Indian History Revisited ~ David Frawley
Most people in India today have been led to believe that the Vedic Aryans were the first invaders of the country. They have been the image of the Aryan hordes pouring down the passes of Afghanistan on horseback, destroying the indigenous urban Harappan culture that was Dravidian in nature. Even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru subscribed to this view and it remains in textbooks in India today.
That there was no record of such an event in ancient Indian records, north or south, was ignored. That this theory never managed to prove itself was disregarded. Recently, however, the Aryan invasion idea is becoming rejected worldwide in light of new archaeological evidence that contradicts it. However, Indian secular and Leftist thinkers like to denigrate any questioning of the invasion theory as Hindu fundamentalist propaganda.
A recent academic paper argues that there is an indigenous development of civilisation in India going back to at least 6000 BCE (Mehrgarh). It proposes that the great Harappan or Indus Valley urban culture (2600-1900 BCE), centred on the Saraswati 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 Saraswati. It argues further that the movement of populations away from the Saraswati to the Ganges, after the Saraswati dried up (c 1900 BCE), was reflected in the literature with Vedic Saraswati based literature giving way to Puranic texts extolling the Ganga. Perhaps more shockingly, the paper states that the Aryan invasion theory reflects colonialism and Eurocentrism and is quite out of date. Note the conclusion:
“That the archaeological record and ancient oral and literate traditions of south Asia 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 outside of south Asia, and now the archaeological record is confirming this.
“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 anti-semitism. Surely, as south Asian studies approach 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 Hindutva fanatic? No, it is by a noted Western archaeologist specialising in ancient India, James Schaffer of Case Western University as part of his new article, ‘Migration, Philology and South Asian Archaeology’, soon to appear in Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia: Evidence, Interpretation and History, edited by Bronkhorst and Deshpande, University of Michigan Press.
The Aryan invasion theory, as Schaffer notes, arose from a Eurocentric view that was hostile to an Indic basis for Western civilisation 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. The theory eventually developed an anti-semetic tone. It was used to trace Western culture not to the Jews and their Biblical accounts but to a proposed European homeland dominated by Nordic peoples. Thus the invasion theory 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!.
Archaeologist Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin, who is in charge of the Indus Valley display that is touring American museums, has similar views as related in an article on the ‘Indus Valley: Secrets of a Civilisation in Wisconsin Fall 1998′:
“If previous scholars were wrong about the origin of the Indus people, they also missed the boat when it came to explaining their downfall, which they attributed to an invasion by Indo-Aryan speaking Vedic tribes from the northwest.” This theory has now been ruled out by the lack of archaeological evidence. Instead, says Kenoyer, “it’s likely that the rivers dried up and shifted their courses, altering trade routes and undermining the economy.”
Kenoyer is also now arguing that the Indus script can be traced to 3300 BCE, making it as old as an Sumerian records of writing. The skeletal record confirms that same data as archaeology as Kenneth Kennedy notes in ‘Have Aryans Been Identified in the Prehistoric Skeletal Record from South Asia’ appearing in The Indo-Aryans of South Asia (Walter de Gruyter 1995). No such Aryan skeletons have ever been found as different from indigenous ethnic groups.
“All prehistoric human remains recovered from the Indian subcontinent are phenotypically identifiable as south Asians. Furthermore their biological continuity with living peoples of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the border regions is well established across time and space. Assumptions that blondism, blue-grey eyes and light skin pigmentation are physical hallmarks of either ancient Aryans or of members of brahmin and other social groups in modern south Asia, find their origins in the improper marriage of excerpts from Vedic texts with nineteenth century Germanic nationalistic writings.”
Most archaeologists in India like B B Lal, S P Gupta or S R Rao have argued similar points for several years. At a recent conference in Los Angeles in August, sponsored by the World Association for Vedic Studies (WAVES), Lal argued convincingly the same points in an excellent paper called the ‘Myth of the Aryan Invasion: Some Reflections on the Authorship of the Harappan Culture’. Unfortunately, Indian Leftists called B B Lal’s recent book The Oldest Civilisation in South Asia as “academically weak and unscholarly,” though he is only relating the implications of the latest archaeology. How many of these people ever read Lal’s book or the related archaeological studies is debatable.
Yet even a Communist historian in India like Romila Thapar, who previously endorsed the invasion theory has been forced to backtrack and no longer emphasises it. She recently notes in a Frontline interview: “Introducing archaeological data into historical studies also forces historians to think along interdisciplinary lines. The decline of the Indus cities is attributed to a range of causes, of which ecological change is among the major ones.”
The Aryan invasion theory has been used to promote various political agendas. British, Communist, Dravidian and dalit groups have all used it to their advantage, as have Muslim and Christian missionaries portraying the invading Aryans as the bad guys and the invasion as the source of all social, political and religious problems in the country. No other theory of ancient history has been used for so much modern political and religious mileage. That such groups are blaming Hindus for politicising the issue now that it is turning against them is only hypocrisy.
Regardless of one’s political views, the Aryan invasion theory is falling into the dustbin of history. India as a civilisation has as much continuity both in terms of its ethnic groups and its literary record. In fact a new claim for India as the cradle of civilisation may be possible with further archaeological finds. Rather than a history of invasions, there is an indigenous development of a civilisation with distinctive features that can be traced back to the beginnings of agriculture and cattle rearing in the region. A great history is there that needs to be reclaimed and reinterpreted as an integral whole. A new history of India needs to be written that recognises this monumental heritage. A good place to start improving and Indianising the educational system in the country would be to correct this misconception which puts the entire history of the region on a wrong foundation.
Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedic and yogic scholar who has been at the forefront of the new historical view on ancient India. His books on ancient India include Gods, Sages and Kings and In Search of the Cradle of Civilization (with Kak and Feuerstein). His web site is http://www.vedanet.com/.
Photo by Kevin Standage