European scholars following Max Muller in the nineteenth century decided that the Vedic people – whom they called the Aryans after a misinterpretation of that Vedic term – invaded India around 1500 BC. They were said to have overthrown the primitive and aboriginal culture of the time, which was thought to be Dravidian in nature, and brought a more advanced civilization to the land (though they themselves were still regarded as barbarians). The indigenous aborigines were identified as the Dasyus or inimical people mentioned in the Vedas.
The rationale behind the late date for the Vedic culture given by Muller was totally speculative and based only on linguistic grounds. Muller had assumed that the five layers of the four Vedas and Upanishads were each composed in two hundred year periods before the Buddha at 500 BC, as they were in existence by that time.
However, the rates of change for languages are quite speculative, particularly for those languages like Sanskrit or Latin which became scriptural or scholarly languages apart from common dialects. There are more changes of language within Vedic Sanskrit itself than there are in classical Sanskrit since Panini, regarded as a figure of around 500 BC, or a period of 2500 years. As classical Sanskrit has remained the same for that time period, the two hundred year strata for the Vedic language carries no weight at all. Each of these periods could have existed for any number of centuries and the two hundred year figure is likely too short a figure.
The idea that the Aryans were a particular race was not accepted by everyone. Max Muller himself rejected it. Yet it has become ingrained in the Aryan theory so much that the common mind has accepted it as a fact. This idea of the Aryans as a particular race, speaking a particular language is what I call the “first birth” of the Aryan theory. Yet in its first form, the Aryan invasion was of people who were as or more advanced in culture than the indigenous aborigines that they overcame.
Harappa and Mohenjodaro were not excavated until the early part of the twentieth century. As by this time the 1500 BC date for the Vedic people was accepted and since Harappa was dated before this it was uncritically accepted that the Harappan culture must be pre-Vedic. The Aryan invasion theory was rewritten to make the Aryans the uncivilized destroyers of the civilized Dravidian-Harappan culture. Yet few questioned this rewriting of the Aryan invasion theory in light of new evidence. This we could call the “second birth” of the Aryan invasion theory – in which the Vedic Aryans were not only violent and intolerant but the destroyers of one of the great civilizations of antiquity – which makes the Vedic Aryans appear as proto-Nazis. This is the view of the Aryan invasion that is most commonly accepted today, even after it has been accepted by all scholars that there is no evidence of any Harappan cities being destroyed by invaders. Because it is the most negative view of the Aryans, it has been most seized upon by those opposing Hindu or Vedic culture.
Meanwhile other archaeologists in the early part of this century pointed out that in the middle of the second millennium BC, various Indo-Europeans appear in the Middle East, wherein Indo-European Hittites, Mittani and Kassites conquered and ruled Mesopotamia for some centuries. A Greek invasion of Europe was also postulated for this period, as it marked the period when the Minoan culture declined, which was assumed to be non-Indo-European. Hence an Aryan invasion of Greece and the Middle East was proposed. An Aryan invasion of India was regarded as another version of this same migratory movement of Indo-European peoples around the middle of the second millennium BC, which became one of the most dramatic migrations in the history of the world and for which no real cause has ever been given.
On top of this, excavators of the Indus Valley culture, like Wheeler, thought they found evidence of destruction of the culture by an outside invasion, confirming the idea (though Wheeler’s so-called skeletal evidence of the massacre of Mohenjodaro has long since been refuted it still appears in many historical accounts even today!).
Vedic culture was thus said to be that of primitive nomads who came out of Central Asia with their horse-drawn chariots and iron weapons, like the Indo-European Hittites in the Near East who were among the first to use iron weapons, and overthrew the cities of the more advanced Harappan culture, with their cruder culture yet superior battle tactics. It was pointed out that no horses, chariots or iron were discovered in Harappan sites, and since such things are mentioned in the Vedas, this culture must be pre-Vedic.
To support this theory other aspects of the Vedas were molded according to it. Vedic references to destruction of cities were related to Harappa. The Vedic metal ayas was said to be iron, though it is only a generic term meaning metal. Vedic references to the ocean were reduced to mean only the Indus river or some other large body of water in northwest India or Afghanistan. Vedic references to rivers from the Indus to the Ganges, which are merely a list of rivers, were interpreted to show a movement from the west to the east of India. The Aryan invasion theory was imposed on archeological and literary evidence, even if it required altering the data.
This was how the Aryan invasion theory formed. The logic was inevitable. Once the image of invading Aryans was formed, it had to be drawn out to its ultimate form envisioning the Aryans like Atilla the Hun.
The languages of South India are Dravidian, which is a different linguistic group than the Indo-European languages of the North of the subcontinent. The two groups of languages have many different root words (though a number in common we might add), and above all a different grammatical structure, the Dravidian being agglutinative and the Indo-European being inflected. Dravidian languages possess a very old history of their own, which their legends, the Tamil Sangha literature, show a history in South India and Sri Lanka dating back over five thousand years.
Along with the difference of language there is a difference of skin color from north to south of India, with the southerners being darker in skin color (though northerners are hardly light in color by Western standards, with the exception of some people of the far northwest). Though a less pronounced difference than that of language it has been lumped together along with it again assuming that race and language must be the same.
The Aryan invasion theory has been used to explain both the linguistic and racial differences between the peoples of North and South India, and such differences have been put forth as “proof” of the invasion (as if no other explanation were possible). As the Aryans were made into a race, so were the Dravidians and the Aryan/Dravidian divide was turned into a racial war, the Aryan invaders versus the indigenous Dravidians of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. By this view the Vedic people promoted the superiority of their race and language and simply drove away those of different races or languages. We have already discussed how Sanskrit Aryan is never a racial term but a title of respect. Even the Dravidian kings called themselves Aryan. Nor is there anything in Vedic literature that places the Dravidians outside of the greater Vedic culture and ancestry. Hence to place Aryan against Dravidian as terms is itself a misuse of language. Be that as it may, the Aryan and Dravidian divide has also failed to prove itself.
Now it has been determined that there is no such thing scientifically speaking as Aryan and Dravidian races. The so-called Aryans and Dravidian races of India are members of the same Mediterranean branch of the Caucasian race, which prevailed in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria and is still the main group in the Mediterranean area, North Africa, and the Middle East. The Caucasian race is not simply white but also contains dark skinned types. Skin color and race is another nineteenth century idea that has been recently discarded.
Darker skin color is commonly found in peoples living in more southern regions and appears as an adjustment mechanism to hotter climates and greater sunshine. For example southern Europeans are darker in skin color than northern Europeans, though they are not a different race because of this. This suggests that the Dravidian branch of the Mediterranean race must have lived in South India for some thousands of years to make this adjustment, and the same thing could be said of the people of North India as well if we would make them originally light-skinned invaders from the north.
The issue of language is similarly more complex. It is now known that Dravidian languages, with their agglutinative patterns, share common traits and are of the same broad linguistic group as such Asian and East European languages as Finnish, Hungarian, old Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian and Japanese, the Finno-Ugric and Ural-Altaic branches of languages. As the common point between these groups lies in Central Asia some scholars have recently proposed that the Dravidian peoples originally came from this region.
The same linguistic speculation that led to the Aryan invasion theory has following the same logic required a “Dravidian invasion.” Not only are the Dravidians like the Aryans styled invaders into India, they took the same route as the Aryans. The city-state of Elam in southwest Iran, east of Sumeria, which had a high civilization throughout the ancient period, shows an agglutinative structure like the Dravidian, as does possibly the Sumerian itself. This would place Dravidian type languages in Iran as well. Thereby the Dravidians, just like the Aryans, would have migrated (again the reason for which is not clear) from Central Asia and into Iran, with one group moving west to Mesopotamia and the other, apparently larger group, going east into India. Later the invading Aryans are said to have forced the Dravidians to move to the south of the country from their original homeland on the Indus and Sarasvati rivers. (However, we have already noted that there is no evidence of such migrations, nor of any Dravidian references to the Sarasvati like those of the Vedas.)
The Dravidian and Aryan invasion theories turns the migration of particular language/racial groups from Central Asia into a kind of panacea to explain the developments of race and language for much of humanity, particularly for India. However both invasion theories appear far too simplistic given the complex ways in which cultures, languages and races move and interact.
The Dravidian claim to be indigenous to India has, like the Aryan, been discredited by linguistic argument. Yet the argument brings the Aryans and Dravidians back into contact with each other and derives them from the same region, suggesting a long term association between them outside of India. However if we give up the invasion model such association can be better explained by contact within India which we know was an historical fact.
Certainly the present population of India – which even the ancient Greeks and Persians regarded as dark-skinned – was not produced by light-skinned people from Central Asia (whether Aryan or Dravidian). Moreover, there cannot be a Dravidian invasion changing the language but not the population of India just like the Aryan invasion, as the idea is far-fetched to happen once but to happen twice in a row in the same region and by the same route is ridiculous.
If both the Aryan and Dravidian languages of India have affinities with those of Central Asia, and to peoples of different ethnic groups (the Indo-Aryan with the lighter skinned European and the Dravidians with both light-skinned Finns and Hungarians, and Mongolian race Turks) a phenomenon is created that is too complex to be explained by mere migration alone. It takes languages across the racial boundaries that migration theories up-hold and places them on par with other cultural affinities (like art or religion), which are not limited by race.
The linguistic divide between Aryan and Dravidian, as that between the Indo-European and other language groups is also now being questioned. A greater Nostratic family of languages has been proposed that includes Indo-European, Dravidian and Semitic languages and looks for a common ancestor for all three. This requires a greater degree of contact between these groups which remote Central Asia cannot afford. Moreover, there are affinities between Sanskrit and the Munda or aboriginal languages of India, as S. Kalyanaraman has noted, that indicate a long and early contact, if not common evolution, which could have only happened in India. Such Vedic scholars as Sri Aurobindo have stated that the Dravidian and Sanskritic languages have much more in common than has yet been admitted and appear to have a common ancestor.
Dravidian history does not contradict Vedic history either. It credits the invention of the Tamil language, the oldest Dravidian tongue, to the rishi Agastya, one of the most prominent sages in the Rig Veda. Dravidian kings historically have called themselves Aryans and trace their descent through Manu (who in the Matsya Purana is regarded as originally a south Indian king). Apart from language, moreover, both north and south India share a common religion and culture. Prior to Vedic Sanskrit there may have been a language that was the basis of both the Dravidian and Sanskritic languages in India.
The idea that the same culture cannot produce two different language systems may itself be questionable. It may have been the very power of Vedic culture and its sages, with their mastery of the word, that they could have produced not only Indo-European like languages but also Dravidian.
In any case the Aryan/Dravidian divide is no longer sufficient to up-hold the Aryan invasion theory. It leads to a more difficult to maintain Dravidian invasion theory. The Dravidian invasion theory is just a shadow cast by the Aryan invasion theory and reveals the erroneous nature of the latter.
Other aspects of the Aryan-Dravidian divide are predicated upon the invasion theory. For example the idea that South India represents a pre-Vedic Shaivite culture as opposed to the Brahmanical culture of the north follows only from this. Otherwise we see Shaivism in the North, in Kailas, Benares and Kashmir, and Shiva as Rudra of the Vedas. What have thereby been proposed as radical cultural differences between the North and South of India are merely regional variations in the vast cultural complex of the subcontinent and its interrelated spiritual traditions.
Dravidian pride or nationalism need not depend upon the Aryan invasion theory or denigrating the culture of North India. The Dravidians have long been one of the most important peoples of India and, perhaps ironically, have been the best preservers of Vedic culture itself. The best Vedic Sanskrit, rituals and traditions can be found only in the south of India. That South India was able to do this suggests the importance and antiquity of Vedic culture to this region.
Author : Stephen Knapp