Joined: 15 November 2009
Is this column being authored by an Aryan journalist for the benefit of largely Dravidian readers? Don't laugh. I know it sounds absurd, offensive even, but the Aryan-Dravidian divide has long been one of the foundations of the ancient history we teach our children. Consequently, it has subconsciously shaped the thinking of much of the middle class and contributed to a mind-set in which north Indians see themselves as descendents of strong European invaders and Dravidians are treated as their traditional enemies.
But the more we learn about ancient history and about the battles between Aryans and Dravidians, the more dubious this divide seems to be.
The Aryan invasion theory, in its simplest form, posits that India was inhabited by Dravidians till about 3,000 or 4,000 years ago (the dates vary) when fair-skinned Aryans from Central Asia invaded the sub-continent. They conquered north India and pushed the Dravidians to the south. They brought Sanskrit with them along with Hinduism and created the India that we know today.
This theory also claims that the Aryans left their original homes in Central Asia in waves. One group went to India. One group went to Iran (the Shah used to call himself Arya Meher or 'Light of the Aryans'). And others ended up in Europe (remember Hitler and his Aryan theories?). When I was at school, much was made of the links between north Indians and Europeans. Sanskrit and Latin had the same source, we were told. The Gods of ancient Greece, ancient Rome and ancient India were the same – they only had different names. The reason why so many north Indians could be fair was because their genes had preserved the original Aryan characteristics.
One of the problems with India is that society has little sense of history. We treat issues such as our origins as being the stuff of school lessons. We never keep up with advances in research and the only time history becomes the subject of a national discussion is when an issue like the Babri Masjid erupts.
Consequently, most of us have missed the historical and archaeological discoveries that have all but destroyed the theory of the Aryan invasion. Though some historians say that the Aryans came to India as nomads and married into the local population, others are beginning to dispute the thesis of the Aryan invasion in its entirety. What's more, some genetic studies have found it impossible to distinguish between an Aryan and a Dravidian. Geneticists suggest that most of us are descended from migrants from Africa, who probably got to India around 60,000 years ago. Further, the mitochondrial DNA of Europeans is different from that of Indians, casting doubt on theories that posit a common origin. Nor are their huge genetic variations between Aryans and Dravidians.
Then, there's the problem of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The first Indus Valley sites, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, were excavated in the early years of the 20th century. Startled to discover that a well-advanced urban civilisation had existed in India around 2,600 BC, the British found this hard to reconcile with the Aryan invasion theory. Were the people of the Indus Valley Dravidians? If so, they were certainly far more advanced than any central Asian people of that era. How could the Aryans have defeated them?
Some British archaeologists suggested that the people of the Indus Valley were Mesopotamians who had come to settle in India. This was easily disproved and the discovery, in recent years, that there are 1,500 Indus Valley sites all the way from Sind to Gujarat suggests that the history of that period needs to be re-written.
|"The north must shed its air of pointless victorious superiority. In parts of the south, they must abandon the siege mentality and sense of Dravidian identity that has led them to prolong a needless conflict with the north."|
What some historians are now suggesting is that the British theory of an Aryan invasion was politically convenient for the Raj. The British liked the idea of fair-skinned Europeans (or quasi-Europeans) conquering India and bringing civilisation to the natives. But the evidence for such a theory is almost entirely non-existent. In fact, the only evidence for some kind of Indo-European link is linguistic: the links between Sanskrit and Latin.
If you abandon the Aryan invasion theory, then you are left with a very different version of ancient Indian history. You would have to say that 4,000 years ago (or 5,000 or 6,000, depending on which dates you accept) India boasted of an advanced city-based civilisation. For reasons we do not fully understand (the drying up of the Saraswati river is one theory) that civilisation faded. But the people of India continued to develop in a variety of other ways (some of them agrarian).
There may have been visitors or migrants from Central Asia but their numbers were not large enough to unbalance the proportions of the local people or to introduce a new culture. In other words, there was no Aryan-Dravidian divide. India continued to be inhabited by indigenous people and like all old civilisations, continued to welcome migrants from other places.
If this was indeed the case, then there are various consequences for society and politics. First of all, we need to accept that Hinduism is not a religion that was transported to India from Central Asia. It is an Indian creation and traces of Hindu influence are visible in the Indus Valley cities.
Secondly, we need to abandon this foolish emotional conflict between the north and the south, between Aryan and Dravidian. We are all the same people. It is true that many parts of the south have a distinctive culture and linguistic heritage of their own which is quite different from, say, the culture and language of Punjab. But the differences between north and south are not that great. There are enormous differences between Bengal and Punjab, for instance. But nobody casts those differences in terms of race or historical conflict. India is a large country and differences are inevitable.
In terms of how we live our everyday lives, these may not be important discoveries. But in terms of regional psychology, their impact is phenomenal. The north must shed its air of pointless victorious superiority. In parts of the south, they must abandon the siege mentality and sense of Dravidian identity that has led them to prolong a needless conflict with the north.
History tells us that we are all Indians and have always been so. We must reject the divisive history concocted by the British and focus on the facts as we know them. India is one of the cradles of civilisation judging by the excavations of Indus Valley cities. We have gone through ups and downs in our history. But we have not learnt civilisation from Central Asians or borrowed our Hinduism from them.
It's time to take pride in being Indian. And time to reject the bogus divisions that we have been misled by.
I recommend Jagmohan's new book, Reformed, Reawakened and Enlightened Hinduism, for a fuller discussion of these issues
Joined: 15 November 2009
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