Indigenous Aryans

The Indigenous Aryans theory, also known as the Out of India theory (OIT), proposes that the Indo-European languages, or at least the Indo-Aryan languages, originated within the Indian subcontinent, as an alternative to the established migration model which proposes the Pontic steppe as the area of origin of the Indo-European languages. The indigenist view sees the Indo-Aryan languages as having a deep history in the Indian subcontinent, and being the carriers of the Indus Valley Civilization. This view proposes an older date than is generally accepted for the Vedic period, which is generally considered to follow the decline of Harappan culture.

It includes arguments against the Indo-Aryan migration theory, and arguments to re-date the Vedas and the presence of the Vedic people in accordance with traditional, Vedic-Puranic datings. The idea of "Indigenous Aryans" also implies a migration "Out of India" to Europe and Central Asia. This is contrary to the mainstream scholarly view, saying that the Indo-Aryan languages originated outside India.[1][2][3]

The proposal has been entwined with political and religious arguments, since it is based on traditional and religious views on Indian history and identity. There has also been resistance among some Indian scholars to the idea that Indian culture can be divided between external Indo-European and indigenous Dravidian elements, a division which is sometimes described as a legacy of colonial rule and a hindrance to Indian national unity. The debate mostly exists among the scholars of Hindu religion and the history and archaeology of India, whereas historical linguists nearly unanimously accept the migration model of Indic origins.

The standard view on the origins of the Indo-Aryans is the Indo-Aryan migration theory, which states that they entered north-western India at about 1500 BCE.[1] An alternative view is the idea that the Aryans are indigenous to India, which challenges the standard view.[1] In recent times the indigenous position has come to the foreground of the public debate.[4]

The Indo-Aryan Migration theory posits the introduction of Indo-Aryan languages into South Asia through migrations of Indo-European-speaking people from their Urheimat (original homeland) in the Pontic Steppes via Central Asia into the Levant (Mitanni), south Asia, and Inner Asia (Wusun and Yuezhi). It is part of the Kurgan-hypothesis/Revised Steppe Theory, which further describes the spread of Indo-European languages into western Europe via migrations of Indo-European speaking people.

Historical linguistics provides the main basis for the theory, analysing the development and changes of languages, and establishing relations between the various Indo-European languages, including the time frame of their development. It also provides information about shared words, and the corresponding area of the origin of Indo-European, and the specific vocabulary which is to be ascribed to specific regions.[2][6][7] The linguistic analyses and data are supplemented with archaeological data and anthropological arguments, which together provide a coherent model[2] that is widely accepted.[8]

In the model, the first archaeological remains of the Indo-Europeans is the Yamna culture,[2] which spread eastward creating the Sintashta culture (2100–1800 BC), from which developed the Andronovo culture (1800–1400 BC). Interaction with the BMAC (2300–1700 BC) produced the Indo-Iranians, which split into Indo-Aryan and Iranian branches around 1800 BC.[9] The Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant, northern India, and possibly Inner Asia.[10]

The migration into northern India was not necessarily of a large population, but may have consisted of small groups,[11] possibly of ethnically and genetically heterogeneous composition, who introduced their language and social system into the new territory. These were then emulated by larger groups,[12][note 1][note 2] who adopted the new language and culture.[16][17][note 3] Witzel also notes that "small-scale semi-annual transhumance movements between the Indus plains and the Afghan and Baluchi highlands continue to this day."[14]

The "Aryan Invasion theory" is an outdated version of the above model. In the 1850s, Max Müller introduced the notion of two Aryan races, a western and an eastern one, who migrated from the Caucasus into Europe and India respectively. Müller dichotomized the two groups, ascribing greater prominence and value to the western branch. Nevertheless, this "eastern branch of the Aryan race was more powerful than the indigenous eastern natives, who were easy to conquer."[18] By the 1880s, his ideas had been adapted by racist ethnologists. For example, as an exponent of race science, colonial administrator Herbert Hope Risley (1851 – 1911) used the ratio of nose width to height to divide Indian people into Aryan and Dravidian races, as well as seven castes.[19][20]

The idea of an Aryan "invasion" was fueled by the discovery of the Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilisation, which declined around the period of the Indo-Aryan migration, suggesting a destructive invasion. This argument was developed by the mid-20th century archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, who interpreted the presence of many unburied corpses found in the top levels of Mohenjo-daro as the victims of conquests. He famously stated that the Vedic god "Indra stands accused" of the destruction of the Indus Civilisation.[21] Scholarly critics have since argued that Wheeler misinterpreted his evidence and that the skeletons were better explained as hasty interments, not unburied victims of a massacre.[21]

The Aryan Invasion theory has been discarded in mainstream scholarship since the 1980s,[23] and replaced by more sophisticated models.[24][note 4] Nevertheless, it has been used as a straw man to attack the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.[26][note 5] According to Witzel, the invasion model was criticised by Indigenous Aryanists for its racist and colonialist undertones:

The theory of an immigration of IA speaking Arya ("Aryan invasion") is simply seen as a means of British policy to justify their own intrusion into India and their subsequent colonial rule: in both cases, a "white race" was seen as subduing the local darker colored population.[26]

"The theory of which we are about to discuss the linguistic evidence, is widely known as the "Aryan invasion theory" (AIT). I will retain this term even though some scholars object to it, preferring the term "immigration" to "invasion." […] North India’s linguistic landscape leaves open only two possible explanations: either Indo-Aryan was native, or it was imported in an invasion.[27][note 6]

The "Indigenist position" started to take shape after the discovery of the Harappan Civilisation, which predates the Vedas.[28] According to this alternative view, the Aryans are indigenous to India,[29] the Indus Civilisation is the Vedic Civilisation,[29] the Vedas are older than the second millennium BCE,[30] there is no discontinuity between the (northern) Indo-European part of India and the (southern) Dravidian part,[30] and the Indo-European languages radiated out from a homeland in India into their present locations.[29]

These ideas are based on the Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which contain lists of kings and genealogies[31][32] used to construct the traditional chronology of ancient India.[33] "Indigenists" follow a "Puranic agenda",[34] emphasizing that these lists go back to the fourth millennium BCE. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the Maurya court at Patna at ca. 300 BCE, reported to have heard of a traditional list of 153 kings that covered 6042 years, beyond the traditional beginning of the Kaliyuga at 3102 BCE.[31] The royal lists are based on Sūta bardic traditions, and are derived from lists which were orally transmitted and constantly reshaped.[31]

These lists are supplemented with astronomical interpretations, which are also used to reach an earlier dating for the Rigveda.[35] Along with this comes a redating of historical personages and events, in which the Buddha is dated to 1700 BCE or even 3139/8 BCE, and Chandragupta Maurya (c. 300 BCE) is replaced by Chandragupta, the Gupta king.[36][note 7] Elst notes that

In August 1995, a gathering of 43 historians and archaeologists from South-Indian universities (at the initiative of Prof. K.M. Rao, Dr. N. Mahalingam and Dr. S.D. Kulkarni) passed a resolution fixing the date of the Bharata war at 3139-38 BC and declaring this date to be the true sheet anchor of Indian chronology.[web 1][note 8]

The Vedic Foundation gives a chronology of ancient India (Bharata),[web 3] which starts in 3228 BCE with the descension of Bhagwan Krishna. The Mahabharata War is dated at 3139 BCE, while various dynasties are dated more than a millennium earlier,[note 9] Gautama Buddha is dated at 1894-1814 BCE,[note 10] and Jagadguru Shankaracharya at 509-477 BCE.[note 11] These ideas claim a continuous cultural evolution of India, denying a discontinuity between the Harappan and Vedic periods:[38]

[T]he Indian civilization must be viewed as an unbroken tradition that goes back to the earliest period of the Sindhu-Sarasvati (or Indus) tradition (7000 or 8000 BC).[39][note 12]

The idea of "Indigenous Aryanism" fits into traditional Hindu ideas of religious history, namely that Hinduism has timeless origins, with the Vedic Aryans inhabiting India since ancient times. The Vedic Foundation states:

The history of Bharatvarsh (which is now called India) is the description of the timeless glory of the Divine dignitaries who not only Graced the soils of India with their presence and Divine intelligence, but they also showed and revealed the true path of peace, happiness and the Divine enlightenment for the souls of the world that still is the guideline for the true lovers of God who desire to taste the sweetness of His Divine love in an intimate style.[web 5]

Michael Witzel identifies three major types of "Indigenous Aryans" scenarios:[41]

3. The position that all the world's languages and civilisations derive from India, represented e.g. by David Frawley.

The idea of "Indigenous Aryans" is supported with specific interpretations of archaeological, genetic, and linguistic data, and on literary interpretations of the Rigveda.[46][47][web 6] Standard arguments, both in support of the "Indigenous Aryans" theory and in opposition the mainstream Indo-Aryan Migration theory, are:

For Aurobindo, an "Aryan" was not a member of a particular race, but a person who "accepted a particular type of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of aspiration."[56] Aurobindo wanted to revive India's strength by reviving Aryan traditions of strength and character.[57] He denied the historicity of a racial division in India between "Aryan invaders" and a native dark-skinned population. Nevertheless, he did accept two kinds of culture in ancient India, namely the Aryan culture of northern and central India and Afghanistan, and the un-Aryan culture of the east, south and west. Thus, he accepted the cultural aspects of the division suggested by European historians.[58]

Map showing the spread of the Proto-Indo-European language from the Indus Valley. Dates are those of the "emerging non-invasionist model" according to Elst.

The "Out of India theory" (OIT), also known as the "Indian Urheimat theory," is the proposition that the Indo-European language family originated in Northern India and spread to the remainder of the Indo-European region through a series of migrations.[web 6] It implies that the people of the Harappan civilisation were linguistically Indo-Aryans.[46]

Koenraad Elst, in his Update in the Aryan Invasion Debate, investigates "the developing arguments concerning the Aryan Invasion Theory".[50] Elst notes:

Personally, I don't think that either theory, of Aryan invasion and of Aryan indigenousness, can claim to have been proven by prevalent standards of proof; even though one of the contenders is getting closer. Indeed, while I have enjoyed pointing out the flaws in the AIT statements of the politicized Indian academic establishment and its American amplifiers, I cannot rule out the possibility that the theory which they are defending may still have its merits.[59]

Edwin Bryant also notes that Elst's model is a "theoretical exercise:"

...a purely theoretical linguistic exercise […] as an experiment to determine whether India can definitively be excluded as a possible homeland. If it cannot, then this further problematizes the possibility of a homeland ever being established anywhere on linguistic grounds.[60]

Elst, perhaps more in a mood of devil’s advocacy, toys with the evidence to show how it can be reconfigured, and to claim that no linguistic evidence has yet been produced to exclude India as a homeland that cannot be reconfigured to promote it as such.[61]

Koenraad Elst summarises "the emerging alternative to the Aryan Invasion Theory" as follows. [62]

During the 6th millennium BC Proto-Indo-Europeans lived in the Punjab region of northern India. As the result of demographic expansion, they spread into Bactria as the Kambojas. The Paradas moved further and inhabited the Caspian coast and much of central Asia while the Cinas moved northwards and inhabited the Tarim Basin in northwestern China, forming the Tocharian group of I-E speakers. These groups were Proto-Anatolian and inhabited that region by 2000 BC. These people took the oldest form of the Proto Indo-European (PIE) language with them and, while interacting with people of the Anatolian and Balkan region, transformed it into a separate dialect. While inhabiting central Asia they discovered the uses of the horse, which they later sent back to the Urheimat.[62] Later on during their history, they went on to occupy western Europe and thus spread the Indo-European languages to that region.[62]

During the 4th millennium BC, civilisation in India started evolving into what became the urban Indus Valley Civilization. During this time, the PIE languages evolved to Proto-Indo-Iranian.[62] Some time during this period, the Indo-Iranians began to separate as the result of internal rivalry and conflict, with the Iranians expanding westwards towards Mesopotamia and Persia, these possibly were the Pahlavas. They also expanded into parts of central Asia. By the end of this migration, India was left with the Proto-Indo-Aryans. At the end of the Mature Harappan period, the Sarasvati river began drying up and the remainder of the Indo-Aryans split into separate groups. Some travelled westwards and established themselves as rulers of the Hurrian Mitanni kingdom by around 1500 BC (see Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni). Others travelled eastwards and inhabited the Gangetic basin while others travelled southwards and interacted with the Dravidian people.[62]

In books such as The Myth of the Aryan Invasion of India and In Search of the Cradle of Civilization (1995), Frawley criticises the 19th century racial interpretations of Indian prehistory, such as the theory of conflict between invading Caucasoid Aryans and Dravidians.[63] In the latter book, Frawley, Georg Feuerstein, and Subhash Kak reject the Aryan Invasion theory and support Out of India.

Bryant commented that Frawley's historical work is more successful as a popular work, where its impact "is by no means insignificant", rather than as an academic study,[64] and that Frawley "is committed to channelling a symbolic spiritual paradigm through a critical empirico rational one".[65]

Pseudo-archaeologist Graham Hancock (2002) quotes Frawley's historical work extensively for the proposal of highly evolved ancient civilisations prior to our current estimate of history, including in India.[66] Kreisburg refers to Frawley's "The Vedic Literature and Its Many Secrets".[67]

The Aryan Invasion theory plays an important role in Hindu nationalism, which favors Indigenous Aryanism.[68] It has to be understood against the background of colonialism and the subsequent task of nation-building in India.

Curiosity and the colonial requirements of knowledge about the subject people led the officials of the East India Company to explore the history and culture of India in the late 18th century.[69] When similarities between Sanskrit, Greek and Latin were discovered by William Jones, a suggestion of "monogenesis" (single origin) was formulated for these languages as well as their speakers. In the latter part of the 19th century, it was thought that language, culture and race were inter-related, and the notion of biological race came to the forefront[70] The presumed "Aryan race" which originated the Indo-European languages was prominent among such races, and was deduced to be further subdivided into "European Aryans" and "Asian Aryans," each with their own homelands.[71]

Max Mueller, who translated the Rigveda during 1849–1874, postulated an original homeland for all Aryans in central Asia, from which a northern branch migrated to Europe and a southern branch to India and Iran. The Aryans were presumed to be fair-complexioned Indo-European speakers who conquered the dark-skinned dasas of India. The upper castes, particularly the Brahmins, were thought to be of Aryan descent whereas the lower castes and Dalits ("untouchables") were thought to be the descendants of dasas.[72]

The Aryan theory served politically to suggest a common ancestry and dignity among the colonised Indians and their British rulers. Keshab Chunder Sen saw the English rule in India as a "reunion of parted cousins." The nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak endorsed the antiquity of Rigveda, dating it to 4500 BC. He placed the homeland of the Aryans somewhere close to the North Pole. From there, Aryans were believed to have migrated south in the post-glacial age, branching into a European branch that relapsed into barbarism and an Indian branch that retained the original, superior civilisation.[73]

However, Christian missionaries such as John Muir and John Wilson drew attention to the plight of lower castes, who they said were oppressed by the upper castes since the Aryan invasions. Jyotiba Phule argued that the dasas and sudras were indigenous people and the rightful inheritors of the land, whereas Brahmins were Aryan and alien.[74]

In contrast to the mainstream views, the Hindu revivalist movements denied an external origin to Aryans. Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj (Society of Aryans), held that Vedas were the source of all knowledge and were revealed to the Aryans. The first man (an Aryan) was created in Tibet and, after living there for some time, the Aryans came down and inhabited India, which was previously empty.[75]

The Theosophical Society held that the Aryans were indigenous to India, but that they were also the progenitors of the European civilisation. The Society saw a dichotomy between the spiritualism of India and the materialism of Europe.[76]

The Hindu nationalists, led by Savarkar and Golwalkar, eager to construct a Hindu identity for the nation, held that the original Hindus were the Aryans and that they were indigenous to India. There was no Aryan invasion and no conflict among the people of India. The Aryans spoke Sanskrit and spread the Aryan civilization from India to the west.[76]

Lars Martin Fosse notes the political significance of "Indigenous Aryanism".[68] He notes that "Indigenous Aryanism" has been adopted by Hindu nationalists as a part of their ideology, which makes it a political matter in addition to a scholarly problem.[68] The proponents of Indigenous Aryanism necessarily engage in "moral disqualification" of Western Indology, which is a recurrent theme in much of the indigenist literature. The same rhetoric is being used in indigenist literature and the Hindu nationalist publications like the Organiser.[77]

Witzel traces the "indigenous Aryan" idea to the writings of Savarkar and Golwalkar. Golwalkar (1939) denied any immigration of "Aryans" to the subcontinent, stressing that all Hindus have always been "children of the soil", a notion which according to Witzel is reminiscent of the blood and soil of contemporary fascism . Since these ideas emerged on the brink of the internationalist and socially oriented Nehru-Gandhi government, they lay dormant for several decades, and only rose to prominence in the 1980s.[78]

Bergunder likewise identifies Golwalkar as the originator of the "Indigenous Aryans" notion, and Goel's Voice of India as the instrument of its rise to notability:

The Aryan migration theory at first played no particular argumentative role in Hindu nationalism. […] This impression of indifference changed, however, with Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906–1973), who from 1940 until his death was leader of the extremist paramilitary organization the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS). […] In contrast to many other of their openly offensive teachings, the Hindu nationalists did not seek to keep the question of the Aryan migration out of public discourses or to modify it; rather, efforts were made to help the theory of the indigenousness of the Hindus achieve public recognition. For this the initiative of the publisher Sita Ram Goel (b. 1921) was decisive. Goel may be considered one of the most radical, but at the same time also one of the most intellectual, of the Hindu nationalist ideologues. […] Since 1981 Goel has run a publishing house named ‘Voice of India’ that is one of the few which publishes Hindu nationalist literature in English which at the same time makes a 'scientific' claim. Although no official connections exist, the books of 'Voice of India' — which are of outstanding typographical quality and are sold at a subsidized price — are widespread among the ranks of the leaders of the Sangh Parivar. […] The increasing political influence of Hindu nationalism in the 1990s resulted in attempts to revise the Aryan migration theory also becoming known to the academic public.[79]

Repercussions of the disagreements about Aryan origins have reached Californian courts with the Californian Hindu textbook case, where according to the Times of India[web 7] historian and president of the Indian History Congress, Dwijendra Narayan Jha in a "crucial affidavit" to the Superior Court of California,

...[g]iving a hint of the Aryan origin debate in India, […] asked the court not to fall for the 'indigenous Aryan' claim since it has led to 'demonisation of Muslims and Christians as foreigners and to the near denial of the contributions of non-Hindus to Indian culture'.[web 7]

According to Allentoft (2015), the Sintashta culture probably derived from the Corded Ware Culture. The Sintashta Culture is commonly thought to be the first manifestation of the Indo-Iranians.

Michael Witzel has severely criticised the "Indigenous Aryans" position:

The 'revisionist project' certainly is not guided by the principles of critical theory but takes, time and again, recourse to pre-enlightenment beliefs in the authority of traditional religious texts such as the Purånas. In the end, it belongs, as has been pointed out earlier, to a different 'discourse' than that of historical and critical scholarship. In other words, it continues the writing of religious literature, under a contemporary, outwardly 'scientific' guise […] The revisionist and autochthonous project, then, should not be regarded as scholarly in the usual post-enlightenment sense of the word, but as an apologetic, ultimately religious undertaking aiming at proving the 'truth' of traditional texts and beliefs. Worse, it is, in many cases, not even scholastic scholarship at all but a political undertaking aiming at 'rewriting' history out of national pride or for the purpose of 'nation building'.[80]

In her review of Bryant's "The Indo-Aryan Controversy", which includes chapters by Elst and other "indigenists", Stephanie Jamison comments:

...the parallels between the Intelligent Design issue and the Indo-Aryan "controversy" are distressingly close. The Indo-Aryan controversy is a manufactured one with a non-scholarly agenda, and the tactics of its manufacturers are very close to those of the ID proponents mentioned above. However unwittingly and however high their aims, the two editors have sought to put a gloss of intellectual legitimacy, with a sense that real scientific questions are being debated, on what is essentially a religio-nationalistic attack on a scholarly consensus.[81]

Sudeshna Guha, in her review of The Indo-Aryan Controversy, notes that the book has serious methodological shortcomings, by not asking the question what exactly constitutes historical evidence.[82] This makes the "fair and adequate representation of the differences of opinion" problematic, since it neglects "the extent to which unscholarly opportunism has motivated the rebirth of this genre of 'scholarship'.[82] Guha:

Bryant's call for accepting "the valid problems that are pointed out on both sides" (p. 500), holds intellectual value only if distinctions are strictly maintained between research that promotes scholarship, and that which does not. Bryant and Patton gloss over the relevance of such distinctions for sustaining the academic nature of the Indo-Aryan debate, although the importance of distinguishing the scholarly from the unscholarly is rather well enunciated through the essays of Michael Witzel and Lars Martin Fosse.[82]

According to Bryant,[83] OIT proponents tend to be linguistic dilettantes who either ignore the linguistic evidence completely, dismiss it as highly speculative and inconclusive,[note 15] or attempt to tackle it with hopelessly inadequate qualifications; this attitude and neglect significantly minimises the value of most OIT publications.[85][86][note 16]

Fosse notes crucial theoretical and methodological shortcomings in the indigenist literature.[87] Analysing the works of Sethna, Bhagwan Singh, Navaratna and Talageri, he notes that they mostly quote English literature, which is not fully explored, and omitting German and French Indology. It makes their works in various degrees underinformed, resulting in a critique that is "largely neglected by Western scholars because it is regarded as incompetent."[88]

Edwin Bryant, a cultural historian, has given an overview of the various "Indigenist" positions in his PhD-thesis and two subsequent publications:

The indigenous Aryan debate and The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture are reports of his fieldwork, primarily interviews with Indian researchers, on the reception of the "Indo-Aryan Migration theory" in India. The Indo-Aryan Controversy is a bundle of papers by various "Indigenists", including Koenraad Elst, but also a paper by Michael Witzel.