Aryan Invasion
 
History or Politics?
   


HISTORY OR POLITICS? by N.S. Rajaram

There is a great deal of confusion over the origins of the Aryan invasion theory and even the word Arya. It explains also the use and misuse of the word.

Aryans: race or culture?


The evidence of science and literature now points to two basic conclusions: first, there was no Aryan invasion, and second, the Rigvedic people were already established in India no later than 4000 BC.

How are we then to account for the continued presence of the Aryan invasion version of history in history books and encyclopedias even today. Some of the results like Jha's decipherment of the Indus script are relatively recent, and it is probably unrealistic to expect history books to reflect all the latest findings.

But unfortunately, influential Indian historians and educators continue to resist all revisions and hold on to this racist creation -the Aryan invasion theory. Though there is now a tendency to treat the Aryan-Dravidian division as a linguistic phenomenon, its roots are decidedly racial and political, as we shall soon discover.

Speaking of the Aryan invasion theory, it would probably be an oversimplification to say: "Germans invented it, British used it," but not by much. The concept of the Aryans as a race and the associated idea of the 'Aryan nation' were very much a part of the ideology of German nationalism.

For reasons known only to them, Indian educational authorities have continued to propagate this obsolete fiction that degrades and divides her people. They have allowed their political biases and career interests to take precedence over the education of children. They continue to propagate a version that has no scientific basis.

Before getting to the role played by German nationalism, it is useful first to take a brief look at what the word Arya does mean. After Hitler and the Nazi atrocities, most people, especially Europeans, are understandably reluctant to be reminded of the word.

But that was a European crime; Indians had no part in it. The real Aryans have lived in India for thousands of years without committing anything remotely resembling the Nazi horrors. So there is no need to be diffident in examining the origins of the European misuse of the word. In any event, history demands it.

The first point to note is that the idea of the Aryans as foreigners who invaded India and destroyed the existing Harappan Civilization is a modern European invention; it receives no support whatsoever from Indian records literary or archaeological.

The same is true of the notion of the Aryans as a race; it finds no support in Indian literature or tradition (and genetics demolishes it). The word 'Arya' in Sanskrit means noble and never a race. In fact, the authoritative Sanskrit lexicon (c. 450 AD), the famous Amarakosha gives the following definition:Mahakula kulinarya sabhya sajjana sadhavah.

An Arya is one who hails from a noble family, of gentle behavior and demeanor, good-natured and of righteous conduct.And the great epic Ramayana has a singularly eloquent expression describing Rama as: Arya sarva samascaiva sadaiva priyadarsanah. 'Arya,who worked for the equality of all and was dear to everyone'.The Rigveda also uses the word Arya something like thirty six times, but never to mean a race. The nearest to a definition that one can find in the Rigveda is probably:Praja arya jyotiragrah ... (Children of Arya are led by light) RV,VII. 33.17

The word 'light' should be taken in the spiritual sense to mean enlightenment. The word Arya, according to those who originated the term, is to be used to describe those people who observed a code of conduct; people were Aryans or non-Aryans depending on whether or not they followed this code. This is made entirely clear in the Manudharma Shastra or the Manusmriti (X.43-45):

But in consequence of the omission of sacred rites, and of their not heeding the sages, the following people of the noble class [Arya Kshatriyas] have gradually sunk to the state of servants, the Paundrakas, Cholas, Dravidas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakhas, Paradhas, Pahlavas, Chinas, Kiratas and Daradas.

Two points about this list are worth noting: first, their fall from the Aryan fold had nothing to do with race, language, birth or nationality; it was due entirely to their failure to follow certain sacred rites. Second, the list includes people from all parts of India as well as a few neighboring countries like China and Persia (Pahlavas).

Kambojas are from West Punjab, Yavanas from Afghanistan and beyond (not necessarily the Greeks) while Dravidas refers probably to people from the southwest of India and the South. Thus, the modern notion of an Aryan-Dravidian racial divide is contradicted by ancient records. We have it on the authority of Manu that the Dravidians were also part of the Aryan fold.

Interestingly, so were the Chinese. Race never had anything to do with it until the Europeans adopted the ancient word to give expression to their nationalistic and other aspirations.

Scientists have known this for quite some time. Julian Huxley, one of the leading biologists of the century, wrote as far back as 1939: In 1848 the young German scholar Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900) settled in Oxford, where he remained for the rest of his life. About 1853 he introduced into the English language the unlucky term Aryan as applied to a large group of languages.

Moreover, Max Müller threw another apple of discord. He introduced a proposition that is demonstrably false. He spoke not only of a definite Aryan language and its descendents, but also of a corresponding Aryan race. The idea was rapidly taken up both in Germany and in England. It affected to some extent a certain number of the nationalistic and romantic writers, none of whom had any ethnological training.

In England and America the phrase Aryan race has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature. In Germany the idea of the Aryan race found no more scientific support than in England.

Nonetheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it very flattering to local vanity. It therefore spread, fostered by special conditions.

This should help settle the issue as far as its modern misuse is concerned. As far as ancient India is concerned, one may safely say that the word Arya denoted certain spiritual and humanistic values that defined her civilization. The entire Aryan civilization the civilization of Vedic India was driven and sustained by these values.

The whole of ancient Indian literature, From the Vedas, the Brahmanas to the Puranas to the epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana can be seen as a record of the struggles of an ancient people to live up to the ideals defined by these values.

Anyone regardless of birth, race or national origin could become Aryan by following this code of conduct. It was not something to be imposed upon others by the sword or by proselytization. Viewed in this light, the whole notion of any 'Aryan invasion' is an absurdity. It is like talking about an 'invasion of scientific thinking'.

Then there is also the fact that the concept of the Aryan race and the Aryan-Dravidian divide is a modern European invention that receives no support from any ancient source.To apply it to people who lived thousands of years ago is an exercise in anachronism if there ever was one.
The sum total of all this is that Indians have no reason to be defensive about the word Arya. It applies to everyone who has tried to live by the high ideals of an ancient culture regardless of race, language or nationality.

It is a cultural designation of a people who created a great civilization. Anti-Semitism was an aberration of Christian European history, with its roots in the New Testament, of sayings like "He, that is not with me, is against me."

If the Europeans (and their Indian disciples) fight shy of the word, it is their problem stemming from their history. Modern India has many things for which she has reason to be grateful to European knowledge, but this is definitely not one of them.

European currents: 'Aryan nation'

As Huxley makes clear in the passage cited earlier, the misuse of the word Aryan was rooted in political propaganda aimed at appealing to local vanity. In order to understand the European misuse of the word Arya as a race, and the creation of the Aryan invasion idea, we need to go back to eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, especially to Germany.

The idea has its roots in European anti-Semitism. Recent research by scholars like Poliakov, Shaffer and others has shown that the idea of the invading Aryan race can be traced to the aspirations of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europeans to give themselves an identity that was free from the taint of Judaism.

The Bible, as is well known, consists of two books-

The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament gives the traditional history of mankind. It is of course a Jewish creation. The New Testament is also of Jewish origin; recently discovered manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Christianity, in fact, began as an extremist Jewish sect.

But it was turned against the Judaism of its founding fathers by religious propagandists with political ambitions. In fact, anti-Semitism first makes its appearance in the New Testament, including in the Gospels. Nonetheless, without Judaism there would be no Christianity.

To free themselves from this Jewish heritage, the intellectuals of Christian Europe looked east, to Asia. And there they saw two ancient civilizations. India and China. To them the Indian Aryans were preferable as ancestors to the Chinese. As Shaffer has observed:

Many scholars such as Kant and Herder began to draw analogies between the myths and philosophies of ancient India and the West. In their attempt to separate Western European culture from its Judaic heritage, many scholars were convinced that the origin of Western culture was to be found in India rather than in the ancient Near East.

So they became Aryans. But it was not the whole human race that was given this Aryan ancestry, but only a white race that came down from the mountains of Asia, subsequently became Christian and colonized Europe. No less an intellectual than Voltaire claimed to be "convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc." (But Voltaire was emphatically not intolerant; he was in fact a strong critic of the Church of his day.)

A student today can scarcely have an idea of the extraordinary influence of race theories in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. Many educated people really believed that human qualities could be predicted on the basis of measurements of physical characteristics like eye color, length of the nose and such.

It went beyond prejudice, it was an article of faith amounting to an ideology. Here is an example of what passed for informed opinion on 'race science' by the well-known French savant Paul Topinard. Much of the debate centered on the relative merits of racial types called dolichocephalics and brachycephalics, though no one seemed to have a clear idea of what was which.

Anyway, here is what Topinard wrote in 1893, which should give modern readers an idea of the level of scientific thinking prevailing in those days:

The Gauls, according to history, were a people formed of two elements: the leaders or conquerors, blond, tall dolichocephalic, leptroscopes, etc. But the mass of the people, were small, relatively brachycephalic chaemeophrosopes. The brachycephalics were always oppressed.

They were the victims of dolicocephalics who carried them off from their fields. ... The blond people changed from warriors into merchants and industrial workers. The brachycephalics breathed again. Being naturally prolific, their numbers [of brachycephalics] increased while the dolichocephalics naturally diminished. ... Does the future not belong to them [Sic: Belong to whom dolichocephalic leptroscopes, or brachycephalic chaemeophrosopes]

This tongue-twisting passage may sound bizarre to a modern reader, but was considered an erudite piece of reasoning when it was written. In its influence and scientific unsoundness and dogmatism, race science can only be compared in this century to Marxism, especially Marxist economics. Like Marxist theories, these race theories have also been fully discredited. The emergence of molecular genetics has shown these race theories to be completely false.

By creating this pseudo-science based on race, Europeans of the Age of Enlightenment sought to free themselves from their Jewish heritage. It is interesting to note that this very same theory of the Aryan invasion and colonization of Europe was later applied to India and became the Aryan invasion theory of India.

In reality it was nothing more than a projection into the remote past of the contemporary European experience in colonizing parts of Asia and Africa. Substituting European for Aryan, and Asian or African for Dravidian will give us a description of any of the innumerable colonial campaigns in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. According to this theory, the Aryans were carbon copies of colonizing Europeans. Seen in this light, the theory is not even especially original.

The greatest effect of these ideas was on the psyche of the German people. German nationalism was the most powerful political movement of nineteenth century Europe. The idea of the Aryan race was a significant aspect of the German nationalistic movement.We are now used to regarding Germany as a rich and powerful country, but the German people at the beginning of the nineteenth century were weak and divided.

There was no German nation at the time; the map of Europe was then dotted with numerous petty German principalities and dukedoms that had always been at the mercy of the neighboring great powers: Austria and France.

For more than two centuries, from the time of the Thirty Years War to the Napoleonic conquests, the great powers had marched their armies through these petty German states treating these people and their rulers with utter disdain.

It was very much in the interests of the French to keep the German people divided, a tactic later applied to India by the British. Every German at the time believed that he and his rulers were no more than pawns in great power rivalries. This had built up deep resentments in the hearts and minds of the German people. This was to have serious consequences for history.

In this climate of alienation and impotence, it is not surprising that German intellectuals should have sought solace in the culture of an ancient exotic land like India.

Some of us can recall a very similar sentiment among Americans during the era of Vietnam and the Cold War, with many of them taking an interest in eastern religions and philosophy.These German intellectuals also felt a kinship towards India as a subjugated people, like themselves.
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