Prof. Zydenbos Refutes Pandit Rajaram's Out-of-India Theory
Indian Express, 14 November 1993, p. 10 (Bangalore edition)
The Aryan invasion is a European Myth
The theory of Aryan-Dravidian conflict is a figment of colonial fantasy, used by the British to divide and rule India, says scientist and historian Navaratna S. Rajaram, adviser to NASA
[col. 1] The most extraordinary aspect of the theory of Aryan invasion is that it has its genesis not in any Indian records, but in German nationalism.
It has no support either in literature, tradition of science. It is essentially the creation of 18th and 19th century Europeans, especially Germans, that was later adopted by the British colonial government as a convenient administrative tool to divide and control the people of India.
So the Aryan invasion has been a political creation right from the start. It was also racial in origin. It is only much later that it was given a linguistic form. It is interesting to note that several leading researchers in Europe and America are in the process of rejecting the Aryan invasion theory. But Indian history books are not yet prepared to accept the verdict.
We thus have on the one hand a historical problem of monumental importance - the puzzle of the origin and spread of languages - and on the other, a theory that is contradicted by all empirical data.
Thus the proponents of the Aryan invasion are demanding that in every new theory their beliefs must also be included and accounted for. One has only to look at the summary rejection of the independent investigations into the Indus Valley civilisation by S.R. Rao, Subhash Kak, Hrodzy and others as unacceptable for the sole reason that they do not lend support to the Aryan invasion theory and the Aryan-Dravidian conflicts.
The issue assumes importance because it is a question relating to the origins of our culture. Our identity depends on it. For thousands of years we have looked to the Vedas as the wellsprings of our existence. None of our ancestors questioned it. And now, in the last century and a half, others are telling us that they don't really belong to us. That they are impositions by foreign invaders.
Are we to accept this without raising questions and examining the credentials of these people, who not coincidentally were alien colonisers, and their modern Indian followers? Should we not feel suspicious about their motives - that they may be making the imposition of their own alien ideas acceptable by claiming all our tradition to be alien impositions?
We have been led to believe that this theory is supported by linguistic evidence, namely, that people of North India and South India speak languages said to be from different families. There is the belief that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley civilization, which in the people's mind is synonymous with the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were Dravidians whose civilisation the invading Aryans destroyed. The invading Aryans are said to ne blond and blue-eyed while the Dravidians are believed to be dark-skinned.
The evidence for this, we are told, is found in the Rig Veda. All this we are also told has been reconstructed by great European scholars, notably Max Mueller, believed by most educated Indians to be the greatest of them all. This invasion is said to have taken place around 1500 BC. We are also informed that the composition of the Vedas began about 1200 BC or 1000 BC, though again. But the basis on which the latter two formulations [col. 2] have been arrived at is not disclosed.
The two most influential forces that went into creating this theory were European racism, especially anti-Semitism, and German nationalism. Comparative linguistics, let alone archaeology, did not even exist at the time. It is standing history on its head now to claim the theory to be the outgrowth of archaeology and comparative study of invasion theory.
This theory had its origins in eighteenth century Europe but received its full development only in the 18th century. It seemed to strike no one as odd - at least at the time - that this supposed invasion by light skinned people of a land inhabited by ark-skinned people, happened to be an exact reply of the contemporary European experience in colonizing Asia and Africa. Substituting European for Aryan, and Asia and Africa. [sic] Substituting European for Aryan, and Asian or Africa of the time. [sic] So according to this theory, the Aryans were nothing but carbon copies of European colonisers. Not only is this an absurd anachronism, it is not even original. Science alone cannot explain this theory.
The main point to be noted is that the theory (of the invasion) once formulated was treated as an established fact, and all subsequent findings were interpreted as deriving from it. And these interpretations were themselves offered as proof of the theory. A prime example of it is the interpretations of the ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa as the result of the invasion; later this interpretation itself became the proof of the invasion. This is called a tautology or circular argument. In effect, the theory in due time becomes its own proof. A fact not widely known is that the Aryan invasion theory owes a great deal to German nationalism and Max Mueller's concerns about his career and position in England. It was this that made him change the focus of his theory from race to language.
This abrupt shift from race to language meant that his new theory of Aryan migration - with language replacing race - had to be put together in extreme haste, and it shows. He placed the original Aryan ancestors in Sogdiana in the Trans-Oxus region in Central Asia north of Kashmir. According to the new theory, actually a linguistic reincarnation of the old race theory, one branch migrated southeast into Iran, Afghanistan and India to become the Indo-Europeans, while a [col. 3] second branch migrated southwest and went on to become the Greeks and the Europeans. Looking at it today, the extraordinary shoddiness with which his new theory was put together is truly astounding. In his rush to dissociate himself from the Aryan race theory and German nationalism, Max Mueller had succeeded in creating the most absurd contradiction imaginable: the Aryans of Central Asia were so immobile that they were ignorant of the ocean just a few hundred miles away, and fish found even closer. And yet they were so fleet of foot (or horse) that they managed to spread over a vast stretch from Ireland to the east coast of India. Nothing but extreme haste can account for this preposterous theory from a scholar of Max Mueller's stature. And the rest is history.
Thus the whole Aryan invasion scenario, [col. 4] first racial but later claimed to be linguistic, was the result of a complex interaction of diverse forces among which scholarship was probably the least important component. It started with the Aryan invasion theory of Europe that was transferred to India. In such a situation, evidence and logic inevitably give way to political needs and rationalising rhetoric. And poor Max Mueller, great scholar though he was, could do little but produce what his masters wanted. He was a small pawn in an imperial game which he had to play by the rules set by others.
The current Indian intellectual scene, with its continued attachment to the Aryan invasion theory is nothing more that a perpetuation of the old colonial policies; only the sponsors have changed. It is the result of a politicised intellectual environment that was [col. 5] fostered and nurtured by leaders following Indian independence. In such an environment, politically correct ideology tends to eclipse scholarly achievement.
It is therefore no accident that not a single significant contribution has come from Indian historians belonging to the 'establishment'. Their contribution to date consists of recasting Indian history in accordance with the Marxist model by replacing race with caste. Otherwise it is but a rehash of the 19th century formulations. The main proponents of the non-Indian origin of the Aryans and their civilisation are those historians who have spent a lifetime erecting a Marxist version of Indian history. Romila Thapar, a leading proponent of this school has recently written claiming that all evidence is against Aryans being native to India and also that attempts at historical revision in the face of new eidence [sic] are but a scheme for enforcing class inequality. These are her exact words:
"...The theory of the Aryans being a people has been seen as fundamental to the understanding of the identity of modern Indians and the question is central to the change of Indian society from caste to class. The upholding of a false theory (of Aryans as indigenous to India) is dangerous. The next step can be to move from indigenous origins of 'the Aryans' to propagating the notion of an 'Aryan nation'.
I don't think it is necessary to highlight the obvious - that all this talk about 'caste to class' is nothing but vintage Marxist rhetoric with absolutely no basis in fact. But interestingly Thapar and her fellow travelers want to have it both ways. She finds the theory of the Aryans as a people to be "seen as fundamental to the understanding of the identity of modern Indians" in the Marxist framework of class struggle. Without this identity, the whole Marxist fabrication collapses. But anyone who has a different approach to the historical problem of 'Aryan origins' even if it is based on science and archaeology, is of course a fascist!
This is not scholarship, it is political propaganda.
To gratuitously drag in the bogey of the 'Aryan nation' by which she obviously means Nazi Germany is pure political propaganda that has nothing to do with scholarship. It is a blatant attempt aimed at diverting attention away from the real issue - examining the scientific basis of the foreign origin theory of ancient Indian tradition which she and other fellow travellers uphold.
The facts therefore are as follows: however unpalatable it may be to the 'progressive' historian, the historical reality is inescapable. The Aryan invasion theory of India and the rise of Nazism in Europe share a common intellectual and emotional heritage. Neither has any basis in fact. And it cannot be wished away by semantic sophistry and scare tactics. The proponents of the Aryan invasion of India must either produce scientific evidence to prove it, or acknowledge that they have inherited the mantle to a discredited European race theory which they are trying to make respectable by painting it in new political colours.
It was politics then, it is politics now.
(Excerpted from a paper presented by the author at the Swami Chidbhavananda Memorial Lecture organised by Vigil.)
Indian Express, 12 November 1993, p. 10 (Bangalore edition)
An obscurantist argument
In his article on the Aryan invasion theory (Forum, November 14) Navaratna S. Rajaram, has given a textbook example of the quasi-religious-cum-political obscurantism that is so popular among alienated NRIs. His argument goes like this: the people called Aryans have inhabited India from their very beginning (they came from nowhere); some European scholars claimed otherwise; because those scholars were Europeans, they must have had politically evil motives; any Indian scholar who agrees that the Aryans were migrants, is an unscientific traitor. Since he is out of touch with what serious scholars both in India and abroad hold at present, it seems appropriate to elaborate somewhat on that here.
The linguistic evidence for the Indo-European origin of Sanskrit outside India is overwhelming. And it should be clear that languages do not migrate by themselves: people migrate, and bring languages with them. No scholar seriously believes that there are any 'ethnically pure' Aryans in India today (or perhaps anywhere else either). And why should anyone care? Those who called themselves 'Aryan' 1000 years ago were already different from the various Aryan tribes that came over 3500 years ago, in appearance, dwellings, language and religion. This too is historical fact. One only needs to learn Sanskrit and read to find this out.
That the Indus Valley people were Dravidians is an unproven hypothesis; but the real, as yet undeciphered writings of that civilization give more support to this hypothesis than to any other (see e.g. K.V. Zvelebil, Dravidian Linguistics: An Introduction, Institute of Linguistics and Culture, 1990). Whether the Aryans destroyed that civilization after a violent invasion is open to debate; that they migrated, is not. The up-to-date view concerning the Aryan migration, and confirming it, can be found in detail in H. Kulke and D. Rothermund, A History of India (Rupa Paperback, 1991), with an extensive bibliography. What D.D. Kosambi wrote in his The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline, and Pandit Nehru in The Discovery of India, in essence still holds good. And somehow I think we should not believe that they too have been summarily brainwashed by evil foreigners.
After the migrants had merged with other peoples and had become Indians, the word 'arya' became a mere label for caste exclusiveness. And this has nothing to do with Germans, anti-Semitism, Nazis, British colonial policy and all the rest. Friedrich Max Mueller, who is strangely maligned in the article as a mercenary writer of colonialist agitprop (again no proof is given: only conjectures), was precisely an example of the kind of scholar of that generation who was filled with enthusiasm, admiration and deep respect for India.
History as an academic discipline considers societies to be dynamic entities that develop and change in the course of time. For a real historian, time and change are just as real as the people who form those societies. For a fundamentalist, however, history and time do not exist, and he accepts as real only the particular myth that serves his (usually political) goals. This myth can be constructed around a few pages ripped from the Bible or the Quran, or around a still more nebulous idea, like the Vedas as "the wellspring of our existence" on which Indian identity supposedly depends. Too bad for all the Jainas, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Sudras, Harijans, tribals and others who were denied access to the Vedas by the latter-day 'Aryans'. The author has failed to grasp that 'Aryan' too is a dynamic concept, and its original tribal meaning was lost as the Aryans were absorbed as Indians.
It is interesting to speculate whether our author would have been equally incensed if he had known that there is a near consensus among Dravidian scholars that also the Dravidians migrated into the Indian subcontinent from the northwest, still prior to the Aryans (see e.g. the afterword in Zvelebil's book). They are not motivated by any obscure, anti-historical, quasi-religious sentiments. Romila Thapar does not "obviously refer to Nazi Germany" when she speaks of the fantasy of an 'Aryan nation', but to the new Indian tendency among obscurantists towards creating something parallel. This includes the endorsement of blatant racism by certain Indian scholarly personalities. Thus the archŠologist S.R. Rao, who also figures in Mr. Rajaram's article, said at a recent seminar in Mysore in response to a student's question about the Aryans that we should not listen to what 'white people' say. The last words of his article, "it is politics now," seem to refer more to him than to Thapar or anyone else.
A few interesting questions remain. Why should leading, respected Indian scholars (and even Nehru, who can hardly be accused of being politically naive or a colonial collaborator) accept the idea of the migration, if it is as patently false as our author claims it is? Why does he want to believe in a political conspiracy of foreign scholars and open-minded, critical Indian intellectuals? Why should it be so important that the Aryans, or the extremely remote ancestors of anyone in India for that matter, have been in the subcontinent since all eternity? That would come close to the Blut und Boden ideology of Nazism, with its Aryan rhetoric. Why the xenophobia? Does he really not see the parallel between Nazi attacks on synagogues in the 1930s and what happened in Ayodhya on December 6th? Why does he want to believe that the Indian identity is based on the Vedas, and that nobody ever questioned this?
We can briefly sum up the 'Aryan problem' and the interest it creates among certain people as follows. Whatever problem is there, will not be solved by constructing a new bit of mythology on the theme of the evil foreign hand and the Indian academic community that is presumed to have no mind of its own. This has no basis in fact. Only certain people in certain castes who identify themselves strongly with the Aryans and pride themselves on being 'Aryan' more than on being Indian, and thereby stress their difference from (and assume superiority to) other Indians, have a problem. As soon as the author, and people of his ilk, make up their minds as to whether they are Indian or not, and whether they want to identify themselves with India and other Indians or not, the problem is solved.
Dr Robert J. Zydenbos
Column breaks and obvious printing errors have been indicated (the latter with [sic]).
-- reprinted from :
Volume 1, Issue 1, August 1999