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The Origin and History of Aryans

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by Jayaram V

There is a consensus opinion among many historians that the Aryans were a heterogeneous group of people who lived in different parts of the ancient world in the area comprising Mediterranean, parts of Europe, central Asia and north western India. There is also an established opinion in the academic circles that the ancestors of "some" Indians, Persians, Germans,  Greeks, Romans, and the Celts were Aryans, who worshipped different gods and goddesses, used fire in their rituals and spoke many languages, which have evolved into the present day Indo European languages.

The Indo Iranian group of Aryans settled in Iran and parts of north western India. Although they seemed to have shared a common ancestry, they parted their ways in matters of language and religion.

However, there is a divergence of opinion among various scholars as to the original homeland of Aryans, which is summarized below. Indian historians who deal with the subject fall broadly into two categories: those who suggest that the Indian origin of the Aryans and those who support the non-Indian origin of Aryans. Neither side has come up with convincing evidence or argument so far. 

Historian Propose Homeland of Aryans
Max Mueller Central Asia
B.G.Tilak Arctic Region
A.C.Dass Sapta Sindhu or the Punjab region 
Swami Dayanand Saraswathi Tibet
Nehring Southern Russia
Pokorny A wide area located in Russia between Weser and Vistula and up to White Russia and Volhynia
Brandenstein Kirghiz steppe
Nazi/German Scholars Germany
Morgan Western Siberia
Jairazbhoy West of Caspian Sea
Prof. MacDonnel Eastern Europe
Dr. Giles Austria and Hungary

Historically, India was known as Aryavarta, meaning the land of the Aryans. This was not a mere coincidence. The Buddha was a Kshatriya, a person of noble birth. His followers often addressed him as Aryaputra, meaning the son of an Arya.

In India, until recent times, men of higher castes, landlords and those who occupied positions of authority were customarily addressed as Arya. In native literature, speeches, correspondence and letter writing it was used as the equivalent of "respected Sir." Its corrupt form in Telugu, the second largest native language after Hindi, is "ayya," which is used even today as a mark of respect to address elderly people, fatherly figures and men of authority.

Thus, by usage and by custom we have clear evidence that India had a very deep and historic connection with the concept of Arya, a tradition which most likely originated in memory of an ancient group of people who inhabited the region and wielded considerable influence, power and authority.

There is also a divergence of opinion with regard to the expansion of Aryans into the Indian subcontinent.

According to one school of thought the Aryans came in hordes and first settled in northwestern India, from where they migrated gradually towards the Gangetic valley, north eastern India and southern India.

According to some, they probably came in two or more waves and colonized the land. There is no evidence to suggest that they occupied the land forcibly and even if they did it must have been on a limited scale. As they migrated towards the east, they had to deal with more powerful and organized native communities and established political powers, whom they could not conquer politically. So their expansion into the subcontinent beyond the Sapta Sindhu region must have happened peacefully through the migration of families of wandering priests and sages rather than through political conquest.

The ruling classes in these regions were drawn to Vedic religion but not completely. So some compromise on the part of both sides and some integration of religious practices took place. This is evident from the fact that regions comprising of present day UP, Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, parts of MP, all of southern India and western India were not thoroughly Aryanized and that the basic character of Vedic religion underwent dramatic changes during the post Rigvedic period.

Historically these areas also witnessed the predominance of non-Vedic religions and sectarian movements like Jainism, Buddhism, Saivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism. 

It has to be remembered that India has always been, as it is now, a heterogeneous society where people belonging to difference races, religions, languages and backgrounds coexisted.

They came to India in the remote past from different parts of the world, from Africa, Mediterranean, Europe, central Asia, Russia, China and probably Arctic region by land and by sea.

While there was an inward migration into the subcontinent, there was also probably some outward migration towards the east, north and west and even to some islands in the Pacific and Australia.

For example, contrary to the popular opinion, the people of Andhra Pradesh were immigrants from different regions within the subcontinent as well from regions outside India. The invading armies of Sakas, Pahlavas, Persians and Kushanas settled in various parts of the country and became an integral part of native communities. So it is incorrect to divide the Indian population mere into two or three groups. It is also incorrect to classify Telugu as a purely Dravidian language. In fact, it has elements of both Indo-European and Dravidian languages. Its most literary form, which, Sri Krishna Devaraya, the king of Vijayanagara, famously considered the best of the native tongues, is very close to Sanskrit both gramatically and syntactically.

The Indus people knew how to build ports or trade merchandise by rivers and sea using boats. They knew how to chart their course through dangerous seas using the position of the stars and the movements of the sun and the moon. It is wrong to assume that the Aryans introduced an organized religion or an advanced civilization in the Indian subcontinent in the backdrop of an inferior civilization.

In conclusion we may say that the Aryan migration, if there was one, was one in a series of migrations of different communities and races that came to the Indian subcontinent either peacefully or through force and settled there. Over a period of time these communities interacted with one another to create a rich tapestry of social, religious and cultural practices that are peculiarly and uniquely Indian.

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