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 India.

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 open-minded research.

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 dark natives;

(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 invader castes.

(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 upholding it.

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 even now.

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 textbooks.

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 hypothesis

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 fabrication".

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 of it.

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 nor less.

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 input.

(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 & Nahar 2000.

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, Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry (originally ca. 1922?).

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 », Nouvelle Ecole 51, Paris, p.127-133.

Benoît, Jérémie, 2001: Le Paganisme Indo-Européen, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne.

Biswas, S.K., 1995: Autochthon of India and the Aryan Invasion, Genuine Publ., Delhi.

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Dalrymple, William, 2003: "Washing off the saffron", Financial Times, London, 24 March 2003.

Daniélou, Alain, 1971: Histoire de l'Inde, republished by Fayard, Paris 1983.

--, 1975 : Les Quatre Sens de la Vie. La Structure Sociale de l'Inde Traditionnelle, republished by Buchet-Chastel, Paris 1984.

Danino, Michel, and Nahar, Sujata, 2000 : The Invasion that Never Was, 2nd ed., Mira Aditi, Mysore.

Elst, Koenraad, 1999: Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi.

--, 2001/1: Decolonizing the Hindu Mind. Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism, Rupa, Delhi.

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(April 2003)




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