03.2 Vedas, Aryans and Harappans


The Vedas are collections of ancient Sanskrit poems, prayers and incantations that were passed down orally across an unknown number of generations, during which time they became the foundation of the ancient sacred literature of India. This much is agreed, but who it was that composed them, and where, are questions that lie at the heart of a whole series of interlocking disputes about the origins of India’s people and religion.

Right from the start, western scholars were happy to accept that the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, was older than classical western civilisation. They were also quite comfortable with acknowledging the evident links between Sanskrit and a range of European languages including Greek, Latin and Lithuanian. These similarities led to speculation about the existence of a family of ancient languages with eastern and western branches. It did not seem likely to European scholars, however, that the Vedas originated in India, because the descriptions they contained of daily life, in which horses played a prominent role, did not seem to be obvious depictions of India. Instead western scholars believed that the original writers, who describe themselves as Arya (noble), were nomadic steppe dwellers. Therefore, these Aryans could not have been ancient ‘Indians’, and Sanskrit must have developed on the central Asian steppes, from where it travelled, unaltered, into India. If the Aryans had originally been in India, they reasoned, then Sanskrit would have to have migrated from India to the steppes and westward – and would therefore be likely to have appeared unaltered all over Europe, instead of the related group of varied languages we actually find.

This guess about the non-Indian origin of the Aryans was not quite the dogmatic, racist, imperialist conclusion that it is sometimes portrayed as, because the Indian branch of the Aryan language family did seem rather out on a limb, whereas the other recognised members of the ‘Indo-European’ group were distributed across Persia, Russia, Scandinavia, and Western Europe as far as Ireland and Portugal. This conclusion has been vigorously disputed ever since, in its assumptions about migration, transmission and Vedic culture, but it is what western nineteenth century Orientalists believed the evidence supported.

When it also became clear that the languages of South India were not of the Aryan family but of another type, labelled ‘Dravidian’, it then seemed all too clear to western scholars that the Aryans had moved in from the north and pushed the Dravidian population of India towards the south. Detailed examination also seemed to show that interactions between Aryan and Dravidian languages betrayed a possible power relationship; there are about twenty Dravidian ‘loan words’ in the Sanskrit of the Rig Veda, while the vocabularies of Dravidian languages show very high proportions of Indo-European borrowings, sometimes exceeding 50%. The constant warnings of the philologists that ‘Aryan’ was a description of a language group and not a ‘race’ was left behind, and wider correspondences, of religious belief and skin colour, led other commentators to assume that the Aryans had actually invaded India from the northwest and physically ousted or enslaved the Dravidians, thus inventing the caste system, in which the lighter-skinned, educated Brahmins dominated the aboriginal Dravidians, who were reduced to farming, or condemned to menial and degrading work as ‘untouchables’.

This historical model, dubbed the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), seemed to fit well with the linguistic, cultural and ethnological evidence as it then stood. Conveniently, it also fitted a number of political purposes. If other later invasions were also taken into account, this ‘Aryan Invasion’ could be taken to prove that foreign conquest was a recurrent, and perhaps a fundamental, pattern in Indian history. It also had two religious implications: one, that modern Hinduism was a degenerate form of the pure, rather more muscular religion of the virile, horse-sacrificing Aryans – practices which carried a whiff of old Norse and Germanic beliefs; two, it implied that Christianity, as an alien import, was no more alien in its origins than ‘Aryan’ Hinduism. As a whole package the AIT could easily be used to support a general contention that it was India’s fate to be invaded and dominated, and that the best of her high culture came from elsewhere.

Not surprisingly this theory scandalised many Indians, who found it demeaning and assumed that it was meant to demean. Even worse, they simply saw it as wrong. Over the years and in several ways, time has proved them right on both scores. But, sadly, a degree of overcompensation has since set in, and it has become increasingly hard to adopt a neutral stance on the many issues that have arisen.

The most basic of these is the actual age of the Vedas. The first scholarly attempt to date them was made by Max Müller (1823-1900), a brilliant linguist, born and trained in Germany, who found himself in London in 1846, where he picked up a commission from the East India Company to assemble and edit a definitive text of the Rig Veda. In trying to fix a date for the composition of the Vedas he took a wide view of Asiatic history, and noted in particular the resemblances between Sanskrit and Avestan, the language of the Zoroastrian scriptures. All the evidence led him to a date somewhere between 1500 and 1200 BCE. Müller made one other pronouncement about the Vedas, namely that the Aryans probably originated ‘somewhere in Asia’. He would never expand on this, and he willingly accepted that neither the age nor the original ‘homeland’ of the Vedic Aryans would ever be known with precision. Indian nationalists, many of whom loathe Müller and cast him as the father of German ‘scientific’ racism, have since attempted to prove him wrong in both his guesses.

As a consequence, much energy has gone into trying to show that the Vedas describe, very exactly, the flora and fauna of North India, while a less reputable project has tried to show that the Vedas are incredibly ancient. This is, of course, not a provable contention about an oral tradition that was not written down till around 300 BCE, but this has not stopped devout and serious Hindus who, based on (supposedly definitive) astronomical references contained in the material, place the Rig Veda much earlier, most putting it at about 3100 BCE, though others go much further, to dates tens, hundreds or even millions of years earlier. The astronomical information contained in the Vedas is based on identifications that are not always very secure, but the intoxicating idea that the Vedas are enormously old has taken root in certain quarters and will probably never be shifted.

The whole AIT controversy remained largely a paper affair until the 1920s when, to general surprise, a large, well-formed, urban civilisation was discovered in northwestern India. This was the Indus Valley Civilisation, now referred to as either the Harappan civilisation, after its largest site, or as the Indus-Saraswati civilisation, after its two main rivers. This was probably the first major test for the AIT, in terms of physical artefacts and cultural legacy – and it passed it. The British archaeologists who first interpreted the sites declared that these ancient cities had been suddenly abandoned around 1500 BCE. This seemed to fit perfectly with the arrival of horse-riding Aryans humming selections from the Rig Veda, but the theory was easier to manipulate than the actual evidence, and gradually the idea that the Harappan finds support the AIT has slipped away. By now the civilisation is generally reckoned to have lasted from about 2800 BCE to around 1900 BCE, at which point the whole society did not collapse under force of invasion, but gradually moved and dispersed, possibly because of major climatic changes, including the drying up of the Saraswati.

But the new Harappan material still left two old questions unanswered; who were the Aryans, and where did they come from? It also added two new ones – who were the Harappans, and where did they come from? It became especially important to try to find out what language the Harappans spoke, because if they spoke Sanskrit then they were in all probability the Aryans themselves. Two peoples would become one, no invasion need be imagined. And either way, Indians would be able to claim their own ancient civilisation to put on a par with Sumer and Egypt. Before the discovery of Mohenjo Daro, India had always lacked a solid ancient past to compare with the Middle Eastern societies whose remnants filled so many European museums and were treated with awe. By contrast, in the years before the Harappan discoveries, ancient Indians were assumed to have been nothing more complicated than Dravidian farmers or Aryan nomads.

A huge amount of intellectual capital has been invested by Indian nationalists in attempts to prove that the Harappans were identical with the creators of the Vedas, but the case is still not proven. Meanwhile the Aryans have been turned (by pretty well everyone) from combative invaders into peaceful migrants, or slow moving, nature-loving farmers. Archaeological evidence, albeit scanty, has gradually been turning up to show the movement of peoples at around the relevant time through what is now north west Pakistan. An Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) has developed to allow the Aryans to ride or walk ever more slowly into India. Horse-riding, chariot-steering warriors have been softened into much more humane and cultured people.

Where they are thought to have started from has also gradually changed. Müller’s generation, and several afterwards, were all keen on Central Asian homelands for the Aryans, as this location seemed to make good sense in terms of the distribution of Indo-European derivatives, which mark out a complex, radial pattern. Modern scholarship has now placed the original Aryans in areas around the Caspian Sea, or even in eastern Anatolia.

But a militant faction in India decided to solve all these problems by a more radical view – that the Aryans started in India, were entirely Indian, and went on to spread their language and culture all across the globe from there. The Aryan homeland was northwest India, and there had actually been an Aryan ‘exvasion’. Scholars disliked this idea as it seemed too unrelated to the evidence as it stood, but hard-line nationalists loved it, and many have stuck to it ever since.

However, this later Aryan Exvasion Theory (also called the ‘Out of India’ Theory or OIT) is not accepted by all Indians. Many, over time, have been quite willing to accept an Aryan entry in either its earlier, more dogmatic version, or in its later milder form. Brahmins can easily accept either, without doing violence to their views of world history or undermining their lofty social position within Indian society. Tamil, Dravidian nationalist, and Dalit (Untouchable) spokespersons also willingly accept that there was an Aryan invasion. It fits neatly into a wider model of history in which the ancient, gentle people of India were strong-armed out of their inheritance by the arrival of cruel, central Asian Aryans. Demands for social justice and restitution follow on.

Many Raj-era nationalists accepted the AIT. Veer Savarkar did not dispute it, and never considered that central Asian origins for the Aryans undermined Indian national identity in any way. B G Tilak fitted Indian Aryan descent into a theory that the original Aryan homeland was in the Arctic Circle, an idea he based on an allegorical reading of the struggle against ‘darkness’ that the Vedas seem to narrate. In 1939 M. S. Golwalkar, shortly to become the second leader of the RSS, invented an ingenious way to reconcile Tilak’s Aryan polar homeland with his own desire to believe that the Aryans originated in India. Golwalkar simply declared that in ancient times Bihar and Orissa were at the North Pole. ‘It was not the Hindus who migrated to that land [Bihar and Orissa] but the Arctic zone which emigrated … and left the Hindus in Hindustan’ (We, or Our Nationhood Defined, p. 8).

This must rank as the most brilliant piece of knot cutting since Alexander, but as a theory it found no support, and has since, unsurprisingly, drifted off the nationalist radar. Milder nationalists, including Jawaharlal Nehru, were comfortable with the AIT, and felt that it was no more damaging to Indian amour-propre than the European origin of many modern Americans was to US national pride. However, a large number of other major Indian figures, including Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Dr Ambedkar, opposed it, and their successors have become increasingly impatient with the idea in roughly the same proportion as western scholars have stopped believing in it. By now, the AIT is a straw theory, while vigorously, elaborately, and sometimes implausibly discrediting it is an obsession of the Hindu right.

Denial of an invasion broadly implies that the Aryans and Harappans were one. Belief in the Exvasion is coupled to belief in the Vedic cultural colonisation of the rest of the world, which also implies that Sanskrit is either the mother of all other languages, or extremely close to it. Academic linguists do not accept this. They hold to the idea, originally floated by Sir William Jones, that all Indo-European languages are descended from a single original source – Proto-Indo-European (PIE). This is a semi-mythical, putative language, which has not survived and of which we have no examples.

Hindu nationalists regularly come up with an alternative theory, which is that Sanskrit is PIE. There is no way to resolve this satisfactorily, because we have no concrete evidence either way. However, extensive theorising and a great deal of ‘modelling’ has convinced academic philologists that classical Greek and Latin could not have descended directly from Sanskrit. Lady Sanskrit is thus not the mother of all tongues. She is definitely a cousin of the western Indo-European languages, and she might possibly even be as close as an aunt. Instead, in the opinion of all the people paid to decide on these matters, we are currently looking for a shared ancestor tongue, now lost to us. Many Indian nationalists will not accept this. So we have a bunch of professionals and a bunch of amateurs sneering at each other, and neutrals are obliged to decide which side is doing it more convincingly that the other.

The potentially most helpful, and certainly the most intriguing evidence to come out of the Harappan excavations is the wide range of seals, bearing symbols that resemble elements of writing. If this ‘script’ could be deciphered it would resolve a great many of the disputes surrounding the whole subject, but in the highly charged atmosphere that clings to ancient Indian history, these seals, and the marks they carry, have merely produced further controversy. Some say that insufficient evidence has been uncovered, and that a full script will become decipherable in time: others say the marks can never constitute a regular writing system, because within the large number of symbols we have, only a few are commonly found; yet others say that they have indeed deciphered it. But, among those who claim to have unlocked the script, there is wide disagreement over what sounds the symbols stand for, what language it is written in, and even in what direction it should be read.

As things stand, claims that the ‘writing’ is decipherable are not likely to survive close scrutiny. The fact that the Harappan script consists of about 400-600 symbols (so far) would tend to suggest that these symbols are neither an alphabet nor a syllabary. No known example of either system contains anything like that number of symbols. And of the hundreds of recognised symbols, only about ten appear with any regularity – probably a number low enough to exclude normal linguistic expression. In addition, the fact that most Harappan inscriptions consist of about four or five symbols would also suggest that these marks, whatever they are, are not sentences. This brevity would seem to indicate something simpler, perhaps some form of ownership mark. The longest Harappan inscription so far discovered consists of twenty-six characters, and although this might indicate a direct relationship to grammatical language (if the symbols are entire words or syllables) there are simply not enough extended examples available to us to use frequency analysis in order to tease out whatever meaning they may have.

Considering that the forms of ancient writing that we do know about – Egyptian, Chinese and Babylonian – all developed sufficiently to support a variety of functions, including bureaucratic record keeping, religious scripture and literary works, the cultural range of Harappan writing seems rather narrow by comparison. Perhaps further discoveries can enlighten us, but until then the idea that this script somehow indicates that the Harappans were the ancient world’s prime intellectual achievers seems a little threadbare, and we should all perhaps await the further verdict of time before making grandiose claims.

It is almost certain that the language is not Sanskrit, but this does not reduce the pressure on the issue because if the Harappans could somehow be shown to have spoken Sanskrit, then nationalist claims that the Aryans were entirely Indian would be vindicated. The game is still on.

There are other factors that distance the Vedas from the Harappans. One is iron. The Aryans seemed to have had iron and the Harappans did not; no iron has been found in north India before 1800 BCE at the earliest. There are ways round this difficulty, and the lack of Harappan iron finds has been remedied by creative retranslation of the Vedas themselves. So where the Sanskrit ayas is usually translated as ‘iron’, now to some writers it ‘appears to have stood for copper or bronze’ (In Search of the Cradle of Civilisation, Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, p. 160). Another troubling problem is horses. Vedic literature is full of horses and chariots. Horses, native to the central Asian steppes, are not considered to have been introduced to north India until around 1800 BCE. Nationalists are therefore constantly concerned to find ‘proof’ of the presence of horses in Harappa prior to that date. So far there is almost nothing to comfort them, but any vaguely horse-like bone is hailed as clinching proof of equine Harappan citizens. Yet another amateurs vs. professionals face-off has resulted, with all sorts of learned discussion about skeletal characteristics of proto-horses, half-asses and ancient onagers. Yet if the horse was important to the Harappans there should be widespread, consistent finds. And no such finds exist (yet).

More damaging to the Aryan Harappans theory is that the Harappans themselves did not depict horses on their highly pictographic seals. They represented all sorts of other recognisable creatures, especially bulls, but no horses. Ever. This deficiency was also supplied in a notorious incident involving Mr. N. S. Rajaram, a believer in Vedic world conquest. In 2000, Mr. Rajaram and Dr. N. Jha published an ‘enhanced’ image of a seal that allegedly depicted a horse. Experts were sceptical, because the seal in question was well known. It had a distinctive broken edge, and this edge had somehow come to resemble the neck of a horse after an accident, or perhaps a whole series of accidents, with a scanner, some graphic software and a photocopier, which resulted in the appearance of this hitherto unsuspected ‘horse’ in the seal. In Frontline magazine of November 2000, India’s leading expert on the Harappan script, Iravatham Mahadevan, called the horse an ‘optical illusion’, and Rajaram and Jha’s accompanying decipherment of the script ‘completely invalid’. Professor Asko Parpola, one of the world’s leading authorities on Harappan seals, went further and accused Rajaram of ‘dishonesty’ and of ‘falsifying evidence’. Rajaram and Jha subsequently backtracked.

Whatever the details of accidental horses or disappearing iron, there remain intractable problems with any attempt to make a definitive identification of the Harappans as Sanskrit-speaking Aryans. Just to conclude that the Aryan Invasion Theory was wrong in its original form is not to give a free pass to any other theory that seems sufficiently pleasing. The Aryans were fire-worshipping, mobile, rural pastoralists, with spoked wheels on their chariots. This is not the life of the urban Harappans, and indeed it is not even the life of unmistakably ‘Hindu’ people.

[Comments temporarily disabled owing to massive volume of spam here.]


 Posted by at 10:21 pm

  13 Responses to “03.2 Vedas, Aryans and Harappans”

  1. I think you’re being charitable towards the OIT (Exvasion) and its variants.

    There is very little plausibility to this story of exvasion out of India.
    Even a casual observer can infer that India is a multi-racial country – as evidenced by vastly different melanin concentrations across castes indicating different points of arrival in subcontinent. Moreover existence of Dravidian tongues in places like Baluchistan indicate to a stream of settlers/invaders who came in long before the Aryans (call them Dravidians if you wish).

    It is not at all difficult to imagine an urban non-Aryan Harappan civilization which gradually declined by 2000 BC. Following which we had these Aryan hordes gradually settling the whole of North India encoutering dasyus in the process (who were perhaps once civilized but whose standard of life had fallen dramatically prior to aryan arrival).

    I don’t see how this is implausible. It explains everything. The existence of different families of languages. Caste system. Vedic origins. Everything.

    I am not saying Aryan culture is non-Indian. All I am saying the original settlers came in from outside subcontinent. But the actual flowering of Aryan culture happened in India.

    • Hello Hist E and welcome.

      You make a very reasonable case.

      I am not militant about any of this. If the evidence is there, let’s see it; let’s make what sense of it we can. I think the exvasion idea is not tenable, but some Indians have been very emotionally committed to it. In many ways I am as interested in this aspect as in archaeology/genetics/linguistics etc. Humanity probably originated in Africa, and black ‘nationalists’ make great play of this, in much the same way as the most extreme exvasion advocates try to with ‘Vedic’ culture – which pops up all over the world if you look hard enough, Or does it?

      This post was originally part of a longer book that was about all kinds of frauds and misinterpretations of Indian history, and so as a matter of balance I was looking at several aspects of the whole ancient world – supposed Indian influence on the Greeks, P N Oak’s Vedic global ideas, the Aryan racial theories that arose from Müller’s linguistic studies etc. I followed this down to the present day, with myths about Akbar and the Black Hole of Calcutta etc, as imperial history was as full of misrepresentations as the modern Voice of India clique’s output.

      Anyway, thanks for reading. I enjoy intelligent interaction, so feel free to express yourself.

  2. RM : I know you’re not militant about any of this. But sometimes a slightly militant, albeit unpopular stance is warranted amidst a lot of nonsensical propaganda that parades itself as truth these days.

    The so-called AIT even in its caricaturized form still remains a more viable theory than OIT. In fact even the original orientalists never suggested AIT. “AIT” was a caricature theory made up by Hindutwavadis to discredit those great 19th cen orientalists who helped us discover India.

    I am a cultural conservative myself. Very proud of my country. And perhaps more likely to vote for BJP than Congress/Left if forced to make a choice. Nevertheless I can’t stand nonsense even among bedfellows. Anti-AIT hysteria has gone too far and needs to be corrected.

    I am currently reading WW Hunter – a distinguished Raj Era historian and gazetteer. Brilliant insights on most pages. Prejudiced perhaps. But spot on in his gut-assessments. Those pioneering historians got most things right and were a MASSIVE improvement over Puranas – which is what passed for history in India before them!! However they did get a few things wrong for no fault of their own – for eg – their ignorance of Indus valley civilization which came to light only in the 1920s.

    • H-E: Your views strike me as very sane, and a good corrective to some of what I have read on this subject, both in print and on the web. It is good to know that not all BJP supporters/sympathizers are as extreme as some of their internet cheerleaders. My personal experience of the BJP has been milder than anything I ever read in Britain would lead me to expect. Generally, I try to stay neutral within party politics, because parties automatically distort ‘truth’ on a daily basis, as part of their tactics.

      I should perhaps be harder on strange theories, but I don’t see it as my job to tell people what to think. In a piece like this I am setting out the ground and relating the story of what has been thought, and why. I am interested in the stranger parts of human belief systems – why what people believe so often defies both common sense (meaning every day experience) and ‘facts’ as we know them. Usually you can find an assessment of motives in there. As with this – the AIT is a racist myth invented by Germans and turned into Nazism etc. And along with the malign motivation comes an ‘us and them’ assessment. All this interests me in the way it relates to nations, parties, self-government and, ultimately, the creation and maintenance of orthodoxy. Otherwise called authority.

      I agree that W W Hunter is a very interesting man. I have not read him at length, but I have never gone for the whole ‘colonial knowledge’ slur. if you look, most of modern Indian history, even written by Indians, relies heavily on Tod, Elphinstone, Lyall, Hunter etc. These men did make mistakes (who doesn’t?) but I think their earnest desire was to discover what was there in the past to be found. Others, though, who wrote about the present, were pure imperialist propagandists and deserve less respect, like the various contributors to the hilarious Rulers of India series, in which all Brits are virtuous and all Indians content. And the alleged ‘ethnography’ of Risley and his mates can only be rated as self-serving. It stands as part of the double Victorian obsession with classification and ranking.

      • RM : I recommend WW Hunter’s book titled “Indian Empire – Its People, HIstory and products”

        Quite a sweeping examination of our country. And more fun to read than the history of say a Romila Thapar or a John Keay. Hunter’s obsession with castes can be tiresome but also insightful. He makes some piquant observations – For eg : As per early Aryan literature, the Dravidians up north (the dasyus) are deemed barbaric, but the Dravidians down south are always estimated a few notches higher than their northern counterparts and quite civilized and skilled – though lacking in spiritual life which the Aryan influence provided.

        It’s easy to label such observations as racist and in bad taste. But it is only men like Hunter who can draw such inferences from our literature, because modern historians can be handicapped by their political correctness.

        Have you read Abraham Eraly? Have seen several of his tomes adorning shelves in bookstores, but didn’t want to spend money without reading any review of his work.

        • Sorry, forgot to reply to the Eraly part of your comment.

          I have only read the one book by him, ‘Emperors Of The Peacock Throne’, about the Mughals. I found it comprehensive rather than interesting. He has gone through all the sources and basically paraphrased them, thus constructing a narrative of each emperor’s life. A bit one paced, and not very insightful, in my view. But the content is unexceptionable, and if you want to know what actually happened, it’s a good book. I like something with more precis and a bit of opinion, and I don’t remember getting that.

  3. One topic that fascinates me and which is probably under-researched is the “Aryanization” of the South. How did it happen. When did it happen.

    I am a Southern Indian brahmin myself and often find it strange that Southern India is labelled as a “Dravidian” block when the Aryan influence is all around you. Even the farming castes of Southern India hire a priest to conduct weddings who chants hymns that were probably composed over 2000 years ago somewhere in the Gangetic belt or further up north west! It is really a very strange phenomenon!

    Attended a family wedding recently. Everyone dining in the hall belonged to a particular Southern brahmin community. Yet, I was staggered by the racial heterogeneity. There were relatives who were as fair as Ukrainians, and other relatives as dark as Ethiopians! I had seen them all my life but never noted this racial diversity within my own family. It obviously points to the fact that not all my ancestors arrived in the subcontinent at the same time. Some were perhaps Veda chanting Aryans, others perhaps Harappan age Dravidian tribes, and some perhaps pre-Dravidian aborigines who reached southern shores through the African sea!

  4. H-E: sorry, forgot to reply to the Eraly part of your comment.

    I have only read the one book by him, ‘Emperors Of The Peacock Throne’, about the Mughals. I found it comprehensive rather than interesting. He has gone through all the sources and basically paraphrased them, thus constructing a narrative of each emperor’s life. A bit one paced, and not very insightful, in my view. But the content is unexceptionable, and if you want to know what actually happened, it’s a good book. I like something with more precis and a bit of opinion, and I don’t remember getting that.

  5. Well, he was obviously a great man and an admirable ruler. I don’t know a lot of detail about him, and with figures that old and that magnificent the documentary record tends to be very skewed. His own people (servants, courtiers, tame intellectuals, priests etc.) would have praised him to the skies, and his enemies, or perhaps incoming successors, might well have done him down, for their own purposes. The whole Alexander-in-India thing has been greatly talked up both by Victorian imperialists and subsequent types of Indian nationalists – all claiming various types of victory, all for their own reasons.

    Do you have any insights to share?

  6. Your Gimbutean sympathies are extremely evident young man in this excellently well written fallacy. A further analysis into your ideology would probably reveal a belief that Aryans had blond hair and blue eyes and were essentially pastoralists who lived on the steppes. Or, you could be a Dravidian nationalist who believes in a Dravidian hypothesis which has so little basis that it should be considered extinct. However the linguistic theories are in clear disagreement with archaeological evidence surrounding the identity of Central Asian cultures of the Bronze Age as well as South Asian civilizations. The main motivation is to prove that the Aryans were Europeans based on some self-delusional sense of greatness. Ideally a scientist’s response to this article would simply place you on one of the two ends of unscientific dogma: the one where Aryans invaded and the other where they had a peninsular origin. The actual scientific theory supports the spread of Aryans due to demic diffusions during Neolithic times as a result of the agricultural revolutions.

    • Thank you for that, Norad. Easily the most learned reply i have had on here.

      If you had read the other comments above I don’t think you would be so keen to classify what I ‘think’, or berate me for having an ‘ideology’. Or perhaps you did read them all and you just want to give me a good earwigging. I’m not entirely sure what you have tried to say here, apart from that I am wrong and/or ignorant and/or irrelevant. Just to be clear, I do not believe in the blond haired blue-eyed stuff at all.

      I am not a geneticist or an archeologist. I am sure that the truth about the Aryans will come into a little more focus over the next few decades. My interest is in the writing of history, and why it so often goes wrong.

      Oh, and I fixed your website link – it didn’t seem to work. Now it does. Nice site.

  7. Just five points worth considering:

    1. Kenneth A. R. Kennedy, Biologist, in “The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia”, concedes “with embarrassment” that he has “neither knowingly exhumed an “Aryan” (in the Europid sense, eugenics-wise) nor, having done so unwittingly, been able to identify the skeleton as such” (p. 32). [words in parentheses are mine – excluding page number]


    2. The largest amount of horse remains are from the common era. So, if those marauding heathens invaded on all dem’ horses…it makes sense for there to be tons and tons of horse remains, as well as chariots. The thing is….there aren’t. 🙁 ……….The problem arises when one utilizes a literal approach in translating the oldest portions of the Vedas. “ratha” is not meant to be translated always as “war chariot”…in fact, Griffith got it right the first time with a simple “car”, “wagon”. In fact, there are no references in the Rig Veda that the “ratha” was a one to two seat “war vehicle”. And, we find more references for a “three+ seat” “ratha”…which oddly…was pulled by oxen and cows…rarely by horses.

    3. There was no “Indian” nor “non-Indian” origin of the “Aryans”. To plainly put it: the geo-political concept of “India” didn’t exist back then. However, if we should get semantical…the oldest portions of the Rig Veda do talk about a geographical location that is clearly the Northwest of the Indian Subcontinent (mostly present-day Pakistan and “fringe” portions of Northwest India) The “Aryanic” “generations” listed out in the Vedic indices took birth, grew up, and died in that geographical location. In other words…Hindus in Paksitan and the tiny Hindu community in Afghanistan have better claim for “Rig Veda is ours” than any right-wing Hindu group in mainland India. Jus’ sayin’.

    4. “Dasyus” being equated with Dravidians is a little odd…sense the term itself is an insult for anyone, regardless of racial background, who does not follow the Vedic fire rites. In other words…Johnny down the street could have been “Aryan” as they come…but…if he didn’t practice the Vedic fire rites…well then: Johnny was simply a “Dasyu”. It didn’t matter if he had blond hair and blue eyes and a European phenotype. Heck, the authors of the Vedas would have identified more with a Bantu African that kept the proper Vedic rites and adhered to them and spoke Vedic than they would have identified with someone of their own tribe that didn’t really do jack.

    5. Not to debase…but only to offer something constructive: you are treating “Hinduism” indirectly as monolithic. When this is done, it automatically negates any “Vedic-ness” that “Hinduism” may or may not have. “Hinduism” is simply a term of convenience. It is a conglomeration of many, many theological schools of thought. In fact, you can’t really get any more “Vedic” or “fire worshipping” than the Shrauta schools like dem’ South Indian Brahmins in Kerala and dem’ North Indian Brahmins at Kashi that only abide by the Vedic theological schools of thought. In fact, it can be easily argued that “actual Vedicism” has survived rather in the South than in the North. One name that repeatedly comes to mind is of the Nambudiri-s that still practice the Agnistoma (which is very, very ancient). And, you can’t really get more “Aryanic” than the Agnistoma.

    • Hello Vercetti,

      another long and very well informed comment.

      For you, and anyone else that gets this far, here are a few points of clarification – again.

      This essay was largely written in 2009 for a (general) book that was to be published in England, I covered the state of the debate at the time, as I found it. It is therefore not a specialist piece, nor does it express any particular opinion of my own. If everything has moved on since then, I will find out when I revise, it, if I ever do. Till then, I am grateful for the updates, but it still stands as a non-expert summary of how things were at the time of writing.

      I have no axe to grind in this. I was pointing out where distortions have occurred. This includes the original biases of European views, and the subsequent attempts by Indian nationalists to redress the balance. The article therefore contains some biased or non standard opinions, but they are not mine.

      I an well aware of the problems with using the word Hindu. It is a portmanteau word of European origin, and I often put it in inverted commas in my ‘proper’ writing – only to have the commas knocked off by editors (usually Indian). Hinduism is quicker and easier than referring to specific sects, or Sanatana Dharma, which modern British people will never have seen before and would be unlikely to understand.

      Of all the world’s -isms, Hinduism is probably the least -ist or –istic. But it is a useful term and concept, especially when referring to those on the nationalist right in India, who are less fussy than me about these things, and are happy to use the word in polemic, as a distinction from everyone else in the world, and particularly from forces they think are oppressing them.