveda.

The situation is particularly ironic since not only are both the families equally old and hoary, but it is the BhRgus, and not the ANgirases, who are the real initiators of the two main ritual systems which dominate the Rigveda: the fire ritual and the Soma ritual.

The situation may be examined under the following heads:

A. The ANgirases and BhRgus as Composers.
B. The ANgirases and BhRgus in References.
C. The Post-Rigvedic Situation.
D. Vedic Aryans and Iranians.

I.A.. The ANgirases and BhRgus as Composers

There is a sea of difference in the relative positions of the ANgirases and BhRgus as composers in the Rigveda.

To begin with, the bare facts may be noted (table on next page).

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The ANgirases have two whole MaNDalas (IV and VI) exclusively to themselves (no other family has a MaNDala exclusively to itself, and the BhRgus do not have a Family MaNDala at all), and are the dominant family in two of the four non-family MaNDalas (I and X) and second in importance in the two others (VIII and IX).  They are also present as composers in all the other Family MaNDalas (except in MaNDala II, but there we have the GRtsamadas whom we shall refer to presently).

In respect of the BhRgus, we may go into more details:

No. of Hymns
No. of Verses
[1 joint]
[3 joint]

It is clear from the above details that the BhRgus are increasingly accepted into the Vedic mainstream only in the Late Period of the Rigveda.

This is confirmed also by the fact that the BhRgu hymns in MaNDalas VIII and IX are all old hymns (with the exception of IX.62, 65, which are composed by late descendants of Jamadagni), the overwhelming majority of them even attributed to pre-Rigvedic BhRgu RSis, all of which were kept outside the Vedic corpus and included in it Only in the Late Period.

A more detailed examination of the hymns by the BhRgus brings to light the following facts:

1. The few hymns or verses by BhRgus in the MaNDalas of the Early and Middle Periods are not there on their own strength, but on the strength of the close relations of their composers with the families of the MaNDalas concerned:

a. In the Early Period, we find only 3 verses (III.62.16-18) by a BhRgu (Jamadagni), all of which are jointly composed with ViSvAmitra, the eponymous RSi of the MaNDala.  Jamadagni, by all traditional accounts, is the nephew of ViSvAmitra, his mother being ViSvAmitra’s sister.

b. In the Middle Period, we find only 4 hymns (II.4-7) by a BhRgu (SomAhuti), and it is clear in this case also that the composer is closely associated with the family of MaNDala II: in the very first of these hymns, he identifies himself with the GRtsamadas (II.4.9).

2. The hymns in the Late Period are also clearly composed by a section of BhRgus who have become close to the ANgirases, and who, moreover, find it necessary or expedient to make this point clear in their hymns:

a. In MaNDala VIII, hymn 102 is composed by a BhRgu jointly with an ANgiras RSi; and the hymn to Agni refers to that God as “ANgiras”.

b. In MaNDala IX, a BhRgu, descendant of Jamadagni, identifies himself with the ANgirases (IX.62.9). In his footnote, Griffith notes Ludwig’s puzzled comment that “the Jamadagnis were not members of that family”.

c. In MaNDala X, a BhRgu composer refers to both the BhRgus and the ANgirases as his ancestors (X.14.3-6).

Incidentally, the GRtsamadas of MaNDala II are classified as “Kevala-BhRgus” and have a separate AprI-sUkta from both the ANgirases and the BhRgus.  It is, however, clear that they are actually full-fledged ANgirases who adopted some specifically BhRgu practices and hence formed a separate family:

The AnukramaNIs classify the GRtsamadas as “Saunahotra ANgiras paScAt Saunaka BhArgava”: i.e. ANgirases of the Saunahotra branch who later joined the Saunaka branch of the BhRgus.  However, the hymns clearly show that the GRtsamadas identify themselves only as Saunahotras (II.18.6; 41.14, 17) and never as Saunakas.  They refer only to ANgirases (II.11.20; 15.8; 17.1; 20.5; 23.18) and never to BhRgus. They refer only to the ancestral ANgiras RSi BRhaspati (who is deified in four whole hymns, II.23-26, as well as in II.1.3; 30.4, 9) and never to the ancestral BhRgu RSis AtharvaNa, Dadhyanc or USanA.

All in all, it is clear that while the BhRgus are historically at least as ancient a family as the ANgirases and, in respect of the origin of Vedic rituals, even more important than the ANgirases, nevertheless, in the Rigveda, they are a family outside the pale who find a place in the Vedic mainstream only in the Late Period.

And all the BhRgus of the Rigveda (excluding, of course, the pre-Rigvedic BhRgus whose hymns are accepted into the corpus in the Late Period) and of later Indian tradition are clearly members of one single branch descended from Jamadagni, or of groups later adopted into this branch.

Significantly, Jamadagni is half a PUru: his mother is the sister of ViSvAmitra who belongs to a branch of PUrus who also call themselves Bharatas.

This probably explains the gradual separation of the Jamadagni branch from the other BhRgus and their subsequent close association with the Vedic Aryans (the PUrus) and their priests, the ANgirases.

I.B. The ANgirases and BhRgus in References

In the case of references to ANgirases and BhRgus within the hymns, also, the same case prevails: we see a sharp difference in the number and nature of references to the two families as a whole as well as to the individual mythical ancestral RSis belonging to the two families.  And there is a difference between the nature of references to them in the earlier parts of the Rigveda and those in its later parts:

1. To begin with, the ANgirases are referred to in at least 76 hymns (97 verses), while the BhRgus are referred to in 21 hymns (24 verses).

The difference in the references to the ANgirases and BhRgus in the first seven MaNDalas of the Rigveda may be noted:

The ANgirases are clearly the heroes and protagonist RSis of these MaNDalas:

a. Even the Gods are referred to as ANgirases: Agni (I.1.6; 31.1, 2, 17; 74.5; 75.2; 127.2; IV.3.15; 9.7; V.8.4; 10.7; 11.6; 21.1; VI.2.10; 11.3; 16.11), Indra (I.100.4; 130.3), the ASvins (1.112.8) and USas (VII.75.1; 79.3).

b. The ancient ANgirases as a class are deified as a semi-divine race participating in Indra’s celestial activities (I.62.1-3, 5; 83.4; II.11.20; 15.8; 17.1; 20.5; 23.18; IV.3.11; 16.8; V.45.7, 8; VI.17.6; 65.5).

In a corollary to this, special classes of semi-divine ANgirases, called Navagvas and DaSagvas are also “described as sharing in Indra’s battles” (Griffith’s footnote to I.33.6). They are referred to in 8 hymns and verses (I.33.6; 62.4; II.34.12; III.39.5; IV.51.4; V.29.12; 45.7; VI.6.3).

c. ANgirases are invoked as a class of Gods themselves, in the company of other classes of Gods like the Adityas, Maruts and Vasus (III.53.7; VII.44.4) or as representatives of brAhmanas as a whole (VII.42.1).

d. The eponymous ANgiras (I.45.3; 78.3; 139.9; III.31.7, 19; IV.40.1; VI.49.11; 73.1) or the ANgirases as a whole (I.51.3; 132.4; 139.7; VII.52.3) are referred to as the recepients of the special favours of the Gods.

And finally, many verses, by composers belonging to the ANgiras family, refer to themselves by the name (I.71.2; 107.2; 121.1, 3; IV.2.15; VI.18.5; 35.5).

In sharp contrast, there are only twelve references to the BhRgus in these seven MaNDalas.  Eleven of them (I.58.6; 60.1; 127.7; 143.4; II.4.2; III.2.4; 5.10; IV.7.1,4; 16.20; VI.15.2) are in hymns to Agni, and they merely acknowledge the important historical fact that the fire-ritual was introduced by the ancient BhRgus.

And, in VII.18.6, the only contemporary reference to the BhRgus in the first seven MaNDalas of the Rigveda, the BhRgus figure as enemies.

Again, while the pattern of references to the ANgirases in the last three MaNDalas of the Rigveda is exactly the same as in the first seven MaNDalas, the pattern of references to the BhRgus changes.

The BhRgus are referred to in ten hymns (12 verses) in MaNDalas VIII, IX and X; and now the references to them are analogous to the references to the ANgirases:

a. In some references, the BhRgus and the ANgirases are specifically classed together (VIII.6.18; 43.14; as well as in X.14.6 below).

b. The ancient BhRgus are deified as a semi-divine race participating in the celestial activities of the Gods (VIII.3.16; IX.101.13).

c. BhRgus are specifically referred to as Gods (X.92.10) and named alongwith other classes of Gods such as the Maruts (VIII.35.3; X.122.5).

The eponymous BhRgu (VIII.3.9) is referred to as a recepient of the special favours of the Gods.

There are also, of course, references which refer to the introduction of the fire ritual by the BhRgus (X.39.14; 46.2, 9; as well as X.122.5 above); and in one reference, a BhRgu composer refers to his ancestors (X.14.6).

2. In respect of individual pre-Rigvedic RSis who have already acquired a mythical status in the earliest parts of the Rigveda, we have BRhaspati and the Rbhus among the ANgirases, and AtharvaNa, Dadhyanc and USanA KAvya among the BhRgus.

The difference in treatment of these RSis is also sharp:

a. BRhaspati is completely deified, and, by a play on sounds, identified also as BrahmaNaspati, the Lord of prayer, worship and brahmanhood itself; he is the deity of thirteen whole hymns (I.18, 40, 191; II.23-26; VI.73; VII.97; X.67-68, 182), and the joint deity with Indra in one more (IV.49).

He is, in addition, lauded or invoked as a deity in 69 other verses, distributed throughout the Rigveda:

I. 14.3; 38.13; 62.3; 89.6; 90.9; 105.17; 
   106.5; 139.10; 161.6;
II. 1.3; 30.4, 9;
III. 20.5; 26.2; 62.4-6;
IV. 40.1;
V. 42.7, 8; 43.12; 46.3, 5; 51.12;
VI. 47.20; 75.17;
VII. 10.4; 41.4; 44.1;
VIII. 10.2; 27.1; 96.15;
IX. 5.11; 80.1; 81.4; 83.1; 85.6;
X. 13.4; 14.3; 17.13; 35.11; 42.11; 43.11; 
    44.11; 53.9; 64.4, 15; 65.1, 10; 92.10; 97.15, 
    19; 98.1, 3, 7; 100.5; 103.4; 108.6, 11; 
    109.5; 130.4; 141.2-5; 167.3; 173.3, 5; 174.1.

b. Likewise, the Rbhus, a group of three pre-Rigvedic ANgirases, three brothers named Rbhu, VAja and Vibhvan, are also completely deified.  They are collectively known as Rbhus, but, rarely, also as VAjas.  They are the deities of eleven whole hymns (I.20, 110-111, 161; III.60; IV.33-37; VII.48).

They are, in addition, lauded or invoked in 30 other verses distributed throughout the Rigveda:

I. 51.2; 63.3;
III. 52.6; 54.12, 17;
IV. 51.6;
V. 42.5; 46.4; 51.3;
VI. 50.12;
VII. 35.12; 37.1, 2, 4; 51.3;
VIII. 3.7; 9.12; 35.15; 77.8; 93.34;
X. 39.12; 64.10; 65.10; 66.10; 76.5; 80.7; 
    92.11; 93.7; 106.7; 176.1.

In addition, Agni is called a Rbhu in II.1.10, and Indra in X.23.2. The name RbhukSan, an alternative name for Rbhu, is also applied to other Gods: Indra (I.162.1; 167.10; 186.10; II.31.6; V.41.2; VIII.45.29; X.74.5) and the Maruts (VIII.7.9, 12; 20.2).

c. On the other hand, the praise of the ancient pre-Rigvedic BhRgu RSis is meagre and subdued.

The three RSis (AtharvaNa, Dadhyanc and USanA KAvya) are together referred to in a total of only 39 verses throughout the Rigveda:

I. 51.10, 11; 80.16; 83.5; 84.13; 116.12; 
   117.12, 22; 119.9; 121.12; 139.9;
IV. 16.2; 26.1;
V. 29.9; 31.8; 34.2;
VI. 15.17; 16.13, 14; 20.11; 47.24;
VIII. 9.7; 23.17;
IX. 11.2; 87.3; 97.7; 108.4;
X. 14.3, 6; 15.19; 21.5; 22.6; 40.7; 48.2; 
    49.3; 87.12; 92.10; 99.9; 120.9.

Although these references are laudatory ones, these RSis are definitely not treated as deities in the Rigveda.  And it is clear that the praise accorded to them, in these references, is primarily on account of the historical role played by them in introducing the ritual of fire-worship among the Vedic Aryans.

This role is hinted at in a number of ways:

Some of the references refer directly or indirectly to the introduction of fire-worship by these RSis (I.80.16; 83.5; VI.15.17; 16.13, 14; VIII.23.17). But many refer to this symbolically by connecting these RSis in a mythical way with Indra’s thunderbolt (the BhRgus are mythically identified with lightning since it also plays the role of bringing down fire from the heavens to the earth): this thunderbolt is said to be made out of the bones of Dadhyanc (I.84.13), and USanA is said to have manufactured this bolt for Indra (I.51.10, 11; 121.12; V.34.2). In this connection, USanA is often closely associated with the mythical Kutsa (the personified form of the thunderbolt) and Indra (IV.26.1; V.29.9; 31.8; X.49.3; 99.9), in some cases both USanA and this mythical Kutsa being mentioned in different verses in the same hymn (IV.16; VI.20).

The references to the three RSis fall into clear chronological categories:

a. The oldest references, in the MaNDalas of the Early and Middle Periods (i.e. MaNDalas VI, III, VII, IV, II, and the early and middle upa-maNDalas) are only by ANgirases, and they refer only to the introduction of fire-worship by the BhRgus (in the different ways already described).

b. The next batch of references, in the MaNDalas of the relatively earlier parts of the Late MaNDalas (MaNDalas V, VIII, and most of the late upa-maNDalas) are now by RSis belonging to different families (ANgirases, ViSvAmitras, VasiSThas, Atris, and KaNvas), but they still refer only to the introduction of fire-worship by the BhRgus.

c. The latest references (in MaNDalas IX and X, and in the latest hymns of MaNDala I, the hymns of Parucchepa and the ASvin hymns of the KakSIvAns) also refer to the introduction of fire-worship by the BhRgus (I.121.12; X.49.3; 99.9), but now there are other kinds of references:

Some verses refer to the introduction of Soma (I.116.12; 117.12, 22; 119.9; IX.87.3; 108.4). In some, BhRgu composers refer to their ancestors (X.14.3, 6; 15.9), and in one, the BhRgu composer calls himself an AtharvaNa (X.120.9). In the other references, these RSis are mentioned as the favoured of the Gods, either alone (I.117.12; IX.97.7; X.22.6) or in the company of other RSis (I.139.9; X.40.7; 48.2; 87.12).

The picture is clear: the ANgirases were the dominant priests of the Vedic Aryans, and the BhRgus were outside the Vedic pale.  They were only referred to, in early parts of the Rigveda, in deference to the fact that it was they who introduced the ritual of fire-worship among the ANgirases.

It is only in the Late Period of the Rigveda that the BhRgus were increasingly accepted into the Vedic mainstream.

I.C. The Post-Rigvedic Situation

The BhRgus, outside the Vedic pale for most of the period of the Rigveda, were accepted into the Vedic mainstream only towards the end of the Rigvedic period.

However, in the post-Rigvedic period, there is a sudden miraculous transformation in their status and position.

The BhRgus were clearly a very enterprising and dynamic family (if their ancient role in the introduction of fundamental rituals is a pointer), and, once they were accepted into the Vedic mainstream, they rapidly became an integral part of this mainstream.  In fact, before long they took charge of the whole Vedic tradition, and became the most important of all the families of Vedic RSis.

The extent of their domination is almost incredible, and it starts with a near monopoly over the Vedic literature itself: the only recession of the Rigveda that is extant today is a BhRgu recession (SAkala); one (and the more important one) of the two extant recessions of the Atharvaveda is a BhRgu recession (Saunaka); one (and the most important one) of the three extant recessions of the SAmaveda is a BhRgu recession (JaiminIya); and one (and the most important one among the four KRSNa or Black recessions) of the six extant recessions of the Yajurveda is a BhRgu recession (TaittirIya).

The BhRgus are the only family to have extant recessions of all the four Vedas (next come the VasiSThas with extant recessions of two; other families have either one extant recession or none).

Not only is the only extant recession of the Rigveda a BhRgu recession, but nearly every single primary text on the Rigveda, and on its subsidiary aspects, is by a BhRgu.

a. The PadapAtha (SAkalya).
b. The all-important AnukramaNIs or Indices (Saunaka).
c. The BRhaddevatA or Compendium of Vedic Myths (Saunaka).
d. The RgvidhAna (Saunaka).
e. The ASTAdhyAyI or Compendium of Grammar (PANini).
f. The Nirukta or Compendium of Etymology (YAska).

Later on in time, the founder of the one system (among the six systems of Hindu philosophy), the PUrva MImAMsA, which lays stress on Vedic ritual, is also a BhRgu (Jaimini).

The dominance of the BhRgus continues in the Epic-Puranic period: the author of the RAmAyaNa is a BhRgu (VAlmIki).

The author of the MahAbhArata, VyAsa, is not a BhRgu (he is a VasiSTha), but his primary disciple VaiSampAyana, to whom VyAsa recounts the entire epic, and who is then said to have related it at Janamejaya’s sacrifice, whence it was recorded for posterity, is a BhRgu.  Moreover, as Sukhtankar has conclusively proved (The BhRgus and the BhArata, Annals of the Bhandarkar Research Institute, Pune, XVIII, p.1-76), the BhRgus were responsible for the final development and shaping of the MahAbhArata as we know it today.

In the PurANas, the only RSi to be accorded the highest dignity that Hindu mythology can give any person - the status of being recognised as an avatAra of ViSNu - is a BhRgu (ParaSu-RAma, son of Jamadagni).

The BhRgus are accorded the primary position in all traditional lists of pravaras and gotras; and in the BhagavadgItA, Krishna proclaims: “Among the Great RSis, I am BhRgu; and among words I am the sacred syllable OM…” (BhagavadgItA, X.25).

In fact, down the ages, it is persons from BhRgu gotras who appear to have given shape to the most distinctive and prominent positions of Hindu thought on all aspects of life: KAma, Artha, Dharma and MokSa; from VAtsyAyana to KauTilya to Adi SankarAcArya.

I.D. Vedic Aryans and Iranians

The BhRgus clearly occupy a very peculiar position in Indian tradition and history.

An American scholar, Robert P. Goldman, in a detailed study of the history of the BhRgus as it appears from the myths in the MahAbhArata, makes some significant observations. According to him:

1. The mythology clearly “sets the BhRgus apart from the other brahmanical clans… The myths… unequivocally mark the BhRgus as a group set apart from their fellow brahmans.”1

The characteristic feature which sets the BhRgus apart is “open hostility to the gods themselves… One of the greatest of the BhRgus is everywhere said to have served as the priest and chaplain of the asuras, the demon enemies of heaven and of order (dharma).”2

After analysing various myths involving the most prominent BhRgu RSis, Goldman again reiterates his point that “hostility emerges as the more characteristic phenomenon, and the one that most clearly sets the group apart from the other famous sages and priestly families of Indian myth… the motifs of hostility, violence and curses between gods and sages… are virtually definitive of the BhArgava cycle.”3

And “the association of the sage Sukra with the asuras is one of the strangest peculiarities of the BhArgava corpus”.4

At the same time, the traditions record certain ambiguous moments in this hostility where it appears that “the BhArgava seems unable to decide between the asuras and their foes on any consistent basis”.5

There is, for example, “a myth that is anomalous… at the request of Siva, RAma, although he was unskilled at arms, undertakes to do battle against the asuras… He does so, and, having slain all the asuras, he receives the divine weapons that he wishes.”6Here, it must be noted, RAma (ParaSu-RAma) is actually “said to associate with the gods, and, especially, to fight their battles with the asuras”.7

And even in “the long and complex saga of Sukra and the asuras, Sukra is twice said to have abandoned the, demons to their fate, and even to have cursed them… the first time he appears to have been motivated simply by a desire to join the gods and assist at their sacrifice.”8

Goldman, therefore, arrives at two conclusions:

1. “The identification of Sukra as the purohita and protector of the asuras may shed some light on some of the most basic problems of early Indian and even early Indo-Iranian religion. If, as has been suggested on the basis of the Iranian evidence, the asuras were the divinities of Aryans for whom, perhaps, the devas were demons, then Sukra and perhaps the BhArgavas were originally their priests.”9

2. “The repeated theme of Sukra and his disciples’… ultimate disillusionment with the demons and their going over to the side of the gods may also be viewed as suggestive of a process of absorption of this branch of the BhRgus into the ranks of the orthodox brahmins.”10

Goldman’s conclusions fully agree with our analysis of the position of the BhRgus in the Rigveda: in short, the traditional Indian myths about the BhRgus, as recorded in the Epics and PurANas, conjure up a historical picture which tallies closely with the historical picture which emerges from any logical analysis of the information in the hymns of the Rigveda.

What is particularly worthy of note is that these myths, and these hymns, have been faithfully preserved for posterity by a priesthood dominated by none other than the BhRgus themselves - i.e. the BhRgus of the post-Rigvedic era.

And it is clear that these later BhRgus, even as they faithfully recorded and maintained hymns and myths which showed their ancestors in a peculiar or questionable light, were puzzled about the whole situation.

As Goldman puts it: “That one of the greatest BhArgava sages should regularly champion the asuras, the forces of chaos and evil - in short, of adharma - against the divine personifications of dharma is perplexing and has no non-BhArgava parallel in the literature. The origin of the relationship was evidently puzzling to the epic redactors themselves, for the question is raised at least twice in the MahAbhArata.  In neither case is the answer given wholly satisfactory.”11

We have one advantage over the redactors of the MahAbhArata - we have the evidence of the Avesta before us:

1. The Avesta clearly represents the opposite side in the conflict:

a. In the Avesta, the Asuras (Ahura) are the Gods, and Devas (DaEva) are the demons.

b. Here also the BhRgus or AtharvaNas (Athravan) are associated with the Asuras (Ahura), and the ANgirases (Angra) with the Devas (DaEva).

2. The Avesta also shows the movement of a group from among the BhRgus towards the side of the Deva-worshippers: there are two groups of Athravan priests in the Avesta, the Kavis and the Spitamas, and it is clear that the Kavis had moved over to the enemies.

The pre-Avestan (and pre-Rigvedic) Kavi Usan (Kavi USanA or USanA KAvya) is lauded in the BahrAm YaSt (Yt.14.39) and AbAn YaSt (Yt.5.45). Also, a dynasty (the most important dynasty in Avestan and Zoroastrian history) of kings from among the Kavis is twice lauded in the Avesta, in the FarvardIn YaSt (Yt.13.121) and the ZamyAd YaSt (Yt.19.71). The kings of this dynasty, named in these YaSts, include Kavi KavAta (KaikobAd of later times) and Kavi Usadhan (Kaikaus of later times, who is regularly confused, in later traditions, with the above Kavi Usan).

However, the Kavis as a class are regularly condemned throughout the Avesta, right from the GAthAs of ZarathuStra onwards, and it is clear that they are regarded as a race of priests who have joined the ranks of the enemies even before the period of ZarathuStra himself.

Hence, it is not the BhRgus or AtharvaNas as a whole who are the protagonist priests of the Avesta, it is only the Spitama branch of the Athravans.  Hence, also, the name of the Good Spirit, opposed to the Bad Spirit Angra Mainyu (a name clearly derived from the name of the ANgirases), is Spenta Mainyu (a name clearly derived from the name of the Spitamas).

The picture that emerges from this whole discussion is clear:

a. The ANgirases were the priests of the Vedic Aryans, and the BhRgus were the priests of the Iranians.

b. There was a period of acute hostility between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, which left its mark on the myths and traditions of both the peoples.

Now the crucial question on which hinges the history of the Indo-Iranians, and the problem of the Indo-Iranian homeland, is: where and when did this hostility take place?

According to the scholars, this hostility took place in the Indo-Iranian homeland, which they locate in Central Asia; and this hostility preceded, and was the reason behind, the Indoaryans and Iranians splitting from each other and going their own separate ways into India and Iran respectively.

This scenario, however, lies only in the field of hypothesis, and is totally unsupported by the facts as testified by the joint evidence of the Rigveda and the Avesta.

To arrive at the true picture, therefore, we must now turn to the evidence of the Avesta.


The official theory about the Indo-Iranians is that they migrated into Central Asia from the West (from an original Indo-European homeland in South Russia) and then they split into two: the Iranians moving southwestwards into Iran, and the Indoaryans moving southeastwards into India.

According to another version, now generally discarded by the scholars, but which still forms the basis for off-hand remarks and assumptions, the Indo-Iranians first migrated into the Caucasus region, from where they moved southwards into western Iran.  From there, they moved eastwards, with the Indoaryans separating from the Iranians somewhere in eastern Iran and continuing eastwards into India.

It will therefore be necessary to examine what exactly are the facts, and the evidence, about the early history of the Indo-Iranians, as per the general consensus among the Western scholars.

This is very important because an examination shows that there is a sharp contradiction between the facts of the case as presented, or admitted to, by the scholars, and the conclusions reached by themselves on the basis of these facts.

The Iranians are historically known in three contiguous areas: Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan.  The basic question which arises, therefore, is: which of these areas was historically the earliest one?

Michael Witzel, a western scholar whose writings we will be dealing with in greater detail in an appendix to this book, refers dismissively to the theory outlined by us in our earlier book that India was the original Indo-European homeland, as the “contrary view that stresses the Indian home of the Indo-Aryans. Even Indo-Iranians, not to mention all Indo-Europeans (!) are increasingly located in South Asia whence they are held to have migrated westwards, a clearly erroneous view…”12

However, Witzel is compelled to admit that “it is not entirely clear where the combined Indo-Iranians lived together before they left for Iran and India, when they went on their separate ways, by what routes, and in what order”.13

As we can see, in spite of admitting that the evidence does not tell him “where the combined Indo-Iranians lived together”, he goes on with “before they left for Iran and India”.  That they did not live together in either Iran or India is to him a foregone conclusion which requires no evidence.

There is thus a natural inbuilt bias in the minds of most scholars towards a conclusion favouring a movement into Iran and India from Central Asia, which is not based on evidence but on a theory which locates the original Indo-European homeland in South Russia, making Central Asia a convenient stopping point on the way to Iran and India.

However, another scholar, P. Oktor Skjærvø, in his paper published in the same volume as Witzel’s papers, gives us a summary of whatever evidence does exist on the subject.  According to him: “Evidence either for the history of the Iranian tribes or their languages from the period following the separation of the Indian and Iranian tribes down to the early 1st millennium BC is sadly lacking.  There are no written sources, and archaeologists are still working to fill out the picture.”14

Thus, there is neither literary evidence nor archaeological evidence for Iranians before the early first millennium BC.

When literary evidence does turn up, what does it indicate?

“The earliest mention of Iranians in historical sources is, paradoxically, of those settled on the Iranian plateau, not those still in Central Asia, their ancestral homeland.  ‘Persians’ are first mentioned in the 9th century BC Assyrian annals: on one campaign, in 835 BC, Shalmaneser (858-824 BC) is said to have received tributes from 27 kings of ParSuwaS; the Medes are mentioned under Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC); at the battle of Halulê on the Tigris in 691 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib (704-681 BC) faced an army of troops from Elam, ParsumaS, Anzan, and others; and in the Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) and elsewhere numerous ‘kings’ of the Medes are mentioned (see also, for example, Boyce 1975-82: 5-13). … There are no literary sources for Iranians in Central Asia before the Old Persian inscriptions (Darius’s Bisotun inscription, 521-519 BC, ed. Schmitt) and Herodotus’ Histories (ca. 470 BC). These show that by the mid-Ist millennium BC tribes called Sakas by the Persians and Scythians by the Greeks were spread throughout Central Asia, from the westernmost edges (north and northwest of the Black Sea) to its easternmost borders.”15

Thus, while Witzel indicates his bias towards Central Asia as the earliest habitat of the Iranians while admitting to absence of specific data to that effect, Skjærvø indicates the same bias while admitting to specific data to the opposite effect.

The sum of the specifically datable inscriptional evidence for the presence of Iranians is therefore 835 BC in the case of Iran and 521 BC in the case of Central Asia.  This may not be clinching evidence (indicating that Iranians were not present in these areas before these dates), but, such as it is, this is the evidence.

There is, however, an older source of evidence: the Avesta.

As Skjærvø puts it, “the only sources for the early (pre-Achaemenid) history of the eastern Iranian peoples are the Avesta, the Old Persian inscriptions, and Herodotus. … In view of the dearth of historical sources it is of paramount importance that one should evalute the evidence of the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, parts at least of which antedate the Old Persian inscriptions by several centuries.”16

The Avesta is the oldest valid source for the earliest history and geography of the Iranians, and Skjærvø therefore examines the “internal evidence of the Avestan texts” in respect of geographical names.

About the “earliest geographical names”, he tells us: “A very few geographical names appear to be inherited from Indo-Iranian times.  For instance, OPers. Haraiva-, Av. (acc.) HarOiium, and OPers. HarauvatI, Av. HaraxvaitI-, both of which in historical times are located in the area of southern Afghanistan (Herat and Kandahar), correspond to the two Vedic rivers Sarayu and SarasvatI.  These correspondences are interesting, but tell us nothing about the early geography of the Indo-Iranian tribes.”17

Here again we see the sharp contradiction between the facts and the conclusion: “the earliest geographical names … inherited from Indo-Iranian times” indicate an area in southern Afghanistan, as per Skjærvø’s own admission.  However, this evidence does not accord with the Theory.  Hence Skjærvø concludes that while this information is “interesting” (whatever that means), it “tells us nothing about the early geography of the Indo-Iranian tribes”!

The geography of the Avesta is also equally “interesting”: “Two Young Avestan texts contain lists of countries known to their authors, YaSt 10 and VidEvdAd, Chapter 1. The two lists differ considerably in terms of composition and are therefore most probably independent of one another. Both lists contain only countries in northeastern Iran.”18 Skjærvø clarifies on the same page that when he says “northeastern Iran”, he means “Central Asia, Afghanistan and northeastern modem Iran”.19All these places are “located to the east of the Caspian Ocean, with the possible exception of Raga”.20 But, again, he clarifies later that this is only if Raga is identified with “Median RagA … modem Ray south of Tehran. In the VidEvdAd, however, it is listed between the Helmand river and Caxra (assumed to be modern Carx near Ghazna in southeast Afghanistan) and is therefore most probably different from Median RagA and modern Ray.”21

While Skjærvø accepts that western Iran was unknown to the early Iranians, he is deliberately silent on a crucial part of the Avestan evidence.

He deliberately omits to mention in his list of names “inherited from Indo-Iranian times” (i.e. common to the Rigveda and the Avesta) as well as in his description of the areas covered in YaSt 10 and VidEvdAd, Chapter 1, the name of a crucial area known to the Avesta: the Hapta-HAndu or the Punjab!

Skjærvø does mention the Hapta-HAndu when he details the list of names given in the VidEvdAd; but he merely translates it as “the Seven Rivers”,22 pointedly avoids mentioning anywhere that this refers to the Punjab, and generally treats it as just another piece of information which is “interesting” but “tells us nothing” about anything, since it runs counter to the Theory.

But whatever the conclusions of the scholars, the facts of the case, as indicated by themselves, give us the following picture of Iranian geography:

1. Pre-Avestan Period: Punjab, southern Afghanistan.

2. Early and Late Avestan Periods: Punjab, Afghanistan, Central Asia, northeastern Iran.

3. Post-Avestan Period: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran.

To deviate slightly from the evidence of the Western scholars, we may compare this with the following picture of Rigvedic geography derived by us in this book on the basis of the evidence in the Rigveda:

1. Pre-Rigvedic Period: Haryana and areas cast.

2. Early Rigvedic Period: Haryana and areas east, eastern and central Punjab.

3. Middle Rigvedic Period: Haryana and areas east, Punjab.

4. Late Rigvedic Period: Haryana and areas east, Punjab, southern Afghanistan.

The direction of origin and movement is clear:

1. Originally, the Vedic Aryans were in Haryana and areas to the east, while the Iranians were in Punjab and southern Afghanistan.

2. Towards the end of the Early Period of the Rigveda, the Vedic Aryans had started moving westwards and penetrating into the Punjab, entering into direct conflict with the Iranians.

3. In the Middle and Late Periods of the Rigveda, the Vedic Aryans were now together with the Iranians in the Punjab and southern Afghanistan, and the Iranians had also spread out further northwards and westwards.

To return to the Western scholars P. Oktor Skjærvø and Michael Witzel, it is not only the facts about the Avesta (as detailed by Skjærvø) which clearly indicate a movement from east to west; even the relative chronology suggested by the two scholars, extremely late though it is, and coloured as it is by their staunch belief in the Theory, clearly shows a movement from India to the west:

Skjærvø admits that the earliest evidence for the Iranians is 835 BC in the case of Iran, and 521 BC in the case of Central Asia.

In respect of the Avesta, which is the earliest source for the Iranians (and whose earliest geographical names pertain to southern Afghanistan and the Punjab), Skjærvø notes that “the most common estimates range between 10,00-600 BC”.23However, he opines that “the … ‘early date’ for the older Avesta would be the 14th-11th centuries BC, close to the middle of the second millennium … the extreme ‘late date’ - 8th-7th centuries BC”.24

In respect of the Rigveda, Witzel himself goes far beyond these dates.  As he puts it: “Since the SarasvatI, which dries up progressively after the mid 2nd millennium BC (Erdosy 1989) is still described as a mighty river in the Rigveda, the earliest hymns in the latter must have been composed by C.1500 BC”25

He repeats this point in respect of a specific historical incident: the SarasvatI is “prominent in Book 7: it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.95.2) - which would put the battle of 10 kings prior to 1500 BC or so due to the now well-documented dessication of the SarasvatI (Yash Pal et al, 1984)”.26

Witzel states that “the earliest hymns” in the Rigveda “must have been composed by 1500 BC”.  But the specific incident he quotes suggests that, by his reckoning, even very late hymns were already in existence by 1500 BC: the hymn he quotes is VII.95. According to him elsewhere, MaNDala VII is “the latest of the family books”27; even within this MaNDala, hymn 95 must, by his reckoning, be “a comparatively late hymn”28, which is how he describes hymn 96 which is a companion hymn to hymn 95.

The historical incident he refers to, which he places far earlier than Skjærvø’s earliest dating for the earliest parts of the Avesta (whose earliest references are to areas in southern Afghanistan and the Punjab), is SudAs’s battle of the ten kings, fought on the ParuSNI central Punjab.

This battle was, moreover, preceded by other battles fought by SudAs.  SudAs’s priest in the battle of ten kings was VasiSTha. VasiSTha’s predecessor was ViSvAmitra, and under his priesthood SudAs had fought a battle, considerably to the east of the Punjab, with the KIkaTas of Bihar.

Witzel, of course, refuses to accept the location of Mata in Bihar.  But, even so, he places KIkaTa at least as far east of the Punjab as the area to “the south of KurukSetra, in eastern Rajasthan or western Madhya Pradesh.”29

In sum, the facts and the evidence of the Indo-Iranian case, as detailed by the Western scholars (and inspite of the contrary “conclusions” reached by them), show beyond any doubt that the only area of Indo-Iranian contact was in the Punjab-Haryana region and southern and eastern Afghanistan.

To get a final and complete perspective on the geography of the Avesta, let us examine what perhaps the most eminent Western scholar on the subject, Gherardo Gnoli, has to say.  Gnoli is not a scholar who is out to challenge the standard version of an Indo-Iranian movement from Central Asia into Iran and India, and, indeed, he probably does not even doubt that version.

But the geographical facts of the Avesta, as set out by Gnoli in great detail in his book Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland, show very clearly that the oldest regions known to the Iranians were Afghanistan and areas to its east.  They also show (and he says so specifically in no uncertain terms) that areas to the west, and also to the north, were either totally unknown to the Iranians, or else they were areas newly known to them and which did not form a part of their traditional ethos.  Any references to migrations, in his analysis, are always to migrations from east to west or from south to north.

The Avesta, incidentally, contains five groups of texts:

1. The Yasna (Y), containing 72 chapters divided into two groups:
    a. The GAthAs of ZarathuStra (Y.28-34, 43-51, 53).
    b. The Yasna (proper) (Y.1-27, 35-42, 52, 54-72).
2. The YaSts (Yt.), 24 in number.

3. The VidEvdAt or VendidAd (Vd), containing 22 chapters.
4. The VisprAt or Vispered.

5. The Khordah Avesta or the Lesser Avesta, containing the SIrOzas, NyAyIS, AfrIn, etc.

Only the first three, because of their size, antiquity and nature, are of importance in any historical study: of these, the GAthAs and some of the YaSts form the chronologically oldest portions.  In terms of language, the dialect of the GAthAs and some of the other chapters of the Yasna, i.e. Y.19-21, 27, 3541, 54, called GAthic, is older than the Zend dialect of the rest of the Avesta.

We will examine the geography of the Avesta, as detailed by Gnoli as follows:

A. The West and the East.
B. The North and the South.
C. The Punjab.

II. A. The West and the East

Gnoli repeatedly stresses “the fact that Avestan geography, particularly the list in Vd. I, is confined to the east,”30 and points out that this list is “remarkably important in reconstructing the early history of Zoroastrianism”.31

Elsewhere, he again refers to “the entirely eastern character of the countries listed in the first chapter of the VendidAd, including Zoroastrian RaYa, and the historical and geographical importance of that list”.32

The horizon of the Avesta, Gnoli notes, “is according to Burrow, wholly eastern and therefore certainly earlier than the westward migrations of the Iranian tribes.”33

In great detail, he rejects theories which seek to connect up some of the places named in the Avesta (such as Airyana VaEjah and RaYa) with areas in the west, and concludes that this attempt to transpose the geography of the Avesta from Afghanistan to western Iran “was doubtless due to different attempts made by the most powerful religious centres of western Iran and the influential order of the Magi to appropriate the traditions of Zoroastrianism that had flourished in the eastern territories of the plateau in far-off times. Without a doubt, the identification of RaYa with AdurbAdagAn, more or less parallel with its identification with Ray, should be fitted into the vaster picture of the late location of Airyana VaEjah in ADarbAyjAn.”34

The crucial geographical list of sixteen Iranian lands, in the first chapter of the VendidAd, is fully identified: “From the second to the sixteenth country, we have quite a compact and consistent picture.  The order goes roughly from north to south and then towards the east: Sogdiana (Gava), Margiana (Mourv), Bactria (BAx?I, Nisaya between Margiana and Bactria, Areia (HarOiva), KAbulistAn (VaEkArAta), the GaznI region (UrvA), XnAnta, Arachosia (HaraxvaitI), Drangiana (HaEtumant), a territory between Zamin-dAvar and Qal‘at-i-Gilzay (RaYa), the LUgar valley (Caxra), BunEr (VarAna), PañjAb (Hapta HAndu), RaNhA … between the KAbul and the Kurram, in the region where it seems likely the Vedic river RasA flowed.”35

Gnoli notes that India is very much a part of the geographical picture: “With VarAna and RaNhA, as of course with Hapta HAndu, which comes between them in the Vd. I list, we find ourselves straight away in Indian territory, or, at any rate, in territory that, from the very earliest times, was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto-Indoaryans.”36

Although the scholars are careful to include “northeastern modem Iran” in their descriptions, the areas covered by the VendidAd list only touch the easternmost borders of Iran: but they cover the whole of Afghanistan, the northern half of present-day Pakistan (NWFP, Punjab), and the southern parts of Central Asia to the north of Afghanistan, and, again, in the east, they enter the northwestern borders of present-day (post-1947) India.

Gnoli identifies fifteen of the sixteen Iranian lands named in the VendidAd list.  But he feels that “the first of the countries created by Ahura Mazda, Airyana VaEjah, should be left out” of the discussion, since “this country is characterized, in the Vd. I context, by an advanced state of mythicization”.37

While this (i.e. that Airyana VaEjah is a mythical land, a purely imaginary Paradise) is a possibility, there is another alternate possibility: the other fifteen lands, from Gava (Sogdiana) to RaNhA (the region between the KAbul and Kurrum rivers in the NWFP) are clearly named in geographical order proceeding from north to south, turning east, and again proceeding northwards.

That the list of names leads back to the starting point is clear also from the fact that the accompanying list of the evil counter-creations of Angra Mainyu, in the sixteen lands created by Ahura Mazda, starts with “severe winter” in the first land, Airyana VaEjah, moves through a variety of other evils (including various sinful proclivities, obnoxious insects, evil spirits and physical ailments), and comes back again to “severe winter” in the sixteenth land, RaNhA.

A logical conclusion would be that the first land, Airyana VaEjah, lies close to the sixteenth land (RaNhA). The lands to the north (VarAna), west (VaEkArAta, Caxra, UrvA), and south (Hapta-HAndu) of RaNhA are named, so Airyana VaEjah must be in Kashmir to the east of RaNhA.  RaNhA itself leads Gnoli “to think of an eastern mountainous area, Indian or Indo-Iranian, hit by intense cold in winter”.38

In sum, the geography of the Avesta almost totally excludes present-day Iran and areas to its north and west, and consists exclusively of Afghanistan and areas to its north and east, including parts of Rigvedic India (see map opposite p.120).

II. B. The North and the South

The geographical horizon of the Avesta (excluding for the moment the Punjab in the east) extends from Central Asia in the north to the borders of Baluchistan in the south.

This region, from north to south, can be divided as follows: 

1. Northern Central Asia (XvAirizAm).

2. Southern Central Asia (Gava, Mourv, Bax?I, Nisaya), including the northern parts of Afghanistan to the north of the HindUkuS.

3. Central Afghanistan (HarOiva, VaEkArAta, UrvA, XnAnta, Caxra) to the south of the HindUkuS

4. Southern Afghanistan (HaraxvaitI, HaEtumant, RaYa) to the borders of Baluchistan in the south.

Let us examine the position of each of these four areas in the geography of the Avesta:

1. The Avesta does not know any area to the north, or west, of the Aral Sea.  The northernmost area, the only place in northern Central Asia, named in the Avesta is Chorasmia or KhwArizm, to the south of the Aral Sea.

The compulsion to demonstrate an Iranian (and consequently Indo-Iranian) migration from the north into Afghanistan has led many scholars to identify Chorasmia with Airyana VaEjah, and to trace the origins of both Zoro-astrianism as well as the (Indo-)Iranians to this area.

However, Gnoli points out that Chorasmia “is mentioned only once”39 in the whole of the Avesta.  Moreover, it is not mentioned among the sixteen lands created by Ahura Mazda listed in the first chapter of the VendidAd.  It is mentioned among the lands named in the Mihr YaSt (Yt.10.14) in a description of the God Mi?ra standing on the mountains and surveying the lands to his south and north.

Gnoli emphasizes the significance of this distinction: “the countries in Vd.I and Yt.X are of a quite different nature: the aim of the first list is evidently to give a fairly complete description of the space occupied by the Aryan tribes in a remote period in their history.”40 Clearly, Chorasmia is not part of this space.

As a matter of fact, Chorasmia is named as “practically the very furthest horizon reached by Mi?ra’s gaze”41 and Gnoli suggests that “the inclusion of the name of Chorasmia in this YaSt … could in fact be a mention or an interpolation whose purpose, whether conscious or unconscious, was rather meant to continue in a south-north direction the list of lands over which Mi?ra’s gaze passed by indicating a country on the outskirts such as Chorasmia (which must have been very little known at the time the YaSt was composed)”.42

The suggestion that the inclusion of Chorasmia in the YaSt is an interpolation is based on a solid linguistic fact: the name, XvAirizAm, as it occurs in the reference, is “in a late, clearly Middle Persian nominal form”.43

Hence Gnoli rejects as “groundless” any theory which attempts “to show that airyanAm VaEjO in the VendidAd is equivalent to XvAirizAm in the Mihr YaSt44and which tries to reconstruct “from a comparison of the geographical data in the Mihr YaSt and the ZamyAd YaSt the route followed by the Iranian tribes in their migration southwards, or the expansion in the same direction of the Zoroastrian community”.45

As a matter of fact, even though it contradicts the Theory, there have been a great many scholars who have claimed a movement in the opposite direction in the case of Chorasmia: “It has been said that the Chorasmians moved from the south (from the territory immediately to the east of the Parthians and the Hyrcanians) towards the north (to XwArizm).”46

The scholars who make this claim suggest that “the probable ancient seat of the Chorasmians was a country with both mountainous areas and plains, much further south than XIva, whereas the oasis of XIva was a more recent seat which they may have moved to precisely in consequence of the growing power of the Achaemenians by which, as Herodotus says, they were deprived of a considerable part of their land”.47

While Gnoli does not agree with the late chronology suggested for this south-to-north movement, and gives evidence to show that “Chorasmia corresponded more or less to historical XwArizm even before Darius I’s reign (521-486 BC)”48, he nevertheless agrees with the suggested direction of migration, which is, moreover, backed by the opinion of archaeologists:

“As a matter of fact, we are able to reconstruct a south-north migration of the Chorasmians on a smaller scale only, as it is a well known fact that the delta of the Oxus moved in the same direction between the end of the second millennium and the 6th century BC and ended up flowing into the Aral Sea.”49 Therefore, “we cannot rule out the possibility that the Chorasmians, as pointed out, moved in this same direction and that at the beginning of the Achaemenian empire there were still settlements of them further south.  At all events, this is the explanation that archaeologists give for the proto-historic settlement of Chorasmia, without taking into account precise ethnic identifications.”50

In short, far from being the early homeland from which the (Indo-)Iranians migrated southwards, “XwArizm … appears upon an unprejudiced examination, as a remote, outlying province which never played a really central part in the political and cultural history of Iran before the Middle Ages”.51And the region was so unknown that there was, among the Iranians, “absence of any sure knowledge of the very existence of the Aral Sea as a separate body of water with a name of its own, even as late as the time of Alexander”.52

2. The countries in southern Central Asia and northern Afghanistan (Sogdiana, Margiana and Bactria), particularly southern Bactria or Balkh which falls in northern Afghanistan, are very much a part of Iranian territory as per the evidence of the Avesta.

However, this evidence also makes it clear that these territories were, in the words of Gnoli, “peripheral”, and the traditions to this effect persisted as late as the period of the Macedonian conquest of these areas.

As Gnoli puts it: “in the denomination of Ariana, which became known to the Greeks after the Macedonian conquest of the eastern territories of the old Persian empire, there was obviously reflected a tradition that located the Aryan region in the central-southern part of eastern Iran, roughly from the HindUkuS southwards, and that considered some of the Medes and the Persians in the west and some of the Bactrians and Sogdians in the north as further extensions of those people who were henceforth known by the name of Ariani.  And this, to tell the truth, fits nicely into the picture we have been trying to piece so far.  Here too, as in the passages of the Avesta we have studied from the Mihr YaSt and the ZamyAd YaStthe geographical horizon is central-eastern and southeastern; the northern lands are also completely peripheral, and Chorasmia, which is present only in the very peculiar position of which we have spoken in the Mihr YaSt, is not included.”53 (Note: by “eastern Iran”, Gnoli refers to Afghanistan, which forms the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.)

Balkh or southern Bactria does play a prominent role in later Iranian and Zoroastrian tradition “which would have ViStAspa linked with Balx and SIstAn”54 (i.e. with both the northernmost and southernmost parts of Afghanistan).

However, referring to “the tradition that links Kavi ViStAspa with Bactria”, Gnoli notes that “the explanation of ViStAspa being Bactrian and not Drangian is a feeble one”.55He attributes the tradition to “the period of Bactrian hegemony which Djakonov dates between 650 and 540 BC”, during which “the old … tradition of Kavi ViStAspa, who was originally linked with Drangiana, could have taken on, so to speak, a new, Bactrian guise”.56

The Avesta itself is clear in identifying ViStAspa with the southern regions only.

In sum, the more northern regions of Sogdiana and Margiana were “completely peripheral”, and, in the words of Gnoli, “we may consider that the northernmost regions where Zoroaster carried out his work were Bactria and Areia”.57

3. When we come to the areas to the south of the HindUkuS, we are clearly in the mainland of the Avestan territory.

Gnoli repeatedly stresses throughout his book that the airyo-Sayana or Land of the Aryans described in the Avesta refers to “the vast region that stretches southward from the HindUkuS,”58 that is, “from the southern slopes of the great mountain chains towards the valleys of the rivers that flow south, like the Hilmand…”59 In this respect he notes that “there is a substantial uniformity in the geographical horizon between Yt.XIX and Yt.X ... and the same can be said for Vd.I … these Avestan texts which contain in different forms, and for different purposes, items of information that are useful for historical geography give a fairly uniform picture: eastern Iran, with a certain prevalence of the countries reaching upto the southern slopes of the HindUkuS.”60

Likewise, in later Greek tradition, ArianE “is the Greek name which doubtless reflects an older Iranian tradition that designated with an equivalent form the regions of eastern Iran lying mostly south, and not north, of the HindUkuS.  It is clear how important this information is in our research as a whole.”61

Again, it must be noted that Gnoli uses the term “eastern Iran” to designate Afghanistan, which forms the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.

4. But it is the southern part of this “vast region that stretches southward from the HindUkuS,” which clearly constitutes the very core and heart of the Avesta: SIstAn or Drangiana, the region of HaEtumant (Hilmand) and the HAmUn-i Hilmand basin which forms its western boundary (separating Afghanistan from present-day Iran).

Gnoli notes that “the Hilmand region and the HAmUn-i Hilmand are beyond all doubt the most minutely described countries in Avestan geography.  The ZamyAd YaSt, as we have seen, names the Kasaoya, i.e. the HAmUn-i Hilmand, USi?am mountain, the KUh-i XwAja, the HaEtumant, the Hilmand, and the rivers XvAstrA, HvaspA, Frada?A, XvarAnahvaitI, UStavaitI, Urva?a, ?rAzi, ZarAnumaiti, which have a number of parallels both in the Pahlavi texts, and especially in the list in the TArIx-i SIstAn.  Elsewhere, in the AbAn YaSt, there is mention of Lake FrazdAnu, the Gawd-i Zira.”62

He notes the significance of “the identification of the VourukaSa in Yt.XIX with the HAmUn-i Hilmand … of the NAydAg with the SilA, the branch connecting the HAmUn to the Gawd-i Zira, of the FrazdAnu with the Gawd-i Zira … and above all, the peculiar relationship pointed out by Markwart, between VaNuhI DAityA and the HaEtumant…”63

Gnoli points out that “a large part of the mythical and legendary heritage can be easily located in the land watered by the great SIstanic river and especially in the HamUn”64including the “important place that Yima/ JamSId, too, has in the SIstanic traditions in the guise of the beneficient author of a great land reclamation in the Hilmand delta”.65

ViStAspa is identified with Drangiana, ZarathuStra with RaYa to its northeast.  But, “the part played by the Hilmand delta region in Zoroastrian eschatology ... (is) important not only and not so much for the location of a number of figures and events of the traditional inheritance - we can also call to mind DaSt-i HAmOn, the scene of the struggle between WiStAsp and ArjAsp - as for the eschatology itself.  The natural seat of the XvarAnahof the Kavis and of the XvarAnah that is called axvarAta - and of the glory of the Aryan peoples, past, present and future, the waters of the Kasaoya also receive the implantation of the seed of Zara?uStra, giving birth to the three saoSyant- fraSO- CarAtar-”.66

This region is subject to “a process of spiritualization of Avestan geography … in the famous celebration of the Hilmand in the ZamyAd YaSt…”67, and “this pre-eminent position of SIstAn in Iranian religious history and especially in the Zoroastrian tradition is a very archaic one that most likely marks the first stages of the new religion … the sacredness of the HAmUn-i Hilmand goes back to pre-Zoroastrian times…”68

Clearly, the position of the four areas, from north to south, into which the geographical horizon of the Avesta can be divided, shows the older and more important regions to be the more southern ones; and any movement indicated is from the south to the north.

Before turning to the Punjab, one more crucial aspect of Avestan geography must be noted.

According to Gnoli: “the importance of cattle in various aspects of the Gathic doctrine can be taken as certain.  This importance can be explained as a reflection in religious practice and myth of a socioeconomic set-up in which cattle-raising was a basic factor.”69

Therefore, in identifying the original milieu of the Iranians, since “none of the countries belonging to present-day Iran or Afghanistan was recognised as being a land where men could live by cattle-raising, the conclusion was reached once again that the land must be Chorasmia, and Oxus the river of Airyana VaEjah”.70

However, this conclusion was reached “on the basis of evidence that turned out to be unreliable, perhaps because it was supplied too hastily”.  As a matter of fact, a “recent study … and, in general, the results obtained by the Italian Archaeological Mission in SIstAn, with regard to the protohistoric period as well, have given ample proof that SIstAn, especially the HAmUn-i Hilmand region, is a land where cattle-raising was widely practised.  And it still is today, though a mere shadow of what it once was, by that part of the population settled in the swampy areas, that are called by the very name of GAwdAr.  From the bronze age to the Achaemenian period, from Sahr-i Suxta to Dahana-i-GulAmAn, the archaeological evidence of cattle-raising speaks for itself: a study of zoomorphic sculpture in protohistoric SIstAn, documented by about 1500 figurines that can be dated between 3200 and 2000 BC leads us to attribute a special ideological importance to cattle in the Sahr-i Suxta culture, and this is fully justified by the place this animal has in the settlement’s economy and food supply throughout the time of its existence.”71

We may now turn to the Punjab, an area in which there can be no doubt whatsoever about cattle-raising always having been an important occupation.

II.C. The Punjab

The easternmost regions named in the Avesta cover a large part of present-day Pakistan, and include western Kashmir and the Indian Punjab: VarAna, RaNhA and Hapta-HAndu, and, as we have suggested, Airyana VaEjah itself.

Gnoli’s descriptions of Avestan geography, whether or not such is his intention, indicate that the Iranians ultimately originated either in southern Afghanistan itself or in areas further east.  Neither of these possibilities is suggested, or even hinted at, by Gnoli, since, as we have pointed out, Gnoli is not out to challenge the standard version of Indo-European history, nor perhaps does he even doubt that version.

However, his analysis and description of Avestan geography clearly suggest that the antecedents of the Iranians lie further east:

1. Gnoli repeatedly stresses the fact that the evidence of the Avesta must be understood in the background of a close presence of Indoaryans (or Proto-Indoaryans, as he prefers to call them) in the areas to the east of the Iranian area: “With VarAna and RaNhA, as of course with Hapta-HAndu, which comes between them in the Vd.I list, we find ourselves straightaway in Indian territory or, at any rate, in territory that, from the very earliest times, was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto-Indoaryans.”72

In the Avestan descriptions of VarAna (in the VendidAd), Gnoli sees “a country, where the ‘Airyas’ (Iranians) were not rulers and where there was probably a hegemony of Indo-Aryan or proto-Indoaryan peoples.”73

Gnoli is also clear about the broader aspects of a historico-geographical study of the Avesta: “This research will in fact help to reconstruct, in all its manifold parts, an historical situation in which Iranian elements exist side by side with others that are not necessarily non-Aryan (i.e. not necessarily non-Indo-European) but also, which is more probable, Aryan or Proto-Indoaryan.”74

The point of all this is as follows: Gnoli’s analysis, alongwith specific statements made by him in his conclusions with regard to the evidence, makes it clear that the areas to the west (i.e. Iran) were as yet totally unknown to the Avesta; and areas to the north, beyond the “completely peripheral” areas of Margiana and Sogdiana, were also (apart from an interpolated reference to Chorasmia in the Mihr YaSt) totally unknown.

On the other hand, the areas to the east were certainly occupied by the Indoaryans: the eastern areas known to the Avesta were already areas in which Iranians existed “side by side” with Indoaryans, and “where there was probably a hegemony” of Indoaryans.  Logically, therefore, areas even further east must have been full-fledged Indoaryan areas.

The earlier, or “Indo-Iranian”, ethos of the Iranians cannot therefore, at any rate on the evidence of the Avesta, be located towards the west or the north, but must be located towards the east.

2. Gnoli, as we saw, describes the eastern areas as “Indian territory”, which is quite correct.

However, he goes on to modify this description as “at any rate ... territory that, from the very earliest times was certainly deeply permeated by Indo-Aryans or Proto-Indoaryans”.75

Here Gnoli falls into an error into which all analysts of Iranian or Vedic geography inevitably fall: he blindly assumes (as we have also done in our earlier book) that the Saptasindhu or Punjab is the home of the Vedic Aryans.

This assumption, however, is supported neither by the evidence of the Rigveda nor by the evidence of the Avesta:

The evidence of the Rigveda shows that the home of the Vedic Aryans lay to the east of the Punjab, and the Saptasindhu became familiar to them only after the period of SudAs’ conquests westwards.

The evidence of the Avesta shows that the home of the Iranians at least included the Punjab, long before most of the present-day land known as “Iran” became even known to them.

The point of all this is as follows: Gnoli’s analysis shows that most of the historical Iranian areas (even present-day Iran and northern Central Asia, let alone the distant areas to the west of the Caspian Sea) were not part of the Iranian homeland in Avestan times.

On the other hand, an area which has not been an Iranian area in any known historical period, the Punjab, was a part of the Iranian homeland in Avestan times.

So any comparison of Avestan geography with latter-day and present Iranian geography shows Iranian migration only in the northward and westward directions from points as far east as the Punjab.

The Avesta can give us no further information on this subject.

But, as Gnoli himself puts it, “Vedic-Avestan comparison is of considerable importance for the reconstruction of the ‘Proto-Indoaryan’ and early Iranian historical and geographical milieu.”76

Hence, we must now turn once again to the Rigveda.



Gnoli points out that the Avesta reflects “an historical situation in which Iranian elements exist side by side with … Aryan or Proto-Indoaryan (elements)”.

Turning to the Rigveda, it is natural to expect to find the same situation reflected there as well.  And if that is so, it must also be likely that the Iranians have a specific historical identity in Vedic terms.

The historical identity of the Vedic Aryans themselves, as we have seen, is quite specific: this identity does not embrace all the tribes and peoples named in the Rigveda, but is confined to the PUrus (and particularly the Bharatas among them) who are alone called Aryas in the Rigveda.

All the other people, i.e. all non-PUrus, are called DAsas in the Rigveda.  While it is natural to infer that the term DAsa was a general term for all non-PUrus as well as a specific term for the particular non-PUrus who existed “side by side” with the PUrus (i.e. for the Iranians), there must also have been a specific tribal name for these particular non-PUrus.

The Rigveda (in agreement with the PurANas) classifies the PUrus as one of the five tribes: namely, the Yadus, TurvaSas, Druhyus, Anus, PUrus (I.108.8). Prima facie, the Iranians must be identifiable with one of the remaining four.

Of the four, all sources locate the Yadus and TurvaSas together in the interior of India, and the Druhyus are located outside the frontiers of India.  The most likely candidates are therefore the Anus who are located “side by side” with the PUrus in all geographical descriptions (and, incidentally, even in the enumeration of the names of the five tribes in I.108.8).

And an examination of the evidence demonstrates beyond the shadow of any doubt that the ancient Indian tribes of the Anus are identical with the ancient Iranians:

1. As we have already seen, the Indoaryan-Iranian conflict very definitely had an ANgiras-BhRgu dimension to it, with the ANgirases being the priests of the Indoaryans and the BhRgus being the priests of the Iranians: a situation reflected in the traditions of both the peoples.

This situation is also reflected in the Rigveda where the dominant priests of the text, and the particular or exclusive priests of the Bharatas (the Vedic Aryans), are the ANgirases: all the generations before SudAs have BharadvAjas as their priests (which, perhaps, explains the etymology of the name Bharad-vAja); SudAs himself has the Kutsas also as his priests (besides the new families of priests: the ViSvAmitras and the VasiSThas); and SudAs’s descendants Sahadeva and Somaka have the Kutsas and the VAmadevas as their priests.

The BhRgus are clearly not the priests of the Bharatas, and, equally clearly, they are associated with a particular other tribe: the Anus.

The names Anu and BhRgu are used interchangeably: compare V.31.4 with IV.16.20, and VII.18.14 with VII.18.6.

Griffith also recognizes the connection in his footnote to V.31.4, when he notes: “Anus: probably meaning BhRgus who belonged to that tribe.”

2. The Rigveda and the Avesta, as we saw, are united in testifying to the fact that the Punjab (Saptasindhu or Hapta-HAndu) was not a homeland of the Vedic Aryans, but was a homeland of the Iranians.

The PurANas as well as the Rigveda testify to the fact that the Punjab was a homeland of the Anus:

Pargiter notes the Puranic description of the spread of the Anus from the east and their occupation of the whole of the Punjab: “One branch headed by USInara established separate kingdoms on the eastern border of the Punjab, namely those of the Yaudheyas, AmbaSThas, NavarASTra and the city KRmilA; and his famous son Sivi originated the Sivis [footnote: called Sivas in Rigveda VII.18.7] in Sivapura, and extending his conquests westwards, founded through his four sons the kingdoms of the VRSadarbhas, Madras (or Madrakas), Kekayas (or Kaikeyas), and SuvIras (or SauvIras), thus occupying the whole of the Punjab except the north-west corner.”77

In the Rigveda, the Anus are repeatedly identified with the ParuSNI river, the central river of the Punjab, as the PUrus are identified with the SarasvatI: in the DASarAjña battle, the Anus are clearly the people of the ParuSNI area and beyond.  Likewise, another hymn which refers to the ParuSNI (VIII.74.15) also refers to the Anus (VIII.74.4).

Michael Witzel notes about the locations of “the Yadu-TurvaSa and the Anu-Druhyu”, that “the Anu may be tied to the ParusNSI, the Druhyu to the northwest and the Yadu with the YamunA”.78

3. The name Anu or Anava for the Iranians appears to have survived even in later times: the country and the people in the very heart of Avestan land, to the immediate north of the HAmUn-i Hilmand, were known, as late as Greek times (cf. Stathmoi Parthikoi, 16, of Isidore of Charax), as the Anauon or Anauoi.

4. The names of Anu tribes in the Rigveda and the PurANas can be clearly identified with the names of the most prominent tribes among latter-day Iranians.

The DASarAjña battle (described in three hymns in the Rigveda, VII.18, 33, 83) was between SudAs on the one hand, and a confederation of ten tribes from among the Anus and Druhyus on the other, which took place on the ParuSNI (i.e. in Anu territory, hence, logically, most of the tribes were Anus).

Of these ten tribes, the following six, named in just two verses, may be noted:
a. PRthus or PArthavas (VII.83.1): Parthians.
b. ParSus or ParSavas (VII .83.1): Persians.
c. Pakthas (VII.18.7): Pakhtoons.
d. BhalAnas (VII.18.7): Baluchis.
e. Sivas (VII.18.7): Khivas.
f. ViSANins (VII.18.7): Pishachas (Dards).

Three more tribes, named in adjacent verses, must be noted separately (as we will have to refer to them again in the next chapter):

a. BhRgus (VII.18.6): Phrygians.

b. Simyus (VII. 18.5): Sarmatians (Avesta = Sairimas).
c. Alinas (VII.18.7): Alans.

A major Iranian tribe which is not named in the Rigveda, but appears as a prominent Anu tribe in the PurANas and epics is the Madras: Medes (Madai).

Significantly, the Anu king who leads the confederation of Anu tribes against SudAs (and who is named in VII.18.12) has a name which to this day is common among Zoroastrians: KavaSa.

Furthermore, this king is also called Kavi CAyamAna four verses earlier (in VII.18.8). This is significant because an ancestor of this king, AbhyAvartin CAyamAna, is identified in VI.27.8 as a PArthava (Parthian).  At the same time, Kavi is the title of the kings of the most important dynasty in Avestan and Zoroastrian history, the KavyAn or Kayanian dynasty.  In later times, it is the Parthian kings who were the loudest and most persistent in their claims to being descendants of the Kayanians.

If the full name of this king is interpreted as Kavi KavaSa of the line of CAyamAnas, he can be identified with Kavi KavAta, the founder of the pre-Avestan dynasty of KavyAn or Kayanian kings, whose most prominent descendant was Kavi ViStAspa.

Incidentally, other descendants of Kavi KavaSa may be the Kekayas or Kaikayas, one of the two most prominent Anu tribes of the PurANas and later Indian tradition (the other being the Madras), who are located in western Punjab, and whose name bears such a close resemblance to the names of the Kayanian kings.

5. The DAsas of the Rigveda are opposed to the Aryas: since the word Arya refers to PUrus in general and the Bharatas in particular, the word DAsa should logically refer to non-PUrus in general and the Anus (or Iranians) in particular.

The word DAsa is found in 54 hymns (63 verses) and in an overwhelming majority of these references, it refers either to human enemies of the Vedic Aryans, or to atmospheric demons killed by Indra: in most of the cases, it is difficult to know which of the two is being referred to, and in some of them perhaps both are being simultaneously referred to.  In any case, since these references are usually non-specific, it makes no material difference to our historical analysis.

There are eight verses which refer to both Arya and Dasa enemies; and in this case it is certain that human enemies are being referred to.  As we have already seen in an earlier chapter, these verses (VI.22.10; 33.3; 60.6; VII.83.1; X.38.3; 69.6; 83.1; 102.3) help us to confirm the identity of the Aryas of the Rigveda.  However, they give us no help in respect of the DAsas.

But finally, there are three verses which stand out from the rest: they contain references which are friendly towards the DAsas:

a. In VIII.5.31, the ASvins are depicted as accepting the offerings of the DAsas.

b. In VIII.46.32, the patrons are referred to as DAsas.

c. In VIII.51.9, Indra is described as belonging to both Aryas and DAsas.

Given the nature (and, as we shall see later, the period) of MaNDala VIII, and the fact that all these three hymns are dAnastutis (hymns in praise of donors), it is clear that the friendly references have to do with the identity of the patrons in these hymns.

A special feature of these dAnastutis is that, while everywhere else in the Rigveda we find patrons gifting cattle, horses and buffaloes, these particular patrons gift camels (uSTra): at least, the first two do so (VIII.5.37; 46.22, 31), and it is very likely that the third one does so too (this dAnastuti does not mention the specific gifts received, and merely calls upon Indra to shower wealth on the patron).

In any case, there is a fourth patron in another dAnastuti in the same MaNDala (VIII.6.48) who also gifts camels.

Outside of these three hymns, the camel is referred to only once in the Rigveda, in a late upa-maNDala of MaNDala I (I.138.2), where it is mentioned in a simile.

Now, as to the identity of the patrons in these four hymns:

a. In VIII.5, the patron is KaSu.
b. In VIII.6, the patrons include Tirindira ParSava.
c. In VIII.46, the patrons include PRthuSravas son of KanIta.

d. In VIII.51, the patron (whose gifts are not specified) is RuSama PavIru.

In two of these cases, as we can see, the identity is self-evident: one patron is called a ParSava (Persian) and another has PRthu (Parthian) in his name.

But, here is what the Western scholars themselves have to say: according to Michael Witzel, “there are, in the opinion of some scholars (Hoffman, 1975) some Iranian names in Rgveda (KaSu, KanIta, etc.).”79 More specifically: “An Iranian connection is also clear when camels appear (8.5. 37-39) together with the Iranian name KaSu ‘small’ (Hoffman 1975) or with the suspicious name Tirindira and the ParSu (8.6.46)”80

Griffith also notes the Iranian connection in his footnote to VIII.6.46: “From ParSu, from Tirindira: ‘from Tirindira the son of ParSu’ - Wilson.  Both names are Iranian (cf. Tiridates, Persa).  See Weber’s ‘Episches in Vedischen Ritual’, pp.36-38, (Sitzungsberichte der K.P. Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1891, XXXVIII).”

The only patron whose identity is not specifically named as Iranian by the scholars is RuSama PavIru.  However, the RuSamas are identified by M.L. Bhargava81 as a tribe of the extreme northwest, from the Soma lands of SuSomA and ArjIkIyA.  This clearly places them in the territory of the Iranians.

In sum, the Iranians are fully identifiable with the Anus, the particular DAsas (non-PUrus) of the Rigveda.


The evidence of the Rigveda and the Avesta makes it clear that the Iranians, in the earliest period, were restricted to a small area in the east, and the vast area which they occupied in later historical times was the result of a series of migrations and expansions.

The early migrations of the Iranians follow a clear trail: from Kashmir to the Punjab; from the Punjab to southern and eastern Afghanistan; from southern and eastern Afghanistan to the whole of Afghanistan and southern Central Asia; and finally, in later times, over a vast area spread out at least as far west as western Iran and as far north as northern Central Asia and the northern Caucasus.

The early history of the Iranians may be divided into the following periods (see chart on next page).

The details may be examined under the following heads:

A. The Pre-Rigvedic Period.
B. The Early Period of the Rigveda.
C. The Middle period of the Rigveda.
D. The Late Period of the Rigveda.

IV.A. The Pre-Rigvedic Period

In the pre-Rigvedic period, the Iranians were inhabitants of Kashmir.

Iranian Geographical Area
Pre-Rigvedic Period
Early Period of the Rigveda
Pre-Avestan Period
Middle Period of the Rigveda
Period of GAthAs and early YaSts
Punjab, southern and eastern Afghanistan
Late Period of the Rigveda
Proper Avestan Period
Punjab, Afghanistan, southern Central Asia

In the Avesta, this period is remembered as a remote period of prehistory, enshrined in the myth of Airyana VaEjah, the land of severe winters.

This period is not remembered at all in the Rigveda, since the Rigveda is a PUru book and is not concerned with the prehistory of the Anus.  Hence, in the case of this period at least, one must turn to the PurANas, which have a broader perspective.

In the PurANas, this period is remembered in the description of the original geographical distribution of the five AiLa or Lunar tribes.  According to this description, the PUrus were located in the centre (i.e. Haryana-Uttar Pradesh) and the other four tribes, in relation to them, were located as follows: the Anus to their north (i.e. Kashmir), the Druhyus to their west (i.e. Punjab), the Yadus to their south-west (i.e. Rajasthan and western Madhya Pradesh, perhaps extending as far south as Gujarat and Maharashtra) and the TurvaSas to their south-east (to the east of the Yadus).  To the northeast of the PUrus were the tribes of the IkSvAku or Solar race.

The PurANas also relate a series of historical events which changed the original geographic locations of at least two of the five tribes:

The Druhyus, inhabitants of the Punjab, started conquering eastwards and southwards, and their conquests seem to have brought them into conflict with all the other tribes and peoples: the Anus, PUrus, Yadus, TurvaSas, and even the IkSvAkus.

The result was a more or less concerted attempt by the different tribes, which led to the Druhyus being driven out not only from the eastern areas occupied by them, but even from the Punjab, and into the northwest and beyond.  The place vacated by them was occupied by the Anus.

This is important here only because it accounts for the fact that the Anus came to occupy the area to the west of the PUrus (i.e. the Punjab), while the Druhyus were pushed further off into the northwest beyond the Anus.

IV.B. The Early Period of the Rigveda

In the Early Period of the Rigveda, the Iranians were inhabitants of the Punjab.

In the Avesta, this period is remembered as a period of prehistory, enshrined in the myth of the “Vara” or enclosure which Ahura Mazda asks Yima, the king of Airyana VaEjah, to build as a defence against the severe winters about to befall the land: clearly a mythicization of a migration from a severely cold land to a more congenial one.

The “Vara” would appear to be a mythicization of the areas in eastern Punjab occupied by the Iranians after their migration southwards from Kashmir: these areas would have been bordered on the east by the KurukSetra region, which is referred to in the Rigveda as Vara A PRthivyA (the best place on earth) or NAbhA PRthivyA (the navel or centre of the earth).  The Avestan “Vara” (later taken to mean “enclosure”, but originally merely the first word of the phrase Vara A PRthivyA) is also thought of as a kind of Paradise occupying a central position on earth (and was, on this basis, identified by Tilak with the North Polar region).

The Avestan concept of a six-month long day and a six-month long night in the Vara is probably an indication of the special and sacred position of the Vara in Avestan mythology: in later Indian tradition, a six-month long period each represents the day and night of the Gods; and the KurukSetra region is known as BrahmAvarta (the land of BrahmA or the Land of the Gods) as distinct from AryAvarta (the Land of the Aryas) to its east.

The KurukSetra region was thus the common sacred land of the Iranians to its west (the Anus in the Punjab) and the Vedic Aryans to its east (the PUrus in Uttar Pradesh).

The hostilities and conflicts which led to the migrations of the Iranians from this land may be symbolises in the “excessive heat” created by Angra Mainyu to drive them out of Hapta-HAndu: in the Rigveda (VII.6.3) the Dasyus were chased westwards by Agni.

The memories of the eastern land in the Avesta are not, however, restricted only to the myth of the Vara: we find a very significant reference in the very first verse of the ZamyAd YaSt (Yt.19.1), the most geographically descriptive YaSt in the Avesta.

Darmetester translates the verse as follows: “The first mountain that rose up out of the earth, O Spitama ZarathuStra! was the Haraiti Barez.  That mountain stretches all along the shores of the land washed by waters towards the east.  The second mountain was Mount ZeredhO outside Mount Manusha; this mountain too stretches all along the shores of the land washed by waters towards the east.”82 In his footnote to the word “outside” which precedes Mount Manusha in his translation, he notes that the phrase pArentarem aredhO which he translates as “outside” is of doubtful meaning and probably means “beyond”.

The Manusha of Yt.19.1 (which no one has been able to identify to this day) is certainly the MAnuSa of the Rigveda:

a. The Avestan description specifically states that Manusha is located in the east.

b. The name is identified, even by the Western scholars, as a name alien to the Iranian ethos and connected with the Indoaryan ethos: The Cambridge History of Iran, in its reference to the word Manusha as it occurs in the name of an Avestan hero ManuSCithra (whom we will refer to again shortly) points out that it “means ‘from the race of Manu’, and refers to the ancient mythical figure, Manu, son of Vivasvant, who was regarded in India as the first man and father of the human race.  He has no place in Iranian tradition, where his role is played by Yima, and later GayOmard.  It appears, though, that we have a derivative of his name in Manusha (Yasht 19.1), the name of a mountain…”83

c. The scholars translate the Avestan reference as “Mount Manusha”.

However, the reference not only does not call Manusha a mountain, but the context makes it clear that it is definitely not one: the verse clearly states that it is referring to only two mountains, Haraiti Barez and ZeredhO, and Manusha is named only in order to point out the direction of Mount ZeredhO.  Haraiti Barez and ZeredhO are the first two in a list of mountains named in the following verses of the YaSt, and if Manusha had also been the name of a mountain, it would have figured in the list as such in its own right.  The words pArentarem aredhO precede the word Manusha; and while pArentarem means “beyond”, the word aredhO (whose meaning is not known) probably refers to a river or body of water: a similar word occurs in the name of the Avestan goddess of waters: aredvI- sUrA anAhitA.

And the name MAnuSa as the name of a place associated with a body of water occurs in the Rigveda, as we have already seen: III.23.4 specifically describes this place as being located between the SarasvatI and DRSadvatI rivers in the Vara A PRthivyA (i.e. KurukSetra), which is literally a “land washed by waters towards the east” of the Iranian area.

The Manusha in the Avestan reference (Yt.19.1) clearly represents a residual memory of the earlier eastern homeland.

Information in the Rigveda about the events in the Early Period is more specific, since this period represents contemporary events in the Early MaNDalas while it represents prehistory in the Avesta.

In the earlier part of the Early Period, there appears to have been some degree of bonhomie between the PUrus (Vedic Aryans) and Anus (Iranians) when they shared a common religious heritage in the region stretching out on both sides of KurukSetra.

MaNDala VI, in fact, records an alliance between the Bharatas (led by SRnjaya) and the Anus (led by AbhyAvartin CAyamAna) against the Yadus and TurvaSas who were attacking KurukSetra (HariyUpIyA = DRSadvatI) from the south (VI.27).

However, in the course of time, relations deteriorated, and MaNDala VI itself later identifies the Anus as droghas (enemies or fiends) in VI.62.9. The hostilities reached a climax during the time of SudAs, in the DASarAjña battle.

This battle is crucial to an understanding of early Indo-Iranian history:

1. The evidence of the hymns shows that in this period all the major Iranian groups were settled in the Punjab, including all those found, in later times, in the geographically furthest areas from the Punjab: the Phrygians (later in Turkey), the Alans (later in the northern Caucasus), and the Khivas (later in Chorasmia), not to mention the major peoples of latter-day Afghanistan (Pakhtoons) and Iran (Persians, Parthians, Medes).

2. The hymns clearly record that this battle saw the defeat of the Anus, the conquest of their territories by SudAs (VII.18.13), and the commencement of their migration westwards.

It may also be noted that the Spitama line of priests also appears to be referred to in the DASarAjña hymns in the form of a special figure of speech which has not been understood by the scholars so far:

In VII.33.9, 12, VasiSTha is referred to as wearing the vestments spun by Yama and brought to him by Apsaras.

Yama, as we have seen, is identified with the BhRgus and the Iranians; and the Apsaras are mythical beings closely identified with the Gandharvas who represent the western region of GandhArI or southeastern Afghanistan.

The references in VII.33.9, 12 are the only references to Yama or to the Apsaras in the whole of the Early and Middle MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas (i.e. in MaNDalas VI, III, VII, IV, II, and the early and middle upa-maNDalas of MaNDala I) except for one other reference to Yama in I.83.5, which also emphasises his BhRgu identity by naming him with other ancient BhRgus like AtharvaNa and USanA.

VasiSTha wearing the vestments spun by Yama, who represents the BhRgus who are his enemies in the battle, can be understood only in the sense of a figure of speech indicating victory over his enemies.

Therefore, this must also be the meaning of the only other references, in these hymns, to the vestments of the VasiSThas or the TRtsus: they are twice referred to as wearing what Griffith translates as “white robes” (VII.33.1; 83.8).

The word Svityanca, which occurs only in these two verses in the whole of the, Rigveda, clearly has some unique connotation different from the commonplace meaning of “white”.

On the lines of the references to the vestments spun by Yama, it is clear that the word Svityanca refers to the identity of the enemies: to the Spitamas, the particular priests of the enemies of SudAs and VasiSTha.

To sum up: in the Early Period of the Rigveda, the Iranians were inhabitants of the Punjab, and it is only towards the end of this period, in the time of SudAs, that they started on their migration westwards.

IV.C. The Middle Period of the Rigveda

IV.C. The Middle Period of the Rigveda

In the Middle Period of the Rigveda, the Iranians were settled in Afghanistan.

From the viewpoint of Indo-Iranian relations, this period can be divided into two parts:

The earlier part of this period (MaNDala IV and the middle upa-maNDalas) represents a continuation and culmination of the Indo-Iranian hostilities which commenced in the Early Period.  Unlike the Early Period, however, this period is contemporaneous with the period of composition of the earliest parts of the Avesta (the GAthAs and the earliest core of the YaSts) and hence the events of this period are contemporary events for the composers of the Early Avesta, and have a central place in the text.  To the Rigveda, however, these events are more peripheral, unlike the earlier events in the Punjab at the time of SudAs.

The later part of this period (MaNDala II) is a period of peace in which the two peoples (the Vedic Aryans in the east and the Iranians in Afghanistan) developed their religions, and the hostilities slowly cooled down and became mythical and terminological memories.

The major historical event of this period is the great battle which took place in Afghanistan between a section of Vedic Aryans (led by RjrASva and the descendants of SudAs) on the one hand, and the Iranians (led by ZarathuStra and ViStAspa) on the other.

In the Rigveda, the correspondences with the early Avestan period of ZarathuStra are all found in the hymns of the early part of the Middle Period:

1. The leader of the Iranians in the battle was Kavi ViStAspa, the patron of ZarathuStra (mentioned by ZarathuStra in his GAthAs: Y.28.7; 46.16; 51.16; 53.2).

In the Rigveda, IStASva (ViStAspa) is mentioned in I.122.13, attributed to KakSIvAn Dairghatamas AuSija: kimiStASva iSTaraSmireta ISAnAsastaruSa Rnjate nRn.

Griffith translates the above vaguely as “What can he do whose steeds and reins are choicest?  These, the all potent, urge brave men to conquest”.  And, in his footnotes, he opines that “the whole hymn, as Wilson observes, ‘is very elliptical and obscure’ and much of it is at present unintelligible”.

But S.K. Hodiwala84 points out that SAyaNa translates it as follows: “What can ISTASva, IStaraSmi, or any other princes do against those who enjoy the protection (of Mitra and VaruNa)?”, and Wilson, while following this translation, notes that “the construction is obscure and the names, which are said to be those of Rajas, are new and unusual”.

A second Avestan hero, whose name may be noted here, is ThraEtaona.

In the Rigveda, Traitana (ThraEtaona) is referred to as being killed by (the grace of) Indra in I.158.5, attributed to DIrghatamas, the father of KakSIvAn.

2. The VArSAgira battle (referred to in hymn I.100) is identified by many Zoroastrian scholars as a battle between the Iranians and Indoaryans at the time of ZarathuStra.  The hymn (in I.100.17) names five persons as being the main protagonists in the battle:

a. The leader of the VArSAgiras is RjrASva.  He is identified by most scholars with the Arejataspa or ArjAspa who is referred to in the Avesta as the main enemy of ViStAspa and his brothers (AbAn YaSt, Yt.5.109, 113; and GOs YaSt, Yt.9.30). Later Iranian tradition (as in the ShAhname) goes so far as to hold ZarathuStra himself to have been killed by ArjAspa.

b. Sahadeva is one of the four companions of RjrASva in the battle.  He is correctly identified by S.K. Hodiwala85 with the Hushdiv remembered in the ShAhname (Chapter 462) as one of the main enemies of ViStAspa in the battle, who led ArjAspa’s troops from the rear.  Although not mentioned in the Avesta, Hushdiv is a natural development of HazadaEva, which would be the exact Avestan equivalent of the Vedic name Sahadeva.

c. The other three companions of RjrASva in the battle are AmbarISa, BhayamAna and SurAdhas.

S.K. Hodiwala points out that “in the Cama Memorial Volume, E. Sheheriarji quotes RV I.100.17 …. (and) tries to identify the other persons mentioned in the said Rigvedic verse by showing that the names of certain persons known to be connected with ArjAspa in the Avesta bear the same meanings as the names of the persons in the said verse.  Thus he says that AmbarISa is identical with Bidarfsha (= Av.  Vidarafshnik) brother of ArjAspa, since both the names mean ‘one with beautiful garments’.  Similarly, BhayamAna = Vandaremaini, father of ArjAspa, both meaning ‘the fearless one’; also SurAdhas = Humayaka, brother of ArjAspa, as both the words mean ‘one with much wealth’…”86

Hodiwala, of course, discounts the above identifications by conceding that “the identification of persons in two different languages from the meanings of their names, which are quite different in sound, can have but little weight”.87

However, Hodiwala88 correctly identifies Humayaka, ArjAspa’s comrade in the Avesta (AbAn YaSt, Yt.5.113) with Somaka, the son of Sahadeva (IV.15.7-10).

S.K. Hodiwala thus identifies Humayaka of the Avesta with the Rigvedic Somaka (IV.15.7-10) while E. Sheheriarji identifies him with the Rigvedic SurAdhas (I.100.17).

Incidentally, there is a strong likelihood that the SurAdhas of I.100.17 is the same as the Somaka of IV.15.7-10.

The distribution of the word SurAdhas in the Rigveda (everywhere else, outside I.100.17, the word is an epithet meaning “bountiful”) suggests that the word may have originally been coined by ViSvAmitra as an epithet for his patron SudAs, perhaps on the basis of the similarity in sound between the two words, SudAs and SurAdhas, and later the word was also applied to his descendants:

The word SurAdhas is found only twice in the Early MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas, in III.33.12; 53.12, and these are the only two hymns in MaNDala III which deal with ViSvAmitra’s relationship with SudAs.

In the Middle MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas, the word is found in I.100.17 as the name of a companion of RjrASva and Sahadeva; and elsewhere it is found in IV.2.4; 5.4; 17.8 (all three in MaNDala IV, which is connected with Somaka).

It is found many times in the Late MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas as a general term meaning “bountiful”: I.23.6; VIII.14.12; 46.24; 49.1; 50.1; 65.12; 68.6; X.143.4.

In I.100.17, therefore, it is probably an epithet, rather than the name, of one of RjrASva’s companions; and as Sahadeva is already named separately as one of the companions, the epithet must be used here for his son Somaka, another participant in the battle.

3. The VArSAgira battle clearly has historical links with the earlier DASarAjña battle:

a. The protagonists in the battle include Sahadeva and (as we have seen) his son Somaka, both descendants of SudAs, the protagonist in the DASarAjña battle.

b. This battle hymn contains the only reference (in I.100.18) in the whole of the Rigveda outside the DASarAjña hymns (VII.18.5) to the Simyus, who figure as the enemies in both the references.

c. The word Svitnyebhi occurs in this hymn (I.100.18) in reference to the protagonists of the hymns, in the same sense as the word Svityanca occurs in the DASarAjña hymns (VII.33.1; 83.8). (Incidentally, the only other occurence of the word Svitnya in the whole of the Rigveda is. in VIII.46.31, in reference to the cows gifted by the camel-donor, PRthuSravas KAnIta, identified by the scholars, as we have seen, as an Iranian.)

And it is clear that this battle is between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians:

a. As we have seen, it has historical links with the earlier DASarAjña battle, which was between these two peoples.

b. As we have also seen, the main protagonists on both sides, in the battle, are found referred to in both the Rigveda and the Avesta.

c. The geography of the river-names in the Rigveda shows a westward thrust from the time of SudAs, which culminates beyond the Indus in the middle upa-maNDalas and MaNDala IV.

d. The battle in the Avesta took place in southern Afghanistan: Gnoli points out that the Hilmand delta region is “the scene of the struggle between WiStAsp and ArjAsp”.89

In the Rigveda, the battle is referred to as taking place “beyond the Sarayu” (Siritoi) (IV.30.18), placing it squarely in southern Afghanistan.

4. The reference to the battle “beyond the Sarayu” in IV.30.18 refers to ArNa and Citraratha, “both Aryas”, who were killed in the battle by (the grace of) Indra.

There are eight other verses in the Rigveda (VI.22.10; 33.3; 60.6; VII.83.1; X.38.3; 69.6; 83.1; 102.3) which refer to Arya enemies; but in all those cases, the references are general references to both Arya and DAsa enemies, and no specific persons identifiable as Aryas are named as such.  In this unique reference (IV.30.18), however, we find two specific individuals named as Arya enemies.

By the logic of the situation, these two persons should then be two prominent Vedic Aryans (PUrus) who had aligned with the enemy Iranians (Anus) in this battle.

That the followers of ZarathuStra must have included some Vedic Aryans is accepted by the scholars: Gnoli points out that “there is no evidence for thinking that the Zoroastrian message was meant for the Iranians alone.  On the-contrary, history suggests that the exact opposite is likely, and there are also indisputable facts … which show clearly that Zoroaster’s teaching was addressed, earlier on at least to all men ... whether they were Iranians or not, Proto-Indoaryans or otherwise…”90

The Cambridge History of Iran, as we have seen, refers to ManuSCithra (later ManUchIhr or Minocher, the common Parsee name popularly shortened to Minoo), and notes that his name “means ‘from the race of Manu’, and refers to the ancient mythical figure, Manu, son of Vivasvant, who was regarded in India as the first man and founder of the human race.  He has no place in Iranian tradition, where his role is played by Yima and later GayOmard.”91

The reference goes on to add that the word Manusha is found in only one other place in the Avesta: in YaSt 19.1 as “the name of a mountain”.

In later Pahlavi texts, the word is found only in two contexts: firstly in the genealogies of ManUchIhr and LuhrAsp, and secondly in the identification of the Manusha of Yt.19.1 as the birthplace of ManUchIhr.

ManuSCithra was therefore clearly a Vedic Aryan born in the KurukSetra region.  And the reason he is held high in Zoroastrian tradition is also clear: as The Cambridge History of Iran notes: “In the Avesta, ManUchIhr is called Airyana, ‘helper of the Aryans’…”92

In short, ManuSCithra was a Vedic Aryan who aligned with the Iranians in the great battle; and if ManuS is his epithet (indicating his Indoaryan identity) and Cithra is his name, he is clearly the Citraratha of IV.30.18.

5. The main priestly enemies of the Iranians are the Angras (ANgirases) who are condemned throughout the Avesta right down from the GAthAs of ZarathuStra.

Significantly, the Avesta does not refer to any of the other Rigvedic families: neither the ViSvAmitras and VasiSThas of the Early Period, nor the GRtsamadas and KaSyapas of the later Middle Period, nor the Atris, KaNvas and Bharatas of the Late Period, nor the Agastyas.

And, of the three branches of ANgirases, it does not refer even once to the BharadvAjas.  The Avesta, however, does refer to the two other branches of ANgirases, the Usijs (AuSijas) and Gaotemas (Gautamas), both of which originated in and dominated the early Middle Period, and in whose hymns alone we find references to the conflict with the Zoroastrians:

a. The Usijs (AuSijas) are mentioned by ZarathuStra himself in the GAthAs (Y. 44.20) where they are identified with the Karapans (a derogatory word used in the GAthAs in reference to enemy priests).

b. NAdhyAongha Gaotema (NodhAs Gautama) is mentioned in the early YaSts (FarvardIn YaSt, Yt.13.16) as a priest defeated by ZarathuStra in debate.  While many scholars ignore or reject the identification of the word NAdhyAongha with NodhAs, the identity of the second word as the name of an enemy priest, (a) Gaotema, is not disputed by anyone.

In sum: any analysis of the Rigveda and Avesta will make it clear that the main enemies of the Iranians in the Avesta, at least at the time of ZarathuStra, were the “Indoaryans”: i.e. the Vedic Aryans or PUrus.

In later Indian tradition, the Iranians became the asuras or demons of Indian mythology, who ceased to bear even the faintest resemblance to the original Iranian prototypes.  Likewise, the angras and other enemies of the time of ZarathuStra were so mythologized in later Iranian traditions (in the Pahlavi texts, and in the very much later ShAhname; and even in later parts of the Avesta itself) that they ceased to be identifiable with the original Indoaryan prototypes.  Hence, later interpretations of the Avestan words (e.g. the identification of the tUiryas or Turanians with latter-day peoples like the Turks, etc.) are untenable in any study of the Zoroastrian period.

The Avesta does not appear to refer to the PUrus or Bharatas by those names, but then it is not necessary that they do so: the Rigveda refers to the Iranians as the Anus (a term which does not appear in the Avesta); and although SudAs and his descendants are Bharatas, the DASarAjña hymns refer to them as TRtsus, and the VArSAgira hymn refers to them as VArSAgiras.  The Iranians must have had their own names for the Indoaryans in the Avesta.  And it is not necessary that the names or epithets used by the Iranians for the Indoaryans should be located in the Rigveda.

However, we can speculate as follows:

a. The word TUrvayANa occurs four times in the Rigveda, and in two of the verses it refers to the person for whom Indra conquered all the tribes from east to west (i.e. Kutsa-Ayu-Atithigva).  About TUrvayANa, Griffith notes in his footnote to VI.18.13: “According to SAyaNa, tUrvAyANa, ‘quickly going’ is an epithet of DivodAsa.”

If this is correct, then it is possible that this may have been a general epithet of the Bharata kings, descendants of DivodAsa, particularly in conflict situations; and the Avestan word tUirya for the enemies of the Iranians may be derived from this word as a contrast to the word airya.  It may be noted that according to Skjærvø. the “evidence is too tenuous to allow any conclusions as to who the Turas were or at what time the conflict took place”.93

b. ZarathuStra, in his GAthAs (Y.32.12-14) refers to the grAhma as the most powerful and persistent of his enemies.

A similar, though not exactly cognate, word grAma, in the Rigveda, refers to the warrior troops of the Bharatas in III.33.11 (where it refers to these troops, under SudAs and ViSvAmitra. crossing the SutudrI and VipAS in their expedition westwards), and in I.100.10 (where it refers to the troops of the VArSAgiras).  These are the only two occurences of this word in the MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas of the Early Period and the early part of the Middle Period.

The word grAma occurs once in the hymns of the later Middle Period, in II.12.7, in its new and subsequent meaning of “village”. It occurs many times in the Late MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas (I.44.10; 114.1; V.54.8; X.27.19; 62.11; 90.8; 107.5; 127.5, 146.10 149.4) always meaning “village” (except in I. 44.10, where it means “battle”, like the later word saMgrAma).  

While the early part of the Middle Period of the Rigveda represents a continuation and culmination of the Indo-Iranian conflicts of the Early Period, the later part (MaNDala II and corresponding parts of the upa-maNDalas) is a period of peace in which the two people develop their religions and cultures in their respective areas.  MaNDala II does not refer to any river other than the sacred SarasvatI.

The first signs of a thaw taking place in Indo-Iranian relations, in this period, are the appearance in the Rigveda of an Avestan personality Thrita, who is counted among the important persons (Yt.13.113), and is primarily associated with the Haoma (Soma) ritual (Y.9.10) and with medicines (Vd.20).

Thrita (Rigvedic Trita) is a post-Zoroastrian figure: he is not mentioned in the GAthAs, nor is he mentioned even once in the MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas of the Early Period and early Middle Period (MaNDalas VI, III, VII, IV, and the early and middle upa-maNDalas).

He first appears in the hymns of the later Middle Period, i.e. in MaNDala II (II.11.19, 20; 31.6; 34.10, 14), and he is clearly a contemporary figure here: II.11.19, even in the context of a hostile reference to Dasyus (i.e. enemy priests, as we shall see in the next chapter) in general, asks Indra to ensure the friendship of Trita (Griffith translates the verse as a reference to “Trita of our party”), and the next verse refers to Trita offering libations of Soma.

Trita appears in all the MaNDalas of the Late Period as a mythical personality.

The later part of the Middle Period is thus a transitional period between the earlier period of Indo-Iranian conflicts, and the later period of general peace and religious development.

IV.D. The Late Period of the Rigveda

In the Late Period of the Rigveda, the Iranians were now spread out over the whole of Afghanistan and southern Central Asia, and were still present in northwestern Punjab.  The late VendidAd, as we have already seen, delineates this area in its description of the sixteen Iranian lands.

This period represents a new era in Indo-Iranian relations, where the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, in their respective areas, developed their religions independently of each other and yet influencing each other, the hostilities of the past rapidly turning into mythical and terminological memories:

1. The BhRgus, as we have seen, are now completely accepted into the Vedic mainstream in MaNDala VIII, with their old hymns being included in the MaNDala and the references to them acquiring a friendly, respectful, and contemporary air.

2. Iranian kings of the northwestern Punjab (KaSu, PRthuSravas KAnIta, Tirindira ParSava, RuSama), as we have also seen, now become patrons of Vedic RSis.

3. Geographical names of the northwest now start appearing in the Rigveda, as we have already seen, and most of these are names which are also found in the Avesta.

a. SuSoma/SuSomA, ArjIka/ArjIkIyA, SaryaNAvat and MUjavat, the four northwestern areas associated with Soma (I.84.14 in the middle upa-maNDalas; all the rest in the hymns of the Late Period: VIII.6.39; 7.29; 64.11; IX.65.22, 23; 113.1, 2; X.34.1; 75.5). Of these MUjavat is found in the Avesta: MuZA, Yt.8.125.

b. GandhArI and the Gandharvas (III.38.6, a late interpolated hymn, as we have already seen; all the rest in the hymns of the Late Period: 1.22.14; 126.7; 163.2; VIII.1.11; 77.5; IX.83.4; 85.12; 86.36; 113.3; X.10.4; 11.2; 80.6. 85.40, 41; 123.4, 7-8;. 136.6; 139.4-6; 177.2). Gandarewa is found in the Avesta: Yt.5.38.

c. RasA (IV.43.6 in the Middle Period at the westernmost point of the westward thrust; all the rest in the hymns of the Late Period: I.112.12; V.41.15; 53.9; VIII.72.13; IX.41.6; X.75.6; 108.1, 2; 121.4). RaNhA is found in the Avesta: Vd.1.19.

d. Sapta Sindhu (Sapta SindhUn in the Middle Period: II.12.3, 12; IV.28.1; and later as well: I.32.12; 35.8; X.67.12; crystallizing into Sapta Sindhava only in the Late Period: VIII.54.4; 69.12; 96.1; IX.66.6; X.43.3). Hapta HAndu is found in the Avesta: Vd.1.18.

4. Certain animals and persons common to the Rigveda and the Avesta appear, or become common, only in the hymns of the Late Period:

a. The camel uSTra (Avestan uStra, found in the name of ZarathuStra himself) appears only in 1.138.2; VIII.5.37; 6.48; 46.22, 31.

b. The word varAha as a name for the boar (Avestan varAza) appears only in I.61.7; 88.5; 114.5; 121.11; VIII.77.10; IX.97.7; X.28.4; 67.7; 86.4; 99.6.

c. Yima (Vedic Yama), first man of the Avesta, is accepted into the Rigveda only in the latest period (although he is mentioned once, in special circumstances, in VII.33.9, 12; and once, alongwith other ancient BhRgus like AtharvaNa and USanA KAvya, in I.83.5), when the BhRgus gain in importance:

I. 38.5; 116.2; 163.2;
X. 10.7, 9, 13; 12.6; 13.4; 14.1-5, 7-15; 15.8; 
    16.9; 17.1; 21.5; 51.3; 53.2; 58.1; 60.10; 64.3; 
    92.11; 97.16; 123.6; 135.1, 7; 154.4, 5; 165.4.

d. The Avestan hero associated with Soma and medicines, Thrita (Vedic Trita) becomes a popular mythical figure in the Rigveda in the Late Period.  After his first appearance in the Rigveda in MaNDala II (II.11.19, 20; 31.6; 34.10, 14), he now appears frequently in the Late MaNDalas and upa-maNDalas:

I.    52.5; 105.9, 17; 163.2, 3; 187.1;
V.   9.5; 41.4, 10; 54.2; 86.1;
VIII. 7.24; 12.16; 41.6; 47.13-16; 52.1;
IX.   32.2; 34.4; 37.4; 38.2; 86.20; 95.4; 102.2, 3;
X.    8.7, 8; 46.3, 6; 48.2; 64.3; 99.6; 115.4.

ThraEtaona (Faridun of later texts) is an earlier Avestan hero associated with the Indo-Iranian conflicts, and hence he has already been demonised in the Rigveda (I.158.5). Hence, features associated with him in the Avesta are transferred to Trita in the Rigveda: ThraEtaona’s father Athwya is transformed in the Rigveda into Aptya, a patronymic of Trita (I.105.9; V.41.1; VIII.12.16; 15.17; 47.13, 14; X.8.8; 120.6).

ThraEtaona, in Avestan mythology, is mainly associated with the killing of the three-headed dragon, Azhi Dahaka; just as Indra, in Rigvedic mythology, is mainly associated with the killing of the dragon Ahi VRtra (hence his common epithet VRtrahan, found in every single MaNDala of the Rigveda, which also becomes VRtraghna in the khila-sUktas and later SaMhitAs).

The Late Period sees a partial exchange of dragon-killers between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians: while ThraEtaona is demonised in the Rigveda, his dragon-killing feat is transferred to Trita (X.87.8, where Trita kills the three-headed dragon TriSiras), who consequently also appears as a partner of Indra in the killing of VRtra (VIII.7.24) or even as a killer of VRtra in his own right (I.187.1).

Likewise, while Indra is demonised in the Avesta, his epithet is adopted in the late Avestan texts as the name of a special God of Victory, Verethraghna (Yt.1.27; 2.5, 10; 10.70, 80; 14 whole; Vd.19.125; and in the Vispered and Khordah Avesta.  Verethraghna is the BehrAm of later texts).

Scholars examining the Rigveda and the Avesta cannot help noticing that the late parts of the Rigveda represent a period of increasing contact and mutual influence between the Vedic Aryans and Iranians.

Michael Witzel, as we have already seen, clearly sees MaNDala VIII as representing a period when the Vedic Aryans seem to be entering into a new environment, the environment of the northwest: “Book 8 concentrates on the whole of the west: cf. camels, mathra horses, wool, sheep.  It frequently mentions the Sindhu, but also the Seven Streams, mountains and snow.”94 This MaNDala “lists numerous tribes that are unknown to other books”.95 In this MaNDala, “camels appear (8.5.37-39) together with the Iranian name KaSu, ‘small’ (Hoffman 1975) or with the suspicious name Tirindra and the ParSu (8.6.46). The combination of camels (8.46.21, 31), Mathra horses (8.46.23) and wool, sheep and dogs (8.56.3) is also suggestive: the borderlands (including GandhAra) have been famous for wool and sheep, while dogs are treated well in Zoroastrian Iran but not in South Asia.”96

In fact, the period of MaNDala VIII is the period of composition of the major part of the Avesta.  That is, to the original GAthAs and the core of the early YaSts, which belong to the Middle Period of the Rigveda, were now added the rest of the Yasna (other than the GAthAs) and YaSts (late YaSts, as well as post-Zoroastrian additions to the early YaSts), and the VendidAd,

A very eminent Zoroastrian scholar, J.C. Tavadia, had noted as long ago as in 1950: “Not only in grammatical structure and vocabulary, but also in literary form, in certain metres like the TriSTubh and in a way GAyatrI, there is resemblance between the Avesta and the Rgveda.  The fact is usually mentioned in good manuals.  But there is a peculiarity about these points of resemblance which is not so commonly known: It is the eighth MaNDala which bears the most striking similarity to the Avesta. There and there only (and of course partly in the related first MaNDala) do some common words like uSTra and the strophic structure called pragAtha occur. … Further research in this direction is sure to be fruitful.”97

That this correlation between the Avesta as a whole and MaNDala VIII, is really a correlation between the period of the Avesta proper and the period of the later parts of the Rigveda, is not acknowledged by either Witzel or Tavadia, since neither of them admits that MaNDala VIII is chronologically a late part of the Rigveda.

But the following conclusions of another eminent, and recent, scholar may be noted.  According to Helmut Humbach: “It must be emphasised that the process of polarisation of relations between the Ahuras and the DaEvas is already complete in the GAthAs, whereas, in the Rigveda, the reverse process of polarisation between the Devas and the Asuras, which does not begin before the later parts of the Rigveda, develops as it were before our very eyes, and is not completed until the later Vedic period.  Thus, it is not at all likely that the origins of the polarisation are to be sought in the prehistorical, the Proto-Aryan period.  More likely, ZarathuStra’s reform was the result of interdependent developments, when Irano-Indian contacts still persisted at the dawn of history.  With their Ahura-DaEva ideology, the Mazdayasnians, guided by their prophet, deliberately dissociated themselves from the Deva-Asura concept which was being developed, or had been developed, in India, and probably also in the adjacent Iranian-speaking countries… All this suggests a synchrony between the later Vedic period and ZarathuStra’s reform in Iran.”98

Thus, it is clear that the bulk of the Avesta is contemporaneous with the Late Period of the Rigveda, while the earliest part of the Avesta (consisting of the GAthAs and the core of the early YaSts) is contemporaneous with the Middle Period.

In sum, the cold, hard facts lead inescapably to only one logical conclusion about the location of the Indo-Iranian homeland:

1. The concept of a common Indo-Iranian habitat is based solely on the fact of a common Indo-Iranian culture reconstructed from linguistic, religious and cultural elements common to the Rigveda and the Avesta.

2. The period of development of this common Indo-Iranian culture is not, as Humbach aptly puts it, “the prehistorical, the Proto-Aryan period”, but “the later Vedic period”.

3. The location of this common Indo-Iranian habitat must therefore be traced from the records of “the later Vedic period” available jointly within the hymns of the Rigveda and the Avesta.

4. The records of “the later Vedic period” show that the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians were located in an area stretching from (and including) Uttar Pradesh in the east to (and including) southern and eastern Afghanistan in the west.

This is the area which represents the common “Indo-Iranian homeland”.

The scholars, however, are not accustomed to deriving conclusions from facts; it is their practice to arrive at conclusions beforehand (the conclusion, in this particular case, being based on an extraneous, and highly debatable, linguistic theory about the location of the original Indo-European homeland), and to twist or ignore all facts which fail to lead to this predetermined conclusion.

The three scholars in question, Witzel, Tavadia and Humbach, to different degrees and in different ways, note the facts as they are; but they do not take these facts to their logical conclusion about Indo-Iranian geography and prehistory: all three scholars firmly believe in the theory that, in “the prehistorical, the Proto-Aryan period”, the Indo-Iranians were settled in Central Asia whence they migrated to Iran and India.

This can lead to a ludicrously topsy-turvy perspective, as will be evident, for example, from the following observations by Humbach on the subject:

Humbach clearly states that the facts suggest a synchrony between “the later Vedic period and ZarathuStra’s reform”, and that the GAthAs of ZarathuStra were therefore composed at a time when “the Deva-Asura concept was being developed, or had been developed, in India”.99 In short, Humbach concludes that the GAthAs, one of the oldest parts of the Avesta, were composed at a point of time when the Indoaryans were settled, and had already been settled for some time, in India.

But, when identifying the Hapta HAndu in the list of sixteen Iranian lands named in the VendidAd list, he chooses to identify it with the “upper course of the Oxus River”.100 Now there is no earthly reason why Hapta H?ndu should be identified with the upper course of the Oxus rather than with the plains of the Punjab (as very correctly done, for example, by Darmetester, Gnoli, etc.), and this identification was mooted by scholars who sought to identify the sixteen lands on the basis of the theory that the lands named in the list refer to a period when the (Indo-)Iranians were still in Central Asia, and the Indoaryans had not yet migrated southeastwards as far as the Punjab.  In short, Humbach concludes that the VendidAd, a late part of the Avesta, was composed at a point of time when the Indoaryans had not yet reached the Punjab in their journey into India.

The incongruity between the two conclusions is striking.

Clearly, the theory, that the Indo-Iranians were in Central Asia in any “prehistorical, Proto-Aryan period”, is not conducive to any logical understanding of the Rigveda or the Avesta, or of Indo-Iranian history.

The facts show a different picture from the one assumed by these scholars:

1. The development of the common Indo-Iranian culture, reconstructed from linguistic, religious, and cultural elements in the Rigveda and the Avesta, took place in the “later Vedic period”.

2. Therefore, details about the geographical situation in “the prehistorical, the Proto-Aryan period” must be looked for in the “earlier Vedic period”, i.e. in the hymns of the Early Period of the Rigveda.

3. The evidence of the hymns of the Early Period of the Rigveda, as we have already seen, locates the Indo-Iranians further east: i.e. in the area from (and including) Uttar Pradesh in the east to (and including) the Punjab in the west.

It is not, therefore, Central Asia, but India, which is the original area from which the Iranians migrated to their later historical habitats.


1GPW, p.4.

2ibid., p.5.

3ibid., pp.114-15.

4ibid., p.120.

5ibid., p.127.

6ibid., pp.122-23.

7ibid., p.123.

8ibid., p.126.

9ibid, p.146.



12IASA, p.116.

13ibid., p.110.

14ibid., p.155.

15ibid., p.156.

16ibid., p.157-58.

17ibid., p.163.

18ibid., p.164.



21ibid., p.165.

22ibid., p.164.

23ibid., p.160.

24ibid., pp.166-67.

25ibid., p.98.

26ibid., p.335, fn.82.

27ibid., p.324.

28ibid., p.331.

29ibid., p.333, fn.75

30ZTH, p.45.


32ibid., p.59.

33ibid., p.161.

34ibid., pp.25-26.

35ibid., pp.63-64.

36ibid., p.47.

37ibid., p.63.

38ibid., p.53.

39ibid., p.110.

40ibid., pp.84-85.

41ibid., p.110.

42ibid., p.89.

43ibid., p.110.

44ibid., p.88.


46ibid., p.102.

47ibid., p.105.



50ibid., pp.107-08.

51ibid., p.111.

52ibid., p.240.

53ibid., p.141.

54ibid., p.17.



57ibid., p.227.

58ibid., p.88.

59ibid., p.87.

60ibid., p.88.

61ibid., p.7.

62ibid., p.131.

63ibid., p.133.

64ibid., p.131.

65ibid., p.132.

66ibid., pp.134-35.

67ibid., p.14.

68ibid., p.135.

69ibid., p.153.


71ibid., pp.153-54.

72ibid., p.47.

73ibid, p.50.

74ibid, p.69.

75ibid, p.47.

76ibid, p.56.

77AIHT, p.264.

78IASA, pp.338-39.

79IASA, p.110.

80ibid., p.322.

81GORI, p.26.

82SBE, p.287.

83CHI, p.433.

84ZCR, pp.11-12.

85ZCR, pp.12, 16.

86ZCR, p.12-13.

87ibid, p.13.

88ibid, p.16.

89ZTH, p.134.

90ibid., pp.74-75.

91CHI, P.433.


93IASA, p.171.

94IASA, p.317.

95ibid, p.319.

96ibid., p.322.

97IIS, pp.3-4.

98GZ, p.23.


100ibid, p.34.

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