The Aryan Invasion Theory and Hindu Politics

The Aryan Invasion Theory
The Aryan Invasion Theory and Hindu Politics

by Dr. David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)

A recent Western academic paper argues that the Aryan invasion theory is wrong and that there is an indigenous development of civilization in India going back to at least 6000 BCE (Mehrgarh). It proposes that the great Harappan or Indus Valley urban culture (2600 - 1900 BCE), which it notes was centered on the Sarasvati river of Vedic fame, had much in common with Vedic literary accounts. It states that the Harappan culture came to an end not because of outside invaders but owing to environmental changes, most important of which was the drying up of the Sarasvati. It argues further that the movement of populations away from the Sarasvati to the Ganges, after the Sarasvati dried up (c. 1900 - 1300 BCE), was also reflected in the literature. It thereby proposes a complete continuity of cultural development in India revealed both through archaeology and through ancient Indian literature.

Perhaps more shockingly, the article states that the Aryan invasion theory reflects colonialism and Eurocentrism and is quite out of date. Such statements echo those about ancient India that various Hindus have been making since Sri Aurobindo nearly a century ago. Note the conclusion of the long article. The ie. notes and emphases were added by me.

"That the archaeological record and ancient oral and literate traditions of South Asia (ie. the Vedic tradition) are now converging has significant implications for regional cultural history. A few scholars have proposed that there is nothing in the 'literature' firmly placing the Indo-Aryans, the generally perceived founders of the modern South Asian cultural tradition(s), outside of South Asia, and now the archaeological record is confirming this. Within the context of cultural continuity described here, an archaeologically significant indigenous discontinuity occurs due to ecological factors (ie. the drying up of the Sarasvati river). This cultural discontinuity was a regional population shift from the Indus Valley, in the west, to locations east and southeast, a phenomenon also recorded in ancient oral (ie. Vedic) traditions. As data accumulates to support cultural continuity in South Asian prehistoric and historic periods, a considerable restructuring of existing interpretive paradigms must take place. We reject most strongly the simplistic historical interpretations, which date back to the eighteenth century, that continue to be imposed on South Asian culture history. These still prevailing interpretations are significantly diminished by European ethnocentrism, colonialism, racism, and antisemitism. Surely, as South Asian studies approaches the twenty-first century, it is time to describe emerging data objectively rather than perpetuate interpretations without regard to the data archaeologists have worked so hard to reveal."

Is this the statement of a Hindu political ideologue? No, it is by a noted Western archaeologist specializing in ancient India, James Schaffer of Case Western University, who has nothing to do with Hindutva or even Hindu spirituality. It is part of his new article Migration,Philology and South Asian Archaeology soon to appear in Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia: Evidence, Interpretation andHistory, edited by J. Bronkhorst and M. Deshpande, University of Michigan Press 1998.

This article doesn't mean that Schaffer accepts a Hindu interpretation of history as a whole or that he is even aware of the political implications of this issue in India. He is simply stating his objective position based upon the evidence he sees as an archaeologist. It doesn't mean that all Western archaeologists have come to this conclusion, though most archaeologists in India like B.B. Lal, S.P. Gupta or S.R.Rao have argued similar points for several years now. But it does mean that views are changing and one can no longer reject those who question the Aryan invasion theory as academically unsound or politically motivated Hindus.

The archaeological record shows nothing like an Aryan invasion but rather an indigenous urban based culture on the Sarasvati that shifted to the Ganga after the Sarasvati dried up. This reflects the shift from theSarasvati based Vedic literature to the Ganga based Puranas.

The Aryan invasion theory, as Schaffer notes, arose from a Eurocentric view that was hostile to an Indic basis for Western civilization or peoples. The discovery of close affinities between the Indo-European languages in the eighteenth century required an explanation. By placing the original Aryans in Europe, who later migrated to India where they got absorbed by the indigenous population, it took away any need to connect the ancient Europeans with India, which was not pleasing to the colonial mindset of the time. The theory eventually developed an antisemetic tone. It was used to trace Western culture not to the Jews and their Biblical accounts but to an proposed European homeland dominated by Nordic peoples. Thus the invasion theory eventually became one of the pillars for Nazi historians (yet strangely the communists in India have become strong supporters of the theory and accuse those who question it of being fascists!).

Unfortunately some scholars today, particularly Indian leftists, argue that the rejection of the Aryan invasion theory is just a political ploy of Hindu fanatics.They point out how Hindu texts like the Vedas and Puranas, though mentioning different regions and rulers, contain many fanciful and unscientific ideas. How therefore can we take their history seriously? They fail to note that all ancient accounts like the Bible, Egyptian, Greek, or Sumerian records have their mythic and legendary elements and this is not used to so completely reject them. They similarly argue that Hindus today have many fanciful ideas about history, like placing the events of the Ramayana over a million years ago, as if this barred any Hindus from ever having valid historical notions.

Such scholars, who clearly have as much modern political as ancient historical concerns themselves, highlight how important Hindu nationalists like Savarkar and Golwalkar argued against the invasion theory. They are afraid that the rejection of the Aryan invasion theory will help pro-Hindu forces to stress the indigenous nature of Hinduism in India, which could be used to brand other religious groups asforeign and anti-national. Particularly they are afraid that it could be used to make Islam an intrusive invader religion and become a pretext to oppress the Islamic minority in the country.

Since some Hindu nationalists like Golwalkar who argued against the invasion theory (though he never claimed to be an historian) had strange ideas like trying to place the north pole in India in the early Aryan period, these Hinduphobic scholars would like us to believe that anyone who rejects the Aryan invasion must have similar unsound ideas about history, as well as a political bias, and therefore must be without credibility. They also project the idea that the Aryan invasion theory has somehow proved itself, though there is as yet no real archaeological evidence for it and all such proposed evidence, like Wheeler's massacre at Mohenjodaro, have themselves been disproved as fanciful.

That the Aryan invasion theory itself has been persistently used to promote anti-Hindu politicalagendas is similarly ignored. The invasion theory has been used like a stick to beat Hindus for the last two hundred years (some of these same scholars who are rasing the political bogey about the rejection of the theory have used it to attack Hinduism themselves). That Hindus might use the demise of the theory fortheir own benefit is only to be expected and is perhaps little more than getting even or restoring balance on these issues.

The British used the theory to discredit any indigenous civilization in the subcontinent, which was seen as succumbing to various waves of invaders from the West, making for a patchwork culture derived from outside influences. This made the British rule seem just another and perhaps necessary phase of a long invasionist saga.

The communists used the Aryan Invasion theory as the basis for their history of India, substituting the caste war of the Brahmin invaders from Central Asia for the European class war model. Dravidian nationalists used it to their advantage, claiming an older purer Dravidian culture that was different from that of the Aryan invaders fromthe north. The Dalits used it to identify themselves with the original inhabitants of the country enslaved by the invading Brahmin dominated Aryans. Christian and Islamic groups have used it to brand the Hindu Rishis as primitive poets leading nomadic hordes, making the Vedas, the scriptures of Hinduism, as withoutany real spirituality! In fact, there is probably no other theory of ancient history that has been used with such blatant political intent or missionary aggression. The theory has even been used by some scholars to make the Yoga tradition or such systems as Tantra, Shaivism, Samkhya, Buddhism and Jainism non-Aryan (though, for example, original Buddhism calls itself 'AryaDharma').

Given this scenario any group would use the demise of such a hostile theory to reclaim value for their own traditions. But to use any possible advantage that Hindus may derive from this historical revindication as a grounds to reject it is ridiculous.

The recent ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) controversy comes in to play here. The new BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government, which has pro-Hindu sympathies, dismissed the old council members whose term was up,which was dominated by leftists and communists (including anumber of self-proclaimed Stalinists). In their place it appointed scholars whose academic credentials were sound but who did not subscribe to leftist views and generally did not accept the Aryan invasion theory. The leftists cried foul and protested about a possible Hindu rewriting or distorting of history for political ends. They attacked senior scholars like B.B. Lal and branded his scholarship defective because he rejected the Aryan invasion theory, dismissing his forty years of work in the field as without basis. They projected anyone who questioned the invasionist scenario as a Hindu fundamentalist and academically suspect.

By the same logic they ought to put Schaffer in this category. That some Indian archaeologists may be Hindus and find pride in discoveries that give antiquity to Hindu culture in India is not an adequate basis to reject their archeological work. Western archaeologists have long used their discoveries to find pride or justification for their Greek,Christian or Judaic traditions. They are not banned from archeology for doing so.

Hindus might abuse the new historical scenario, just as other groups have already long abused the old idea. But this is no reason to reject the new data of history. The fact is that we use history to reflect or promote various cultural, political or religious views. History as a human factor cannot be viewed in a totally neutral cultural light. The very importance of history is that it provides information on which we can build various interpretations of civilization not only relative to the past but to the present and future as well. Of course, we must be aware of the viewpoint, which may be a bias, of the historian and try to separate that from historical facts, which may have other possible interpretations.

Certainly Hindus can find much consolation in the new archaeological data. It corroborates the Vedic historical record and shows a great Certainly Hindus can find much consolation in the new archaeological data. It corroborates the Vedic historical record and shows a great urban culture, the Harappan, to go along with this magnificent literary tradition of the Vedas. The looming demise of the Aryan invasion theory is not a Hindu political ploy. There is much archaeological and literary evidence against it which continues to grow on a daily basis andhas moved far behind the sphere of faithful Hindus. Schaffer's work shows this quite clearly.



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