of the Aryan invasion
4.8. INVASIONIST TERMS
IN THE VEDAS
not a pandit or philologist, Dalit leader Dr. Ambedkar took the trouble
of verifying the meaning and context, in every single instance, of the
Vedic terms which Western scholars often mentioned as proof of a conflict
between white Aryan invaders and dark non-Aryan
aboriginals.65 His line of argument has been
elaborated further by V.S. Pathak and Shrikant Talageri.66
the Vedic terms figuring prominently in the AIT reading of the Vedas, the
most important one is probably dAsa. DAsa, known to
mean “slave, servant” in classical Sanskrit, but in the Rg-Veda the name
of an enemy tribe, along with the apparently related word dasyu, is interpreted
in AIT parlance as “aboriginal”. More probably these words designate
the Vedic people’s white-skinned n cousins, who at one point became their
enemies, for both terms exist in Iranian, dahae being one of the
Iranian tribes, and dahyu meaning “tribe, nation”. The
original meaning of dAsa, long preserved in the Khotanese dialect
of Iranian, is “man”; it is used in this sense in the Vedic names DivodAs,
“divine man” and SudAs, “good man”.67
In Iranian, it always preserved its neutral or positive meaning, it is
only in late-Vedic that it acquired a hostile and ultimately a degrading
connotation. Strangely a similar evolution has taken place in Greek,
where doulos, “slave”, is an evolute of *doselos, from *dos-,
the IE root of dAsa.
evolution in meaning from an ethnic name to “servant” does not necessarily
point to enslavement of enemies; no military event of such nature and relating
to the word, dAsa is mentioned in the Vedic literature. Instead
of seeing the Vedic people as warriors, we may see them as a prosperous
merchant population which at some stage, in a perfectly normal economic
development, attracted the inflow of neighbouring populations as guestworkers
willing to do the menial work, the way the Biblical twelve sons of Jacob
went to Egypt of their own free will, where their children became a class
of menial workers. But it is admittedly just as likely that the evolution
was from “enemy” through “captive” to “slave”. Whatever the scenario
of their social degradation may have been, nothing in the Vedic text shows
that the Dasas were dark, nor that they were aboriginals as opposed to
is the original Indo-Iranian and Vedic term for “Lord”, a form of address
both for the gods and for people of rank. The late- and post-Vedic
concept of DevAsurasaMgrAma, usually translated as “war between
Devas/gods and Asuras/demons”, has led to the notion that this represents
a war between two categories of gods, comparable to the Germanic Aesir
and Wanir, or to the warring Gods and Titans of Greek mythology.
However, there never existed a separate category of celestial beings called
Asuras; the Devas themselves were originally addressed as Asura.
point, we have to give credit to the invasionists for identifying the DevAsurasaMgrAma
as essentially a political struggle between two nations using their respective
religious terminology as a banner. However, the Asura-worshippers,
or Asuras for short, are not the non-Aryan aboriginals of whom we merely
assume that they must have worshipped Asura; they are the nation known
to worship Asura, or in their own dialect Ahura (epithet Mazda,
so “wise Lord”), the usual Iranian term for the Vedic god Varuna, god of
the cosmic order and the truth (Rta/arta).
difference between Iranians and Vedic “fire-worshippers” was a minor difference
in emphasis, and had nothing to do with the causes of their conflict.
It was only after a war over the control of prize territory in the Panjab
erupted, that the term Asura got identified with the aggression of the
Kashmir-based Anava/Iranian people against the Paurava/Vedic
heartland in Sapta-Saindhavah, and acquired a negative, anti-Vedic or anti-Deva
meaning. Conversely, it must have been on that same occasion that
the Iranians turned Deva/Daeva into a term for “demon”.
4.8.3. Speech defects
“of harsh speech”, could refer to hecklers mocking the Vedic rituals, more
or less “blasphemers”. Usually it is interpreted as “speaking a foreign
language”, though that is not its literal meaning; and even if correct,
this could still refer to another IE language or dialect. Scornful
references to other people’s languages are more often about closely related
ones, cfr. the many English expressions pejoratively using the word “Dutch”,
the language of England’s enemies in the 17th century, but nonetheless
also the language which is (except for Frisian) the most closely akin to
is interpreted as a-nAsa, “noseless”, stretched to mean “snub-nosed”;
but classical commentators analysed it, just as credibly, as an-Asa,
“speechless” (Asa being the regular cognate of Latin os, “mouth”).
This type of anthropomorphic imagery. is often used in the Vedas for characterizing
natural elements, e.g. fire as “footless”. If referring to people,
it is to be remarked that few Indians even among the tribals are snub-nosed.
If taken to mean “speechless”, hence perhaps “unintellegible”, the same
remark is valid as in the case of mRdhravAk: unintellegibility is
most striking when hearing someone speaking a dialect of your own language,
i.e. when he was expected to be intellegible in the first place.
it stands to reason that the Vedic people have encountered enemies on some
occasions, that some of these enemies did speak a completely different
language, that Vedic hymns were composed in preparation or commemoration
of the battle, and that the enemies were mentioned in the hymns along with
their strange language as their most distinctive trait. So, let us
assume that the above terms do refer to people speaking a non-IE language.
That would not at all be proof of an Aryan invasion, because both parties
may be native, or the non-IE-speaking party may be the invading one.
When the Germans invaded France in 1870, 1914 and 1940, the French duly
noted that the German language was full of “harsh” sounds; even so, it
was the mRdhravAk Germans who were the invaders.
(“from a black womb”), kRshNatvac (“black-skinned”), tvacamasiknIm
(id.), asiknivishah (“black tribe”) and other composites involving
“black”, read in their contexts, usually refer to darkness, to nightly
stratagems in war, or metaphorically to evil. Most languages have
expressions like “black deeds”, “dark portends”, “the dark age”, associating
darkness with evil, ignorance or danger. Vedic Sanskrit is extremely
rich in metaphors, in techno-scientific contexts (for lack of a separate
technical jargon) as well as in cultural and religious contexts, e.g. the
word go, “cow” can refer to Mother Earth, the sunshine, material wealth,
language, the Aum sound, etc. It is not far-fetched to perceive
a metaphorical intention behind the use of words like “black”, similar
to that in other languages.
has to be inspected case by case whether the reference is at all to human
beings (whether skin-colour or figurative characterization), because many
Vedic expressions are about gods and heavenly phenomena. When it
is said that Agni, the fire, “puts the dark demons to flight”, one should
keep in mind that the darkness was thought to be filled with ghosts or
ghouls, so that making light frees the atmosphere of their presence. And
when Usha, the dawn, is said to chase the “dark skin” or “the black monster”
away, it obviously refers to the cover of nightly darkness over the surface
of the earth.68
varNa is understood in classical Sanskrit as “colour”. This
is then explained as referring to the symbolic colours attributed to the
three cosmological “qualities” (guNa): white corresponds to sattva
(clarity), red to rajas (energy) and black to tamas (darkness),
following the pattern of daylight, twilight and nightly darkness.
Likewise, the different functions in the social spectrum are allotted a
member of the colour spectrum: the menial (tAmasika) Shudras are
symbolically “black”, the heroic (rAjasika) Kshatriyas are “red”,
and the truth-loving (sAttvika) Brahmins are “white”; in addition,
the entrepreneurial Vaishyas are considered to have a mixture of qualities,
and are allotted the colour yellow. This sense of “colour” has nothing
to do with skin colour, as should also be evident from the ancient use
of the same colour code among the all-white Germanic peoples.
“Colour” might even not be the original, Vedic meaning of varNa.
Reformist Hindus eager to disentangle the institution of varNa from
any doctrines of genetic determinism, derive it from the root var-, “choose”
(as in svayamvara, “[a girl’s] own choice [of a husband]”), with
the implication that one’s varNa is not a matter of birth but of
personal choice. This seems to tally with Stanley Insler’s rendering,
in his classic translation of The Gathas of Zarathustra, of the
corresponding Avestan term varanA as “preference” (which other translators
sometimes stretch to mean “conviction”, “religious affiliation”).
But we believe that the root meaning is even simpler.
the Rg-Veda, the word varNa usually (17 out of 22 times) refers
to the “lustre” (i.e. “one’s own typical light”, a meaning obviously related
to “colour”) of specified gods: Usha, Agni, Soma, etc.69
As for the remaining cases, in 3:34:5 and 9:71:2 it indicates the lustrous
colour of the sky at dawn. In 1:104:2 and 2:12:4, reference is only
to quelling the varNa of the DAsas, - meaning “the Dasas’
luster” (in the first case, Ralph Griffith translates it as “the fury of
the DAsa”). Finally, in the erotic Rg-Vedic hymn 4:179, verse 6,
where Agastya, in doing the needful with his wife Lopamudra to obtain progeny,
is said to satisfy “both varNas”, this is understood by some as
referring quite plainly to the two families of husband and wife, who rejoice
in the arrival of a grandchild. Since the hymn mentions the conflict
between sexuality and asceticism, others interpret it as meaning “both
paths (of worldliness and world-renunciation)”. At any rate, there
is simply no question of reading a racist meaning into it.
for the sake of argument, let us assume that some of the above references
to “colour” or “blackness” are really about dark-skinned neighbouring tribes.
That would still not prove that the lighter-skinned people were invaders.
At the same latitude and in essentially the same climate, the people of
Mesopotamia are predominantly white; the presence of whitish people in
northwestern India can be explained by the same factors as their presence
in Mesopotamia, and does not require an invasion. Nor would it prove
that the Vedic Aryans were racists: there is not the slightest hint anywhere
in the vast Vedic literature that “dark-skinned” tribes were treated as
enemies because of their skin colour, that there existed a doctrine
of inequality by skin colour. It is only said that these “demons”
disrupted the worship of the gods, so that the Aryans had to defend their
culture against them.
in their specific Vedic contexts, the terms which we have just discussed
do not fit the “white Aryans attack black Dasas” scenario at all.
Most conflicts hinted at in the Vedas and described in the Puranas are
between different Aryan tribes and kings. A closer reading of the
ancientmost Indian writings reveals a total absence of any immigration
stories. In fact, even if there had been mention of a struggle between
“whites” and “blacks”, this would still not be proof of an immigration.
From Pashtunistan and Kashmir southeastwards, skin colour changes fast
from nearly white to nearly black; to a race-conscious observer, a war
between two tribes could therefore easily look like a war between “whites”
and “blacks”, even when neither tribe had invaded the Indian subcontinent
B.R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.1, p.16-22 (from his Caste
in India), p.49 (from his Annihilation of Caste); p.74-85 (from
his Who Were the Shudras?), p.301-303 (from his The Untouchables).
I have discussed these passages in K. Elst: Dr. Ambedkar, a True Aryan,
Voice of India, Delhi 1994, p.15-23.
Pathak: “Semantics of Arya: Its Historical Implications”, in S.B. Deo and
Suryanath Kamath: The Aryan Problem, p.86-99; S. Talageri: Aryan
Invasion Theory, p.226-254.
V.S. Pathak: “Semantics of Arya”, in Deo & Kamath, The Aryan Problem,
is admitted in so many words by Sir Monier-Williams in his A Sanskrit-English
Dictionary, entry tvac. Reference is to Rg Veda 1:92:5
pointed out by Dr. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.7, p.82.
It should be kept in mind that gods were primarily identified with stars
and their “lustre”.
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