Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Political aspects of the Aryan invasion debate


1. 3. 1. Taboo on Indo-European studies

The association of racist doctrines with the term “Aryan”, introduced in Western languages as a synonym of “Indo-European”, had as one of its side-effects that after the collapse of Nazi Germany, the entire field of IE studies came under a shadow. Specialists of IE culture were ipso facto suspected of Nazi sympathies. Sometimes this was not altogether baseless, e.g. the Dutch scholar Jan de Vries, whose studies on Germanic and Celtic culture are still standard works, was chairman of the Kulturkammer, the collaborationist institution which controlled the purse strings for all cultural activities under the German occupation of the Netherlands. Under his supervision, Nazi themes were cunningly interwoven with legitimate Dutch or Germanic folklore. Though arguably not a full-blooded Nazi by conviction, he could hardly be considered innocent. In other cases, this suspicion is quite misplaced, e.g. in the case of Georges Dumézil, actually a critic of Nazism, cautious in public but quite outspoken in his minor writings and private communications. (88) It is true that Dumézil sympathized with Italian Fascism, but Fascism stricto sensu contrasted with Nazism in very important respects, esp. in not being racist (the Communist-imposed usage of “fascism” as a generic term or as a synonym of National-Socialism, resulting from Stalin’s desire to avoid staining the term “socialism” with Hitlerian associations, obscures the contrast between the two systems). It has been shown that Dumézil’s sympathy for Fascism and contempt for Nazism may have influenced his views of ancient Germanic religion, which he contrasted unfavourably with ancient Roman religion. (89) In Dumézil’s studies ca. 1940, Germanic religion is criticized as a defective evolute of IE religion, having lost the spiritual and overemphasized the martial function: this was at least partly a projection onto the past of the militarization of Germany in Dumézil’s own day. As late as 1982, a survey of Swedish national history had its chapters on the settlement of the Indo-Europeans in Scandinavia cut out. Not rewritten but cut out, for the very mention of the Indo-Europeans (not even “Aryans”) was considered irredeemably tainted. (90) The hysterical nature of this act of censorship comes out more clearly when you realize that the settlement of IE immigrants coming to Scandinavia from the southeast goes against the Nazi predilection for a North-European Urheimat of the “Aryans”. Even now, normalcy in this department of historical research has not been entirely restored yet. This taboo on IE studies emanates from lazy or superstitious minds: rather than identifying exactly what was wrong with Nazism, they simply label everything which was ever associated with the Nazi regime, albeit accidentally or even illegitimately (as with the swastika, borrowed without permission, through the Theosophy-led “occultist” revival, from Hindu-Jain-Buddhist tradition) (91), as being somehow the root cause of the Holocaust. All kinds of things justly or unjustly associated with the Nazi regime are still under a cloud eventhough they have in any case nothing to do with the crimes of that regime. Thus, in 1997, the German Minister of Postal Services, Wolfgang Bötsch (belonging to the right-wing Christlich-Soziale Union), stopped the printing of poststamps commemorating the 200th anniversary of the liberal German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) because they showed the years of his birth and death with the runic signs Man (a glyph resembling a tree with upward branches, suggesting life) c. q. Yr (“yew”, a tree with branches hanging down, signifying death), still a common usage in North-European graveyards. Someone had protested that runes are tainted by their association with the Nazi elite corps, the SS, whose sigil carried the letters SS in runic script. In reality, the rune script is thousands of years old and has nothing to do with the Nazi ideology, even less than the Roman script in which the orders for exterminating the Jews were written. In some cases, this fear of anything that was in any way related to Nazi Germany is simply silly, e.g. the tirades in the leading Belgian daily La Libre Belgique in the post-war years against plans for a national motorway network, citing the grim objection that the German motorways had been built by Hitler. It is a modern form of superstition, as if all these items are somehow magically tainted with the Nazi evil. In other cases, the tendency to cast the net of Nazi guilt as widely as possible is a deliberate strategy born from self-interested calculation. Thus, many members of the post-war generation enjoyed putting the entire generation of their parents in the dock, telling them that their values (order, discipline, morality), which Hitler had also extolled, had “led to” Auschwitz. Communists still try to capitalize on their victory against Nazism in their struggle against other opponents, arguing e.g. that liberal democracy is deeply flawed and that this is proven by Hitler’s rise to power through democratic elections: so, down with democracy, for it has “led to” Hitler’s regime. In the present case, Christians and secularists who try to make the (largely mythical) association of ancient IE Pagan culture with Nazism stick to the old enemy: Pagan religion, including the neo-Paganism now emerging in many European countries. (92) For all we know about ancient IE culture, or certainly about the ancient Celtic, Baltic, Slavic and Germanic ancestors of the modern Germans, they were very freedom-loving, they had a decentralized polity and a pluralistic religion, and they had of course no notion of anti-Semitism. They would never have felt at home in Hitler’s regimented and racially obsessed Nazi state.


1. 3. 2. Paradigm inertia

From the usefulness of the AIT for political ends, it does not follow that the AIT was coined simply as a political weapon. Both in Europe and in India, many scholars have believed and still believe that the AIT is simply the most convincing hypothesis to account for a number of actual data in linguistics and other disciplines. The tendency in some Indian circles to denounce linguistics as a “pseudo-science” for having generated the AIT, or to allege that the AIT was “concocted” by political schemers, must be rejected. On the whole, the scholars concerned genuinely believed in their own hypotheses, and were sincerely trying to make sense of newly-discovered facts such as the linguistic kinship between the languages of Europe and northern India. But if the Western scholars are not guided by political motives, their Hindu critic might ask, why are they so stubborn in refusing to acknowledge facts which may disturb the AIT? Why, for example, have they failed, all through the past decade, to acknowledge the relevance of the twin fact that archaeology locates the Harappan civilization mostly in the Saraswati river basin, and that Vedic literature places Vedic civilization in the same Saraswati basin, in both cases before the river dried up in ca. 2000 BC? If historians and linguists sometimes display great ingenuity in explaining away (or just ignoring) facts inconvenient to their pet theory, this should be seen as merely a case of the universal tendency to stick to established beliefs until the evidence to the contrary becomes really overwhelming. Scientists - in any field - abhor the disorder created by information which is incompatible with the established theory, and therefore rightfully continue to assume that a second look will smoothen this initial incompatibility and “domesticate” the new information. They have a very functional kind of immunity to facts disturbing the paradigm which underlies their research. Even a first-rate and patriotic Indian historian like R. C. Majumdar had the same capacity to keep on ignoring facts disobeying the theory to which his mind had become accustomed, viz. the AIT. After describing how many cultural elements of the “pre-Aryan” Indus civilization have survived till today, Majumdar displays that typical academic skill of not taking even registered facts into account once they come in conflict with the paradigm: “How such a great culture and civilization could vanish without leaving any trace or even memory behind it, is a problem that cannot be solved at the present state of our knowledge.” (93) Such a huge anomaly should call the theory itself into question, esp. when an alternative is ready at hand, and is even suggested by facts mentioned by Majumdar himself, viz. that there is a straight continuity between the Indus civilization and the later stages of “Aryan” culture. For another example, the allusions to armed conflict in the Rg-Veda have always been taken to refer to the confrontation between the Aryan invaders and the defenders of the indigenous culture. Madhav M. Deshpande remarks about these references: “It is extremely important to recognize that all of these references to dasyu-hattya[= killing of the Dasyu enemies] are found in those parts of the RV which are traditionally regarded to be late parts of the text.” (94) This should imply that the invaders were at first on good terms with the natives (like the Mayflower pioneers with the Native Americans) but became hostile later; or that the Vedic people were stable inhabitants of the region which forms the permanent background of the Vedic hymns, and were confronted with these Dasyus at a later stage, viz. when the Dasyus invaded the Vedic-Aryan territory; or that this hostility had nothing to do with a confrontation between invaders and natives. But Deshpande doesn’t even consider any of these possibilities: “This would most probably mean that even by the time of the late parts of the RV, the attitudes of the Vedic Aryans had not significantly changed, and that they still regarded the dasyus as those who deserve to be killed by Indra.” (95) After saying in so many words that the earlier layers of the RV do not contain this hostility, he claims that the late parts “still” have it, and that the Aryans’ attitude “had not significantly changed”, when it had actually changed from neutral to hostile, as per his own summary of the Vedic data. When facts challenging the AIT stare him in the face, the scholar tends to prefer the familiar theory to the unwilling facts, and this phenomenon can exist quite separately from any possible political bias.


1. 3. 3. Political excuse for non-argumentation: the West

One consequence of the political connotations of the rivalling theories is that people feel justified in dismissing the theory they don’t like as “politically motivated” and therefore obviously wrong and not worth refuting. This phenomenon is in evidence in both wings of the political pro-AIT coalition, a certain European Right and a certain Indian Left (plus its friends in the West). Thus, the survey of IE studies in the French periodical Nouvelle Ecole devotes exactly one footnote to the entire argumentation for an Indian Urheimat, which it dismisses as “in self-evident contradiction with all the data of linguistics and comparative mythology” and as the symptom of “an exacerbated Indian nationalism”. (96) Consequently, it does not care to mention the Indian Urheimat theory in its discussion of “the five existing (Urheimat) hypotheses”. (97) This is, of course, a case of the “genetic fallacy”: to assume that a position must be wrong because of the motive in which it allegedly originates. Quite apart front the fact that this motive is merely imputed, and often falsely so, no good or evil motive can make a proposition right or wrong; it is perfectly possible to speak the truth for the wrong reasons. Bernard Sergent, in an otherwise brilliant book, can equally dispose of the anti-invasionist argument in a single footnote, in which he accuses American archaeologist Jim Shaffer of “manipulations”, which consist in “simply ignoring the linguistic data”. (98) He misrepresents scientist N. S. Rajaram’s argument against the linguistic evidence for the Aryan invasion as follows: “Linguistics is not a science because it doesn’t reach the same conclusions as I do.” (In reality, Rajaram’s critique concerns the tendency common among linguists to treat hypothetical reconstructions as historical facts, and the impossibility for historical linguistics to satisfy two tests of real science, viz. reproducing its findings and defining test criteria which can show up its claims as false.) (99) Sergent also dismisses conferences such as the 1996 conference of the World Association for Vedic Studies in Atlanta on the Indus-Saraswati civilization as propaganda exercises betraying a crusading rather than a dispassionate scholarly spirit. This is rather poor as refutation, but then his whole point is precisely that theories construed as emanating from a political agenda are simply not worth discussing or refuting. There are cases where the impression of political usefulness of a theory has stimulated research without really obstructing the researchers’ objectivity and sincerity. Thus, in the 19th century, French scholars eagerly explored the possibility that the Italic and Celtic branches of the IE language family had, after separating from PIE, continued for long as a single language group: such a scenario would have helped in strengthening the French nation’s historical identity, otherwise split between a biological Celtic ancestry and linguistic Latin roots. This research ultimately led to the non-desired conclusion that Celtic and Italic were, after all, not much closer to each other than either is to Germanic or Greek. Ironically, recent research has revived and given new support to the idea that Italic and Celtic did share a common itinerary for some centuries after the break-up of IE unity, and this is not any less true just because it has been a pet theory of French chauvinists. Another example of the refused to discuss “politically motivated” research is the treatment given to Shrikant Talageri in a prestigious book specifically setting itself the task of countering the rising tide of doubts voiced by archaeologists and philologists about the AIT. One may or may not agree with Talageri’s anti-AIT position, but he has undoubtedly built up a painstaking argumentation with ample reference to state-of-the-art scholarship, and he deserves better than this comment by George Erdosy, who locates him in the “lunatic fringe” and judges: “Unfortunately, political motivation (usually associated with Hindu revivalism) renders this opposition devoid of scholarly value”. (100) In the same volume, Michael Witzel dismisses his work as “modern Hindu exegetical or apologetic religious writing”. (101) So far, so good; Erdosy and Witzel are entitled to their opinions, even to calling a fellow scholar a “lunatic” (though I doubt that they could get their articles past the editor of an academic journal if they applied this term to a Western scholar). (102) But the point is: they don’t show even the least acquaintance with the actual arguments offered by Talageri. Both Erdosy and Witzel refer to: “S. K. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, Aditya Prakashan 1993”. That is how the book’s data were given in a (laudatory) review by Girilal Jain in the Times of India of 17 June 1993. Unfortunately, the author’s real name is Talageri, and the book’s publisher is not Aditya Prakashan (though there is another edition of the same book under a different title by Aditya Prakashan, hence the reviewer’s confusion), but Voice of India. (103) This indicates that the book which Erdosy and Witzel dismiss in such strong terms has never even been on their desk.


1. 3. 4. Political excuse for non-argumentation: India

In India too, proponents of the AIT use the alleged political connotations of the rival theory as a handy pretext for avoiding discussion of the actual evidence. Thus, historian Romila Thapar devotes a 27-page lead article in a social science periodical (which admits in an editorial note that the article’s publication is a political move to counter “the Hindutva forces”, and falsely narrows the non-AIT school down to “the RSS”) to “The Theory of Aryan Race and India” practically without mentioning the evidence presented by the non-AIT school. (104) She invokes “the linguistic evidence” twice as proof of a late chronology for the Vedas (1500 BC), without telling us how the linguistic data prove her point. Off-hand, she brings in “the Indo-Iranian links” as proof of the same “since the earliest suggested date now for Zoroaster is circa 1200 BC”, ignoring the fact that the dating of Zoroaster’s Avesta is itself based on the late chronology of the Vedas (the Avestan language being a slightly younger offshoot of Indo-Iranian than Vedic Sanskrit). This cavalier way of dealing with evidence apparently stems from the feeling that the anti-AIT case need not be taken seriously. Most importantly, Romila Thapar’s entire article could easily have been written several decades ago, for she totally disregards all the evidence from archaeology and archaeo-astronomy presented by her opponents in recent years. She does mention the existence of a non-AIT school, but explains it away as partly an RSS conspiracy, partly a symptom of a psychological identity crisis in Non-Resident Indians, meaning US-based scientists N. S. Rajaram and Subhash Kak and historian Sushil Mittal of the International Institute for Indian Studies in Québec. The same disregard for recent evidence is noticeable in R. S. Sharma’s book Looking for the Aryans, which went to the press in November 1994 but fails to mention the pre-1994 argumentations against the AIT by K. D. Sethna, S. P. Gupta (the only RSS man in the non-AIT school), David Frawley, Shrikant Talageri and others, even in the bibliography. Thus, Sharma repeats the old identification of Painted Grey Ware with the invading Aryans, in stark disregard of the fact that the scholars whom he is countering (as well as some who never opposed the AIT) have demonstrated that PGW was but one “Aryan” art form among others, and that it is not traceable to Central Asia as a marker of invading Aryans. (105) The derivation of a judgment on the Urheimat question from the alleged motives of the proponents of the contending theories is all-pervading and vitiates the whole debate. Yet, if a theory can be considered wrong simply because it is being used for political ends, it is clear that the AIT itself must be the wrongest theory in the world: one looks in vain for a historical hypothesis which has been more tainted with various political uses including the most lethal ones.



88A list and rebuttal of the allegations against Dumézil is given in Didier Eribon: Faut-it brûler Dumézil? (“Should Dumézil be burned at the stake?”), Flammarion, Paris 1992. Of course, malafide authors keep on repeating the refuted allegations.

89Bruce Lincoln: “Rewriting the German war god: Georges Dumézil, politics and scholarship in the late 1930s”, History of Religions, Feb. 1998.

90The work affected is R. & G. Haland: Bra Böckers Världhistoria, vol. 1, Höganäs 1982, as reported in Christopher Prescott & Eva Walderhaug: “The Last Frontier? Processes of Indo-Europeanization in Northern Europe: the Norwegian Case”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, autumn/winter 1995, p-257-278.

91In its final report (1997), the Belgian Parliamentary Enquiry Committee on Cults counted the Mahikari movement of Japanese Shinto origin among the dangerous cults and accused it of “extreme Right” connections, citing no other evidence than that a swastika had been seen on its premises. Buddhist temples in the West have been targets of serious vandalism because of the swastikas on their walls. The swastika is used to prove the essentially evil character of Hinduism in Evangelical propaganda, e.g. the 1980s’ movie Gods of the New Age by Jeremiah Films, discussed with indignation by a more fair-minded missionary, Richard Young, in Areopagus (Hong Kong), Christmas 1990.

92A Christian attempt to associate Paganism with Nazism is Robert A. Pois: National Socialism and the Religion of Nature, Croom Helm, Beckenham GB 1986. A secularist attempt to impute a proto-Nazi mind-set to Paganism is found in numerous passages in Bernard-Henry Lévy’s books Le Testament de Dieu, Grasset, Paris 1979, and L’Idéologie Française, ibid. 1981.

93R. C. Majumdar: Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1991 (1952), p. 19; emphasis added.

94M. M. Deshpande: “Genesis of Rgvedic Retroflexion”, in M. M. Deshpande & P. E. Hook: Aryan and Non-Aryan in India, Ann Arbor 1979, p. 300.

95M. M. Deshpande: “Genesis of Rgvedic Retroflexion”, in M. M. Deshpande & P. E. Hook: Aryan and Non-Aryan in India, p. 300.

96Alain de Benoist in Nouvelle Ecole 49, Paris 1997, p. 44.

97Alain de Benoist in Nouvelle Ecole 49, Paris 1997, p. 50.

98Bernard Sergent: Ganèse de l’Inde, Payot, Paris 1997, p. 477. Shaffer is also derided for consulting only English-language publications.

99 See e.g. N. S. Rajaram: Aryan Invasion of India, the Mob and the Truth, Voice of India, Delhi 1993, p. 42, and Politics of History, ibid. 1995, p. 163ff.

100 G. Erdosy, ed. : Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, Waiter De Gruyter, Berlin 1995, p. x. This comment also extends to Paramesh Choudhury: The Aryans: a Modern Mob, Eastern Publ. , Delhi 1993.

101 M. Witzel in G. Erdosy: Indo-Aryans, p. 116-117. Referring to a likeminded piece by A. K. Biswas (whom he mistakenly associates with Talageri), he ridicules “the ulterior political motive of this ‘scientific’ piece”; op. cit. , p. 111.

102In spite of all the “multiculturalism” and “globalization” buzz-words, numerous Westerners still treat Indians as a lesser breed which is not to be taken seriously. Prof. U1rich Libbrecht, the Flemish pioneer of Comparative Philosophy, told me how at an international conference in Honolulu on that subject, multicultural par excellence, the average American participant treated the lectures by Indians as coffee breaks. I too have noticed many times that proposals for talks or publications by Indians are dismissed without a proper hearing on the assumption that Indians are cranks unless they have an introduction from a Western institution.

103Shrikant Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory, a Reappraisal, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi 1993, with a foreword by Prof. S. R. Rao and minus the three more political introductory chapters of the Voice of India edition: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, with foreword by Sita Ram Goel.

104R. Thapar: “The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics”, Social Scientist, Delhi, January-March 1996, p. 3-29. RSS: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, “National Volunteer Association”, a Hindu Nationalist organization founded in 1925, now several million strong, and closely linked with the Bharatiya Janata Party which came to power in March 1998.

105R. S. Sharma: Looking for the Aryans, p. 12.


1. Political aspects of the Aryan invasion debate


1. 4. 1. A primer in AIT polemic

For a case study in anti-AIT polemic, I have chosen the article “An obscurantist argument” by the Dutch-Canadian scholar Robert J. Zydenbos. (106) His bona fades is unquestionable, and he represents the majority of AIT-believing scholars in that he merely accepts the predominant opinion without having a political axe to grind, though this makes him susceptible to being influenced by AIT defenders who do have political motives. He is emphatically not a representative of the anti-Brahminism so prevalent among Western India-watchers, being in fact the author of an informed critique of this ideological distortion of much contemporary scholarship. (107) Some of the rhetoric in this article typifies the way in which certain AIT defenders in positions of authority tend to over-awe the public with references to overrated evidence, and to vilify spokesmen of the dissident non-AIT school. The piece is an attack on N. S. Rajaram, a scientist from Karnataka (in AIT parlance: a Dravidian, not an Aryan) working in the USA, who has contributed decisive insights to the AIT debate. (108) I disagree on some important points with Prof. Rajaram, most of all with his rejection of the linguistic reconstruction of an IE protolanguage; but that is no reason to dismiss his work as “a textbook example of the quasi-religious-cum-political obscurantism that is so popular among alienated Non-Resident Indians”, which is moreover “out of touch with what serious scholars both in India and abroad hold at present”, as Zydenbos alleges. “The linguistic evidence for the Indo-European origin of Sanskrit outside India is Overwhelming”, he claims, in almost verbatim agreement with Prof. Romila Thapar, whom he defends against Rajaram’s critique of her article “The Perennial Aryans”. (109) Neither in his nor in Prof. Thapar’s much lengthier article is even one item of this “overwhelming evidence” mentioned. However, Dr. Zydenbos can claim the merit of being one of the first (to my knowledge, the very first) among the defenders of the AIT to actually respond to the rising tide of anti-AIT argumentation.


1. 4. 2. Ethnically pure Aryans

Zydenbos starts his crescendo of allegations by stating something Rajaram never disputed: “No scholar seriously believes that there are any ‘ethnically pure’ Aryans in India today (and perhaps anywhere else, either). And why should anyone care?” Actually, Rajaram himself is among those who reject the notion of ‘ethnically pure Aryans’, not because of the obvious fact that countless inter-ethnic marriages have taken place, but because he rejects the use of “Aryan” as an ethnic term in the first place. As he and many others have argued time and again, the Sanskrit word Arya was not an ethnic term, it is Western scholars who have turned it into one. And it is the Western participant in this duel, Dr. Zydenbos, who, even after reading Prof. Rajaram, just continues to use “Aryan” as an ethnic and even as a racial term: “Those who called themselves ‘Aryan’ 1000 years ago were already very different from the various Aryan tribes that came over 3500 years ago (…) This too is historical fact. One only needs to learn Sanskrit to find this out.” I fear that there is something very wrong with Sanskrit courses if accomplished indologists can read Arya in a racial sense unattested in the whole of Sanskrit literature. The anti-AIT authors may nonetheless be wrong in denying an ethnic meaning to Arya altogether. While Arya was definitely never a racial or linguistic concept, it may have had a precise ethnic usage at least in some circles in one specific period. As Shrikant Talageri has shown, in the Rg-Veda, the term Arya is exclusively applied to the Puru tribe, including the Bharata clan, the community which generated the Rg-Vedic texts. Thus, when something negative is said about “Arya” people, these turn out to be non-Bharata Purus; and when the merits of a non-Puru king or sage are extolled, he may be called any term of praise but never Arya. (110) Likewise, it seems that the Iranian Avesta uses Airya in referring to a specific community, the cultivators in the Oxus river basin, contrasting it with nomadic barbarians who were similar in race and equally Iranian-speaking (generically known as Shakas/Scythians), but who were not part of the sedentary Mazdean “Airya” world. (111) The matter must be studied more closely, after freeing ourselves from the AIT-related misconceptions. For now, I speculate that the term Arya spread over the Hindu world, which included many non-Vedic Indo-Aryan-speaking tribes (Aikshvaku, Yadava, Pramshava, etc. ), along with the Vedic tradition which was originally the exclusively local tradition of the Paurava tribe and Bharata clan settled on the banks of the Saraswati river. And that it originally had an ethnic connotation, something like “the Puru tradition”, even when used as the name of a religious tradition and civilizational standard, viz. the Vedic culture, somewhat like the ethno-geographical term Roman came to mean “Catholic”. At any rate, in classical Sanskrit, Arya means “civilized”, specifically “following the norms of Vedic civilization”, and this might imply a reference to the ancient situation when Vedic culture typified the metropolis, the Saraswati region (well-attested as being the centre of both the Rg-Vedic world and Harappan civilization), which the provinces tried to emulate. In the ShAstras and in literary works, the term Arya typically takes the place which would nowadays be filled by the term Hindu, or of “the Hindu ideal”, Hindu in a normative rather than in a descriptive sense. It is in this (by that time definitely the usual) sense that the Buddha used the term Arya, as in the catvAri-Arya-satyAni, “the four noble truths”, and the Arya-ashtANgika-mArga, “the noble eightfold path”, meaning that his way (more than the petty magic with which many Veda-reciting priests made a living) fulfilled the old ideals of Vedic civilization. It is with a similar intention that the modern Veda revivalists of the Arya Samaj chose the name of their organization. While conceptions may differ concerning what the real essence of the Vedic worldview was, there has been a wide pan-Indian agreement for at least 3,000 years that Arya means a standard of civilization, regardless of language, race or even ethnicity.


1. 4. 3. Rajaram vs. Hitler

Next, Zydenbos attacks Rajaram’s reading of Romila Thapar’s article, esp. her insinuation (uttered much more explicitly elsewhere by other Marxist authors in India) (112) that the anti-AIT case is motivated by some kind of Hitlerian vision of Aryanism: “Romila Thapar does not ‘obviously refer to Nazi Germany’ when she speaks of the fantasy of an ‘Aryan nation’, but to the new Indian tendency among obscurantists towards creating something parallel.” So, alleging that someone wants to “create something parallel to Nazi Germany” does not imply a reference to Nazi Germany? In that case, we might perhaps focus on the implied allegation that those Indians who question the AIT are entertaining a fantasy of creating an “Aryan nation”. I challenge Prof. Thapar and Dr. Zydenbos to produce any publication of any Indian scholar presently questioning the AIT which contains even a hint of this “fantasy”. And I reprimand them both for using the term Arya(n) uncritically, i.e. without explicitating that it has two distinct meanings, viz. “Hindu” for Hindus, and “of Nordic race” for the Nazis. If that distinction is made, the alleged connection between Rajaram and Hitler (through the “common” term Aryan) vanishes, and this seems to go against the AIT defenders’ intentions. In the current opinion climate, accusing someone of Nazi connections is the single gravest allegation possible. I don’t think that in an academic forum, one can simply get away with such extremely serious allegations; one has to offer evidence, - or apologies. If even scholars of Zydenbos’s rank entertain the confusion between Aryan/Nordic-racist and Arya/Hindu, it is no surprise that this confusion vitiates much journalistic reporting on Hinduism and Hindu nationalism. Thus, the French monthly Le Choc du Mois once commented that the “sulphurous” BJP takes inspiration from “Bharat, the first Aryan prince in North India”. By all accounts, Bharata, patriarch of the Vedic Bharata clan, came later than many other Aryans in North India: Manu, Ikshvaku, Mandhata, Yayati, Bharat’s own ancestor Puru, et al. Anyway, here is the key to Hindu political thought: “The basis of the ‘Hindu nation’ will therefore be Aryanity, a warlike and conquering Aryanity which owes its imperial territory only to an unceasing struggle on the side of the gods.” (113) This mixes a projection of stereotypes concerning Islamic fundamentalism onto its Hindu “counterpart” with the AIT-based Aryan lore. But seriously: are Hindu scholars, if only just a few of them, thinking along the lines of “Aryan” racism? Apart from reading the works of the Indian scholars concerned, I have also privately talked with most of them, and I feel certain that no such “fantasy” is at the back of the anti-AIT polemic. In fact, what they reject in Western scholarship is precisely the creation of the conceptual framework which has made the racialist misuse of the term “Aryan” possible: “Indian Marxists in particular are singularly touchy about the whole thing and hate to be reminded that their pet dogma of the non-indigenous origin of the Vedic Aryan civilization is an offshoot of the same race theories that gave rise to Nazism.” (114)


1. 4. 4. The importance of being white

Dr. Zydenbos continues: “This includes the endorsement of blatant racism by certain Indian scholarly personalities. Thus, the archaeologist S. R. Rao, who also figures in Rajaram’s article, said at a recent seminar in Mysore in response to a student’s question about the Aryans that we should not listen to what ‘white people’ say.” I don’t know how Hitler would have felt about this slur on white people, but Zydenbos is quite mistaken when he infers that there is any “racism” behind Prof. Rao’s remark. Rao obviously did not mean that whiteness makes one unfit for researching the question of the “Aryans”. What he meant was, of course, that at present, Westerners in general are still basing their opinions about this question on theories rendered outdated by the recent findings of Indian scholars like himself, and of some paleface scholars as well, - but the latter have so far not carried Western or “white” opinion in general with them. Dr. Zydenbos, who is described editorially as a European indological scholar living in Mysore, must have found out for himself that being “white” still connotes authority and reliability for most Indians. (115) In heated debates like the one on the Aryan question, reference to Western opinion is still treated as a trump card. Often, this reference is used as a “circular argument of authority”: first Western India-watchers borrow their opinions from the Times of India or the Economic and Political Weekly, then they express these opinions in the New York Times or the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, and finally, these same opinions are quoted in the same Indian media as authoritative endorsements by “independent” Westerners of their own positions. If a student has been over-awed by the apparent Western consensus in favour of the AIT, Prof. Rao was right to break the spell and to put the student with his feet back on the solid ground of self-reliance, esp. in a field where. Western indological opinion happens to be out of touch with the latest research. Indeed, in his article, Dr. Zydenbos himself unwittingly plays the same game of over-awing the Indians with references to Western indologists, viz. to K. V. Zvelebil, H. Kulke and D. Rothermund, as sheer arguments of authority. (116) Zydenbos refers to Zvelebil to support this statement: “That the Indus Valley people were Dravidians is an unproven hypothesis; but the real, as yet undeciphered writings of that civilization give more support to this hypothesis than to any other.” In fact, the scholars working from the Dravidian hypothesis have, after decades of intensive labour, not conclusively deciphered a single line of the Indus writings, and Zvelebil admits as much: “[The Soviet scholars] have not convincingly deciphered even one single short Harappan description, and they have not been able to offer a verifiable reading of any Harappan text.” (117) Of the other teams working on the decipherment, Zvelebil has no hard results to quote either, though he praises their (and the Soviet scholars’) merits in structural analysis, preparing concordances etc. He does not mention a single definite and positive (non-circular) indication that the language on the Harappan seals is Dravidian. In Kulke and Rothermund’s book A History of India “can be found in detail the up-to-date view concerning the Aryan migration, and confirming it”, according to Zydenbos. in fact, their book does not confirm (with independent research findings) but merely restates the AIT, without refuting or even taking into account the research findings on which Prof. Rajaram and Prof. Rao base their case.


1. 4. 5. Nehru’s testimony

Dr. Zydenbos sums up “a few interesting questions”, starting with: “Why should leading, respected Indian scholars (and even Nehru, who can hardly be accused of being politically naive or a colonial collaborator) accept the idea of the migration, if it is as patently false as our author claims it is?” We forego the occasion of preparing a list of factual reasons why “leading, respected scholars” have been found to defend the wrong position on numerous occasions in history. The interesting term in the question is “colonial collaborator”, which Nehru is claimed not to have been. In fact, while politically an anti-colonial campaigner, Jawaharlal Nehru was culturally the archetypal “collaborator” with colonialism and with the colonial view of India. Free India’s first Prime Minister never properly mastered his native Hindustani language and like his father, he demanded from his relatives that they speak only English at the dinner table. He was in most cultural respects a typical colonial Englishman (“India’s last Viceroy”), fully equipped with the concomitant disdain for Indian and particularly Hindu culture, of which he was 100% ignorant. About the Sanskrit traditions which provide the information relevant to the Aryan question, he knew strictly nothing (in spite of his hereditary caste title Pandit), and he could not possibly have written anything about it except what he had read in the standard English textbooks. This can easily be verified in his book The Discovery of India’, which reads like the history chapter of a tourist guidebook, but which according to Dr. Zydenbos “in essence still holds good” in its picturesque description of the Aryan invasion. (118) Nehru shared with many contemporary establishment academics an ideological reason to welcome the AIT. Just as the British liked to flatter themselves with the idea that they had “created” India as a political unit, so Congress politicians liked to see Nehru as the “maker of India”. (119) in this view, prior to Queen Victoria and Jawaharlal Nehru, no such cultural entity as “India” ever existed, merely a hunting-ground for ever new waves of invaders, starting with the Aryans. Nehru didn’t mind such a past for India, because as a Leftist utopianist, he believed that a great future could be built on any national past, even a very depressing one. It must be said to his credit that from a vision of a fragmented and invasion-ridden India of the past, he did not deduce the impossibility of creating a united and prosperous India in the future, unlike contemporary casteists and separatists. It must also be admitted that other Indian leaders have accepted the idea of an Aryan invasion without being any the less patriotic for it. Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak (Arctic Home in the Vedas, 1903) and Hindu Mahasabha ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (Hindutva, 1923) had also interiorized the AIT, simply because it seemed hard to refute. To most English-educated Indians of their time, the prestige of Western scholarship was so overwhelming that it seemed quixotic to go against it. But it was not hard for them to combine patriotism with a belief in a fragmented and conflictual origin of their nation, 3,500 years ago. After all, most nations in the world are younger than that. The USA was built on broken treaties, slavery and genocide, only a few centuries ago, yet there exists a heartfelt and legitimate American patriotism. The strange thing is not that Tilak, Nehru and Savarkar could be Indian patriots all while believing in the AIT, but that Marxists and missionaries question the legitimacy of Indian nationhood on the basis of a theory pertaining to events thousands of years in the past.


1. 4. 6. From Harappa to Ayodhya

Dr. Zydenbos summons Prof. Rajaram to own up some responsibility for India’s communal conflict: “Does he really not see the parallel between Nazi attacks on synagogues in the 1930s and what happened in Ayodhya on December 6th?” We would not have believed it, but it is there in cold print: an academic tries to score against a fellow academic by arbitrarily linking him with an event which had not yet taken place when the latter’s paper was published, and with which he had strictly nothing to do, viz. the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. In a later paper, Prof. Rajaram has accepted the challenge: From Harappa to Ayodhya’, read at the Indian institute of World Culture in Bangalore (4 September 1997), discusses the parallels between the historians’ debates on the Indus-Saraswati civilization and on the temple/mosque in Ayodhya. He argues that “what the history establishment has done through the models it has proposed for both the ancient and the medieval periods is to exactly reverse the historical picture”. (120) Most importantly, for the ancient period, Indian Marxist and other anti-Hindu historians posit a massive conflict (between Aryan invaders and natives) in spite of the total absence of either textual or archaeological evidence for such conflict; while for the medieval period, they wax eloquent about an idyllic “composite culture” and deny a massive conflict spanning centuries (viz. between Muslim invaders and Hindu natives), against the copiously available evidence for this conflict, both textual and archaeological. This observation is entirely correct: both ancient and medieval history have been rewritten in the sense of belittling and blackening Hindu civilization and extolling its enemies. As a Westerner I may add that in both cases, there has been a wholesale, painfully naive endorsement of the Indian Marxist line by Western India-watchers in academe as well as journalism. There are exceptions, mostly in the past, e.g. Fernand Braudel who described Muslim India as a “colonial experiment” which was “extremely violent”. (121) Braudel explained: “India survived only by virtue of its patience, its superhuman power and its immense size. The levies it had to pay were so crushing that one catastrophic harvest was enough to unleash famines and epidemics capable of killing a million people at a time. Appalling poverty was the constant counterpart of the conquerors’ opulence. (…) The Muslims (…) could not rule the country except by systematic terror. Cruelty was the norm, burnings, summary executions, crucifixions or impalements, inventive tortures. Hindu temples were destroyed to make way for mosques. On occasion there were forced conversions. If ever there were an uprising, it was instantly and savagely repressed: houses were burned, the countryside was laid waste, men were slaughtered and women were taken as slaves.” (122) Braudel was not a Hindu chauvinist, just a scholarly observer, but in today’s climate, he would be blacklisted. While there is solid evidence that the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya had been built in forcible replacement of a Hindu temple, rubble of which was used in the Masjid’s construction, this fact has been denounced as “Hindu chauvinist propaganda”, and an entirely fictional claim was upheld that the Masjid had been built on an uncontroversial site, so that there was of course no trace of evidence for a preceding temple demolition. (123) Indian Marxists could reasonably have taken the position that while the temple demolition was a historical fact, this was no reason for a counter-demolition today. However, inebriated by their power position, they went farther and denied the temple destruction altogether, against the evidence, thinking they could get away with it. As usual, they could count on their Western contacts to cover them: to my knowledge, not a single Western academic has critically examined the Indian Marxist claim that the historical temple demolition at the Babri Masjid site was Hindu chauvinist fiction. All of those who have actually written about the Ayodhya affair, have acted as amplifiers to the Indian Marxist propaganda, explicitly or implicitly defaming those Indian colleagues who stuck to the evidence that a Hindu temple at the controversial site had indeed been destroyed. One of these was Prof. B. B. Lal, one of the greatest living archaeologists, who has been attacked for his expert testimony about the demolished temple at the Babri Masjid site (e.g. in an editorial in the Marxist-controlled paper The Hindu) (124) as well as for his progressively more determined support to the identity or close kinship of Vedic and Harappan culture. (125) Indeed, on both sides in the Ayodhya debate and in the AIT debate, both in academic and journalistic platforms, we find the same names. Without conspicuous exception, those who fight for the AIT have also fought for the Ayodhya no-temple thesis (and more generally for the view that the Islamic occupation of India was benign), and those who fought for the demolished-temple thesis are now fighting for the Vedic-Harappan kinship. So, Dr. Zydenbos is right in positing a parallel between the Ayodhya and AIT debates, though perhaps it is not the parallel he intended.


1. 4. 7. The denial of history

As for an Indian counterpart to the Nazi attacks on synagogues, any Hindu worth his salt will definitely welcome the simile. The demolition of literally hundreds of thousands of Hindu places of worship (often along with their personnel and customers) by Muslims, from the first Arab invasion in AD 636 to the destruction of hundreds of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh and the vandalization of twenty-odd Hindu temples in Britain in “retaliation” for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, is often described in Hindu pamphlets as a “Holocaust”. I disapprove of the ease with which every crime is nowadays likened with the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes; but in the present debate, it is Dr. Zydenbos who has uninvitedly introduced Nazi references. While the erratic and violent manner in which the Babri Masjid was disposed of is certainly deplorable, there is something badly disproportionate in the holy indignation of so many India-watchers about the Ayodhya demolition, when you notice how it is combined with a stark indifference to the vastly larger and longer record of Islamic destruction in India (including a million Hindus killed by the Pakistani Army in East Bengal as late as 1971), often even with a negationist denial of that very record of Islam in India. Here again there is a parallel: informed Hindus are pained by the denial of their centuries of suffering at the hands of Islam, and are likewise pained by the denial of their millennia of civilization-building, a denial which goes by the name of Aryan Invasion Theory. There may yet be another point to Zydenbos’s comparison between Nazi attacks on synagogues and the attacks on places of worship in India. The Islamic swordsmen considered Pagan temples as monuments of Jahiliyya, the Age of Ignorance, and they wanted to destroy them in order to stamp out this evil superstition of Paganism and all reminders of its history. In Islamic countries with a great pre-Islamic past, history courses in schools start with Mohammed, and pay minimal (if at all any) attention to the long and fascinating history of the Pharaohs, the Achaemenids or Mohenjodaro; the intention is to deny an unwanted, “impure” part of history. As recently as 1992, this rejection of history led to raids to the ruins of Buddhist temples in Afghanistan to deface any remaining Buddha statues; and in 1992 and 1997, bomb attacks were committed against the pharaonic temples of Karnak. One could arguably hold it against the demolishers of the Babri mosque that they too have tried to wipe out an unwanted chapter of Indian history embodied in the Islamic architecture of the temple building. Bad enough, but its relevance for our topic is this: for Indians, the AIT likewise implies the denial of a long stretch of Indian history. The AIT denies principally the history of the Solar and Lunar dynasties and other tribes living in Aryavarta (the area from Sindh to Bihar and from the Vindhyas to Kashmir), as covered in the Flu for a period from the dawn of proto-history to the 1st millennium BC. The major motifs (epics, artistic standards, schools of philosophy) of Indian civilization are embedded in that history, which is simply denied in its long pre-1500 BC phase, and vilified as merely the cultural superstructure of an ethnic subjugation of pre-Aryans by Aryans in its post-1500 BC phase.


1. 4. 8. Blood and soil

Dr. Zydenbos continues: “Why should it be so important that the Aryans, or the extremely remote ancestors of anyone in India for that matter, have been in the subcontinent since all eternity? That would come close to the Blut und Boden [blood and sod] ideology of Nazism, with its Aryan rhetoric. Why the xenophobia?” Accusing Prof. Rajaram of something “close to” Nazi ideology looks like an old trick to associate someone with Nazism without taking the responsibility for calling him a Nazi outright and risking a frontal rebuttal if not a court case. I wonder: how would he fare if he accused a Western colleague in the same vein in a Western paper, considering the extreme importance which academics attach to reputation? There, slurs against a colleague’s scholarly integrity are normally made to backfire on the slanderer himself. At any rate, AIT defenders display a tendency to exceed the topic of debate and launch unwarranted attacks ad hominem. Favouring the idea that the “Aryan” ancestors of the contemporary Indians have lived in the subcontinent “since all eternity” is what Zydenbos dubs “xenophobic” and “close to the Blut und Boden ideology of Nazism with its Aryan rhetoric”. Actually, the historians in the SS research department were inclined to embrace the theory that the Nordic Aryans originated in Atlantis, whence they had fled to northern Europe after the inundation of their homeland. Hitler’s attachment was not to the German territory but to the German race, which was free to wander and colonize other lands. Then again, most ordinary Nazis who cared, tended to accept some variation of the European Urheimat Theory, locating their own Aryan ancestors in Germany itself or nearby, “just as” Hindus nowadays locate their Urheimat in or near India itself. However, it is not Rajaram’s school of thought which has given political implications to the question of the geographical provenance of India’s population. As we have seen, it is precisely the AIT which has been used systematically as a xenophobic political argument against those groups considered as the progeny of the “Aryan invaders”. Even most AIT opponents subscribe to the prevalent theory that mankind probably originated in Africa, so that all Indians, like all Europeans, are ultimately immigrants. The ridiculous argument of doubting the legitimacy of a community’s presence in India on the basis of an ancestral immigration of 3500 years ago has been launched in all seriousness by interest groups wielding the AIT as their major intellectual weapon, not by the critics of the AIT.


1. 4. 9. Nazis in India

As for the Nazi connection, let us at any rate be clear about an easily verifiable fact: in so far as the Nazis cared about Indian history, they favoured the AIT. On the AIT, not Rajaram but Zydenbos is in the same camp with Hitler. The only avowed Nazis in India, the Bengali scholar Dr. Asit Krishna Mukherji (ca. 1898-1977) and his French-Greek wife Dr. Maximiani Portas (Lyon 1905-Sible Hedingham, Essex, 1982) alias Savitri Devi Mukherji, had made the AIT itself the alpha and omega of their philosophy. (126) The one Indian who interpreted the AIT explanation of the Hindu caste system in Hitlerian terms, i.e. as a positive realization of the natural hierarchy between the races achieved by the conquering Nordic Aryans and imposed on the dark-skinned natives, was Asit Krishna Mukherji, “Brahmin conscious of his distant Nordic roots”(127) who published a pro-Hitler paper, the New Mercury, “the only truly Hitlerian paper ever to have appeared in India”(128), from 1935 until the British closed it down in 1937. He was instrumental in establishing the links between the Axis representatives and the leftist Congress leader Subhas Chandra Bose, who formed an Indian National Army (1943-45) under Japanese tutelage. His wife Savitri Devi cited with approval B. G. Tilak’s version of the AIT, viz. that the Aryan tribes had come from the Arctic where they had composed the Rg-Veda. This erratic theory is inordinately popular among Western racists for providing “independent” Indian confirmation to a North-European Homeland Theory (in reality, Tilak had tried to bend the Vedic evidence, often ludicrously, to bring it in conformity with fashionable Western theories). (129) She also repeated the usual AIT annexe that the upper castes are Aryan immigrants, that the lower castes are largely and the tribals purely “aboriginals”, a theory implicitly endorsed (see next para) by Dr. Zydenbos in this very article. (130) In fact, after reading her autobiography, “Memories and Reflexions of an Aryan Lady”, there is not the slightest doubt left that for her and her husband, their belief in the AIT, along with their distortive reinterpretation of Hindu tradition in terms of the AIT, was the direct cause of their enthusiasm for Hitler. If Zydenbos shuns theories with Hitlerian connotations, he should drop the AIT at once. Indeed, the AIT happens to have the same historical roots as the race theories centred on white superiority which culminated in Nazi racism. in the 19th-century race theories, Indian civilization had to be the work of white people, who, like the modern Europeans, had colonized India by subjugating the dark natives; later, the mixing of the white Aryans (in spite of a belated attempt to preserve their purity through the caste system) with the dark natives caused the decline and “feminization” of the conquering Aryan culture, which invited a new conquest by Europeans taking up the “white man’s burden” of bringing order and enlightenment to the dark-skinned people living in social, intellectual and spiritual darkness. The AIT was an essential part of this view, and Nazism a slight radicalization. While we let the topic of Nazism rest, we have to mention another “blood and soil” movement which has emerged in India, and again its basis was not Rajaram’s denial of the AIT, but Zydenbos’s AIT itself. The Dravidian movement, started with colonial and missionary funding and aid in 1916 (founding of the Justice Party in Madras, later renamed as Dravida Kazhagam) to counter the Freedom Movement, was based precisely on the AIT notion that the North Indians as well as the South Indian Brahmins were “Aryan invaders” who had stolen the land from the Dravidian natives. Militants of this movement roughed up Brahmins and Hindi-speaking people, and its leader Ramaswamy Naicker gained notoriety with statements like: “We will do with the Brahmins what Hitler did with the Jews.” When the Chinese invasion of 1962 made Indians aware of the need for national unity, the demand for a separate Dravidian state was abandoned, and the anti-Brahmin drive lost its edge as Brahmin predominance in public office diminished. Meanwhile, the AIT-related doctrines of this movement have started a second life in a section of the Dalit (ex-Untouchable) movement, which attacks upper-caste people as “Aryan invaders”, a notion which they could have borrowed directly from Dr. Zydenbos’s article. Here again, slurs of “Nazism” against the supposed “Aryans” mask a vision of Indian society directly rooted in the very views which generated Nazism itself.


1. 4. 10. Aryans vs. Indians

The closing paragraph of “An obscurantist argument” reiterates the outdated notion that India’s upper castes are the progeny of the “Aryan invaders” and pride themselves on it: “We can briefly sum up the ‘Aryan problem’ and the interest it creates among certain people as follows. Whatever problem is there, will not be solved by constructing a new bit of mythology on the theme of the evil foreign hand and the Indian academic community that is supposed to have no mind of its own. This has no basis in fact. Only certain people in certain castes who identify themselves strongly with the Aryans and pride themselves on being ‘Aryan’ rather than Indian, and thereby stress their difference from (and assume superiority to) other Indians, have a problem. As soon as the author [= N. S. Rajaram], and people of his ilk, make up their minds as to whether they are Indian or not, and whether they want to identify themselves with India and other Indians or not, the problem is solved.” That the Indian academic community “has no mind of its own” has the following basis in fact: India has only just begun to decolonize at the intellectual level, and the view of Indian history instilled in the pupils of India’s elite schools is still strictly the view inherited from colonial historiography. In another sense, however, the anglicized academic establishment certainly has a mind of its own: while the colonial British still had a condescending sympathy for native culture, the new elite is waging a war against it as a matter of cultural self-exorcism and of political class interest. It knows its own mind very well and has concluded that the AIT serves its interests better than a version of history which would boost native Indian self-respect. Of course, India is not the Soviet Union of Stalin’s and Lysenko’s days, so when the international academic opinion shifts away from the AIT, the Indian establishment will have to follow suit; but as long as the matter is in the balance, it throws its entire weight on the side of the AIT. If certain people in certain castes “pride themselves on being ‘Aryan’ rather than Indian”, it means they have accepted the AIT, which posits the initial non-Indianness of the “Aryans” and identifies them with the upper castes. Of course, this view has no takers among traditionalist upper-caste Hindus, who pride themselves on being the progeny of the Vedic poets and epic heroes revered as the sources of Indian civilization. For them, it is not “Aryan rather than Indian”, but “Arya, or Indian par excellence”. Prof. Rajaram “and people of his ilk” have long made up their minds about whether they are Indian or not. That is why they feel strongly about the divisive effect to which the AIT has been used, first by interested outside forces (Zydenbos’s sarcastic “evil foreign hand”) who have tried to stress the difference- of the “Aryans” from other Indians as a weapon against native self-reassertion, and subsequently by sectional interest groups in India. Their first motive for arguing against the AIT is the sound academic consideration that it seems to bit contradicted by the evidence. And this evidence is not nullified at all by their secondary, political motive: the desire to stop the pernicious influence of the AIT on India’s unity and integrity.



106Indian Express, 12-12-1993, in reply to a piece on a lecture by Prof. N. S. Rajaram, Indian Express, 14-11-1993, of which an expanded version constitutes the first chapter of Rajaram’s book: Aryan Invasion of India, the Myth and the Truth, Voice of India, Delhi 1994.

107Robert J. Zydenbos: “Virashaivism, caste, revolution, etc.” , Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1997, p. 525-535, a review of the very Christian (and anti-Brahminical) look at the Virashaiva sect by Rev. J. P. Schouten: Revolution of the Mystics: On the Social Aspects of Virashaivism, Kok/Pharos, Kampen (Netherlands) 1991.

108Apart from other works by Rajaram mentioned elsewhere, note also N. S. Rajaram: From Saraswati River to Indus Script, Diganta Sahitya, Mangalore 1998, an elaboration on the Sanskrit-based decipherment of the Indus script by N. Jha: Vedic Glossary on Indus Seals, Ganga Kaveri Publ. , Varanasi 1996.

109Romila Thapar: “The Perennial Aryans”, Seminar# 400 (1992).

110Shrikant Talageri: The Rg-Veda, a Historical Analysis, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi, forthcoming.

111It is as yet unclear whether in this consideration we should include the self-description of the Kalash Kafirs, the last semi-Vedic Pagans in the Hindu Kush mountains (unaffected by all the later developments in the Indian plains which now constitute Hinduism), as Arya-e-Koh, “Aryas of the mountains”. Rather than authentic testimony, this could be the result of interiorizing theories learned from Western visitors.

112E.g. Yoginder Sikand: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993, discussed below.

113Olivier Tramond: “Inde: le réveil identitaire de la droite”, Le Choc du Mois, Sep. 1992.

114N.S.Rajaram: The Politics of History, p. 98.

115It is one of Mahatma Gandhi’s achievements that “he made India safe for the white man”, as the Indian Communists used to say around the time of Independence. Fact is that he must take credit for the friendly character of the decolonization of India, which led to the situation that Westerners who feel a strong hostility in countries like China and Malaysia, feel like honoured guests in India.

116K. V. Zvelebil: Dravidian Linguistics: An Introduction, Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, 1990; and H. Kulke and D. Rothermund: A History of India, Rupa, Delhi 1991.

117K. Zvelebil: Dravidian Linguistics, p. 90.

118Dr. Zydenbos’s use of Nehru as an argument of authority, along with his use of Indian English, has raised questions. A source inside the Indian Express office suspected that he had merely lent his name to an article by an Indian author. Zydenbos denied this when I asked him personally about it.

119See e.g. M. J. Akbar: Nehru, the Making of India, Penguin 1992.

120N. S. Rajaram: From Harappa to Ayodhya, Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, Bangalore 1997, p. 6; emphasis in the original.

121Fernand Braudel: A History of Civilizations, Penguin 1988 (1963), p. 236.

122Fernand Braudel: A History of Civilizations, p. 232.

123See K. Elst: “The Ayodhya debate”, in G. Pollet, ed. : Indian Epic Values, Peeters, Leuven 1995, p-21-42; and K. Elst: “The Ayodhya demolition: an evaluation”, in Swapan Dasgupta et al. : The Ayodhya Reference, Voice of India, Delhi 1995, p. 123-154.

124“Tampering with history”, editorial in The Hindu, 12-6-1998. B. B. Lal wrote a reply: “Facts of history cannot be altered”, The Hindu, 1-7-1998.

125B. B. Lal: New Light on the Indus Civilization, Aryan Books International, Delhi 1997.

126About Savitri Devi and her husband, see Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: Hitler’s Priestess. Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism, New York University Press, 1998, a book full of details but suffering from the same basic misconceptions as Dr. Zydenbos’ article and most Western writing on the “Hindu-Aryan” connection. Also see K. Elst: The Saffron Swastika, Voice of India, Delhi 1999.

127Savitri Devi Mukherji: Souvenirs et Réflexions d’une Arjenne, Delhi 1976, p. 41.

128Savitri Devi Mukherji: Souvenirs et Réflexions, p. 41.

129Savitri Devi Mukherji: Souvenirs et Réflexions, p. 27 and p. 272, with reference to B. G. Tilak & Hermann Jacobi: Arctic Home in the Vedas, Pune 1903. Tilak and Jacobi had met after separately concluding that astronomical data in the Rg-Veda indicated its time of composition as ca. 4000 BC, see B. G. Tilak: Orion, or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas, Pune 1893. A detailed and convincing refutation of Tilak’s arguments for the polar homeland is given by N. R. Waradpande: “The Home of the Aryans: an Astronomical Approach”, in S. B. Deo & Suryanath Kamath: The Aryan Problem, Bharatiya Itihasa Sankalana Samiti, Pune 1993, p. 123-134, and in Shrikant Talageri: The Rg-Veda, a Historical Analysis, Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, forthcoming.

130Savitri Devi Mukherji: Souvenirs et Réflexions, p. 157.


1. Political aspects of the Aryan invasion debate


1. 5. 1. Aryans and social mobility

Like Dr. Zydenbos in the passage discussed in the preceding section, some Indian scholars impute to the AIT critics motives or presuppositions which themselves imply the AIT, and which exist only in the eye of the beholder, meaning the AIT believer. Thus, Prof. Romila Thapar argues against a rigid view of caste history which she imputes to the Hindu nationalists: “Moralizing on the evils of caste precluded the need to (…) recognize the large area of negotiation which, to some degree, permitted certain castes to shape their status. For example, families of obscure origin and some even said to be of the lower castes, rose to political power and many legitimized their power by successfully claiming upper caste kshatriya status. To concede these facts would have contradicted the theory that the upper castes are the lineal descendants of the Aryans”. (131) It will be dear that “the theory that the upper castes are the lineal descendants of the Aryans” is part of the standard version of the AIT. While an earlier generation of Hindu nationalists may still have believed this theory in deference to the prestige of Western scholarship, this is not the case at all with the post-Independence Hindu nationalists, and most certainly not with the Hindu nationalist AIT critics whom Prof. Thapar is countering. They have no problem with the insight that “lower castes rose to political power and legitimized their power by successfully claiming upper caste kshatriya status”. On the contrary, such historical processes of social mobility corroborate the unity of the Hindu nation: even if there were such a thing as Aryan invasions, such upward (and corresponding downward) social mobility would have ensured that you find both Aryans and non-Aryans in both the upper and lower layers of Hindu society. An ethnic divide which may or may not have existed in Hindu society is neutralized and dissolved by such social processes, and this gives Hindu nationalists reason to applaud them.


1. 5. 2. Role of the non-Aryans

Another example of how AIT champions impute to the AIT critics motives or presuppositions which themselves imply the AIT, is this remark by Marxist columnist Yoginder Sikand: “It is significant that while asserting the indigenous origins of the Aryans, the existence of the Dravidian and other non-Aryan races native to India is not denied. After all, if it were asserted that all Indians are Aryans, it would not be possible to justify the racist caste system. While acknowledging the presence in India of non-Aryan indigenous races, their cultural contributions are completely ignored in the discourse of Hindutva. (…) the Hindutvawadis now assert that the Indus Valley civilization, which is generally accepted to be of Dravidian and pre-Aryan origin, was built by the Aryans. By asserting the native origins of the Aryans, and by attributing all the finer aspects of Indian culture to their supposed genius, the rich cultural legacy of the non-Aryan Indian races is effectively denied.” (132) We may forego discussion of Sikand’s obvious lack of knowledge of the present state of research, e.g. his mistaken assumption that there exists any evidence for the oft-assumed Dravidian character of the Harappan civilization. The point is that he imputes to the AIT critics the desire to “justify the caste system”, the consent to the common belief that the caste system has a “racist” basis, the belief in a division between “Aryans” on the one hand and “Dravidian and other non-Aryan races” on the other, and the denial of the “cultural contributions” of these “non-Aryan indigenous races”. Underlying all this, and very conspicuous in Sikand’s discourse, is the assumption that it is a “racial” affair, an assumption emphatically criticized and rejected in practically all anti-AIT publications of the past decade. (133) Likewise, the specific theory of a “racial” basis of the caste system has been denied by Hindu and other nationalists from Dr. Ambedkar on down. That the AIT is criticized in a bid to “justify the caste system”, racist or otherwise, is not suggested by a reading of any of the AIT critiques known to me, let alone any cited by Sikand, who doesn’t mention any of the recent and learned critiques. Like a cowardly big boy picking fights with little boys, Sikand prefers to focus on Hindu Nationalist ideologue (and non-historian) M. S. Golwalkar’s 1939 musings about the “Arctic home” of the Aryans having been in India before the earth’s polar axis shifted to its present position. (134) Much of his attention is also devoted to semi-literate pamphletists who argue that everything worthwhile in the world has been created by Hindus, citing as evidence some silly pseudo-etymologies like Jerusalem=Yadu Shalyam, “shrine of Yadu/Krishna”. But he bravely avoids any confrontation with serious historians. The only historian cited is Balraj Madhok, former president of the Jana Sangh, predecessor (1952-77) of the BJP (1980): “He is of the view that the Aryans were the natives of the Sapta-Sindhu region while various non-Aryan tribes inhabited the rest of India”. Though Madhok is by no means a specialist of ancient history and the Arya debate, his view makes good sense; it is one of the several possible interpretations of the evidence supporting the rejection of the AIT. Yet Sikand calls him one of those who “care little for historical truth, academic objectivity and consistency”. The identification of “Aryan” with the Indo-Aryan speech community of the northern subcontinent and Sri Lanka, hence the conception of “Aryan” as the opposite of “Dravidian”, is also extraneous to the Hindu tradition. Many AIT critics emphasize that a Dravidian could be classified as Arya while a speaker of Indo-Aryan languages could be an-Arya if he abandoned the practice of Vedic tradition (e.g. by converting to Islam). Some of these critics, from Sri Aurobindo to N. R. Waradpande and Subhash Kak, go as far as to question the linguistic concept of Indo-European and Dravidian as distinct language families. (135) I believe they are mistaken, but at any rate, their views are strictly incompatible with the political programme of Aryans locking native Dravidians into the racist caste system, which Yoginder Sikand imputes to them.


1. 5. 3. Hitler again

Hitler’s use of the Sanskrit-derived term “Aryan” was bound to suggest a new line of Hindu-baiting. And effectively, while commenting on the enthusiasm in Hindu Nationalist circles about recent discoveries supporting the Indian origin of the Indo-European or “Aryan” language family, Yoginder Sikand alleges that “the Hindutvawadis, like their Nazi counterparts, fanatically believe in the thoroughly discredited Aryan master-race theory”. (136) Having read most of the Hindu Nationalist writings on the Aryan question, I am confident that there does not exist a single statement on their part which admits of the interpretation given by Yoginder Sikand. Historically, Hitler’s Aryan master race theory and Yoginder Sikand’s cherished Aryan invasion theory have the same roots. It is precisely the refutation of this Aryan Invasion Theory which is a hot issue in Hindutva circles; and it is the anti-Hindutva polemicists like Yoginder Sikand who uphold the European racists’ AIT and who ridicule the attempts to refute it. Some earlier Hindu leaders, esp. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Veer Savarkar, had accepted the voguish Aryan Invasion theory, though they (rightfully) refused to attach any practical importance to this issue of geographical provenance. But the dominant opinion in Hindutva circles today is that the native Hindu (Vedic and Puranic) tradition had it right when it consistently assumed Sanskritic culture to be native to India. Indeed, Yoginder Sikand’s own article was written in anticipation of a symposium organized by the RSS-affiliated Deendayal Research Institute to bring together different scholarly contributions to the refutation of the Aryan Invasion Theory so dear to the Nazis.


1. 5. 4. The Muslim factor

Indian Marxists have the power but lack the numbers, so they have cultivated alliances with all actual or potential enemies of Hinduism. Most importantly, they have assiduously sought to ingratiate themselves with India’s large Muslim community (about 13% of the population), and in any debate with Hindu nationalists, they will invariably try to drag in some Muslim angle to the topic at hand. Their last trump card against the anti-AIT argument is that it is somehow anti-Muslim: “The Hindutva version of the theory became a mechanism for excluding some sections of Indian society, specifically Indian Muslims and Christians, by insisting that they are alien.” (137) Or: “If Muslims have to be projected as the sole invaders of this land, the Aryans need to be presented as natives… If the Muslims are to be projected as traitors, bereft of any attachment to this land, they need to be presented as the only outsider.” (138) Dr. Edwin Bryant reports: “Although in various other academic fields and area studies, such as race science, postcolonial scholarship has completely deconstructed and exposed the colonial investment in the propagation of certain theories, the field of Indology, at least in present-day Western academic circles, has been very suspicious of these voices being raised against the theory of the Aryan invasions”(139) He cited distrust of “political subtexts”, in particular hidden anti-Muslim motives, as the reason why Indologists are reluctant to take up the rethinking of the Aryan question. However, the deduction of exclusionary politics from a theory of Aryan origins has for a hundred years been the monopoly of the invasionist school. Its central argument has always been that the Brahmins and other upper-caste Hindus are foreign invaders in illegal occupation of whatever power they have in India. If “political subtexts” render a theory unrespectable, those Indologists should stay away from the AIT, and take a very critical second look at their own anti-Brahmin prejudice. The non-invasionist school has strictly refrained from this line of rhetoric. Thus, no non-invasionist critic has so far tried to incorporate the fairly popular theory of a Dravidian invasion as an extra polemical point against the Dravidian separatists, much less to deduce from it that Dravidians are mere invaders with no right to stay in India. Most of them reject the hypothesis of a Dravidian invasion along with that of an Aryan invasion. In certain factions of Hindu nationalism, it is not uncommon to find Muslims described as traitors. (140) After the Partition, which turned millions of Hindus into foreigners in their places of birth overnight, which put at least seven million of them to flight, and which may have killed up to half a million of them, it is not surprising that many Hindus remember how that Partition was imposed on an unwilling Hindu majority by an intransigeant Muslim minority. Of course, generalizations about groups of people are dangerous and unwarranted, and the simplistic crudeness of some RSS discourse about Muslims is deplorable. Yet, even the grossest RSS blockhead hasn’t stooped to calling them “alien”. Though their religion is undeniably of alien origin, and though many of them cultivate imaginary Arab genealogies for themselves, the Indian Muslims are mostly the progeny of Hindu converts to Islam. This fact, far from being denied, is frequently cited in RSS literature as a basis for reclaiming these Muslims for Indian nationalism if not for Hinduism. At any rate, most AIT critics have never had anything to do with anti-Muslim politics, e.g. K. D. Sethna and B. B. Lal are elderly scholars who try to stay out of politics. A few have made legitimate critiques of specific Islamic policies in India, e.g. Shrikant Talageri has discussed the glorification of Islamic elements in Indian culture and the corresponding disparaging of purely Hindu elements by schoolbooks and the Mumbai film industry. (141) No Muslim has died because of that. For many, the Aryan debate in the mid- 1990s came as a fresh breeze after the intense Hindu-Muslim conflict of ca. 1990. At last, a revolution without enemies! Conversely, most Islamic polemicists have taken to using the AIT in their anti-Hindu writings. As Syed Shahabuddin once put it in an editorial of his monthly Muslim India: if invaders have to quit India, the Aryans as the first invaders will have to quit first.


1. 5. 5. Pakistani Indus, Bharatiya Saraswati

Another frequently-heard red herring is that the anti-AIT school is emphasizing the Saraswati basin as the centre of Harappan (and Vedic) culture at the expense of the Indus because the Indus now lies in Pakistan. Thus: “The discovery of Harappan sites on the Indian side of the border between India and Pakistan is viewed as compensating for the loss of the cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa which are located in Pakistan.” (142) Here again, we are faced with a projection by an outsider to Hindu nationalism. For Hindu nationalists, the Indus basin has not ceased to be part of India just because a state of Pakistan was created. To the indignation of Indian Marxists, the Hindu nationalists take a long-term view of their motherland: over the centuries, numerous empires have come and gone, native as well as foreign, and they all had their temporary borders, but the basic identity of India was not affected by these. The Marxists don’t believe in this timeless India, but the Hindu nationalists are confident that the territory which is now Pakistan will revert to the bosom of Mother India in due course. The insistence that a political motive explains the renewed emphasis on the Saraswati basin ignores a more obvious reason for paying due scholarly attention to the Saraswati basin: that is where most of the “Harappan” cities have been found. When people conspicuously disregard facts, it may be appropriate to wonder what motive they might have for this strange behaviour. But when they fully take the facts into account, there is no reason to suspect ulterior motives, except in the minds of the suspecters.


1. 5. 6. Aryans as servants of imperialism

The reduction of Brahminism or Hinduism to the residue of the Aryan invasion Is deductively taken to the most absurd lengths. Thus, a Christian theologian involved in Dalit politics alleges that the upper castes collaborated with the Muslim conquerors for the following reason: “Perhaps as descendants of the Aryan invaders into this country prior to the Moghuls and the British the advocates of Arya dharma could not outright condemn aggression and exploitation.” (143) Well, most aggressors and exploiters don’t feel that much solidarity with those who come to subject them in their turn to aggression and exploitation. Likewise, Yoginder Sikand alleges: “The British invasion is, of course, not to be talked of at all, in line with the consistent and time-tested pro-imperialist line of the Hindutva brigade.” (144) In fact, of the four Hindu leaders he attacks in his article, two were prominent leaders of the freedom movement who spent years in British prisons (Tilak and Savarkar), and the two others (Golwalkar and Madhok) have never lagged behind in anti-imperialist rhetoric, against fading British as well as against threatening Soviet and Chinese imperialism; all four are known for their critical view of Islamic imperialism. This kind of wild allegation has to do with the Communists’ bad conscience about their collaboration with the British against the freedom movement in 1941-45. Any detailed analysis of politicized AIT polemic ends up having to deal with the whole history of Indian Marxism, the Pakistan movement and other anti-Hindu forces.



131Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p. 11.

132Yoginder Sikand: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993.

133Most prominently in Paramesh Choudhury: The Aryan Hoax that Dupes the Indians, Calcutta 1995, which reproduces in appendix the UNESCO statement on racism, The Race Question in Modern Science, ca. 1950, and quotes from it on the cover: “The so-called Aryan ‘people’ or ‘race’ is a mere myth.”

134Reference is to M. S. Golwalkar: We, Our Nationhood Defined, Nagpur 1939.

135See e.g. Subhash Kak: “Is there an Aryan/Dravidian binary?”, www. indiastar. com, 1998.

136Yoginder Sikand: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993.

137Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p. 10.

138Yoginder Sikand: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993.

139Edwin Bryant: “The Indo-Aryan invasion debate: the politics of a discourse”, WAVES conference, Los Angeles. August 1998, abstract.

140See e.g. M. S. Golwalkar: Bunch of Thoughts, Jagarana Prakashan, Bangalore 1984 (1966).

141Shrikant Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, introduction.

142Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p. 16.

143Israel Selvanayagam: “The roots of Hindu fundamentalism - a historical overview”, Asia Journal of Theology, Bangalore, Oct. 1996, p. 445.

144Yoginder Sikand: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30. 10. 1993.


1. Political aspects of the Aryan invasion debate


Prof. Edmund Leach, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, has aptly written: “Why do serious scholars persist in believing in the Aryan invasions? (…) Why is this sort of thing attractive? Who finds it attractive? Why has the development of early Sanskrit come to be so dogmatically associated with an Aryan invasion? (…) The details of this theory fit in with this racist framework (…) The origin myth of British colonial imperialism helped the elite administrators in the Indian Civil Service to see themselves as bringing ‘pure’ civilization to a country in which civilization of the most sophisticated (but ‘morally corrupt’) kind was already nearly 6,000 years old. Here I will only remark that the hold of this myth on the British middle-class imagination is so strong that even today, 44 years after the death of Hitler and 43 years after the creation of an independent India and independent Pakistan the Aryan invasions of the second millennium BC are still treated as if they were an established fact of history”. (145) Today, the unquestioning belief in the Aryan invasion is giving way to a debate. However, many bonafide scholars hesitate to participate in that debate because they correctly sense that all kinds of political strings are attached to the different positions. The present paper has mapped a few of these political influences. The debate on the Aryan Invasion Theory is not logically affected by the political motives of its participants, though these motives are sometimes palpable through the rhetoric used. Mapping these motives as a matter of history of ideas (and not as a way to decide the AIT question itself by means of political association) allows us to point out the following: on the pro-AIT side, justification of European colonialism, illustration of the racist worldview, delegitimation of Hinduism as India’s native religion by missionaries of foreign religions, Indian Marxist attempts to delegitimize Indian nationalism, and several separatisms in India seeking to bolster the case against Indian unity; and on the anti-AIT side, Indian nationalism seeking to make India’s civilisational unity more robust, and to score a point against the aforementioned “anti-national forces”.



145E. Leach in E. Ohnuki-Tierney, ed.: Culture through Time, Anthropological Approaches, Stanford 1990, p. 242-243, quoted by Dilip K. Chakrabarti in his review of Asko Parpola: Deciphering the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press 1994, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, November 1995, p. 428-430. Leach was among the first to recognize that the word rice, from Tamil-derived Greek oryza, ultimately stems from Sanskrit vrihi, and not some other way around. The etymology of vrihi as allegedly Dravidian was always a showpiece of the Dravidian substratum theory, hence of the AIT.

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