The Myth of Aryan Invasions of India
by M. Lal Goel, PhD
University of West Florida
The often perceived and frequently quoted racial division in India between the fairer Aryan North and the darker Dravidian South is pernicious and dangerous. The British gave currency to this view of racial divide in India. It was part of their “divide and rule” strategy. The Northern people in India got especially sucked into this interpretation of history. It made the “Aryan” northerners appear racially closer to the white races of Europe. This viewpoint is also popular in Sri Lanka, where the Singhalese majority believe that they are descendants of Aryans from the North of India and that Tamils of Sri Lanka are not.
New interpretations of ancient Indian history cast a serious doubt that Aryans entered India from the outside, and that the Dravidian people were the conquered races, and further that the Dravidians were pushed down south by the invading Aryans.
Sri Aurobindo debunked this theory of a racial division between the North and South in India. Sri Aurobindo is the great light that blazed across the Indian horizon during the first half of the twentieth century (1872-1950). He was a historian, a philosopher, a poet, a mystic, a yogi, a freedom fighter, and a scholar. Sri Aurobindo has written commentaries on the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Therefore, when Sri Aurobindo speaks, we listen.
For anyone who seriously wishes to pursue the topic of north-south division in India, I recommend K. D. Sethna’s The Problem of Aryan Origins (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1980 and 1992). Sethna (also known as Amal Kiran) is a distinguished disciple of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. Also recommended is Francis Gautier’s Rewriting Indian History (New Delhi, Vikas, 1996).
Aryans and Dravidians are related from days of antiquity. They are not separate races, as the British would have us believe. Contrary to the common view, the languages of the north and south are related. A large part of the vocabulary of the South Indian languages (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam) is derived from Sanskrit.
Hindus collectively have no racial memory that an Aryan invasion of India took place around 1,500 B.C., contrary to what modern history teaches. None of the Hindu scriptures describe that a conquest of India occurred in ancient times. Surely the extensive Hindu scriptures would narrate the story of invasions of India, if indeed they happened. Some people misread Ramayana as describing an invasion of the South from the North. Ravana, the vanquished king from the South is not described anywhere in the Ramayana as belonging to an alien or an inferior racial stock. Ravana was indeed a scholar of the Vedas ( a Chaturvedi) and belonged to the same cultural group as the victorious Rama.
People who give credence to an Aryan invasion of India cite archeological evidence as proof of their point of view. Among the thousands of clay seals that have been found in the region of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, supposedly the home originally of the Dravidian people), no seals depict the horse or the wheel. In contrast, Aryans were known to have horses and used the chariot. They used the horse and the chariot to subdue natives of the Indus Valley. Sethna disputes this evidence. Some seals depicting the wheel have indeed been discovered at the Harappan archeological sites. The wheel was known to the people of the Indus Valley.
Francois Gautier cites recent research which indicates that the script on the Indus seals is of Sanskrit lineage. This proves that the people of Harappa belonged to a much older Vedic age.
An invasion of India from the outside around 1,500 B. C. did not occur. People of North and South in India have lived together as one group since antiquity. This is Sethna’s overall conclusion. People who talk of an Aryan conquest of India parrot the 19th century British viewpoint.
Recent scholarship does not deny that the people in India had relations with other Indo-European people in Asia and Europe. There was a belt stretching from India to the Mediterranean inhabited by a people who spoke related languages, known as the Indo-European languages. Sanskrit is the oldest known language in this family and may appropriately be called as the Mother of Indo-European languages.
Those who seek to foster the unity of India need to emphasize the unity of India, not its division. In the great cultural and religious history of India, important contributions have come from every region in the nation. The vast Ganga-Jamuna plain in the North of India is indeed the original heartland of Hinduism. This is the seat of Ayodhya (Bihar), Mathura and Vrindavan (UP), Kurukshetra (Haryana), and Indraprasatha (Delhi). The Great Mahabharata war was fought in the northern plains.
The eighth to thirteenth century Hindu revival movement originated in the South. Sankaracharya (from Kerala) defeated Buddhists in argumentation and laid the foundation of modern day Hinduism. Ramanuja (Tamilnad) and Madhava (Kannada) popularized the Bhakti movement. Sankara and Ramanuja traveled to many parts of India to establish centers of teaching and learning. Sankara wrote extensive commentaries on Brahma Sutras, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which are read all over the country.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, Mirabai from Rajasthan, Tulsidas from U.P, Nanak from Punjab, Jnaneshwar from Maharashtra, Jaideva (author of Gita Govinda) from Orissa, have all contributed to Hindu religion.
The four Tirathas and Dhams ( Badri Nath, Rameshwaram, Puri, Dwarka) are located in four corners of India, north, south, east and west. Every pious Hindu aspires to visit the four Dhams in one’s lifetime.
Narrow minded and ignorant Indians who equate Hinduism as belonging to one particular region of the country do disservice to the cause of a united India.
Some narrow-minded Hindus equate Hinduism with the North and with Hindi language. This viewpoint grows out of ignorance. Be it noted that Sanskrit language originally did not have its own script. It was written in various local scripts. Thus it used a variety of scripts, not Devanagri script alone. This information is attributed to the authority of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulum in Pennsylvania. Swami Dayananda is a first-rate Sanskrit scholar.
These views are of the author and do not reflect those of any institution or the university.