The Origin and History of the Aryans of Ancient India

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

This article presents the divergent opinions and pros and cons of Aryan invasion from different perspectives. However, it requires further improvement, order and clarity. Hence, please consider this as a work in progress, and not the final version. We have several other essays on this subject. Please check the links at the end of this essay

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.

HistorianPropose Homeland of Aryans
Max MuellerCentral Asia
B.G.TilakArctic Region
A.C.DassSapta Sindhu or the Punjab region
Swami Dayanand SaraswathiTibet
NehringSouthern Russia
PokornyA wide area located in Russia between Weser and Vistula and up to White Russia and Volhynia
BrandensteinKirghiz steppe
Nazi/German ScholarsGermany
MorganWestern Siberia
JairazbhoyWest of Caspian Sea
Prof. MacDonnelEastern Europe
Dr. GilesAustria and Hungary
Dr. Subhash Kak and othersIndia

There is also a divergence of opinion among those who support the Aryan invasion theory with regard to their subsequent expansion in 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 faiths and sectarian movements like Saivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism.

The last view that India itself might be the original land of the Aryans has been gaining ground as circumstantial evidence and genetic studies do not confirm the Aryan invasion theory as proposed by the British and other European scholars. Historically, India was known as Aryavarta, meaning the land of the Aryans. This was not a mere coincidence. No other country, land, or region was historically known by that name. The ancestors of Aryans might have come from Africa or Central Asia, but the Aryan culture was distinctly indigenous and derived from the Kshatriya clans of the Vedic civilization. The Buddha was a Kshatriya, a person of noble birth. His followers often addressed him as Aryaputra, meaning the son of an Arya. So was Mahavira. They were remnants of the ancient wisdom which the Kshatriyas preached through the Upanishads, and which was at times in variance with the ritual knowledge of the Vedas (karmakanda) practiced by the Brahmanas.

The Aryans were men of the original Indian nobility. The Rajputs of today and other warrior groups, are their descendants. They originally worshipped Brahma, Indra, Varuna, Soma, Mitra, etc., who were Kshatriya gods (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad), who were subsequently relegated to a secondary position in the Hindu pantheon as rulers of directions (dikpalas). It is not a coincidence that the only major temple of Brahma is found in Rajaputana and he lost his popular appeal. By the time of the Nandas and Mauryas (who came from lower castes), the Vedic Kshatriyas lost their power and disappeared, but left their mark as symbols of authority and nobility. 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 before they were superseded by other political and feudal groups.

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 grammatically 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 part of a series of migrations of different nomadic communities and races that came either peacefully or through force to the Indian subcontinent by land or by sea during the early human migrations between 10000 BCE - 5000 BCE before the Sindhu Saraswathi civilization reached its peak and settled there. Over time those communities created a rich tapestry of social, religious and cultural diversity that is peculiarly and uniquely Indian.

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