The ancient Aryan race has created enough curiosity in the minds of people as there are many countries claiming to be the original Aryan race. There must be something significant about this race because of which many countries claim to have acquired its lineage. Meanwhile, the popular theory that Aryans entered India from Africa or Europe is losing ground due to lack of scientific or archeological evidence.
The evidence from the latest studies now focuses on two basic conclusions: first, the Aryan invasion didn’t occur at all; and second, the Rig-Vedic people did settle in India around 4000 B.C. Then why do we account for the continued presence of the Aryan invasion story in our history books and encyclopedias even till today? Some of the outcomes – for instance, historian N. Jha’s decrypted form of the Indus script – are comparatively recent, and it is perhaps unrealistic to expect all the latest findings from our history books. But regrettably, influential Indian educators and historians maintain their resistance against all revisions to uphold the racist values of the Aryan invasion theory. Despite the fact that, the Aryan-Dravidian division is more of a linguistic phenomenon; its roots are, by all odds, racial and political.
Literal meaning of ‘Arya’ in Indian Scriptures
The word ‘Arya’ in Sanskrit means ‘noble’, which has been unfortunately misinterpreted as ‘race’. As a matter of fact, Amarakosa, the reliable Sanskrit lexicon (c. 450 AD), provides the following definition:
mahakula kulinarya sabhya sajjana sadhavah
Translated as – An Arya is the one who belongs to a noble family, shows gentle behavior; is good-natured; and of moral conduct.
And the great epic Ramayana has an unusual eloquent phrase depicting Rama as:
arya sarva samascaiva sadaiva priyadarsanah
Translated as – An Arya, who worked for the equality of all and was dear to everyone.
The Rigveda also uses the word ‘Arya’ around thirty-six times, but never described it as any race. The closest definition of ‘Arya’ that one can find in the Rigveda is perhaps:
praja arya jyotiragrah …
Translated as – Children of Arya are led by light (RV, VII. 33.17)
Here, the word ‘light’ should be taken in the spiritual sense to mean ‘enlightenment’. The word Arya, was originally used for those who used to observe a moral code of conduct; people were either Aryans or non-Aryans depending on whether or not they followed this conduct. This concept is sincerely mentioned in the Manusmriti or the Manudharma Shastra (X.43-45):
In the past, owing to some religious negligence and omission of holy rites, as prescribed by the sages, the below mentioned Arya Kshatriyas of the noble class had been degraded to the lowest class and they were,
- Kiratas and
A couple of points, related to the above fact, are worth mentioning –
1. First of all, their degradation from the prestigious Aryan fold has got nothing to do with the race, caste or creed; their ruining was owing to their failure in performing the holy rites as commanded by the sages.
2. Secondly, the list of Arya Kshatriyas as mentioned above includes people from various neighboring countries including China and Persia or Pahlavas. For instance –
– Kambojas are from West Punjab,
– Yavanas are from Afghanistan, and
– Dravidas are most probably from the southwest of India.
Thus, it can be said that the modern notion of the Aryan-Dravidian racial split purely disagrees with the ancient records. Some modern scientists also opine that earlier Dravidians and even Chinese were crucial parts of the Aryans.
Again, the concept of the race came into the scene only after arrival of the Europeans who adopted the ancient word ‘Aryan’, calling it a race, so as to suit their political and nationalistic aspirations. However, this modern European invention has not got any support from the ancient sources. It is also said that the European concept was more of an anachronism than anything else.
Hence, it can be said that performing certain code of conduct only form the basis of the Aryan fold as this Vedic civilization was driven by values and principles than anything else. Living up to the standards of the Vedic morals formed the basis of the ancient people. Vedic literature like the Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Puranas and even the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are the recorded examples of these moral conduct and values.
Hence, on the basis of the above justifications, calling the Aryan a type of race is a complete absurdity, a status which can be achieved by sheer caliber and not by any imposition or proselytization.
On a final note, the Aryans were the ones who created the great civilization for making this world a better place to live in. The term is pertinent for people from all walks of life – irrespective of their background and nationalism – who could uphold the values as set by the Aryans with their great ideals and convictions.
Origin of the Myth
It is concluded by the historians that, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Indian educational authorities are continuously propagating this obsolete fiction which degrades and divides her people. It is unfair to proliferate and disperse a version that hardly has any scientific basis. Allowing the political biases to take precedence over the truth is equally not justified, claim scholars and historians alike.
The most important fact about the Aryans who lived in India around thousands years earlier is that they lived in India peacefully and passed on their rich art and culture to the generations to come. But, this statement is in alignment with other two points as mentioned in Indian literary and archeological records –
- The Aryans settlements in India could not be linked to any race and
- The theory describing Aryans as foreigners, who reined India after destroying the existing Harappan Civilization, is quite baseless and supported only by the European invention.
Formulation of the theory
It’s better to go back to the 18th and 19th century to understand how the misuse of the word Arya (as a separate race) started taking place in the Europe, especially Germany. In fact, it has its roots in the European anti-Semitism. Famous researchers and scholars like Shaffer, Poliakov and many others have asserted that in order to set themselves free from the taint of Judaism and Jewish heritage, Europeans started linking the origins of the western culture to the Indian Aryans. As quoted by Shaffer, “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.”
Hence, the European became the original Aryans of the world. Over a period of time, even leading historians and archeologists started believing that the white race which came down from the Asian mountains and banks of Ganges became Christians and colonized the European land. As a result, the studies and philosophies including astronomy, metempsychosis astrology etc. also acquired Aryan origins. Later, the theory of the Aryan invasion and colonization of Europe became the popular Aryan invasion theory of India.
Amid the rising tide of nationalism and climate of alienation, it is quite obvious that German intellects should have sought solace in the south Asian land of India, so rich in its culture and ethnicity. Some of the greatest German intellects of the era like Humbolt, Schopenhauer, Frederick and Wilhem Schlegel, and many others were students of Indian literature and philosophy. Hegel, the great philosopher who deeply influenced the German nationalistic values, was also quoted as saying that the Germans were students of Indian sages. Simultaneously, Humbolt also supported similar thought and was found saying in 1827: “The Bhagavad-Gita is perhaps the loftiest and the deepest thing that the world has to show.”
How did the British twist the theory?
The involvement of Germans in Indian affairs was entirely emotional and romantic in essence; but, the British interest, on the other hand, was quite practical. Albeit there were intellectuals like Jones and Colebrooke who were pure admirers of Indian literature. During the 1857 British political turmoil in India, it was well understood by the Britons that their rule in India could not sustain without the Indian collaborators. Recognizing the fact, British high-ranking authorities like Thomas Babbington Macaulay, the then Education Board Chairman, sought to establish an educational system molded to serve the British purpose of undermining the age-old Hindu tradition.
Apparently, Macaulay’s main aim was to belittle the age-old Hindu tradition and instill amongst its people the spirit of Christianity. His plan indeed worked very well, as many Hindus – especially the upper class Brahmins – during those times, turned Christians and, in turn, became Britain’s collaborators.
Macaulay, for his political pursuits, also decided to get translated reliable Indian scriptures, most importantly the Vedas, so that when the Indian elite read and compare them with the Bible, they prefer the latter one. When Macaulay returned to England he handed over this crucial task to Friedrich Max Müller, a talented yet indigent German Vedic scholar. Macaulay also collected funds from the East India Company so that the poor scholar could revise and translate the Rigveda without any hindrances.
Max Müller was definitely committed to his work and he took vital initiatives in the translation of the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary. Müller later also edited the Sacred Books of the East, a fifty-volume set of English translations of Asian religious texts, published by the Oxford University Press amid 1879 to 1910 AD.
Writing to his wife in 1866 Max Müller said:
“It [the Rigveda] is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”
Aryan Invasion Theory – Racial or Linguistic
Nevertheless, Max Müller later renounced the racial angle given to the Aryan theory, claiming it to more of a linguistic concept. Obviously, this change in thought came as a result of changing European politics in the late 19th century. When German unification occurred in the year 1871, following the victory of Prussia in Franco-Prussian war, Germany acquired the strongest positions amongst all Western European countries. British Indian authorities were assured of the fact that Sanskrit studies bore major impact on the German unification. Former Vice Chancellor of University of Calcutta and political advisor, Sir Henry Maine, had said “A nation has been born out of Sanskrit.”
However, the above statement was definitely an exaggeration of the facts related to the German inclination towards the Indian heritage. During German unification, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) emerged out as one of the most influential European political leader with expansionist policies. However, his statesmanship was highly condemned by the people of England. Max Müller, during that period, was settled in England working on his projects on Vedas and the Sacred Books of the East. He had no choice but to divert his earlier theory on Aryan invasion from a racial to a linguistic phenomenon.
German unification occurred in the year 1871, and the very next year, i.e. in 1872, Friedrich Max Müller was found marching in the German occupied France University to denounce the doctrine of Aryan race as proposed by the Germans.
Thus, Max Müller who was a staunch supporter of the Aryan race theory for the first 25 years of his profession remained opposed to it for the remaining 30 years of his lifetime. Those who aren’t quite familiar with the Aryan history today remember Max Müller for his second role.
Thanks to the more recent findings of V.S. Wakankar (on Vedic River Saraswati), and decipherment of Jha’s (on Indus script), as understanding the Vedic Age has become much easier. The creators and advocates of the Aryan invasion theory could not, any further, baffle the minds of today’s Indians.