| 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)
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
| 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.