II. The Aryan Invasion Theory
C. The Aryan Invasion Theory and the Background of European Colonial and Missionary Interest Behind Its Origins
(Continued from the previous Issue)
“When we open a history book used in our schools today, we find that it invariably begins with a description of the Indus Valley Civilization. It usually starts off with an account of the discovery of the two major sites Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, followed by a brief description of what was found there. We will also be told how this civilization went into decline and finally disappeared by 1500 BCE. The main cause of this disappearance, the reader is then informed, was the invasion of India by nomadic tribes from Central Asia called the Aryans. According to this account, these invading Aryans, who are said to have entered India through the passes in the northwest, fought and overcame the inhabitants of the Indus Valley and established themselves over much of North India. They are then said to have composed their literature, the most important of which is the Rigveda. The history of India begins in earnest with the records of the Aryans following their invasion.
…this scenario is somehow supported by linguistic evidence, namely, the fact that people of North India and South India speak languages from different families; North Indians speak Aryan languages while South Indians speak languages of the Dravidian family. Such a person may also be familiar with the usual account that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization, which in the popular mind is synonymous with the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were Dravidians whose civilization the invading Aryans destroyed. The invading Aryans were said to be blond and blue eyed while the Dravidians were said to be dark skinned. The evidence for this we are told is found in the Rigveda. All this one is also told has been reconstructed by great European scholars, notably Max Muller, believed by most educated Indians to be the greatest of them all. This invasion is said to have taken place around 1500 BCE, though one is not told the basis for this determination. The composition of the Vedas, according to this scenario, began about 1200 BCE or 1000 BCE, though once again, we are not told the basis for this.
From all of this it would be natural for one to conclude the Aryan invasion theory to be a careful reconstruction based on archaeology and historical linguistics. This however is not the case at all. The origins of the theory go back to eighteenth century Europe – and to the political, racial, religious and nationalistic forces that were then part of the scene. This was long before there was any Indus archaeology, and even before it was clearly recognized that Indian and European languages were related. We need to seek elsewhere for the origins of this theory.
The two most influential forces that went into creating this theory were European racism – especially anti-Semitism – and German nationalism. It was written into Indian history books by British educational authorities, but it was essentially a European and not a British creation. Comparative linguistics, let alone archaeology did not even exist at the time. In fact, comparative linguistics is largely the result of the European discovery of the Sanskrit tongue – without a doubt one of the most momentous discoveries in the history of linguistics. It is standing history on its head to now claim the theory to be the result of archaeology and comparative study of languages. If anything, Indus archaeology dramatically contradicts the invasion theory.
This theory had its origins in eighteenth century Europe but received its full embellishment only in the nineteenth century. It seemed to strike no one as odd – at least at the time – that this invasion by light skinned people of a land inhabited by dark skinned people, happened to be an exact replay of the contemporary European experience in colonizing Asia and Africa. Substituting European for Aryan, and Asian or African for Dravidian will give us a description of any of the numerous European colonial campaigns in Asia or Africa of the time. So according to this theory, the Aryans were carbon copies of European colonizers.”1
To serve the Christian Missionary and the colonial interests, the European scholars instinctively put together and gave expression to theories which served their interests by driving a wedge between the Indian people on the basis of differences in language and caste. Speaking about such theories in one of his lectures delivered in Madras in 1897, Swami Vivekananda said, “There is a theory that there was a race of mankind in Southern India called Dravidians, entirely differing from another race in Northern India called the Aryans, and that the Southern India Brâhmins are the only Aryans that came from the North, the other men of Southern India belong to an entirely different caste and race to those of Southern India Brahmins. Now I beg your pardon, Mr. Philologist, this is entirely unfounded. The only proof of it is that there is a difference of language between the North and the South. I do not see any other difference. We are so many Northern men here, and I ask my European friends to pick out the Northern and Southern men from this assembly. Where is the difference? A little difference of language. But the Brahmins are a race that came here speaking the Sanskrit language! Well then, they took up the Dravidian language and forgot their Sanskrit. Why should not the other castes have done the same? Why should not all the other castes have come one after the other from Northern India, taken up the Dravidian language, and so forgotten their own? That is an argument working both ways. Do not believe in such silly things….
Then there is the other idea that the Shudra caste are surely the aborigines. What are they? They are slaves. They say history repeats itself. The Americans, English, Dutch, and the Portuguese got hold of the poor Africans and made them work hard while they lived, and their children of mixed birth were born in slavery and kept in that condition for a long period. From that wonderful example, the mind jumps back several thousand years and fancies that the same thing happened here, and our archaeologist dreams of India being full of dark-eyed aborigines, and the bright Aryan came from – the Lord knows where. According to some, they came from Central Tibet, others will have it that they came from Central Asia. There are patriotic Englishmen who think that the Aryans were all red-haired. Others, according to their idea, think that they were all black-haired. If the writer happens to be a black-haired man, the Aryans were all black-haired. Of late, there was an attempt made to prove that the Aryans lived on the Swiss lakes. I should not be sorry if they had been all drowned there, theory and all. Some say now that they lived at the North Pole. Lord bless the Aryans and their habitations! 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. And the theory that the Shudra caste were all non-Aryans and they were a multitude, is equally illogical and equally irrational. It could not have been possible in those days that a few Aryans settled and lived there with a hundred thousand slaves at their command. These slaves would have eaten them up, made “chutney” of them in five minutes. The only explanation is to be found in the Mahâbhârata, which says that in the beginning of the Satya Yuga there was one caste, the Brahmins, and then by difference of occupations they went on dividing themselves into different castes, and that is the only true and rational explanation that has been given. And in the coming Satya Yuga all the other castes will have to go back to the same condition.”2
Of all the civilizations of the ancient world, India has preserved the most extensive records of its past and yet there is no suggestion of any such foreign invasion in Indian literature. Indian history and tradition have undergone serious willful distortions and misinterpretation due to the combination of a century and half of European colonialism and violent Muslim onslaughts going back nearly a thousand years. For example, the idea of the word “Arya” denoting race is a purely European innovation which has no support or basis in Indian tradition and literature. According to Amarkosh – the most authoritative source for classical Sanskrit words, a lexican dating about 500 AD – Arya is one who is of noble birth, of religious nature and gentle in behaviour and demeanor. According to Sri Aurobindo, “The word paÍi means dealer, trafficker, from paÍ (also pan,
Footnote: Sayana takes pan in Veda – to praise, but in one place he admits the sense of vyavahÀra, dealing. Action seems to me to be its sense in most passages. From paÍ in the sense of action we have the earlier names of the organs of action, pÀÍi, hand, foot or hoof, Lat. penis, cf. also pÀyu.
cf. Tamil paÍ, Greek ponos, labour) and we may perhaps regard the Panis as the powers that preside over those ordinary unillumined sense-activities of life whose immediate root is in the dark subconscient physical being and not in the divine mind. The whole struggle of man is to replace this action by the luminous working of mind and life which comes from above through the mental existence. Whoever thus aspires, labours, battles, travels, ascends the hill of being is the Aryan…”3
Thus the use of the word Arya to denote race is entirely a modern European innovation designed to serve the British colonial interest in India “…especially as a tool in making their rule acceptable to Indians. The idea was to convince the Indian elite to collaborate with the British by suggesting that they were long separated kinsmen brought together after 2000 years. A recent BBC report admitted as much (October 6, 2005):
It [Aryan invasion theory] gave a historical precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj, who could argue that they were transforming India for the better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of years earlier.
That is to say, the British presented themselves as a ‘new and improved brand of Aryans’ that were only completing the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. This is how the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it in the House of Commons in 1929:
Now, after ages, …the two branches of the great Aryan ancestry have again been brought together by Providence… By establishing British rule in India, God said to the British, “I have brought you and the Indians together after a long separation, …it is your duty to raise them to their own level as quickly as possible …brothers as you are…”Need we say more?”4
N.S. Rajaram and D. Frawley have written extensively on the various forces behind the AIT and Max Müller’s contributions to it. According to them, “Frederick Max Müller (1823-1901) is now generally regarded as probably the greatest Indologist of his generation and a peerless Vedic and Sanskrit scholar. He was neither, but circumstances favored him and he proved himself highly adaptable. He is also widely regarded as a great lover of India and Indian culture. His contribution to the study of Indian literature and religion was certainly significant – at least from a Western point of view. His approach to interpretation of the Rigveda however does not command today the same authority that it did a hundred years ago, at least among those who are prepared to go to the original. He was completely wrong as regards both history and chronology, and his ignorance of science led him to formulate interpretations that can only be called folklore. Yet the immense prestige that his name still commands, combined with near total ignorance of Sanskrit language and of the Vedas on the part of many modern Indologists and historians, has given his readings an authenticity bordering on infallibility. They continue to misguide scholars even today.
It was Max Müller more than anyone who is responsible for the fiction of the Aryan invasion theory and the absurdly late Vedic chronology – dating of the Rigveda to 1200 BCE. Under pressure from critics he later disowned his chronology admitting: “Whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000, 1500 or 2000 or 3000 B.C., no power on earth will ever determine!” But advocates of the Aryan invasion theory have chosen to ignore his later retraction, just as they have chosen to disregard his earlier racist formulations. …It is worth noting however that in his Vedic chronology, he was strongly influenced by the then current Biblical belief that the creation of the world took place at 9:00 AM on October 23, 4004 BCE!
…Assuming the date 4004 BCE for the creation of the world (as Max Müller did), leads to 2448 BCE as the date for the Biblical flood. Granting another thousand years for the waters to subside and for the soil to get dry enough for the Aryans to begin their invasion of India, we obtain c.1400 BCE for the event. Adding another 200 years before they could begin composing the Rigveda brings us right to Max Müller’s date of 1200 BCE. …he used a ghost story from Somadeva’s KathDsaritsDgara to claim support to this date.”5
Though he was not a missionary in the literal sense, Max Muller’s work was infused with the Christian missionary spirit. In 1868, he wrote to the Duke of Argyle, the then Secretary of State for India, “The missionaries have done far more than they themselves seem to be aware of, nay, much of the work which is theirs they would probably disclaim. The Christianity of our nineteenth century will hardly be the Christianity of India. But the ancient religion of India is doomed – and if Christianity does not step in, whose fault will it be?”6
Max Müller’s translation of the Veda was highly motivated but he never openly expressed it except in intimate private letters such as the one written to his wife in December 1866, “I hope I shall finish that work, and I feel convinced, though I shall not live to see it, that this edition of mine and the translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India, and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion, and to show them what that root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung up from it during the last three thousand years”7
Another letter written by Max Muller ten years before the above leaves no doubt about his Christian missionary motives. Writing to Mr. Bunsen on 25.8.1856, He says, “….After the last annexation the territorial conquest of India ceases – what follows next is the struggle in the realm of religion and of spirit, in which, of course, centre the interests of the nations. India is much riper for Christianity than Rome or Greece were at the time of St. Paul. The rotten tree has for some time had artificial supports, because its fall would have been inconvenient for the Government. But if the Englishmen come to see that the tree must fall, sooner or later, then the thing is done, and he will mind no sacrifice either of blood or of land. For the good of this struggle I should like to lay down my life, or at least to lend my hand to bring about this struggle. Dhulip Singh is much at Court, and is evidently destined to play a political part in India. I wish I could get in touch with him in some quite natural way. Could it be managed with the help of Prince Albert or would you help me to it? I do not at all like to go to India as a missionary, that makes one dependent on the parsons; nor do I care to go as a Civil Servant, as that would make me dependent on the Government. I should like to live for ten years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in the work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching, that entrance which this teaching finds into every human heart, which is free from the ensnaring powers of priests and from the obscuring influence of philosophers. Whatever finds root in India soon overshadows the whole of Asia, and nowhere could the vital power of Christianity more gloriously realize itself than if the world saw it spring up there for a second time, in very different form than in the West, but still essentially the same.”8
Before the revolt of 1857, the British authorities actively encouraged the proselytizing activities of Christian missionaries. Not only religious zeal but colonial interests were behind this strategy. An important person in this regard was T.B. Macaulay (1800-1859) – an educationist who was instrumental in introducing the English language and along with it a European Christian bias in the Indian education system which has not only continued unabated even after independence in 1947 but has assumed a complete dominance during the past two decades. Macaulay hoped that the spread of English education among highly cultured Indians would be of great help in spreading Christianity and thereby to the British colonial administration of India. As the chairman of the Education Board, he was instrumental in establishing a network of English schools whose enthusiastic reception by Indians raised his hopes very high about the prospect of Christianity in India. In a letter to his father written in 1836 he says, “Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. We find it difficult, – indeed, in some places impossible, – to provide instructions for all who want it. At the single town of Hoogly fourteen hundred boys are learning English. The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. Some continue to profess it as a matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity. It is my firm belief that if, our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise; without the smallest interference with religious liberty; merely by the natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the prospects….”9
It is clear from the above that Macaulay firmly believed that, as a result of the English education, the development of the power of “knowledge and reflection” on the part of the Indians will make them give up their old beliefs in favour of Christianity. To assist this process, it was felt necessary to translate venerated Indian scriptures into English in such a way as to show the superiority of the New Testament to these. Max Muller was the man, among these available at that time, who was found most suitable for the task. Macaulay, along with some other influential people of the time, was instrumental in having the East India Company engage Max Muller for the translation of the Rigveda. When Max Muller learned of the final confirmation of the offer of the East India Company he wrote to his mother on 15.4.1847 in a jubilant mood: “At last the long conflict is decided, and I have carried off, so to speak, the prize! I can yet hardly believe that I have at last got what I have struggled for so long, entire independence, and I am filled with the thought of how much more I have gained than I deserved . . . . I am to hand over to the Company, ready for the press, fifty sheets each year – the same I had promised to Samter in Germany; for this I have asked £ 200 a year, £ 4 a sheet. They have been considering the matter since December, and it was only yesterday that it was officially settled. I have to read the corrections, and shall have plenty of time left to devote to my studies . . . As the work will be above 400 sheets, I have a certain position for the next eight years…”10
Max Muller never got the full amount of what he was promised but somehow he got enough to carry out the task.
1. Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization, Rajaram, N.S. & Frawley, David, Voice of India, 2001, pp.9-11
2. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.3, p.292-93, Mayawati Memorial Edition
3. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 15, p.233, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
4. Organiser, Rajaram, N.S., Issue Dec. 14, 2008, p.18
5. Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization, Rajaram, N.S. & Frawley, David, Voice of India, 2001, p.23-25
6. A Secular Christian Missionary and Distorter of the Veda, Paliwal, K.V., Max Muller, Hindu Writers Forum, New Delhi, 2006, p.27
7. Ibid, p.26
8. Ibid, p.20-21
9. Ibid, p.15
10. Ibid, p.13