The Bangani Enigma

The notorious Bangani Enigma was a source of puzzlement and a bone of contention in Indo-European linguistics. In the 1980s, vestiges of an ancient Kentum Indo-European language were reported in the western Himalayas in the form of an apparent substrate in a modern Western Pahari language known as Bangani. Bangani is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, in the Indian Himalayas. This astonishing discovery changed what Indo-European scholars thought about ancient population movements in the region. The published evidence indicated that a Kentum group had penetrated South Asia, whereas all known Kentum Indo-European languages were limited to Western Europe and the Mediterranean basin, with the exception of the extinct languages Turfanian (Tocharian A) and Kuchean (Tocharian B) spoken in distant Chinese Turkestan until the eighth century.

The Bangani Enigma not only demanded a revision of prehistory, the reported phenomena also defied just about everything that was held to be received knowledge in historical linguistics. On the pages of Historische Sprachforschung, one linguist even assessed the peculiar Bangani phenomenon to be the linguistic traces left behind by a lost cohort of Macedonian soldiers, stranded in the Western Himalayas when the army of Alexander the Great withdrew after his spectacular conquests in Persia, Bactria and India in the IVth century BC.

In 1994, George van Driem and Suhnu Ram Sharma of the Himalayan Languages Project research team conducted fieldwork in Bangan in order to verify these remarkable findings which since the 1980s had given rise to so much commotion in the field of Indo-European linguistics. The discoveries made by these two researchers have disclosed that Bangani is either the linguistic equivalent of the Piltdown Man or the most exquisite example to date of wishful thinking colouring the perception of linguistic data. The startling findings have overthrown the various theories which had been advanced to account for these mysterious phenomena in the western Himalayas.