The History of the Bengali Language/Lecture 2

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ANCIENT BENGAL AND ITS PEOPLES

LECTURE II

Section 1

The antiquity of the names Vanga and Bānglā


It is a fact that the Veda Samhitās and the early Vedic literature do not mention the name Vanga either in connection with the names of Indian tribes or in any enumeration of the countries owned by the Aryans as well as by the non-Aryans. The Rigveda Samhitā does not know even Anga, but this Anga country is mentioned in the Atharva Veda. In the Atharva Veda Pariśiṣṭa, however, the word Vanga occurs with Magadha as a component of a compound word; but as the scholars do not attach any value to it owing partly to the lateness of the Pariśiṣṭa itself, I advisedly leave this mention out of consideration. It will be quite unscientific, however, to come to such a positive conclusion on the basis of this silence, that the Vedic fathers had no knowledge of the country or tribe which bore the name Vanga. I cannot too highly speak of the critical acumen of the learned scholars who have attempted to reconstruct the history of the Vedic times with the materials furnished by the Veda Samhitās, but we have no patience with those who have gone the length of making this bold statement, with much confidence that the state of things not disclosed by the Vedic mantras was non-existent in the olden days. The uncritical scholars do not see that, even if it be conceded that all the mantras or prayers to gods, as had been composed at different times by the Ṛṣis, were wholly collected and we get them now fully preserved in the Samhitās, it cannot be asserted that a complete picture of the Vedic times can be presented with the help of the mantra material alone. Let me take up a hypothetical case just to illustrate the force of my remarks. Just fancy that a cataclysm sweeps away all that we possess and are proud of to-day, and some historical critics arise, after the deluge, to write a history of our time with the help of such a prayer-book as the Brahma Sangīt of the Brāhmas, or a collection of Rāmprasād's songs, unearthed in the debris of some buildings, will the material be sufficient for the purpose? Will not such an inference on the basis of the hymns and prayers of the Brāhmas, that the Bengalis of our imaginary pre-deluged era were all monotheists of the Brāhma type, be a gross misstatement of fact? Is there anything in the hymns of the Brāhmas to indicate that there is such an institution as the Calcutta University or that this country is being ruled by the British people? Rāmprasād's songs may supply the information that we had such a thing as oil-pressing machine, and that machine was worked by bullocks being blindfolded; but will not this be a very poor picture of the civilization of Rāmprasād's days? We meet with an entertaining passage in a drama of our celebrated dramatist and humourist, the late D. L. Roy, which purports to be a taunting challenge to the effect—should we think that the Gopīs of Brindāban did not know the use of jira marich, since there is no mention of this condiment in the Srimadbhāgabatam? We cannot afford to forget that however much the Vedas relate to the general conditions of life of the ancient times, they are but ideal prayers and hymns, which, again, only a section of the Indian Aryans offered to the gods. There is ample evidence in the very Veda Samhitās, that all the Aryans of India did not pursue the religion which is reflected in the Vedic mantras.

No doubt we do not meet with the name Vanga in the Veda Samhitās and the Atharvan mentions only Anga as the outermost border country lying to the south-east of the territories of the Aryas; but when we come upon this fact, that the later Vedic literature such as the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa mentions Vanga as a country held by a barbarian tribe, while the early Buddhistic literature (not likely of a date earlier than the Brāhmaṇa) is as silent as the Vedas are, it becomes difficult to attribute such a silence to ignorance. From these facts we can only make this plausible inference that Vanga and its adjacent parts were not colonized by the Aryans till the 6th century B. C. Let me discuss this important point of chronology by considering the value of the facts disclosed by the aforesaid literature.

It is evident from the manner in which the border tribes have been mentioned in the 22nd Sūkta of the 5th Book of the Atharva Veda that the Magadhas and the Angas were alien barbarous people who resided outside the pale of Aryan country but it is also clear that the countries of these barbarians were in close proximity to the land of the Ṛṣis. In this Sūkta this wish has been expressed in offering a prayer to Agni that the fever called "takman" may leave the holy land of the Aryas and may reside in such border countries as Anga and Magadha which are really the home (okaḥ) of the fever. This fever which is considered to be of malarial type has been asked in the prayer to assail the barbarians and specially their wanton fugitive women (described as Sudrās) on account of their having left the Aryan protection in Aryan homes. It is rather clear from this mention that the Ṛṣis of the Atharva Veda utilised the services of the people of Magadha and Anga and were particularly keen about keeping the Sudra women in Aryan villages. Looking to what has been stated of Anga we may only provisionally hold that Vanga, which lay still farther off to the south-east, was only inhabited in those days by people other than the Aryans. We get in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa of a much later date that the holy sacrificial fire travelled as far east as Videgha (Videha) in Mithilā. It is, therefore, pretty certain that the Aryans did not even then come in any real contact with the Vangas of Bengal. We notice in the Atharva Veda that the Kirāta people of the Himalayan region were the neighbours of the Aryans and the Kirāta women supplied such roots and herbs as were used for charms and for medicine; such a peaceful relation with the south-eastern border tribes is not indicated in any Sūkta. In the Aitareya Āraṇyaka the Vanga tribe finds only a bare mention in conjunction with the Magadha people. Some early references relating to the people of Magadha, of Anga and of other neighbouring barbarian tracts in such a fashion, that they were beasts or snakes, have been misinterpreted by some scholars. We cannot forget the fact that almost all the tribes were known by the totem names of their clans or tribes; it is therefore strongly suspected that when the Aryans knew the totem names of different tribes, they had some intimate knowledge of them. When the tribes are not made identical with the names of birds and snakes, quite another interpretation has to be given. In the history of the conquest of the rude aboriginal tribes, we get one and the same mythical account all over the world: the rude tribes in their mountain fastnesses and forest tracts are represented as giants or dwarfs with mysterious powers, or they are imagined to possess power of transforming themselves into beasts or birds. The Ṛṣis were no doubt of superior mental and spiritual powers, but they represent the Rakṣas and the Yakṣas as magicians and Māyāvīs, as invested with abiding authority over the elements. The reason is not far to seek. The aboriginal people who knew every part of their land in the hills and the forests, could appear suddenly and could escape unnoticed to places which were difficult of access to the conquering trespassers; moreover the rude tribes, who were unable to cope with the civilized intruders, took to some subterfuges which made their hostility to be dreaded in proportion to its secrecy. When the blow was struck in darkness, the awe-struck Aryans who had supreme contempt for the valour of their foes, were led to attribute it to supernatural or non-human, rather than to human agency. In any view of the case, knowledge on the part of the Aryans of the people of their country may be presumed. It has been just mentioned, that in the early Buddhistic literature, where detailed lists appear of many countries and peoples, the name Vanga is conspicuous by its absence ("Buddhist India" by Rhys Davids, pp. 23-29). The importance of this omission lies in this, that Buddha, who flourished towards the end of the 6th century B.C., had his activities mostly in Magadha which is not far off from Bengal. The story of Vijaya Simha, on the other hand, points to a pre-Buddhistic colonization of Bengal by the Aryans. How far we can rely upon the Sinhalese account, based upon a tradition merely, or rather upon a legendary account, that Vijaya Simha was a king of Bengal and that he led his victorious campaign into Ceylon the very year the Buddha attained his Nirvāṇa has not yet been critically discussed. It can, however, be asserted on the evidence of linguistic palæontology, that the early conquerors of their land went from the eastern Gangetic valley, and carried with them the speech which prevailed in Magadha at least during the 4th century B.C. Not only the Sinhalese, but even the Vaeddas and their very wild congeners, use a large number of Māgadhi words in their speech, which are of the time I have spoken of. The use of the words "gini" for fire, "gonā" for cows, "goyā" and "goyi" (the Prākṛta forms of godhā and godhikā), "vāso" to indicate residence (as in kaeto-vaso, forest residence), "ini" from the root ই=to go (as in gamanini), etc., which occur in the old Māgadhi Prākṛta, by even such Sinhalese as lead a rude life in distant forest tracts, raises a presumption in favour of very early Māgadhi influence in Ceylon. It has to be noted that the Sinhalese are non-Aryan people, and the Tamil-speaking Hindus, who have most influence with them, are not at all familiar with the Māgadhi words noticed above. As the early chroniclers of Ceylon could always prevail upon the Gotama Buddha to visit the island off and on, it is unsafe to rely upon the dates given by them in their pious zeal for the cause of religion.

The account that Vijaya and his successors proceeded to Ceylon from Vanga, cannot also be easily dismissed, for there are indelible marks of the influence of the eastern Gangetic valley on the speech of the Sinhalese. It is a fact that many words and grammatical forms, as had their origin in the soil of Bengal at a comparatively recent time, are current in the speech of even some isolated forest tribes of Ceylon, along with the Māgadhi words of earlier date as just now noted above. This argues in favour of the proposition that the later immigrants must have proceeded directly from Bengal. Whoever the early conquerors of Ceylon may be, it will be quite reasonable to suppose that even when the old Māgadhi of the 3rd or 4th century B.C. changed its own character considerably in farther east, lots of people of the lower Gangetic valley continued to pour into Ceylon, to exercise linguistic and other influences upon the aboriginal races of that island. As to the currency of the modern Bengali forms in Ceylon, I may just by way of illustration refer to the following words, namely—Mācha (fish), gācha (tree) (occurs also as gāha in one tribal speech), petti (small) (the Bengali word peti or pāti is used now to signify contempt). A good deal will have to be said in a subsequent lecture, regarding the accent system of our speech, by comparing the prevailing system with the systems of some Dravidian races, and the old and the modern grammatical forms will have to be similarly considered. As such we cannot do anything beyond pointing out here, that in Ceylon, the word "bhūmi" is pronounced as "bumi" or "bimi," the word "bhāt" is pronounced as "bāt" and the form "karaṇa" (to do), of which the modern Bengali form is "karā," is in use. I may only note in passing, that in some eastern districts of Bengal, "ba" is nearly the sound of "bha" and "karaṇa" is the form of "karā"; the sentence Ār ki deon jāy for Ār ki deoā jāy occurs in a humorous song composed by our poet Rajani Kanta Sen whose early death we all mourn. As to Sinhalese accent system, the remarks of Mr. R. L. Turner may be profitably quoted. He writes: "With regard to Sinhalese, it is hard to come to a decision, because, firstly, all long vowels have been shortened, and, secondly, an extensive umlaut has taken place." The importance of the phenomenon, noticed by Mr. Turner, will be appreciated by you when you will be treated to our Bengali accent and phonetic system. The facts relating to Ceylon, as have been discussed here rather perfunctorily, do not fail to show, that men of Aryan speech and civilization commenced to colonize Bengal from a time not later than the 4th century B.C.

Probabilities, however, seem to be on the side of the supposition, that an appreciable number of Aryans chose to make Vanga their home, even when the Aryans of the holy Midland country had neither occasion nor liking to take any notice of the eastern tracts of the barbarians. Even when the notice of the tracts was forced upon them later on, they looked down upon those of them who resided among the barbarians. Some statements in the old Dharmaśāstras warrant us in making this inference.

There are some good reasons to suppose, that the Dharmaśāstras fathered upon Baudhāyana and Vaśiṣṭha, though older than many other Dharmaśāstras, cannot be placed beyond the 6th century B.C. Baudhāyana has given the limits of Āryāvarta in the following words: Āryāvarta lies to the east of the region, where the river Saraswati disappears to the west of the Kālaka-vana (the forest region which extended over a large area to the south and south-east of Magadha), to the north of the Pāripātra mountains, to the south of the Himalayas (I Pr., I Ch., K. 2). That Bengal is here excluded from the land of the Aryans, is sufficiently clear. After stating the accepted orthodox view regarding the geography of the Āryāvarta, Baudhāyana as well as Vaśiṣṭha very grudgingly extends the limits of the Āryāvarta, on the authority of "some" who have been mentioned as "others." By virtue of the extended definition, Bengal and some other countries fall within Āryāvarta; for, according to this definition of the holy land, Āryāvarta lies to the south of the Himalayas and to the north of the Vindhya range—being limited east and west by the two oceans (Vaśiṣṭha 1, 8 and 9). The conclusion seems inevitable, that the stray settlements of the Āryas, at places beyond the limits of the holy land, commenced long before the time of Baudhāyana, and the settlers were being recognized with some reluctance during the time of Baudhāyana and Vaśiṣṭha. This proposition will receive full confirmation from the following facts. Baudhāyana, whom all the authors of the old-time Dharmaśāstras follow, has laid down some model rules of life for the twice-born Āryas in the second Kāṇḍikā, of the 1st Praśna of his work; I give here the purport of the whole Kāṇḍikā because of its special importance. It has been stated on the one hand, in verses XIII and XIV, that the people or peoples of Anga, Magadha, Avanti, and other lands lying close to the land of the Āryas, are of the mixed origin, while the lands of the Puṇḍras, the Vangas and the Kalingas are so unholy that one should go through a penance on one's return from those countries; on the other hand, it has been stated, in noting certain deviations from the model rules of the holy Madhya Deśa or Pānchāla country, that those who reside in southern countries, marry the daughters of maternal or paternal uncles, and those, who belong to some northern countries, follow the trade of arms and go to sea. As these deviations have been excused on the ground of their being special provincial customs, we cannot fail to see, that the Āryas who were of the twice-born rank, became the settled inhabitants of the unholy lands, long before the time of Baudhāyana. We notice that Puṇḍra and Vanga were separate countries in those days, and that there were Aryan settlements in Puṇḍra and Vanga, though they might not have been as extensive as in Magadha and Anga. We should further notice, that sea voyage was allowed in olden days in some northern countries of the Aryans, which fell outside the limits of the Madhya Deśa. This fact is in support of the proposition, that the Aryans of the eastern Gangetic valley proceeded to Ceylon as early as in the 4th century B.C. We thus see that however scanty be our materials, we cannot definitely assert that the Aryans did not commence to colonize Vanga, during or earlier than the 6th century B.C.

Let us now discuss some other facts for further light on the subject; let us now see what accounts we may get of the ancient Vanga people, on examining some records of non-Aryan activities of a time when the Aryans disdained to take any notice of the tribes, who were not within the pale of Āryāvarta. Recent researches in Farther India by such scholars as Mr. Phayre and Col. Gerini have disclosed these facts, that the Telegu-speaking and Tamil-speaking Dravidians of India reached Farther India both by land and sea, and established colonies and political supremacy in many parts of Farther India; and that the Hindus poured in, only subsequently, to dominate that land by displacing the Dravidian supremacy. The earliest date we get of the Hindus, who went to Burma is 923 B.C. I accept this date on the authority of some scholars, but I cannot vouch for its correctness. The Kṣatriya adventurers, who are said to have proceeded from Hastināpur and to have established an extensive territory in Upper Burma with Bhamo for its capital in 923 B. C., are reported to have displaced the Dravidians who had organised their new Kalinga Raṭṭa previous to the Aryan inroads into the country. This should lead us to suppose, that the Dravidian invasion in Farther India took place at least a century before 923 B. C. It is also reported of the Telegu adventurers, that they established their supremacy over Arakan and the tract of country now covered by the Chittagong Division in about 850 B. C. The accounts of Kyauk-pandang by Mr. Phayre in his history of Burma may be profitably referred to in this connection.

What concerns us principally here is that the people of Bengal formed a powerful colony in Annam in Farther India not later than the 7th century B. C, when they were being despised and not taken any notice of by the Aryans in India. The traditional and legendary accounts relating to Annam, as are reported to appear in some Chinese records, affirm that the leader of the Bengali adventurers, who became the king, of Annam, bore the name Luck-lom, and that he married one Annamese girl named Auki. It has been gathered from these records, that the province of India to which Luck-lom and his people belonged, was called Bong-long, and that Luck-lom and his followers were of Nāga Vaṁśa or rather had Nāga for their tribal totem. It becomes pretty clear, that the name of the land, which was then unknown in Āryāvarta, was Bong-long (the original form of Bānglā) and the people of Bong-long were known by the name Bong. That the term Vanga indicated the name of a tribe may be amply proved on the authority of the old Hindu literature. You may refer to Col. Gerini's accounts regarding the Bong-long kings in his work entitled "Researches in Ptolemy's Geography." Archæological research in Cambodia and Annam by Ayomounier, De la Ponte and other European antiquarians should be carefully studied in the interest of the History of India. We will presently see that those who bore the names Anga, Vanga and Kalinga, were regarded by the Aryans to have been of non-Aryan origin. I should also mention here, that the kings of Bong tribe reigned till the second decade of the 3rd century B. C, when some Buddhist Kṣatriyas of the Magadha country became supreme in Annam. It is known that eighteen kings of Bong-long origin reigned for over 350 years in Annam. We find that the compound letter or suffix "long" was added to "Bong" to signify the country belonging to the Bong people. I am inclined to think that this "long" is the Annamese form of the non-Aryan suffix "lā," and that not only the name Bong or Vanga as the name of a tribe, but the word "Bānglā" is as old as the word Vanga. I shall not be accused of giving reins to wild imagination, if I consider this non-Aryan suffix "lā" to be still persisting in our language, and that we detect this suffix in such words as "phoglā," "totlā," etc. I should, however, note that the "la" or its derivative "lā" which indicates past tense (as in karila or karilā), has nothing to do with the "lā" spoken of here. Be that as it may, we get it as a certain fact, and that is a great gain with us, that the word Bong-long or Bānglā was the name of some indefinite portion of our present Bengal, at least as early as the 7th century B. C., and the name Vanga (which originally signified a people) is of great antiquity.

We learn this good lesson from the accounts of the Vanga people, that we should not invariably make the Aryan activities in a province the sole starting point for the historic period in that province, and should not consign all pure and unmixed non-Aryan activities to the limbo of all forgotten formations, by writing the convenient term "Pre-historic time" over the events of the non-Aryan people. We see that the Vangas, previous to their being influenced by the Aryan civilisation, created a history in this world. Far from therefore being ashamed, we are rather proud of this ethnical record, that those who have to be presumed to form the bulk of our population to-day, are the Vangas, who founded once a ruling house in Annam in Farther India.

Another fact of great historical significance relating to the early migratory movements of the people of Bengal has to be narrated from the records of the Dravidians of Peninsular India. Very ancient Tamil books inform us that many Nāga-worshipping tribes proceeded from Bengal as well as from other parts of Northern India to establish their supremacy in the Tamilakam country. Of these tribes, the Marans, the Cheras and the Pangala Thiraiyar interest us most. The Cheras, it is stated, proceeded to Southern India from the north-west of Pangala or Bengal and established the "Chera" kingdom of much historical note. It is significant that the Cheras are mentioned in the old Brahman literature as occupying the eastern tract of the Magadha country. As to the Marans, who are said to have been the neighbours of the Cheras in Northern India, it is equally important to note, that the mighty Pandya kings claim to be of Maran descent. The Marans, who were also called Maravars, are reported to have been a very fierce and warlike people, and that they worshipped the goddess Kali on the top-knot of whose hair stood an infuriated cobra snake. The Pangala Thiraiyars are recorded as the latest immigrants, and it is narrated of them, that they proceeded from the sea-coast of Bengal by boat and founded the Chola kingdom at Kānchi. As the phrase Pangala or Bangala Thiraiyar is equivalent to তীর-বঙ্গ (Tīra-Vanga), we can assert unhesitatingly, that these people had received Aryan influence in Bengal before they left for the Madras coast. These traditional or legendary accounts may not be strictly correct in all their details, but the general story must be accepted as historical truth, since the ancient Tamil writers knew nothing of Bengal and its neighbouring tracts, when they recorded these traditional accounts. We shall see later on, that these accounts are quite in harmony with what will be narrated in a subsequent lecture.

Let me mention another fact of importance in this connection. It is narrated in the old Tamil books, that when the Nāga-worshipping tribes were colonising Southern India, the Makkalas were the principal and the most influential people in the South. As this Dravidian term Makkala or Makkaḍa could be easily transformed into Markata, I suppose the poet of the Rāmāyana was pleased to make monkeys of them. To do justice to the Makkalas, it must be mentioned, that they have a very high social status in the Tamil-speaking country and many aristocratic zamindar families belong to the clan of the Makkalas. It is reported, that these Makkalas once occupied those highlands of Central India, which are included in the Daṇḍakāraṇya of the Rāmāyana. Be that as it may, these Makkalas once freely intermarried with the Nāga tribes and brought about racial homogeneity in many parts of Southern India. We associate nothing but rudeness and barbarity with the term non-Aryan; but adverting now to the momentous activities of the high class non-Aryan people of olden days, we should do well to change or modify our notions considerably.

We have noticed that the Thiraiyars, or the sea-coast people of Pangala or Bānglā, took a sea-route to proceed to Southern India; we also notice that the Bong people established a ruling dynasty in Annam when the Telegu people were influential in Burma. It will therefore be very reasonable to conclude, that the Vangas of ancient time were a sea-faring people, and reached the coast of Tonquin Bay by a sea-route.