The often perceived and frequently quoted racial division in India between the fairer Aryan North and the darker Dravidian South is pernicious and dangerous. The British gave currency to this view of racial divide in India. It was part of their “divide and rule” strategy. The Northern people in India got especially sucked into this interpretation of history because it made the “Aryan” northerners appear racially closer to the white races of Europe. This viewpoint is also popular in Sri Lanka. The Singhalese believe that they are the descendants of Aryans from the North of India.
This short article summarizes recent scholarship on the Aryan invasion theory. New studies reject the view that Aryans entered India from the outside. They also reject the notion that the Dravidian people were the conquered races, or that the Dravidians were pushed down south by the invading Aryans.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), a scholar of Latin and Greek as well as of Sanskrit, debunked this theory of the North-South racial divide in India. He disagreed with the theory that the languages of North and South India are unrelated. Sri Aurobindo’s study of Tamil led him to discover that the original connection between the Sanskrit and Tamil languages was “far closer and more extensive than is usually supposed.” These languages are “two divergent families derived from one lost primitive tongue.” And, “My first study of Tamil words had brought me to what seemed a clue to the very origins and structure of the ancient Sanskrit tongue.” (The Secret of the Veda, V 10, Centenary Edition, p 36, 46). Aurobindo also noted that a large part of the vocabulary of the South Indian languages - Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam - is common with Sanskrit.
Hindus collectively have no memory of an Aryan invasion of India that supposedly took place around 1,500 B.C. Hindu epics do not mention any such invasion. Surely, the extensive Hindu literature would describe the Aryan invasions if such had indeed taken place. Swami Vivekananda remarked: “As for the truth of these theories, there is not one word in our scriptures, not one, to prove that the Aryan ever came from anywhere outside of India, and in ancient India was included Afghanistan. There it ends.” (Collected Works, Vol. 3).
Some people misread Ramayana as describing an invasion of the South by a Northern prince. The Indian epic Ramayana narrates Rama’s invasion of the Island of Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita. Sita had been forcibly abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. Nowhere does Ramayana characterize Ravana as belonging to an alien or an inferior race. Ravana was a Brahmin and a scholar of the four Vedas, a chaturvedi. Ravana belonged to the same stock as the victorious Rama.
People who give credence to an Aryan invasion of India cite archeological evidence as proof. Among the thousands of clay seals that have been found in the region of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, supposedly the home originally of the Dravidian people), no seals depict the horse or the wheel. In contrast, Aryans were known to have the horse and the chariot. From this evidence it is concluded that the Aryans conquered the people of the Indus valley through the use of the chariot and the horse. K.D. Sethna in his book cited below disputes this evidence. Some seals depicting the wheel have indeed been discovered at the Harappan archeological sites. This evidence however is contested by others.
The recent discovery of the dried-up Saraswati River further negates the Aryan invasion theory. Satellite photography from outer space shows the existence of a dried-up river bed in Northern India. The archeological evidence indicates that the river dried up completely about 1900 B.C., much before 1,500 B.C., the date ascribed to Aryan invasions. Saraswati is mentioned numerous times in the Vedic scriptures of the Aryans, indicating that these people lived in India during very ancient times.
Recent DNA evidence further negates the Aryan invasion theory. Advances in genetics make it possible to show ancient migrations. It is generally accepted that modern man arose in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. From there, they spread to India about 90,000 years ago taking the southern route to Yemen, Sindh and the Indus region. In India, they multiplied and spread to other parts of Asia and Europe. The research is reported in Stephen Oppenheimer, The Real Eve.
If Africa is the cradle of mankind, India is its nursery. Dr. Subhash Kak summarizes recent research as follows:
“The new findings turn on its head the previous view of the origin of Indians. The earlier view, popular in Indian history books, was that the Indian population came in two waves from the northwest around four or five thousand years ago, displacing the earlier aboriginals, descendants of regional archaic groups…
“The new view is that subsequent to the rise of modern mankind in Africa, it found a second home in India, which is the point of migration for the populations of Europe, North Africa, China and Japan. The migrants in India slowly adapted to the wide climatic conditions in the sub-continent (from the tropical to the extreme cold of the Himalayan region) leading to the rise of the Caucasoid and the Mongoloid races….”
“When the theory of the Aryan invasions into India is replaced by an “Out of India” viewpoint, one can readily explain regularities in languages that are spread widely. Linguists see connections between India and languages that extend to distant lands”. [Dr. Kak’s full article was originally published at: Sulekha.com].
An invasion of India from the outside around 1,500 B. C. did not occur. Recent scholarship does not deny that the people in India had relations with other Indo-European people in Asia and Europe. There was a belt stretching from India to the Mediterranean inhabited by a people who spoke related languages, known as the Indo-European languages. Sanskrit is the oldest known language in this family and may appropriately be called as the Mother of Indo-European languages. English is an Indo-European language. Those who seek to foster the unity of India need to emphasize a correct view of history based on recent scholarship rather than parrot old discarded theories.
India was divided into various kingdoms and principalities throughout much of its history. Culturally, however, it was a single unit. In the great cultural and religious history of India, important contributions have come forth from every region in the nation. The vast Ganga-Jamuna plain in the North of India is the ancient heartland of Hinduism. This is the seat of Ayodhya, Mathura and Vrindavan (UP), Kurukshetra (Haryana), and Indraprastha (Delhi). The Great Mahabharata war was fought in the northern plains.
The 8th to the 13th century revival in Hinduism originated in the South. Shankaracharya from Kerala laid the foundation of modern day Hinduism. Shankara trekked all over India and established centers of teaching and learning in various parts of the country. Shankara wrote extensive commentaries on Brahma Sutras, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which are standard texts for Hindus. Ramanuja from Tamilnadu and Madhava from Karnataka initiated the Bhakti movement, which spread to both North and South. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, Mirabai from Rajasthan, Tulsidas from UP, Guru Nanak from Punjab, Jnaneshwar from Maharashtra, Jaideva (author of Gita Govinda) from Orissa, have all contributed to Hindu religion.
The four Hindu holy places and pilgrimage sites (tirthas, dhams) at Badri Nath, Rameswaram, Puri, and Dwarka are located in four comers of India: north, south, east and west. Every pious Hindu aspires to visit the four dhams in one’s lifetime. Some people equate Sanskrit with Hindi language and the Devanagri script. According to Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulum in Pennsylvania and a Sanskrit scholar, Sanskrit language originally did not have its own script. It was written in a variety of local scripts. The writing of Sanskrit in Devanagri script is a later development.
An Aryan invasion of India from the outside around 1,500 B. C. did not occur. People of North and South India have lived together in peace as two branches of one family since antiquity. People who talk of an Aryan conquest of India parrot the 19th century British viewpoint which is now discredited.
This short article only introduces the much debated topic of Aryan Invasions of India. For a more comprehensive treatment, visit one or more of the following:
- K.D. Sethna, The Problem of Aryan Origins, New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1980, 1992.
- Francois Gautier, Rewriting Indian History, New Delhi, Vikas Publishers, 1996.
- Michael Danino and Sujata Nahar, The Invasion That Never Was, Mira Aditi, 1996.
- David Frawley article in Rajiv Malhotra and A. Neelakandan, Breaking India, New Delhi: Amaryllis, 2011, Chs 3, 6.
- Stephen Oppenheimer, The Real Eve: Modern Man’s Journey out of Africa, 2004.
- Stephen Knapp’s articles can be found on Google.
- Shrikant Talageri has provided the most definitive analysis of this topic. Google his videos.
The author is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of West Florida, USA, by Shree Madan Lal Goel Ji.