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History of India – The Vedic Age (3)

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II. The Aryan Invasion Theory

A. The Captivation of the Indian Mind by the European Scholarship of the Past Few Centuries

“The successes of European science have cast the shadow of their authority and prestige over the speculations of European scholarship; for European thought is, in appearance, a serried army marching to world-conquest and we who undergo the yoke of its tyranny, we, who paralysed by that fascination and overborne by that domination, have almost lost the faculty of thinking for ourselves, receive without distinction all its camp followers or irregular volunteers as authorities to whom we must needs submit.”1

The above was written about a hundred years ago and it is still true to a great extent because, “The triumphant & rapid march of the physical sciences in Europe has so mastered our intellects and dazzled our eyes, that we are apt to extend the unquestioned finality which we are accustomed to attach to the discoveries & theories of modern Science, to all the results of European research & intellectual activity. Even in Europe itself, we should remember, there is no such implicit acceptance. The theories of today are there continually being combated and overthrown by the theories of tomorrow. Outside the range of the physical sciences & even in some portions of that splendid domain the whole of European knowledge is felt more & more to be a mass of uncertain results ephemeral in their superstructure, shifting in their very foundations. For the Europeans have that valuable gift of intellectual restlessness which, while it often stands in the way of man’s holding on to abiding truth, helps him to emerge swiftly out of momentarily triumphant error. In India on the other hand we have fallen during the last few centuries into a fixed habit of unquestioning deference to authority. We used to hold it, & some still hold it almost an impiety to question Shankara’s interpretation of the Upanishads, or Sayana’s interpretation of the Veda, and now that we are being torn out of this bondage, we fall into yet more absurd error by according if not an equal reverence, yet an almost equal sense of finality to the opinions of Roth & Max Muller. We are ready to accept all European theories, the theory of an ‘Aryan’ colonisation of a Dravidian India, the theory of the Nature-worship and henotheism of the Vedic Rishis, the theory of the Upanishads as a speculative revolt against Vedic materialism & ritualism, as if these hazardous speculations were on a par in authority & certainty with the law of gravitation and the theory of evolution. We are most of us unaware that in Europe it is disputed and very reasonably disputed whether, for instance, any such entity as an Aryan race ever existed. The travail of dispute & uncertainty in which the questions of Vedic scholarship & ethnology are enveloped is hidden from us; only the over-confident statement of doubtful discoveries and ephemeral theories reaches our knowledge.”2

“To us who are dominated today by the prestige of European thought and scholarship, the Vedas are a document of primitive barbarism, the ancient Vedanta a mass of sublime but indisciplined speculations. We may admit the existence of many deep psychological intuitions in the Upanishads; we do not easily allow to an age which we have been taught to regard as great but primitive and undeveloped the possibility of a profound and reasoned system in a subject in which Europe with all her modern scientific knowledge has been unable to develop a real science. I believe that this current view of those Vedic forefathers is entirely erroneous and arises from our application to them of a false system of psychological and intellectual values. Europe has formed certain views about the Veda and the Vedanta, and succeeded in imposing them on the Indian intellect. The ease with which this subjugation has been effected is not surprising; for the mere mass of labour of Vedic scholarship has been imposing, its ingenuity of philological speculation is well calculated to dazzle the uncritical mind and the audacity and self-confidence with which it constructs its theories conceals the conjectural uncertainty of their foundations? When a hundred world-famous scholars cry out, ‘This is so’, it is hard indeed for the average mind, and even minds above the average but inexpert in these special subjects not to acquiesce. Nor has there been any corresponding labour of scholarship, diligence and sound enquiry which could confront the brilliant and hazardous generalisations of modern Sanskrit scholarship with the results of a more perfect system and a more penetrating vision. The only attempt in that direction, – the attempt of Swami Dayananda, – has not been of a kind to generate confidence in the dispassionate judgment of posterity which must be the final arbiter of these disputes; for not only was that great Pandit and vigorous disputant unequipped with the wide linguistic and philological scholarship necessary for his work, but his method was rapid, impatient, polemical, subservient to certain fixed religious ideas rather than executed in the calm, disinterested freedom of the careful and impartial thinker and scholar. Judgment has focused on the Veda and Vedanta by default in favour of the scholastic criticism of Europe which has alone been represented in the court of modern opinion.

Nevertheless a time must come when the Indian mind will shake off the darkness that has fallen upon it, cease to think or hold opinions at second and third hand and reassert its right to judge and enquire in a perfect freedom into the meaning of its own Scriptures.

When that day comes we shall, I think, discover that the imposing fabric of Vedic theory is based upon nothing more sound or true than a foundation of loosely massed conjectures. We shall question many established philological myths, – the legend, for instance, of an Aryan invasion of India from the north, the artificial and inimical [?] distinction of Aryan and Dravidian which an erroneous philology has driven like a wedge into the unity of the homogenous Indo-Afghan race; the strange dogma of a ‘henotheistic’ Vedic naturalism; the ingenious and brilliant extravagances of the modern sun and star myth weavers, and more … the hasty and attractive generalisation which, after a brief period of unquestioning acceptance by the easily-persuaded intellect of mankind, is bound to depart into the limbo of forgotten theories.”3

“With the acceptance of.. modern opinions Hinduism ought by this time to have been as dead among educated men as the religion of the Greeks & Romans. It should at best have become a religio Pagana, a superstition of ignorant villagers. It is, on the contrary, stronger & more alive, fecund & creative than it had been for the previous three centuries. To a certain extent this unexpected result may be traced to the high opinion in which even European opinion has been compelled to hold the Vedanta philosophy, the Bhagavat Gita and some of the speculations – as the Europeans think them or, as we hold, the revealed truths of the Upanishads. But although intellectually we are accustomed in obedience to Western criticism to base ourselves on the Upanishads & Gita and put aside Purana and Veda as mere mythology & mere ritual, yet in practice we live by the religion of the Puranas & Tantras even more profoundly & intimately than we live by & realise the truths of the Upanishads. In heart & soul we still worship Krishna and Kali and believe in the truth of their existence. Nevertheless this divorce between the heart & the intellect, this illicit compromise between faith & reason cannot be enduring. If Purana & Veda cannot be rehabilitated, it is yet possible that our religion driven out of the soul into the intellect may wither away into the dry intellectuality of European philosophy or the dead formality & lifeless clarity of European Theism. It behoves us therefore to test our faith by a careful examination into the meaning of Purana & Veda and into the foundation of that truth which our intellect seeks to deny [but]our living spiritual experience continues to find in their conceptions. We must discover why it is that while our intellects accept only the truth of Vedanta, our spiritual experiences confirm equally or even more powerfully the truth of Purana. A revival of Hindu intellectual faith in the totality of the spiritual aspects of our religion, whether Vedic, Vedantic, Tantric or Puranic, I believe to be an inevitable movement of the near future.”4

It seems that – as was foreseen by Sri Aurobindo – we are on our way towards something like this because it seems that Indian scholars – except some whose minds have been utterly captivated by Western secular and leftist thought currents – are increasingly showing, “…a power of detachment and disinterestedness and a willingness to give up cherished notions under pressure of evidence, which are not common in Europe. They are not, as a rule, prone to the Teutonic sin of forming a theory in accordance with their prejudices and then finding facts or manufacturing inferences to support it. When therefore they form a theory on their own account, it has usually some clear justification and sometimes an overwhelming array of facts and solid arguments behind it.”5

(To be continued…)

References:
1. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library 27, Page 180
2. Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research, April 1985, Pages 41-42
3. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library 27, Pages 182-83
4. Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research, December 1984, Pages 134-35
5. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 01, Page 284

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