Sunday, 15 May 2022

The Great Drought: going back on the chronology of ancient Indian dynasties

Vishvamitra looks at Rama who breaks the bow, winning the hand of Sita in marriage.

Around 12 years ago I wrote an article proposing a comparison between archaeology and Indian historical tradition, with some interesting results, see here. I followed there the genealogies of Pargiter (given in Ancient Indian Historical Tradition), but recently I have read a post by Benjamin Lloyd, on Viśvāmitra and his synchronisms, that place him at the time of Rāma Jāmadagnya or Paraśurāma but also of Rāma Dāśarathi, the king of Ayodhya, instead of 33 generations earlier, as in Pargiter's table. Lloyd's idea is that the Ikṣvāku genealogy, strangely longer than the other genealogies, is actually a mistaken collation of different and parallel genealogies into a single lineage, ignoring that some kings of the list are actually contemporary. So, around the same age can be placed not only Viśvāmitra and the two Rāmas, but also Triśaṅku, Divodāsa Pañcāla, his descendant Sudās, Arjuna Kārtavīrya and Māndhātṛ, as is clear also from another post of Lloyd, giving all synchronisms and tables. 
If we accept this theory, also figures present in Ṛgveda and other Vedic texts like Trasadasyu become part of a similar age (only 4 generations earlier), instead of being a different person as in Pargiter's theory, and the period of crisis and invasions of Arjuna Kārtavīrya is not different from that of Sudās Paijavana and his Battle of the Ten Kings. Not only, the mentions of the Great Drought of 12 years become almost completely related with the same period, that is given as the transition between Tretā and Dvāpara. Pargiter accepted (p.177 of AIHT) that Rāma Dāśarathi lived in that transition, but when the Mahābhārata (I.2, see here) places also Rāma Jāmadagnya in the same period, he had to deny it.

Why did I write 'almost completely'? Because in Nirukta (II.10) and Bṛhaddevatā (VII.155-VIII.2), a drought of 12 years is caused by the consecration as king of the Kuru Śantanu instead of his elder brother Devāpi, who, having a skin disease (according to the Bṛhaddevatā), decided to retire to practice austerities. The idea of the drought is certainly suggested by RV X.98, that is analyzed there, because that hymn is a prayer for rain, but there is no specific mention of the length of the drought. Also in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (IV.20) it is said that in the kingdom of Śantanu there was no rain for twelve years, because the rightful king should have been the elder brother Devāpi, who retired to the woods, with no mention of skin disease. In Mahābhārata (V.147), instead, there is no mention of the drought, but only of the skin disease, that is presented as a right reason to exclude him from kingship. Now, Śantanu is clearly placed 4 generations before the Mahābhārata battle, at the end of Dvāpara Yuga and not at the transition between Tretā and Dvāpara. We can suppose that the idea of the 12 years' drought here has been adopted by the authors of the Nirukta and Bṛhaddevatā (and following that, of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa) because it was in the tradition, but in the Mahābhārata that drought is placed in a different period.
Let's see the various occurences of it.

1) Saṃvaraṇa. MBh I.163:
“And Saṃvaraṇa, that bull among men with due rites took Tapatī's hand on that mountain-breast which was resorted to by the celestials and the Gandharvas. The royal sage, with the permission of Vasiṣṭha, desired to sport with his wife on that mountain. And the king caused Vasishtha, to be proclaimed his regent in his capital and kingdom, in the woods and gardens. And bidding farewell unto the monarch, Vasiṣṭha left him and went away. Saṃvaraṇa, who sported on that mountain like a celestial, sported with his wife in the woods and the under-woods on that mountain for twelve full years. And, O best of the Bhāratas, the god of a thousand eyes poured no rain for twelve years on the capital and on the kingdom of that monarch. Then, O chastiser of enemies, when that season of drought broke out, the people of that kingdom, as also the trees and lower animals began to die fast. And during the continuance of that dreadful drought, not even a drop of dew fell from the skies and no corn grew. And the inhabitants in despair, and afflicted with the fear of hunger, left their homes and fled away in all directions. And the famished people of the capital and the country began to abandon their wives and children and grew reckless of one another. The people being afflicted with hunger, without a morsel of food and reduced to skeletons, the capital looked very much like the city of the king of the dead, full of only ghostly beings. On beholding the capital reduced to such a state, the illustrious and virtuous and best of Ṛṣis, Vasiṣṭha was resolved upon applying a remedy and brought back unto the city that tiger among kings, Saṃvaraṇa, along with his wife, after the latter had passed so long a period in solitude and seclusion. After the king had entered his capital, things became as before, for, when that tiger among kings came back to his own, the god of a thousand eyes, the slayer of Asuras, poured rain in abundance and caused corn to grow.”
As in the story of Devāpi, here the rightful king leaves kingship for the woods (although not for ascetic practice...) and so Indra stops rain for 12 years. Another passage, MBh I.89, mentions Saṃvaraṇa in relation to a great drought but also a war:
“While Saṃvaraṇa the son of Ṛkṣa, O king, was ruling the earth, there was a very great loss of people, so we have heard. The kingdom was shattered by manifold destructions in this way: struck by death for starvation, by want of rain and diseases, and the troops of the enemies attacked the Bhāratas. And shaking the Earth, so to say, with a fourfold army (i.e. made of chariots, elephants, knights and infantrymen), the Pañcāla marched against him (Saṃvaraṇa), and, having quickly conquered the Earth, he defeated him in battle with ten Akṣauhiṇis (troops of tenths of thousands of soldiers).”  
According to Pargiter, this Pañcāla king is none other than Sudās, defeating the alliance of the Ten Kings on the River Paruṣṇī (Ravi), where Saṃvaraṇa would be the king of the Pūrus. There is no mention here of sporting in the woods: the drought is associated with the rule of Saṃvaraṇa, and it is after the war that he takes shelter in the forests on the Sindhu, near the mountains. And there he is reached by Vasiṣṭha. A hint of the age of the son or descendant of Ṛkṣa is given also in RV VIII.68, where we find as patrons of the poet-priest a 'son of Ṛkṣa' and Indrota son or descendant of Atithigva, which is an epithet of Divodāsa, the famous ancestor of Sudās (with 5 generations of distance). Another hymn of the 8th book, RV VIII.74, mentions a Śrutarvan son or Ṛkṣa and also the river Paruṣṇī.

2) Viśvāmitra. MBh XII.139
"Towards the end of Tretā and the beginning of Dvāpara, a frightful drought occurred, extending over twelve years, in consequence of what the gods had ordained. At that time which was the end of Tretā and the commencement of Dvāpara, when the period came for many creatures superannuated by age to lay down their lives, the thousand-eyed deity of heaven poured no rain. The planet Bṛhaspati began to move in a retrograde course, and Soma abandoning his own orbit, receded towards the south. Not even could a dew-drop be seen, what need then be said of clouds gathering together? The rivers all shrank into narrow streamlets. Everywhere lakes and wells and springs disappeared and lost their beauty in consequence of that order of things which the gods brought about. Water having become scarce, the places set up by charity for its distribution became desolate. The Brahmanas abstained from sacrifices and recitation of the Vedas. They no longer uttered Vashats and performed other propitiatory rites. Agriculture and keep of cattle were given up. Markets and shops were abandoned. Stakes for tethering sacrificial animals disappeared. People no longer collected diverse kinds of articles for sacrifices. All festivals and amusements perished. Everywhere heaps of bones were visible and every place resounded with the shrill cries and yells of fierce creatures. The cities and towns of the earth became empty of inhabitants. Villages and hamlets were burnt down. Some afflicted by robbers, some by weapons, and some by bad kings, and in fear of one another, began to fly away. Temples and places of worship became desolate. They that were aged were forcibly turned out of their houses. Kine and goats and sheep and buffaloes fought (for food) and perished in large numbers. The Brahmanas began to die on all sides. Protection was at an end. Herbs and plants were dried up. The earth became shorn of all her beauty and exceedingly awful like the trees in a crematorium. In that period of terror, when righteousness was nowhere, O Yudhishthira, men in hunger lost their senses and began to eat one another. The very Ṛṣis, giving up their vows and abandoning their fires and deities, and deserting their retreats in woods, began to wander hither and thither (in search of food). The holy and great Ṛṣi Viśvāmitra, possessed of great intelligence, wandered homeless and afflicted with hunger."
The description reminds the one above from MBh I.63, but is more detailed, and is not focused on one town only, but on several towns and regions, we can suppose of North India. 

3) Sārasvata. The detail of wandering Ṛṣis reminds MBh IX.50, where the 12 years drought makes them forget the Vedas, but the young Sārasvata preserve them thanks to the Sarasvatī river: 
"a drought, O king, occurred that extended for twelve years. During that drought extending for twelve years, the great rishis, for the sake of sustenance, fled away, O monarch, on all sides. Beholding them scattered in all directions, the sage Sārasvata also set his heart on flight. The river Sarasvatī then said unto him, 'Thou needst not, O son, depart hence, for I will always supply thee with food even here by giving thee large fishes! Stay thou, therefore, even here!' Thus addressed (by the river), the sage continued to live there and offer oblations of food unto the Ṛṣis and the gods. He got also his daily food and thus continued to support both himself and the gods. After that twelve year's drought had passed away, the great Ṛṣis solicited one another for lectures on the Vedas. While wandering with famished stomachs, the Ṛṣis had lost the knowledge of the Vedas. There was, indeed, not one amongst them that could understand the scriptures. It chanced that someone amongst them encountered Sārasvata, that foremost of Ṛṣis, while the latter was reading the Vedas with concentrated attention.”
This story is a wonderful example of a crisis of cultural and even religious heritage due to a natural crisis, but the historical context is not clear. It is said that Sārasvata was son of the fabulous Ṛṣi Dadhīca. However, in Viṣṇu Purāṇa III.3, he is the Vedavyāsa (arranger of the Vedas) in the '9th' Dvāpara Yuga after Vasiṣṭha and before Tridhāman and Trivṛṣan: this last name corresponds to the name of the father of Tryaruṇa Traivṛṣṇa in RV V.27.1, and the Aikṣvāku king Tryaruṇa son of Tridhātu (a name taken from Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa 13.3.12, quite similar to Tridhāman, cp. Tridhanvan below) is a contemporary of Viśvāmitra according to Lloyd. We can add that Trayyāruṇa is the Vedavyāsa of the 15th Dvāpara Yuga. Apparently, there is some historical sequence in this list of Vedavyāsas, who are projected on a mythical sequence of different Dvāpara Yugas, but are rather to be placed in the same, the last, Dvāpara Yuga. 

4) Satyavrata Triśaṅku. According to Purāṇic genealogies, the son of Trayyāruṇa is Satyavrata Triśaṅku, the king who helped Viśvāmitra's wife during the famine. So says VP IV.3:
“Purukutsa had a son by Narmada named Trasadasyu, whose son was Sambhūta, whose son was Anaraṇya, who was slain, by Rāvaṇa in his triumphant progress through the nations. The son of Anaraṇya was Pṛṣadaśva; his son was Haryyaśva; his son was Sumanas; his son was Tridhanvan; his son was Trayyāruṇa; and his son was Satyavrata, who obtained the appellation of Triśaṅku, and was degraded to the condition of a Caṇḍāla, or outcast. During a twelve years' famine Triśaṅku provided the flesh of deer for the nourishment of the wife and children of Viśvāmitra, suspending it upon a spreading fig-tree on the borders of the Ganges, that he might not subject them to the indignity of receiving presents from an outcast. On this account Viśvāmitra, being highly pleased with him, elevated him in his living body to heaven.”

In this account, we have the mention of Rāvaṇa, the terrible king of Lanka, who in his raid in the subcontinent (or in Lanka itself) was vanquished by the Haihaya king Arjuna Kārtavīrya, then imprisoned and later released, and, as is well known, he was killed by Rāma Dāśarathi. As also Lloyd remarks, here we have a clear synchronism of Arjuna and Rāma, and so we have to place also Arjuna in the period of the transition between Tretā and Dvāpara; also his act of burning the earth with its settlements and the following invasion, together with Haihayas, of Western raiders (identified as Śakas, Yavanas, Kāmbojas, Pāradas and Pahlavas in Vāyu Puraṇa 26.121-128, invading the kingdom of Bāhu, 8 generations after Triśaṅku) can be connected to the same period. This harmonizes with the date (2000 BCE) given to the beginning of the so-called "Malwa Culture" (see here, p.227), which was also in Maheshwar (identified with the royal town of Arjuna, Māhiṣmatī), and with the presence of objects similar to Iranian ones in Malwa sites, like spouted pots (see here). Iranian or Central Asian affinities were found also in the Cemetery H culture starting from 1900 BCE. These western peoples can also be those mentioned in RV VII.18 like the Pakthas. So, this period of climatic crisis brought various invasions, especially from Central Asia, but also internal movements like that of the Haihayas from Malwa and of Rāvaṇa from the South. A drought is also connected with Lomapāda, the king of Aṅga in Eastern India, friend of Daśaratha, the father of Rāma (see MBh. III.310), but without mention of 12 years, that we find instead in the story of another figure contemporary of Rāma according to Lloyd, Māndhātṛ.

5) Māndhātṛ. MBh III.126:

“When there was a drought, which continued for twelve consecutive years, the mighty king caused rain to come down for the growth of crops, paying no heed to Indra, the wielder of the thunder-bolt, who remained staring (at him). The mighty ruler of the Gandhara land, born in the lunar dynasty of kings, who was terrible like a a roaring cloud, was slain by him, who wounded him sorely with his shafts. O king! he of cultured soul protected the four orders of people, and by him of mighty force the worlds were kept from harm, by virtue of his austere and righteous life. This is the spot where he, lustrous like the sun, sacrificed to the god. Look at it! here it is, in the midst of the field of the Kurus, situated in a tract, the holiest of all. O preceptor of earth! requested by thee, I have thus narrated to thee the great life of Mandhata, and also the way in which he was born, which was a birth of an extraordinary kind.”
It is significant that a Mandhātṛ is also cited in Ṛgveda (I.112, VIII.39, VIII.40), and he (called Māndhātṛ Yauvanāśva) is the poet of X.134 according to the Anukramaṇī, a hymn very similar to X.133 (sharing the meter mahāpaṅkti, phraseology and dedication to Indra), that is ascribed to Sudās and has also a refrain similar to RV VIII.39-40 and partially the same śakvarī and mahāpaṅkti meter. X.133 speaks of war, and the śakvarī meter is mentioned in the hymn of the battle of the Ten Kings, VII.33.4, as the meter of the cry that attracted Indra to fight on the side of Sudās (see the translation of Jamison and Brereton). So, we can suppose that they belong to the same age of Sudās, the king of the great battle, who is also a contemporary of Māndhātṛ in Lloyd's table. 

We will conclude with the story of Agastya: 

6) Agastya. MBh XIV.95:

"In olden days, O king, Agastya of great energy, devoted to the good of all creatures, entered into a Dīkṣā extending for twelve years. […] As Agastya, however, was engaged in that sacrifice of his, the thousand-eyed Indra, O best of the Bhāratas, ceased to pour rain (on the Earth). At the intervals, O king, of the sacrificial rites, this talk occurred among those Ṛṣis of cleansed souls about the high-souled Agastya, viz., 'This Agastya, engaged in sacrifice, is making gifts of food with heart purged of pride and vanity. The deity of the clouds, however, has ceased to pour rain. How, indeed, will food grow? This sacrifice of the Ṛṣi, ye Brahmanas, is great and extends for twelve years. The deity will not pour rain for these twelve years."
Agastya is known as brother of Vasiṣṭha, and is mentioned in MBh III.96, in connection with king Śrutarvan, Vadhryaśva (restored in the critical edition instead of Vradhnaśva) and Trasadasyu (III.96.12c-13a: agastyaś ca śrutarvā ca vadhryaśvaś ca mahīpatiḥ trasadasyuś ca). The famous Vadhryaśva is the father of Divodāsa Pañcāla, and Trasadasyu Paurukutsa can be the Aikṣvāku king already mentioned or, as Lloyd proposes, his descendant Tryaruṇa, called Trasadasyu in RV V.27.3.
Maybe it is due to this context that most of the hymns ascribed to Agastya in the Ṛgveda (I.165-191) end with the sentence: “May we know refreshment and a community having lively waters.” (vidyā́meṣáṃ vṛjánaṃ jīrádānum). And maybe significant is also his hymn to food and its juices (rasa), the so-called Annastuti (RV I.187), especially understandable in a period of famine and drought. 

So, we have finally to wonder if there is a possible scientific dating of this Great Drought. We have indeed some elements. In a paper by Berkelhammer et al. of 2012, "An Abrupt Shift in the Indian Monsoon 4000 Years Ago", we read: 
"Using a new high-resolution (~5 years/sample) speleothem stable isotope record from northeast India that spans the early and mid-Holocene, a number of abrupt changes in the oxygen isotopic composition of precipitation (δ 18 O p) are documented. The most dramatic of these events occurred ~4000 years ago when, over the course of approximately a decade, isotopic values abruptly rose above any seen during the early to mid-Holocene and remained at this anomalous state for almost two centuries. This event occurs nearly synchronously with climatic changes documented in a number of proxy records across North Africa, the Middle East, the Tibetan Plateau, southern Europe, and North America. We hypothesize that the excursion could represent a shift toward an earlier Indian Summer Monsoon withdrawal or a general decline in the total amount of monsoon precipitation. [...] the tight age constraints of the record show with a high degree of certainty that much of the documented deurbanization of the Indus Valley at 3.9 kyr B.P. occurred after multiple decades of a shift in the monsoon’s character but before the monsoon returned to its previous mid-Holocene state." "The most isotopically enriched values of the entire record occur between 4071 B.P. (±18 years) and 3888 B.P. (±22 years) during which the calcite remained enriched by ~0.8‰ relative to modern values (1.5‰ relative to the background values of the time) for a period of 183 years. The isotopic changes at this time manifested as a two-step process where values experienced a small steplike rise between ~4315 and 4303 years B.P. and experienced a second and more precipitous rise between ~4071 and 4049 years B.P. The abrupt shift occurred over approximately two decades, after which the values stabilized at this relatively enriched state for ~180 years before rapidly returning to previous background values at 3888 years B.P." "The monsoon over northeast India appears to have experienced an abrupt excursion at 4000 years B.P., the magnitude of which, in terms of both amplitude and length, exceeds any other event during either the most recent 600 years or throughout the early to mid-Holocene."

In this diagram from the paper (p.77) we see how around 4000 years BP we have a sudden fall of precipitation. In a supplementary list of dates the date of the sharp diminution of rain is 4055 BP, a sharp increase in 3941 BP, followed by another decrease, and finally a stable increase from 3899 BP. The lowest point is between 4049 and 4037 BP. Taken exactly, since BP is based on 1950 CE, this suggests a special drought in South Asia between 2099 and 2087 BCE. The error given is 30 years. Also a paper by Dixit of 2014 ("Abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon in northwest India ~4100 yr ago"), about the Kotla Dahar lake in Haryana, gives a similar date: "An abrupt 4‰ increase in δ18Oa occurred at ca. 4.1 ka, documenting a sharp reduction in Indian Summer Monsoon intensity."
So, it seems that the great drought of 12 years was in the 21st century BCE. We can also suppose that it is a stereoypical drought that refers to different episodes until 1900 BCE when precipitations came back (which can be alluded in the stories that stress the end of the drought). So, it can refer to several generations, but we have seen how the period involved appears to be mostly that between Triśaṅku and Rāma, that in my chronology is to be placed between the 21st and 20th century BCE. This drought is also placed in the same period (2200-2000/1900 BCE) where there was a strong aridity in the Near East and Central Asia, that likely caused migrations of people from the most arid regions, like the invaders mentioned in the Battle of the Ten Kings and in the Purāṇas. All this tends to confirm the historicity of several events described in the Mahābhārata and Purāṇas, and the chronology based on the date of Mahābhārata war in 1432 BCE. And denies that Indo-Aryans could have arrived during the 2nd millennium BCE, although some Iranic populations could have arrived into South Asia in that period.    

Update 30/1/2023

I have found today a 2018 article by Gayatri Kathayat et al., Evaluating the timing and structure of the 4.2 ka event in the Indian summer monsoon domain from an annually resolved speleothem record from Northeast India, that gives a similar picture but more precise and without the recovery of 'normal' monsoon. In comparison with the previous paper, it says:

"The 4.2 ka event in the KM-A record (Berkelhammer et al., 2012) manifests as a two-step change marked by an initial increase in the δ 18O values (∼ 0.6 ‰) between ∼ 4.31 and 4.30 ka, followed by another abrupt increase between ∼ 4.07 and 4.05 ka. The period between 4.05 and 3.87 ka in the KM-A profile is characterized by the most enriched δ 18O values over the entire record (∼ 1.5 ‰ higher than the background values before the event; Fig. 7), delineating ∼ 180 years of substantially weaker ISM. This multi-centennial period of enriched δ 18O values was terminated abruptly by a sharp return (< 20 years) to depleted δ 18O values, implying a resumption of stronger monsoon. The ML.1 and ML.2 δ 18O profiles during the contemporaneous period with the KM-A record, however, exhibit no step-like increase around ∼ 4.3 ka but instead an abrupt increase in the δ 18O values at ∼ 4.01 ka, which are superimposed over a gradually increasing trend over the entire length of the records. The timings and magnitude of this abrupt increase in the δ 18O values in both the ML.1 and ML.2 profiles are comparable to those observed in the KM-A profile (within the combined age uncertainties of both records; Fig. 7). A key difference between the KM-A, ML.1, and ML.2 δ 18O profiles, however, is the absence of a sharp decrease in the δ 18O values at ∼ 3.87 ka in our records, which marks the termination of the 4.2 ka event in the KM-A record.

The interval marking the onset of the 4.2 ka event in our record (∼ 4.255 ka) is indicated by a transition from pluvial (inferred by the lower δ 18O values) to variable ISM (dry–wet) conditions, with the latter superimposed by a few short-term (< decade) droughts (Fig. 8). Subsequently, the period between 4.07 and ∼ 4.01 ka is marked by persistently lower δ 18O values, implying stronger ISM (Fig. 8). The latter was terminated by a rapid increase in the δ 18O values (∼ 1.0 ‰, Fig. 5), suggesting an abrupt weakening of the ISM at ∼ 4.01 ka that occurred within a period of ∼ 10 years. Notably, as discussed above, the ML.1 and ML.2 δ 18O profiles show gradual increasing trends over the entire length of the record, which was punctuated by two multi-decadal weak monsoon events centered at ∼ 3.970 (∼ 20 years) and ∼ 3.915 ka (∼ 25 years), respectively (Fig. 8). These aspects of our ISM reconstruction differ from previous proxy records from the ISM domain, which typically portray the 4.2 ka event as a multi-century drought (e.g., Berkelhammer et al., 2012; Dixit et al., 2014). Our new data, however, demonstrate that prominent decadal to multi-decadal variability, together with the intermittent occurrence of multi-decadal periods of low rainfall, was the dominant mode of ISM variability during the period coeval with the 4.2 ka event."

So, here is confirmed a sudden and intense drought lasting approximately 10 years, around 2000 BCE. Here is the image showing a comparison with the previous analysis in the same cave, showing how the drought is placed later after a more humid period: the drastic change should have been catastrophic.


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Mahābhārata and archaeology: the chariot of Sanauli and the position of Painted Grey Ware

Director SK Manjul from ASI showing the chariot from the excavation site at Sanauli

One of the great archaeological news of 2018 has been the discovery of the 'chariots' in Sanauli, UP, a village in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab where an archaeological site has been found, labelled as Late Harappan or Ochre Coloured Pottery/Copper Hoard. An interesting article from News18 says:
Spate of excavations in Uttar Pradesh’s Sanauli and Chandayana have thrown open possibilities of new cultures for the current archaeologists and they differ from Lal’s hypothesis. Lal correlated the ‘Painted Grey Ware Culture’ of archaeology to Mahabharata and bracketed it in the 1100 BC time frame. The new hypothesis now strikes the correlation between Ochre Coloured Pottery (OCP) with the Mahabharata Culture, which brackets it in 2000 BC. 
Based on the excavations conducted under him in Sanauli, where a chariot was found in June, SK Manjul, the director of Institute of Archaeology, under Archaeological Survey of India, delivered a lecture in July 2018 in Delhi. The title of the talk was “Mahabharata and Archaeology: PGW vis a vis OCP/Copper Hoard Culture.”

In the lecture, Manjul made a case for OCP as a culture relation to Mahabharata. The presentation was: “The hypothesis given by BB Lal and others on the basis of archaeological findings in the lower strata at Hastinapur and similar findings from other sites mentioned in the Mahabharata correlated Painted Grey Ware Culture with the Mahabharata Era.” Lal noticed Painted Grey Ware from important sites mentioned in Mahabharata and time bracket of war suggested around 1000-900 BCE. But recent excavations in Sanauli, Barnawa and Chandayana have a different story to tell - that of much earlier culture OCP. [...]  
As per the archaeologists, who are votaries of the New Hypothesis, PGW is marked with “rural settlements, pit dwellings and hut. There are weapons, arrow, head small, spear head [maybe arrow head and small spear head?], agriculture tools, bone points, metal iron. No chariots found. It shows limited and distinct pottery traditions. It has very less information on Vedic rituals and traditions.” 

On the other hand, the archaeologists say that the OCP is marked with “Advanced weapons and tools, antenna sword, harpoon, celts, dagger and shield, metal copper and advance chariot found. Advance pottery tradition including metal pots. Also, it has similarity with Vedic rituals.”
This connection was already proposed by S.P. Gupta and it was advocated also in a 2017 article by Vinay Kumar Gupta and B.R. Mani about Painted Grey Ware. I have also supported it in my article about the chronology of Mahābhārata and Ṛgveda, after having determined that the great battle should be placed in the year 1432 BC, a date based on the astronomical details from the poem and on the recurrent Purāṇic statement about the 1015 or 1050 years between the birth of Parikṣit (contemporary with the battle) and the coronation of Mahāpadma Nanda that can be placed in 417 or 382 BC (see the article for more details). About the archaeological connection, I wrote there: 
If we look at archaeology in order to find a corroboration of this date, we cannot reasonably pretend to find traces of the battle, but we do have some interesting elements for comparison. In the late 15th century B.C. in the area of Kurukṣetra we still have Late Harappan settlements, and in one of them, Bhagwanpura, particularly close to the supposed site of the battle, we find Late Harappan pottery together with Painted Grey Ware, dating here from 1400 B.C.[i] It is well known that according to B.B. Lal this ware is related to the Mahābhārata period because it is found in many localities mentioned in the poem, like Indraprastha (the capital of the Pāṇḍavas, identified with Purana Qila in Delhi), Hastināpura (the capital of the Kauravas), Ahicchatrā (the capital of North Pañcāla) and Kauśāmbī (the capital of South Pañcāla). But we have another ware that is present in the area of the Kurus (Upper Doab) and in the same sites of Hastināpura, Ahicchatrā and Kauśāmbī in the II millennium B.C., namely the so-called Ochre Coloured Pottery, as already observed by S.P. Gupta.[ii] This is the pottery of the first level of the aforementioned sites, it is generally dated 2000-1500 B.C., but the thermoluminescence tests on sherds from Atranjikhera, Lal Qila, Jhinjhana and Nasirpur have given dates between 2650 and 1180 B.C.[iii] About Hastināpura and Kauśāmbī, there is the important tradition that the fifth successor of Parikṣit, Nicakṣu, abandoned the first city, because it was carried away by the Ganges, and made the second one his capital.[iv] B.B. Lal has claimed that this is confirmed by the PGW levels of Hastināpura, where there are traces of a partial flood, and by the fact that we can find a similar PGW culture in Kauśāmbī. But we can observe that also the first, OCP level, of Hastināpura was abandoned, and that also in Kauśāmbī there are OCP levels which have been only hypothetically dated by Sharma in 1960.

[i] Kenoyer (2006, 43).
[ii] Gupta and Ramachandran (1976, 47-9).
[iii] Ghosh (1989, vol. I, 174-5).
[iv] Pargiter (1922, 285); Singh (2004, 143).  

I also noticed that PGW is absent from Gujarat, although places like Dvārakā and Prabhāsa in Kathiawar have a central role in the poem in connection with Kṛṣṇa and the Yādavas. And, if Kṛṣṇa's Dvārakā is to be identified with the submerged city found by S.R. Rao near Bet Dwarka, and, as he said, “it is possible to postulate on structural, ceramic and inscriptional evidence that Dwarka was built in the 15th century B.C. when the sea level was lower than at present and was submerged within a hundred years”, we have another confirmation of this chronology, because according to the poem (see here) the city was submerged 36 years after the battle, that is, in 1396 BC, and at the same time the remaining Yādavas abandoned Kathiawar towards Indraprastha after the massacre of their clans called Vṛsṇi, Andhaka and Bhoja. According to Kenoyer, most Late Harappan sites in Gujarat have a break after 1400 BC. Also Mukhtar Ahmed in a book on the end of the Harappan Civilization observes that the Lustrous Red Ware (that was found also in Bet Dwarka) continues until around 1400 BC, and afterwards there is a break in the archaeological record at most sites until around 600 BC. The coincidence is really impressive, and since it appears to confirm so precisely the account of the Mahābhārata we wonder if there are material traces of the migration. Mukhtar Ahmed says that Lustrous Red Ware was found also in Navdatoli III and Ahar IC, in the Ahar-Banas culture. Pargiter (p.279) wrote that the river Banas or Parṇāśa is connected with the Yādava king Devāvṛdha, brother of Andhaka and Vṛṣṇi, and his descendants reigned at Mārttikāvata, "which was apparently in the Śālva country around Mt. Abu", that is, in South Rajasthan where the Ahar-Banas culture was. And Arjuna established one of the emigrating Yādava princes, the son of Kṛtavarman, in Mārttikāvata. 

There was another kind of pottery common between Gujarat and this region, namely, the Black and Red Ware (BRW), that had a very long tradition in the Ahar-Banas culture, especially in Balathal, from the 4th millennium BC. The same kind of ware is dated 1450-1200 BC in the Western Ganges plain. This age of start is remarkably close, although there is also the theory that it came from the BRW tradition of the Eastern Ganges valley. As the Japanese archaeologist Uesugi has written (see here): "During the second millennium BCE, the black ware industry was present in the Ganga Valley and southern Rajasthan and made its appearance in the western Ganga Valley and northern Rajasthan, to which the black ware industry was introduced either from the eastern Ganga Valley or from southern Rajasthan, as this region was widely occupied by the Bara‐OCP complex during the early second millennium BCE. There is no conclusive evidence for determining from which region the black ware industry [was] introduced to the western half of the Ganga Valley, but the morphological features of BRW and BSW [Black Slipped Ware] from this region suggest their introduction from the eastern Ganga Valley rather than from southern Rajasthan." However, later on he says: "Noteworthy is that BRW and BSW in the western Ganga Valley include shallow bowls/dishes in their formal assemblage (Figure 9: 22, 23). The origin of this form cannot be revealed with the currently available evidence in the Ganga Valley, but as it was absent in the assemblage of the eastern Ganga Valley during the early second millennium BCE (Purushottam Singh 1994, 1996), it can be presumed that this form emerged during the late second millennium BCE in the Ganga Valley." But shallow bowls were present in the Ahar-Banas BRW (see here and here).

So, if BRW came to Western UP from Rajasthan, we would have a sign of the migration of the Southern Yādavas, taking their seat in the area of Indraprastha in the Doab, where Arjuna brought "the bulk of the people", as Pargiter says and installed Vajra as king. On the other hand, in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa Arjuna establishes Vajra as king in Mathurā, which is much more logical, since Mathurā was already a Yādava capital before the invasion by the king of Magadha Jarāsandha that compelled Kṛṣṇa to go to Dvārakā.

Uesugi continues: "In the western Ganga Valley and northern Rajasthan, the black ware industry is identifiable as having an independent phase between the Bara‐OCP phase and the PGW phase and as continuing to the following PGW‐dominant phase (Gaur 1983). Even in the Ghaggar Valley, BRW and BSW are known to be associated with PGW, although there is no independent phase of BRW and BSW in this region. These pieces of evidence imply that the black ware industry and PGW had some relations."

So, the Painted Grey Ware in the Doab comes after the BRW, and in the Ghaggar valley they come together. This means that the PGW culture is connected with that local tradition, and not with an alleged western migration. What Uesugi also remarks is that the PGW pottery is radically different from the previous Bara-OCP pottery of Late Harappan affinity for the forms and the painting motifs. He also doubts that the overlap of PGW and Late Harappan in Bhagwanpura is real, because it concerns only potsherds and not full vessels in burials. However, even if we accept the overlap, we have to do with two different traditions. Was the PGW culture the result of the arrival of the southern Yādavas? According to Uesugi, the area of origin of PGW can be the Ghaggar valley: "The region of origin of PGW has not been specified, but the dense distribution of PGW sites in the Ghaggar Valley and the cultural sequences in different parts of North India suggest that PGW developed in the Ghaggar Valley. However, it is important to repeat that PGW did not have direct relations with the Bara‐style pottery which was widespread in the preceding period but had connections with the black ware industry in the Ganga Valley. Therefore, the origin of PGW must be searched in its relations with the black ware industry in the east, that is in the connection between the Ghaggar Valley and the Ganga Valley during the second millennium BCE. This is a hypothesis to be tested against more evidence in future studies." 
I find quite difficult to accept that the PGW culture could develop in the Ghaggar valley where the local tradition was completely different. It seems more likely that it developed where there was already the similar BRW-BSW. Another region with high frequency of PGW sites is the region of Mathurā or Braj region, as noticed especially by the already cited article by Kumar Gupta and Mani: "The Braj region for sure presents the most dense settlement pattern in the entire sub‐continent and the area west of Yamuna has to be the core area of the PGW where the minimum area required for the presence of a PGW settlement comes out to be just about 16 sq. km. [...] Now, we have quite solid grounds to speak about the authors of the PGW culture. The PGW using people were indigenous to the area where their settlements are found in high density, i.e., the Braj region. They did not come from outside. Their pottery technology seems to be an advancement over the pre‐existing Black Slipped Ware and plain grey ware technology, so they were in continuity of the earlier folks who used Black Slipped Ware with grey core and plain grey ware."

Painted Grey Ware

If the Braj or Mathurā region was the place of origin of the PGW, it would be of Yādava origin. Anyway, it is clear that the PGW culture spread in the Kuru-Pañcāla kingdom that was central in the late Vedic period of Brāhmaṇas, a more peaceful culture compared to the Ṛgveda: in the same way, PGW culture seems less warlike than OCP/Copper Hoards, as the same article remarks: "The Mahabharata was a period of continuous warfare and the limited weaponry evidence from PGW horizons does not favour it whereas Copper hoards are associated with OCP on a secure ground and the Copper hoard implements might be indicative of an atmosphere of warfare."
In fact, the new discoveries from Sanauli/Sinauli show us a warrior culture with swords and chariots, but this culture is not only typical of the Mahābhārata: also the Ṛgveda mentions battles, warriors, chariots, and sometimes swords and spears (asi and ṛṣṭi). If the age of the Sanauli chariots is 2000-1800 BC (or also 2100 BC as I have heard from another source) it would correspond to the age of the early Ṛgveda according to my chronology. Finally, we would have the concrete representation of the rathas of those ancient hymns.
Update April 2020: While preparing an article from this post, I have deepened some topics, so that I have realized that Uesugi must be correct: BRW came from the Ganges valley to Western UP and this coincides with the great rising of the power of the Magadha king Jarāsandha around 1450 BC, which compelled also other populations to flee towards the west, as clearly said in the Mahābhārata (II.13, see here):
At present, however, O monarch, king Jarasandha, overcoming that prosperity enjoyed by their whole order, and overpowering them by his energy hath set himself over the heads of all these kings. And Jarasandha, enjoying the sovereignty over the middle portion of the earth (Mathura), resolved to create a disunion amongst ourselves. O monarch, the king who is the lord paramount of all kings, and in whom alone the dominion of the universe is centered, properly deserves to be called an emperor.
And, O monarch, king Sisupala endued with great energy, hath placed himself under his protection and hath become the generalissimo of his forces. And, O great king, the mighty Vaka, the king of the Karushas, capable of fighting by putting forth his powers of illusion, waiteth, upon Jarasandha, as his disciple. There are two others, Hansa and Dimvaka, of great energy and great soul, who have sought the shelter of the mighty Jarasandha. There are others also viz., Dantavakra, Karusha, Karava, Meghavahana, that wait upon Jarasandha. [...] And, O king of kings, Bhishmaka, the mighty king of the Bhojas--the friend of Indra--the slayer of hostile heroes--who governs a fourth part of the world, who by his learning conquered the Pandyas and the Kratha-Kausikas, whose brother the brave Akriti was like Rama, the son of Jamdagni, hath become a servitor to the king of Magadha. [...] And, O exalted one, the eighteen tribes of the Bhojas, from fear of Jarasandha, have all fled towards the west; so also have the Surasenas, the Bhadrakas, the Vodhas, the Salwas, the Patachchavas, the Susthalas, the Mukuttas, and the Kulindas, along with the Kuntis. And the king of the Salwayana tribe with their brethren and followers; and the southern Panchalas and the eastern Kosalas have all fled to the country of the Kuntis. So also the Matsyas and the Sannyastapadas, overcome with fear, leaving their dominions in the north, have fled into the southern country. And so all the Panchalas, alarmed at the power of Jarasandha, have left their own kingdom and fled in all directions. Some time before, the foolish Kansa, having persecuted the Yadavas, married two of the daughters of Jarasandha. They are called Asti and Prapti and are the sister of Sahadeva. Strengthened by such an alliance, the fool persecuting his relatives gained an ascendency over them all.

The movement from Magadha and generally from the east to the west corresponds to the movement described by Uesugi about the diffusion of BRW. The Japanese archaeologist also maintains that PGW formed later, with eastern influence, in the 'Upper Ganges' region, that includes the Ghaggar valley and corresponds to the land of the Kurus, which is central in the late Vedic period. On the other hand, the Indian archaeologist Vijay Kumar (see here) has recognized also patterns from the southern Ahar tradition in PGW pottery: "The PGW has been tentatively assigned the time bracket of 1200 to 600 B.C. The diagnostic pottery of this phase is PGW. The shapes are similar to those found in BRW phase. The new painting designs are introduced during this phase. Roughly linear parallel lines on grey pottery are inspired from corded ware tradition of the east but the curved and wavy lines are inspired from similar paintings on Aharian black and red ware." 
So, it is possible that also a Yādava influence from Rajasthan was present in the PGW tradition, that started after the great migrations following the Mahābhārata war. The long Harappan-OCP tradition was now replaced by a rising Gangetic culture, as is also stated in MBh. III.85: “It hath been said that in the Satyayuga all the tirthas were sacred; in the Treta, Pushkara alone was such; in Dwapara, Kurukshetra; and in the Kali-yuga, the Ganga alone is sacred.” 


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Were the Mitanni Aryans really Indo-Aryans?

Mitanni (or Mittani) is a famous kingdom of the 15th-14th century BCE in northern Mesopotamia, famous especially because of the evident 'Aryan' (Indo-Iranian) nature of the names of its kings and deities. 
The most common theory is that they were more precisely Indo-Aryans, and it is repeated everywhere, although Kammenhüber maintained that the language is still Indo-Iranian and Diakonoff has proposed instead a connection with Dardo-Nuristani people. Mayrhofer himself in his article Indo-Iranisches Sprachgut aus Alalah said that the words used, except aika (see below) are not specific of Indic but are common Indo-Iranian. He remarked that even when they are not attested in Iranic, since the Old Iranian documents are limited, the 'only Indic' character of the word cannot be proved e silentio.
This alleged Indo-Aryan identity has been used to date the Ṛgveda, suggesting that it must be dated at the age of Mitanni or after it, since the Mitanni Indo-Aryan appears as more archaic than the Ṛgvedic language itself. So, let us see what the arguments of this identification are.

The most repeated reasons of the Indo-Aryan identity are s- instead of Iranic h- and aika- for 'one' (in aikawartanna, 'one turn' of the horse) instead of Iranic *aiwa- attested in Avestan and Old Persian. Now, Iranic h- from s- seems to be a late phenomenon, as Mayrhofer has shown from borrowings into Elamite, it is not earlier than the 8th/7th century BC (see here), at least in Western Iran. The change is attested in the Avesta, the date of which is not sure, but it can be after 1000 BCE (in any case it should not go beyond 1300 BCE), and the region is Central Asia, quite far from Mitanni. Old Persian is closer but is attested from the 6th century BCE. About Median we do not know much, but it is interesting that the capital of the Median empire, Ecbatana in Greek, Hamgmatāna- in Old Persian, can be referred as Sagbat/Sagbita in Assyrian texts (see here). Also the theonym Assara Mazaš (for Ahura Mazdā) in an Assyrian list of gods, dated 8th/7th century BC, has revealed a Median form with sibilant (see here). On the other hand, among the names from Nuzi we have Artaḫuma, which can be compared with a name in Elamite document, ir-da-u-ma, interpreted by Hinz 1975 as *ṛtā-humā 'through the right Order lucky', and he cites other names in Elamite or Akkadian starting with uma-, like u-ma-a’-pi-ri-a, interpreted as *humāfrya 'Phoenix-dear?' (because the Humā bird in Persian mythology is a sort of phoenix, associated with good fortune). The Persian term humā is derived from Middle Persian humāy and seems to be related with Avestan humāyā 'beneficial; blessed'. So, maybe Artaḫuma means 'blessed through Truth' and reveals a form with aspirated sibilant. It can be due to a different dialect, like Old Persian.    

As to aika-, it is curiously ignored how also in many Iranic languages there are terms for 'one' derived from that root (see here), for instance Middle Persian ēk, Zaza e:k (see here). Nuristani languages, besides Ashkun ach and a Waigali variant ēk, have forms of ev/ew, therefore the Nuristani connection does not seem so strong.
Also interesting is a remark from Raulwing's article on Kikkuli's treatise on horse training:
HERZFELD describes that in 1929, Riza Schah Pahlavi held horse races near the Afghan border of 3, 5 and maximum 9 rounds of 1.4 km (nearly a mile); as HERZFELD enthusiastically points out, “exactly as in Kikkuli’s and Haosravah’s times, and the horses were not tired at all”. 
So, it seems that in Iran the tradition of an odd number of rounds for horses until nine, as in Kikkuli's description, was still alive in the 20th century.

Of course, another strong argument for the Indo-Aryan identity is the mention of 'Vedic' gods in the treaty between the Hittite king Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king Šattiwaza (here a translation): Mitra, Varuṇa, Indra and Nāsatya.  Let us see how is the reading of the cuneiform texts in the two versions of the treaty, one for Mitanni and one for the Hittites (from Fournet 2010):

DINGIR.MEŠMi-it-ra-aš-ši-il DINGIR.MEŠA-ru-na-aš-ši-il DINGIRIn-da-
ra DINGIR.MEŠNa-ša-at-ti-ya-an-na

DINGIR.MEŠMi-it-ra-aš-ši-il/-el DINGIR.MEŠÚ-ru-wa-na-aš-ši-il
DINGIRIn-tar DINGIR.MEŠNa-ša-a[t-ti-ya-a]n-na 

So, the name Mitra is clear, Indra is rather Indar, and Nāsatya is Našattiya with short a. These are minor differences but we cannot speak of exact identity with the Vedic forms. And all these three deities are present also in the Avesta: Mithra is one of the main yazata or worshipped deities, Indra and Nåŋhaiθiia had become important daēuuas ('pagan' gods, therefore demons), mentioned in the Vīdēvdād/Vendidad (see here). Also Mayrhofer, in the aforementioned article, spoke of 'gods of the Vedic and pre-Zoroastrian pantheon'.
We can also notice that before Mitra there is here the Sumerian sign DINGIR.MEŠ for a plurality of gods. The suffix -ššil according to the hypothesis of Fournet is a dual (as in Vedic mitrāvaruṇau), but there is no confirmation of this, and we would expect the same also for the Nāsatyas who are typically a divine couple. Diakonoff observes that -šši- is the morpheme for abstract words (e.g. šarrašši 'kingship'), and -for the plural. He translates 'the mitraic gods' (belonging to sphere of the god of light). According to Giorgieri, the suffix -šše/i- indicates also concrete objects and nomina actionis (when added to verbal roots).
If we consider that mithra- in Avestan means "a contract, promise, agreement, friendship, commitment", and the god Mitra is clearly connected with agreements both in the Iranian world and in the Vedas, maybe we have to do here with the 'gods of agreements', which would be fine for a treaty. They can also be the spies of Mitra mentioned in the Mihr Yašt of the Avesta (see here).
And what about Aruna or Uruwana? Also these have the sign of plural gods, and the form is clearly not the same as Vedic Varuṇa: the identification has been done only because it is after Mitra, with whom Varuṇa is typically associated in the Ṛgveda. It is interesting that in Hittite texts, aruna- is the sea, and is often listed among treaty witnesses and conceived as a male deity in myths of Hurrian origin (see here). So, maybe the same deity (in the plural 'the gods of the sea(s)') is invoked here as witness? Or maybe it was confused with the Hittite Aruna for that reason. Now, also the Indian Varuṇa in post-Vedic tradition is the god of the sea, but this is not his main role in the Ṛgveda, and it would be strange to put it besides Mitra as such. Hittite aruna- has no clear etymology, but the Hittite etymological dictionary compares Vedic arṇa 'wave, flood, stream', arṇava 'wave, flood, foaming sea', arṇas 'wave, flood, stream, sea, ocean'. The Indo-European root should be *ar-, expressing motion (of waves).
In order to understand more, let us consider the equivalent (in the other list) Uruwana, which is quite different. Diakonoff denied the identification with Varuṇa and proposed to read Avestan urwa(n) 'soul', 'soul of the dead', so that Uruwanaššil would be 'gods of the sphere of the souls of the dead'.
Fournet, instead, sees in Uruwana a Hurrian version (since initial r- was not admitted in Hurrian) of *Ruwana < *(s)rouaHno, meaning 'the one in charge of flowing waters'. And Varuṇa, being the creator of the water-blocking Vṛtra, would be a metathesis of an older *Ruwana. This etymology is not convincing, but we can notice a parallel phenomenon in Hurrian urukmannu, a metallic part of the shield, if it really comes from rukma-, that in Vedic indicates a golden or silver plate (from the root ruc- 'to shine'). 
Now, in Avestan addition of u- is regular before ru- and rw- (see here), like av. uruuata 'rule, order, prescription' from *rwata, which is a metathesis of *wrata, since we can compare skr. vrata 'rule, religious vow'. In Avestan there is also uruuaiti 'verbal promise, treaty'.
In Greek we have ρητός (<*wrētos) 'stated, covenanted, agreed', Cypriot ϝρήτᾱ 'agreement, treaty, law, pronunciation', Elean ϝράτρα 'verbal agreement, covenant'.
The concept of vrata is strictly connected with Varuṇa in the Ṛgveda. Jamison and Brereton, in their recent translation of the hymns, even state that his name is related to vratá “commandment” and therefore is the god of commandments. But if the root of vrata is that of speaking and declaring (cf. here), the root of Varuṇa is rather the same as the Sanskrit verb vṛ- 'to cover, screen, veil, conceal, hide, surround, obstruct; to ward off, check, keep back, prevent, hinder, restrain'. One could connect this root with the fact that the Vedic Varuṇa is the god who by his snares (pāśa) punishes and restrains those who transgress his commandments. But another interpretation is that he is the covering or all-encompassing Sky itself, a supreme celestial deity that observes everything, especially the deeds of men.
There are good parallels in Vedic varūtṛ 'one who wards off or protects, protector, defender, guardian deity', and Greek erymai 'to keep off, protect, save'. Varuṇa was the guardian of the cosmic order, called ṛta ('truth'). 
We can do another comparison with Avestan urvant 'seizing' (said of a bird), from the participle *wr-ant- according to Bartholomae: the original root can be different (PIE *wal), but the phonetic evolution would be the same. 
So, maybe the root *wṛ- had given a variant form *wrana that became *rwana and then Urwana. By the way, it is interesting that both *wrana and Urwana are close to Greek ouranos, the name of the sky and of the heavenly god that has not a clear etymology. 
Thus Uruwanaššil can refer to the 'gods who are guardians of verbal agreements or sacred commandments', or to the spies of Varuṇa that are often mentioned in the Ṛgveda.

But let us proceed with the numerous Indo-Iranian names that we find in Mitanni and in the Near East, among the rulers of various cities of Mesopotamia and Palestine, and the charioteers called in Hurrian maryanni. First of all, I would like to cite a name present in a list of names from Nuzi that is not cited in the list given by O' Callaghan in Aram Naharaim. It is given in the forms a-ri-ia, a-a-ri-ia, a-ri-i-ia. There are at least 11 persons with this name, two of them are charioteers. In Alalah, there are 24 a-ri-ia; one of them is also called a-ri-ia-an. Another is a maryanni with chariot, and another is brother of Irteya, a clearly Aryan name (see below).
The name clearly corresponds to Sanskrit ārya, Pāli ariya, Avestan airiia, Old Persian ariya. In Iranic use, it indicates the Iranic people itself, according to Herodotus 7.62 also the Medes were originally called Arioi. In India it was more a social and ethical term, 'noble, freeman' (see this post). We cannot say what was the meaning in Nuzi, but we can suppose that it meant 'member of the Aryan nobility'. A name A-ri-ia is found also among the Median city-lords in Assyrian sources (see here).
Now, I would like to remark some features of Indo-Iranian words in these names that are not Indic but rather closer to Iranic:

Arta-: many Mitanni Aryan names start with Arta- 'Truth', for instance Artadāma, Artaššumara, Artamanya. Now, arta- is typical of Old Persian and Parthian names, and it was found also in Median (see here). In Vedic, the form is Ṛta-, that does not give a single name in the Vedas: we find only the patronymic Ārtabhāga in BĀU and matronymic ārtabhāgīputra in BĀU 6.5.2.
Moreover, there is a Mitanni name Artaya/Arteya (frequent in Nuzi and present in Alalah), that recalls the old name of the Persians, Artaioi, according to Herodotus 7.61. According to Hesychius, instead, artaioi means 'heroes' among the Persians. Parallels in Elamite documents are IrdayaIrteya (Hinz 1975). The same form Irteya is very frequent in proper names from Alalah.

-aššura: in some names, we find this element, e.g. Be-ta-aš-šu-ra, Bi-ri-aš-šu-ra, Kal-ma-aš-šu-ra, Ša-i-ma-aš-šu-ra, Šú-na-aš-šú-ra (king of Kizzuwatna). The Assyrian national deity Aššur does not have the final -a, and is normally at the beginning of names. Moreover, Bi-ri-aš-šu-ra is clearly a Mitanni Aryan name (<*Priyāsura), and we have already seen that Assara is used in an Assyrian list of gods before Mazaš, showing a similar form with double sibilant.
However, it is possible that *asura here is not the god, but has the basic meaning of 'lord' applied to human beings, attested also in the Avesta. Bi-ri-aš-šu-ra, for instance, might mean 'dear lord'. The name Ša-i-ma-aš-šu-ra (variant Ša-mi-aš-šu-ra) from Nuzi is interesting, because the first element *šaima- can be compared with the Old Persian *çaima- 'superiority' found in the Elamite U-še-ma, interpreted as *hu-çēma- 'having a splendid superiority' (Tavernier 2007). The Indic form is śreman. So, Ša-i-ma-aš-šu-ra can be interpreted as 'lord of/with distinction'. O'Callaghan observes that he was owner of a horse, and he was father of *Biriazana, a clearly Aryan name that apparently has the word zana, the Avestan, Old Persian and Median equivalent of Sanskrit jana 'person, race, people' (priyajana in Sanskrit means 'dear person').

-atti: Biryatti (bi˗ri˗at˗ti, bi˗ri˗a˗at˗ti), corresponding to Indic priyātithi 'loving guests, hospitable'. The Avestan form is asti, and Mayrhofer reconstructs the Indo-Iranian form as *atHthi. The addition of -i- instead of the laryngeal or schwa between two consonants is typical of Indic, but here there is no trace, as in the other numerous compounds with this element found in Mitanni Aryan names (Aššuratti, Deuwatti, Indaratti, Mittaratti, etc.). It is interesting that the form is also not the same as in Avestan, but rather like the original Indo-Iranian, without aspiration.

Bard-, Birid-: Bartašwa (Nuzi), Biridašwa (Yanuamma) are two names that can be variant of the same one, that has been compared with Sanskrit Bṛhadaśva, meaning 'having high horses'. But bṛhad (from *bhṛǵh-ant) is very different from Birid-. On the other hand, in Avestan we have barǝz-, bǝrǝz(i)- 'high', and in Old Persian the name Bardiya, written B-r-di-i-y-, Bìr-ti-ia in an Elamite document (Tavernier, p.14) comparable with Biridiya found in Megiddo. In the Old Iranian names attested in non-Iranian texts (see here) we have a reconstructed element bṛdi-, including *Brdi-aspa-, "having a tall horse" (Elamite Bir-ti-is-ba, Middle Persian Burjasp).

-mašda: a name is bi-ir-ya-ma-aš-da, interpreted as corresponding to the Vedic Priyamedha (from *Priyamazdha). But we can see that the form mašda is closer to Avestan and Old Persian mazda 'wisdom'. Names with frya- (<*priya-) are common in Iranic, written pi-ri-ia in Babylonian sources (see here). In Khotanese, an Eastern Iranic language, we have even a form with voiced plosive, bria. It is also remarkable that, as noted by E. Hopkins, compounds with priya- are known in the Ṛgveda only in books VIII, I, IX and X, that are the latest ones: we can suspect an Iranic influence (cf. Talageri 2008, The Rigveda and the Avesta. The final evidence, pp.175-183).

mišta-: Mayrhofer connected mištannu 'bounty' with Vedic mīḍhá- “booty, price for fight”, but Avestan mižda, Middle Persian mizd 'wage, price' are closer.

-myašda: a name from the Amarna letters, zi-ir-dam-ia-aš-da, has been interpreted as zṛda-myazda 'one who makes an offering of the heart' (O'Callaghan). This form is very Iranic, in Avestan heart is zǝrǝd-, in Parthian zyrd (in Indic hṛd-). We can compare from the already cited list of Iranic names (Tavernier 2007): "*Zṛdiyavauš (Median) 'with a good heart'. Babylonian: Si-ri-di-a-muš."
The sound in Akkadian cuneiform should be an affricate, while Iranic is a voiced sibilant, but it is also considered a voiced sound (see here), therefore quite close. On the other hand, Babylonian is considered a voiceless affricate. We can also wonder if we have to do here with a form with voiceless palatal, comparable with the Indo-European root *ḱrd-.  
There is also a curiously similar name *Irdamiasda, written in Elamite Ir-da-mi-ia-is-da, that has been interpreted as *Ṛta-myazda- "ritual banquet". In fact, Avestan miiazda is a sacred offering of food. In the Ṛgveda we have the form miyedha with the same meaning.

panza-: in the list of the number of rounds with the horses, we have pa-an-za-wa-ar-ta-an-na, clearly corresponding to Indo-Iranian pañca 'five'. If is really a voiced sound, it is interesting that in many Iranic languages the form of the number five has also a voiced affricate or fricative: Persian panj, Parthian panǰ, Bactrian panzo, Pashto pinźë, Kurdish penj.

-ta(h)ma: the famous Mitanni king's name Artatama is written in the Amarna letters ar-ta-ta-a-ma(š) (see here). It has been interpreted through -dhāman as in the Vedic ṛtadhāman 'whose abode is truth or divine law', an epithet of Agni found twice in the late Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā. As a name it is used in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa for the 13th Manu. So, it is difficult to consider it as an ancient Indo-Iranian name, I would propose another interpretation, through an Old Persian *Artata(h)ma 'brave through Truth'. A corresponding Median name *Ṛtataxma is attested in the Elamite form Ir-da-tak-ma and similar. Moreover, many names with Old Persian tahma- are written tam-ma- in Elamite cuneiform.

-tarna: Kosyan has found in a cuneiform Hittite text datable to the kingdom of Suppiluliuma and related to the eastern kingdom of Išuwa, the name U-it-tar-na-, identifiable with the Iranian Vidarna, written mi-tar-na in Elamite. Kosyan quotes the translation 'support, security' by R. Kent and 'der auseinander reißt' ('that tears into pieces') by W. Hinz, from *wi-dṛna, participle from dar- 'to support' or dar- 'to tear apart'. The case is interesting not only because it suggests the existence of an Iranic name in the Hurrian kingdom of Išuwa, which had relations with Mitanni, but also because it is suitable to a comparison with the names of the Mitanni kings Šuttarna and Parattarna. Šuttarna was connected with a hypothetical skr. *sudharaṇa 'supporting well', but we see that the Iranic form that we find in Vidarna is closer. In Avestan we also have darǝna 'fortress, residence'.

wašanna: in Kikkuli's treatise, we find wa-ša-an-na-ša-ia translated "of the training area (for chariots)' and interpreted as coming from Indo-Iranian *waźhanasya. In Indic, this root *waǵh- becomes vah-, in Avestan vaz-, giving vaza- 'driving', vazō-raθa 'driving a chariot', vāza- 'draft animal'. There is also an Avestan name važāspa 'having draft horses', and the noun vāša- 'vehicle', but this must come from *wart-, according to the typical Avestan change rt>š that does not seem to be attested in Mitanni Aryan.

Yama: Yama and Yamiuta 'helped by Yama?' (dynast of Guddashuna) are names attested in the Amarna letters, a Yamibanda 'servant or follower of Yama?' was prince of Taanach. In Alalah we have one Yaman (Ia-ma-an). A name Yama(ka) is found also in the cuneiform documents of the Achaemenid period. About Yamibanda, bandaka in Old Persian means 'vassal, follower', in modern Persian banda means servant, and among the Iranic names, we have *Bagabanda 'who serves or supports Baga', written Ba-ka-ban-da in Elamite. The form Yami- might derive from a reduction of the last vowel (the opposite of Avestan Yima, cf. also Persian Jam, Jamshīd), while a feminine Yamī like the Vedic sister of Yama seems unlikely. A cult of Yama as god is not only in India as king of the dead, but also among the Kalash (in the past also the Nuristanis), for whom Imra/Imro (Yama-rāja) is the creator god.

Yašdata: this is the name of a prince from Palestine, written ia-aš-da-ta in Amarna letters. O'Callaghan cites an intepretation from Avestan *yaza-dāta 'given by the sacrifice', but this is not attested. However, a comparable name is found among the Iranic names, written Ia-iš-da-da, interpreted by Hinz and Koch as an Old Persian *yazdāta, and by Tavernier as an extension with the suffix -āta from yašta 'consecrated', a name apparently attested in various forms in Elamite documents. Another similar word is Avestan yaoždāta 'purified', although the first element comes from *yauš 'health, vital force', so we would expect rather *yaušdata.

-zana: among Nuzi names, there is Aššuzana that has been derived from Indo-Iranian *ašwa-canas, that has no attestation in Indic, while there is an Iranic Aspačanā (nom.) 'delighting in horses', attested in Elamite document as Aš-ba-za-na.

Besides the names, there are also the epithets for horses from Nuzi pinkara-nnu and paritta-nnu, that have been compared with Vedic piṅgala 'reddish-brown, tawny, yellow' and palita 'grey': it is interesting that in both cases instead of Indic l we have an r, which is the rule in Old Iranian languages.
Finally, we can also remark that there is no trace of Indo-Aryan aspirated consonants in Mitanni Aryan words, although a way of writing it in cuneiform script could be that found, for instance, in the Hittite name Tudḫaliya.

Thus, we can see that not only many elements have a form closer to Old Persian, Median or Avestan, but also parallels in the Old Persian names attested in cuneiform documents. Forms like bard/birid- and -tama suggest affinity with Old Persian, while others like zird- with Median, Parthian and Avestan. We can suppose that at least two different dialects were present among the Mitanni Aryans, possibly a stage of Persian and Median, being Medes and Persians the most ancient Iranic peoples mentioned in Assyrian sources from the 9th century BC and acting in Western Iran in historical times. However, it is also possible that the people of Mitanni became the Matieni or Matiani mentioned by Herodotus and other ancient historians, placed close to lake Urmia, called 'lacus Matianus' in Latin, in Northwest Iran. The name could be a simple metathesis of the ancient form Maitani or Maiteni found in Nuzi, and we can suppose that the Mitanni Aryans came from that region (where the important site of Hasanlu was found) and a part of them always remained there, also after the end of the Mitanni kingdom. As Diakonoff says (see here): "The term Mittanne, older Maitene, is the name of the dynasty; the country itself was called Hanigalbat. The dynastic name is perhaps connected with Herodotus' Matieni, a tribe living somewhere in the neighbourhood of Lake Urmiyah—a likely place for the origin of the dynasty, and as a place of contacts between Hurrians and Indo-Iranians." In this case, they would be a particular Aryan tribe speaking an archaic dialect with specific affinities with other Iranian languages.
Giacomo Benedetti

24/5/2017 (with later additions)