The Politics of the Aryan Invasion Debate
Dr. Koenraad ELST
A number of participants in the Aryan invasion debate
as relayed in the fall/winter 2002 issue of the Journal for
Indo-European Studies have alluded to the role of political
predilections in influencing and distorting the argument. In particular,
Aryan invasion skepticism, presented there by Prof. Nikolas Kazanas, is
painted by some of its critics as essentially a political ploy by Hindu
nationalist (or "Hindutva") forces. In India, apolitical scholars known to
have crossed over to this position, most notably archaeologist B.B. Lal,
have been accused of political motives for doing so. Questioning the Aryan
Invasion Theory (AIT) is now widely presented as a part of the alleged
hinduization or "saffronization" of history by the BJP-led government in
This much is true, that in its tentative and clumsy
manner, the BJP (Indian People's Party) and the nationalist movement
behind it, the RSS (National Volunteer Corps), have been trying to effect
glasnost in the Marxist-dominated history establishment. Through
the media, the West has vaguely heard an echo of the commotion about this
development among Indian Marxist historians trying to hold on to their
power positions. The focus has mostly been on deplorable gaffes like the
planned introduction of astrology as an academic subject and the attempt
to weed out reference to cow-slaughter in the Vedic age, not on the
serious and perfectly valid reasons for the attempted reform, esp. the
entrenched distortions of history imposed by the Marxists. It is a pity
that the BJP doesn't have the resources and the competent people to
achieve a proper and satisfactory overhaul of the textbooks (the Marxists
having blocked Hindu-minded young historians from access to academic
careers for decades), so that its reforms have been less than adequate and
in a few cases downright laughable. Fortunately, however, AIT skepticism
is a trend far older and wider than the recent politics of "saffronization",
and should be dealt with on its own terms.
European political uses of the Aryan invasion theory:
Anyone familiar with the uncertainties inherent in
historical research will be amazed to notice the immense self-assuredness
with which most spokesmen for either side in the Aryan invasion debate are
making their case. In reality, a lot in this question of ancient history
is undecided: the Harappan script remains undeciphered and the
archaeological findings (e.g. Lal 2002) are open to interpretation.
Analysis of the historical data in the Rg-Veda fails to find any trace of
an Aryan invasion (pace Witzel 1995:321, as shown by Elst 1999:164-166,
Talageri 2000:425-476), though along with the Puranas it alludes to
episodes of Aryan emigration (Renu 1994:26-33, Talageri
1993:359-370, 2000:140, 256-265), but these textual findings cannot be
deemed conclusive. Even if they are accepted as solid historical data,
scenarios of immigration at an earlier date than hitherto assumed remain
compatible with them. So the claim by linguists that the genealogy of the
Indo-European language family is best explained by an (as yet not firmly
dated) invasion scenario should not be dismissed lightly. We are faced
here with an open and undecided question, a fit object for intense but
One of the reasons for the absolutist rhetoric
bedevilling the Aryan invasion debate is the enormous investment of
various political messages in the competing theories. Their political use
in India will be discussed below; but the Western scholar may be expected
to know about their political uses in the West, which predate the Hindu
nationalist involvement by at least a century. The Out-of-India Theory (OIT)
was briefly popular in Europe in the Romantic age as part of the
Orientomanic fashion, but the AIT had many more political uses. By
relating an ancient instance of white colonization in a dark subcontinent,
it confirmed the colonial worldview.
The AIT specifically justified the presence of the
British among their "Aryan cousins" in India, being merely the second wave
of Aryan settlement there. It supported the British view of India as
merely a geographical region without historical unity, a legitimate prey
for any invader capable of imposing himself. It provided the master
illustration to the rising racialist worldview:
(1) the dynamic whites entered the land of the indolent
(2) being superior, the whites established their
dominance and imparted their language to the natives;
(3) being race-conscious, they established the caste
system to preserve their racial separateness;
(4) but being insufficiently fanatical about their race
purity, some miscegenation with the natives took place anyway, making the
Indian Aryans darker than their European cousins and correspondingly less
intelligent and less dynamic;
(5) hence, for their own benefit they were susceptible
to an uplifting intervention by a new wave of purer Aryan colonizers.
The AIT was consequently a must in all Nazi textbooks
on race (e.g. Günther 1932, 1934). In this controversy, the AIT camp
happens to be Hitler's camp. I would like to caution those who expect to
trump the indigenist argument by insinuating political motives: you have
no chance of winning that game, for no ugly name, not even "Hindu
chauvinism", can trump "Hitler" in branding an opponent with guilt by
association and blowing him out of the arena.
Contemporary Euro-nationalists uphold the pro-invasionist
tradition, e.g. Meerbosch 1992, Van den Haute 1993. Certain rightist
circles, vaguely known on the Continent as the Nouvelle Droite,
devote particular attention to the Indo-European heritage, invariably
claiming a European homeland, e.g. Schuon 1979; de Benoist 1997, 2000;
Benoît 2001:13; or Venner 2002:63. This trend has enlisted the
contributions of eminent scholars, and their political views need not
detract from the validity of their argumentation, but the political
dimension is undeniably and explicitly present, e.g. AIT supporters
Varenne (1967:25) and Haudry (1985, 1987, 1997, 2000) are, or were members
of the Scientific Committee of the French nationalist party Front
National. Conversely, the French Left has tried to delegitimize any
research into the "tainted" topic of Indo-European ("Aryan"!) culture and
origins, leading to the closure of the Institut d'Etudes Indo-Européennes
in Lyons. Likewise in the US, the Journal for Indo-European Studies
has been under attack for alleged rightist connections.
Indian political uses of the Aryan invasion theory
Western AIT proponents, right-wing or otherwise, may
not realize very well who their allies in India are, and vice versa. The
Indian uses of the AIT predate any political use (or even the mere
articulation) of the OIT. On this topic, the Western scholars who so
unhesitatingly parrot denunciations of the Indian indigenists by Indian
invasionists, are simply babes in the wood. For their information, a brief
overview of the several AIT-exploiting movements is given here:
(1) Dravidian Separatism.
Sponsored by the British colonial government, a movement of the middle
castes in the southern Tamil region started attacking Brahmin and
North-Indian interests and symbols, taking the shape of a political party,
the Justice Party (later Dravida Kazhagam) in 1916. Given the
Brahmin leadership in the independence movement, Dravidian self-assertion
had obvious uses for the colonial status-quo. To beef up Dravidian pride,
a claim was made that the whole of Indian culture, or at least all the
good things in it (including, from ca. 1925 onwards, the Harappan cities),
belonged to the aboriginal Dravidians, while the Aryans had mostly brought
destruction and reactionary social mores. After independence, the movement
opted for a separate Dravidian state, a demand which never caught on
outside Tamil Nadu and was abandoned even there after the Chinese invasion
of 1962. In the next years the movement got integrated into the political
system and after a split the two successor parties have been alternating
with each other in power at the state level ever since, but with an
ever-decreasing fervour for Dravidian separateness. The movement's
greatest success was when, in 1965, it joined hands with the
English-speaking elite in Delhi to thwart the Constitutional provision
that from that year onwards, Hindi rather than English be the sole link
language of India, -- surely a fitting thanksgiving for the British
patronage which had groomed the movement into political viability.
(2) Dalit neo-Ambedkarism.
Dalit, "broken" or
"oppressed", is a term applied to the former Untouchable castes, sparingly
by the late-19th-century
reform movement Arya Samaj, and more officially by mid-20th-century Dalit
leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and by his followers ever since. Today, the
term has eclipsed the Gandhian euphemism Harijan. Ambedkar himself
(1917:21) rejected both the AIT and its caste-racialist implication that
lower castes sprang from the native race while upper castes were the
invaders' progeny. Yet, his followers (e.g. Theertha 1941, Rajshekar 1987,
Biswas 1995), along with his 19th-century precursor, the
Christian-educated Jyotirao Phule, took the more conformist road of
adapting the AIT and staking their political claims in the name of being
"aboriginals" deprived of their land, culture and social status by the
"Aryan invaders". Among these neo-Ambedkarites, who claim Ambedkar's
mantle but have turned against him on many points (e.g. favouring
conversion to Christianity or Islam, which Ambedkar energetically rejected
in favour of native religions, esp. Buddhism), strange international
alliances abound, e.g. with Islamic militancy, Evangelical fundamentalism
and cranky American Afrocentrism. Many of V.T. Rajshekar's brochures are
transcripts of lectures at Christian institutions, and one wonders if the
latter are aware of the more eccentric parts of his work, e.g. he is the
only Indian to merit a mention in an authoritative study (Poliakov 1994)
of contemporary anti-Semitism. His anti-Brahminism is also moulded after
the anti-Semitic model, e.g. just like both capitalist plutocracy and
Bolshevism have been blamed on the Jews, Rajshekar (1993) treats both
religious Brahminism and Brahmin-led Indian Marxism as two hands of a
single Brahmin conspiracy. Note that his anti-Brahmin plea opens with a
profession of belief in the AIT: "The fair-skinned foreigners, the Aryan
barbarians, who strayed into India, came into clash with India's
dark-skinned indigenous population - the Untouchables" (1993:1). This kind
of company ought to worry those who rely on the principle of "guilt by
association" in their argument against the AIT skeptics.
(3) Tribal separatism.
Whereas the first tribal revolts of
the colonial age (Santal Hool, Birsa rebellion) had a distinctly
anti-British and anti-missionary thrust, administrators and missionaries
tried to redirect tribal frustration and aspiration in an anti-Hindu and
anti-Indian sense. This caught on quite well among the more peripheral,
least "aryanized" tribes, particularly in the Northeast. The claim of
being primeval Indians displaced from the fertile plains by the Aryan
invaders was a logical rallying-point for their new self-consciousness. To
a very large extent, this "pre-Aryan" identity was a total novelty tutored
by the Christian missions, who made the tribals their privileged focus of
activity and rechristened them as "aboriginals" (âdivâsî), a
pseudo-indigenous term falsely suggesting that non-tribals had all along
been seen as foreign intruders. Given the frequency with which journalists
and even scholars swallow the invasionist implication of the term
âdivâsî, this coinage deserves a gold medal as a brilliantly
successful one-word disinformation campaign. Some of the Northeastern
tribes have been converted to Christianity in toto and refuse to
give "Indian" as their nationality during the census, preferring their
tribal identities as "Naga" or "Mizo" instead, thus confirming Hindu
nationalist suspicions against Christianity. Ironically, it is these
Northeastern tribes who have the least right to be called "aboriginal", as
their immigration from the East in the medieval period, much later than
any Aryan invasion, is well-documented. Even the older Munda-speaking
tribes are widely assumed to originate in Southeast Asia, still the centre
of gravity of their Austro-Asiatic language family; while the Dravidians
have variously been traced to Central Asia, Elam and even Africa. If the
Aryans must perforce pass as invaders, they are not the only ones.
(4) Christian mission.
The single biggest promoter of the AIT as the bedrock of new political
group identities has undeniably been the Christian mission, incidentally
also the biggest operator of elite educational institutions in India and a
major media owner, hence a powerful moulder of public opinion. Christian
missionary authors in the 19th century such as Sir Monier Monier-Williams,
Friedrich Max Müller, Bishop Robert Caldwell and Rev. G.U. Pope laid the
intellectual groundwork for Dravidian, Tribal and Dalit political
movements and for a new fragmented self-perception of Hinduism. Quite
deliberately, Hindu self-esteem was undermined by breaking the Hindu
pantheon into a set of native gods like Shiva and a set of Aryan-invader
gods like Indra; by redefining reform movements like Buddhism and Bhakti
as "revolts of the natives against Aryan-Brahminical impositions"; and by
reinterpreting the Dharma-Shâstras as nothing but an elaborate
apartheid legislation for preserving the race and dominance of the Aryan
(5) Indian Islam.
In recent years, militant Muslims such as Muslim India monthly's
editor Syed Shahabuddin have tried to integrate the AIT in their
anti-Hindu polemics. The thrust of their argument is that if Hindus see
Muslims as foreigners, they should be told that they themselves, at least
the Aryan elite among them, once were foreign intruders. And that not
Muslims but Aryan Hindus were the trail-blazers of destructive invasions
pillaging and destroying native centres of civilization. Further, building
on the erroneous but by now widespread belief that most Indian Muslims
were low-caste Hindus who sought equality by converting to Islam, it is
argued that they are largely part of the native stock, hence more Indian
than Hindu nationalists, who are (equally erroneously) identified as
upper-caste and hence as Aryan invaders.
(6) Indo-Anglian snobbery.
English education and more recently the westernization of the workplace,
of popular music and other everyday circumstances have generated a class
of Indians quite alienated from and ignorant of native culture. More than
the English-employed Babus of yore, they delight in mocking and belittling
native culture. In their hands, the AIT is simply an instrument to tease
Indian "chauvinists" and deconstruct the very notion of a distinct Indian
or Hindu civilization. With the decline of ideology and the rise of the
commercial outlook in the media, this supercilious and nihilistic attitude
is now a rising force in the opinion landscape, but it has always been
around in non-Marxist sections of independent India's anglicised elite.
(7) Indian Marxism.
Among the English-educated elite, a class of Marxist intellectuals has
been very active and increasingly influential since the 1930s. Around the
time of independence, they emphasized the Leninist theory of national
self-determination, favouring the creation of a Muslim state Pakistan and
the further partition of India into separate linguistic states. Though not
actively militating for separatism later on, they kept on promoting
notions like "Bengali nationhood" and refused to accept the Indian state,
for "India was never the solution", according to Marxwadi Communist Party
politburo member Ashok Mitra (1993). In that discourse, the AIT didn't
figure very prominently at first because as Marxists they focused on
present social realities rather than the distant "feudal" past. Well into
the 1980s, as long as they thought in terms of socio-economic class, they
refused to cultivate casteist and ethnic identities and consequently took
only a limited interest in AIT-based identity politics. But with the
decline of world Communism, the Indian comrades increasingly compromised
with identitarian populism, in some states even with Islamic
fundamentalism, in fact with any force deemed hostile to the perceived
ruling class, characterized as upper-caste Hindu. In the 1990s, when the
AIT was getting challenged, they became its most ardent and most effective
defenders, vide e.g. Thapar 1996; Sharma 1995, 1999. While the other
above-mentioned anti-Hindu or anti-Indian groups merely assume and use the
AIT, the Indian Marxists have seriously invested in intellectually
The common denominator in all these uses of the AIT is
that it undermines or contradicts India's sense of unity. In Hindu
nationalist parlance, the AIT is "anti-national". The reason why the
votaries of Hindutva have recently rallied around the position of AIT
skepticism is simply to counter these anti-national uses of the AIT.
Ideological power equation in India
To grasp the political dimension of the Aryan invasion
debate, it is necessary to clarify the political power equation in the
dominant media and academic institutions in India. As former Times of
India editor Girilal Jain (sacked in 1989 for developing Hindutva
sympathies) used to say: "Nothing ever dies in India." Movements long dead
in the West are still alive and vigorous in India. That is why the last
Communist will not be called Popov or Zhang or Kim, but Chatterji or Bose.
Numerically, the Communists' power base in India was always small, but in
a few key sectors, including the bottlenecks in the information flow to
the West, their presence was overwhelming and remains disproportionate
Around 1970, entryist policies (Communists entering
Congress, the ministerial offices and the cultural institutions) and a
very gainful quid pro quo with a besieged Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi made Marxism the dominant ideology in the Indian state and
parastatal institutions such as the Indian History Congress and the
National Centre for Educational Research and Training. While ruling
parties came and went, the entrenched Marxists defended their position and
reserved access for their own kind. The first BJP government at the centre
(1998-99) made no dent in the Marxist academic hegemony, and the second
one (1999-present) only very partially. Even then, the Marxists didn't
take kindly to this first fresh breeze of glasnost, hence their
campaign against new anti-colonial and allegedly "saffron" accents in the
The Marxists don't like to be caught in the
searchlight. One of the most respected Marxist scholars, Romila Thapar,
chides her critics thus: "Those that question their theories are dismissed
as Marxists!" (1996:17) Well, apart from her reliance on a Marxist
conceptual framework in her publications, she is also confirmed to be a
representative of the Indian Marxist school of historiography in an
authoritative Marxist source, the Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Bottomore
1988), under its entry "Hinduism", along with R.S. Sharma. For those still
in doubt, Irfan Habib, one of the deans of the Marxist school, has put his
cards on the table in a book subtitled "Towards a Marxist Perception"
(1995). Among the print media, the one most active in the anti-indigenist
crusade is the Chennai-based fortnightly Frontline, a consistent
defender of the Cuban and North-Korean regimes and of the Chinese
occupation of Tibet. After the mock referendum in Iraq in the autumn of
2002, Frontline displayed its nostalgia for Soviet mock elections
by treating Saddam Hussein's 100% approval rate as a genuine democratic
endorsement. Judging from its record, we may take the Frontline
initiative to prominently feature pro-AIT contributions by Asko Parpola
and Michael Witzel, participants in the present JIES debate, to be
motivated by something else than a concern for good scholarship.
To be sure, the Marxist motives of the Frontline
editors and of the old history establishment have no logical implications
for the correctness or otherwise of the pro-invasionist argument. Of
course not. But then it is not invasion sceptic Prof. Kazanas who tried to
twist this debate to his advantage by raising the issue of political
motives; that was the doing of some of his critics. If they don't feel
troubled by their de facto alliance with crackpots like V.T.
Rajshekar or with the Marxist school and its record of history distortion,
they have no reason to mobilize (false!) rumours of Hindu nationalist
connections against Prof. Kazanas.
Hindu nationalist approaches to the Aryan invasion
For all their focusing on the all-purpose bogey of
Hindu nationalism (or worse isms), it is remarkable that Indian Marxists
and their Western disciples have completely failed to study this ideology.
During my Ph.D. research on this very topic (vide Elst 2001/1), I found
that practically all secondary publications in the field, including some
influential ones (e.g. Pandey 1993, McKean 1996, more recently Hansen
1999), dispensed almost completely with the reading of primary sources.
Typically, a few embarrassing quotations, selected by Indian critics of
Hindutva from some old pamphlets (mostly Golwalkar 1939), are repeated
endlessly and in unabashedly polemical fashion.
A shameful example of the total reliance of Western
scholars on outright partisan secondary Indian sources while passing
judgment on a Hindu nationalist position was the Ayodhya temple/mosque
dispute, as I discussed in detail in Elst 2002. Until the late 1980s,
there was a complete consensus among all Hindu, Muslim and Western sources
about the fact that the mosque had been built in forcible replacement of a
temple, a very common occurrence throughout Muslim-conquered territories.
This consensus, nowadays mischaracterized as the Hindu nationalist
position, was since confirmed by new findings and remained strictly
unchallenged by any counter-findings. Note indeed that all the official
and unofficial argumentations against the temple limited themselves to
downplaying the impact of some of the evidence for the temple, and never
offered even one piece of positive testimony for an alternative scenario.
Yet, the dominant Marxist circles decreed that there had never been a
temple at the site (e.g. Sharma et al. 1991) and lambasted Western
scholars who had earlier confirmed the consensus as handmaidens of Hindu
fundamentalism (Gopal 1991:30),-- enough to send these scholars into
prudent retirement from the Ayodhya debate, vide Van der Veer 1994:161.
Lately the Marxists have had to swallow that maximalist position and
revert to the more reasonable political position that temple
demolitions of the past do not justify mosque demolitions in the present;
but for more than a decade, their leaden dogma has stifled the history
debate, viz. that the temple demolition was merely a "Hindu chauvinist
Those who stuck to the old consensus view, the one
confirmed by the evidence, have had tons of mud thrown at them not just by
Indian Marxists but by their Western dupes as well, e.g. Hansen 1999:262.
Not one of the latter ever took issue with the actual evidence, behaving
instead as obedient soldiers carrying out and amplifying the Indian
Marxist ukase. At the time of this writing, Indian archaeologists
are digging up more Hindu religious artefacts from underneath the
temple/mosque site (Mishra 2003), yet the Financial Times (Dalrymple
2003) carries a long article extolling Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib,
ridiculing the consensus view on Ayodhya along with the non-invasionist
"myth", denouncing Ayodhya consensus representative K.S. Lal (conveniently
dead and unable to defend himself), and bluffing about "all the evidence"
disproving the Ayodhya temple's existence but not actually mentioning any
The same pattern, though less extreme, is in evidence
concerning the specific involvement of declared Hindu nationalists in the
Aryan invasion debate. Their positions are systematically ignored or
misrepresented, and false motives are attributed to them according to the
accuser's convenience. A brazen-faced example is Thapar 1996:8, about the
Vedic revivalist movement Arya Samaj, a social-reformist society founded
in 1875 whose spokesmen incidentally also rejected the AIT: "The Arya
Samaj was described by its followers as 'the society of the Aryan race'.
The Aryas were the upper castes and the untouchables were excluded." In
reality, the Arya Samaj made its mark in Indian history by working, often
at great personal sacrifice, to undo the exclusion of the
untouchables; and by redefining "Arya" as "Vedic", away from both its old
Indian casteist and its new Western racist interpretation. As for the
expression "society of the Aryan race", while I am unaware of its
application to the Arya Samaj specifically, it is true that around the
turn of the 20th century, the expression "Aryan race" was fairly commonly
used by Indian nationalists in the sense of "Indian nation", neither more
Romila Thapar's use of "Aryan" cited above, by
contrast, is a transparent attempt to play on its post-Nazi connotations,
as if its meaning hadn't radically changed at some dramatic point between
1875 and 1996 (this exploitation of the confusion and hysteria about the
term "Aryan" is standard fare in Indian anti-indigenist polemic, e.g.
Sikand 1993). And yet, Romila Thapar remains the most celebrated Indian
historian among Western India-watchers, a status recently confirmed by her
honorary doctorate at the Sorbonne. In the laudatio, the
authorities of France's most prestigious university repeated the
well-known Indian Marxist rhetoric against "saffronization", with the
unusual extra of specifically denouncing the French pro-Indian journalist
François Gautier, a well-known critic of the AIT (1996). Nobody took the
trouble to verify the criticisms raised against the scholarly performance
of the honorary doctor.
If we want to know about Hindu nationalist involvement
in the Aryan invasion debate, the Indian Marxist school and its Western
spokesmen cannot help us. The one extant critical review of the various
Hindu nationalist positions regarding the Aryan problem was written by
Shrikant Talageri, ironically but significantly a declared Hindu
nationalist himself. The following much briefer review is indebted to his
(1) Acceptance of the AIT
A number of Hindu nationalists have accepted the AIT.
Most prominent among them is Hindu nationalist seed ideologue Vinayak
Damodar Savarkar. In his influential booklet Hindutva ("Hinduness"),
he wrote of how migrations had "welded Aryans and non-Aryans into a common
race" (1923:8) and how "not even the aborigines of the Andamans are
without some sprinkling of the so-called Aryan blood in their veins and
vice-versa" (1923:56). This way, he rejected the divisive implication of
the AIT that India was composed of several distinct nations, arguing
instead that they had biologically mingled and culturally fused into a
single Hindu nation. Like his leftist opponent Jawaharlal Nehru, he
accepted that the nation was a product of historical processes, not an
age-old God-given essence. There is no organic link between Savarkar's
positions on nationalism and ancient history: as a non-specialist, he
merely accepted the dominant paradigm and tried to accommodate it into his
political views. But note at any rate, all you who identify OIT with
Hindutva, that the founder of the Hindutva ideology was an AIT believer.
Sharply to be distinguished from Hindu nationalists,
who are modernists and social reformers for the sake of national unity,
there is also a dwindling school of Hindu traditionalists. Among them, you
find pandits who are steeped in Sanskritic lore and have never even heard
of an Aryan invasion, which is after all unattested in Vedic literature.
The one traditionalist who must be mentioned here as accepting the AIT was
a Western "honorary Hindu", the French musicologist Alain Daniélou (1971,
1975), companion of the traditionalist leader Swami Karpatri. Here again,
there is no organic link between his Hindu-traditionalist view of society
and his historical beliefs, which were borrowed wholesale from the
dominant Western school of thought.
The most well-known Hindu nationalist to actively
support the AIT and explore its implications was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an
Indian National Congress leader in the early 20th century. His chronology,
worked out in dialogue with Hermann Jacobi (and still upheld by archaeo-astronomers,
e.g. Kak 2003), was sharply incompatible with the currently dominant
theory: he put the Rg-Veda ca. 4000 BC rather than 1500 BC (Tilak 1893,
1903). If the Vedas were that old, the invasion would have to be pushed
back accordingly, as the Vedic geographical setting is obviously
South-Asian; but Tilak solved this problem by having the Vedic seers
compose their hymns far outside India, in an Indo-European homeland
situated in the Arctic region. Except for a handful of European rightist
non-scholars, nobody takes this eccentric scenario seriously anymore, not
even the Tilak loyalists in Maharashtrian Brahmin circles which happen to
be the cradle of both the Savarkarite and RSS-BJP strands within the Hindu
nationalist movement. All the same, Tilak's acceptance of a version of the
AIT again disproves the identification of the OIT with Hindu nationalism.
(2) Rejection of the AIT
Few among the Hindu nationalists have really studied
the relevant evidence. Some even reject the whole notion of historical
evidence as pertinent to this question. From Jaimini's Mimânsâ-Sûtra
(BCE) down to Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayananda's Satyârtha Prakash
(ca. AD 1875), a school of Vedic scholars has believed that the Vedas were
not a human creation, but were created by the Gods aeons ago and then
revealed in complete form to the Vedic seers. Oddly, for people who held
the Vedas in such awe, their theory flies in the face of the Vedic
testimony itself: unlike the Quran, the Vedas never take the form of a
statement by God addressing man. Instead, they take the form of hymns in
which man is addressing the Gods. The names of the seers composing the
hymns are also given, and they are put in a historical context, often with
their mutual relations, genealogical kinship and faction feuds detailed in
the texts themselves. Moreover, a number of presumably historical events
are described or alluded to, most famously the Battle of the Ten Kings.
All this points to the historicity of the Vedas: they came about as a
creation of human poetry in a specific society at a specific phase in its
development. But Vedic enthusiasts like Dayananda and to a lesser extent
Sri Aurobindo Ghose chose to disregard this information and reinterpreted
all these mundane data as spiritual metaphor. Though they also happened to
reject the invasion hypothesis, they excluded the Vedic information as
possible source of evidence for their own indigenist position. Aurobindo's
correct observation (1971:242-251) that the Vedas contain no mention of an
Aryan invasion, thereby loses its force.
After Aurobindo's death, his otherwise loyal secretary
K.D. Sethna (1982, 1992) abandoned this position and started using Vedic
data on material culture to argue the chronological precedence of Rg-Vedic
over high Harappan culture, e.g. that the Harappan cultivation of cotton
goes unmentioned in the older Vedic layers so that its early-Harappan
introduction must coincide with some mid-Vedic date. More perhaps than the
archaeologists' acknowledged inability to discover any remains of an Aryan
invasion (Shaffer 1984, Rao 1991, Lal 1987, 2002, etc.), Sethna's theses
truly were the opening shot in the Hindu nationalist mobilization against
the AIT. Within the Aurobindo circle, this work was continued by Danino &
Since Sethna's publications, many Hindu authors of
divergent levels of qualification have felt emboldened to contribute to
the anti-invasionist argument. Some of them lose themselves in projects
they are not up to, such as the decipherment of the Indus script, but in
matters of textual interpretation and of matching archaeological and
genetic data with cultural history, they are often better equipped than
their invasionist opponents. Those who care to read this literature, will
notice how it belies its characterization by hostile commentators as
"far-rightist" and the like. It actually taps into the discourse of
anti-colonialism, anti-racism and anti-orientalism (e.g. Rajaram 1995,
2000), which most Westerners would spontaneously describe as leftist. A
lone Indian Marxist (Singh 1995) has also contributed to the anti-invasionist
argument, predictably focusing on material and economic data suggesting
Harappan-Aryan continuity, and thus upholding the more usual Third World
Marxist tradition of anti-colonialism as opposed to the Indian
card-carrying Marxists' championing of the colonial view of history.
The political instrumentalization of theories about
Indo-European origins has yielded coalitions of strange bedfellows. On the
side of the hypothesis of an Aryan invasion of India, we find old colonial
apologists and race theorists and their marginalized successors in the
contemporary West along with a broad alliance of anti-Hindu forces in
India, most articulate among them the Christian missionaries and the
Marxists who have dominated India's intellectual sector for the past
several decades. This dominant school of thought has also carried along
some prominent early votaries of Hindu nationalism. On the side of the
non-invasionist or Aryan-indigenist hypothesis, we find long-dead European
Romantics and a few contemporary Western India lovers, along with an
anti-colonialist school of thought in India, mainly consisting of
contemporary Hindu nationalists. Obviously, among the subscribers to
either view we also find scholars without any political axe to grind. And
even in the writings of politically motivated authors, we do come across
valid argumentations. Consequently, it is best to continue this research
without getting sidetracked by the real or alleged or imagined political
connotations of certain scholarly lines of argument.
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Aurobindo Ghose, Sri, 1971: The Secret of the Veda,
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Benoist, Alain de, 1997: "Indo-Européens: à la
recherche du foyer d'origine", Nouvelle Ecole 49, Paris, p.13-105.
--, 2000: « Les Aryens en Inde: présentation »,
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Benoît, Jérémie, 2001: Le Paganisme Indo-Européen,
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den Indogermanen Asiens, (re-edited by Verlag Hohe Warte, Pähl 1982).
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