South Asia is a distinct geographical zone, separated by mountains and seas from the rest of the continent. However, its location at the heart of the Old World, and favourable climate and soil has long attracted migrants from every direction. The most obvious example are the Indo-Aryan migrants from Central Asia. They were followed by their Indo-Iranian cousins – the Sakas (Scythians), Parthavas (Parthians), Kushanas (Yuezhi) and Hunas (Hephthalites). Two other language families of South Asia, Dravidian and Austroasiatic are rarely discussed when it comes to the peopling of the region.
While the ultimate origins of Dravidian are not clear, the Munda languages most probably arrived from South East Asia, forming an outlier of the Austroasiatic family in eastern India. The languages and speakers themselves are highly distinct. They are now found clustered around the Chota Nagpur Plateau, most probably descendants of people from the Mekong Basin who were familiar with rice farming. I will be writing about them in the coming posts. Here are the principal divisions of Munda as proposed by Gerard Diffloth, an American linguist:
Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and is based on a map appearing in ‘A Historical Atlas of South Asia’, Oxford University Press (1992).