Applying the term “Arya” as a race has proven the intellectual bankruptcy of the 19th century racist scholars. In fact, discussion about this term itself is waste of time. Much so because it had been a hypothetical, fanciful and proven to be a dangerous idea to the humankind which had no material proof to support except some wild guesswork. The term invoked racial ego in Europeans as well as in some classes of Indian society causing sever irreparable social damage and unnecessary social divide. Moreover, nowadays it seems to be an intellectual entertainment for some scholars, who engage themselves in the issue under the disguise of solving linguistic mysteries.
The term “Aryan” was invented in the mid-eighteenth century. Prior to that, the term had never been used to refer to a race or ethnic group, which existed anywhere on the globe. Max Muller was the first one to refer to ‘Aryans’ as a “race of people”. (1) (‘Lectures on the Science of Languages’ Friedric Max Muller, Vol. 1, 1861). Of course, he later realized the grave danger of doing so and apologetically took back his words. He also explained that while using the word ‘Aryan’, he meant a group of languages and not the ethnic race. Still the harm had already been done.
Without getting into the detailed history of this term, we shall focus on a few points, which explain what the term ‘Aryan’ really meant in the ancient societies.
In the Rig Veda, the word ‘Arya’ appears on only 36 occasions in 34 stanzas and it is used to address mostly to the lineage of Sudasa clan and Gods as an epithet. Moreover, in the Verse 7.33.3, the term ‘Arya’ has been used for enemy also. This only does indicates that the Vedics fought against each other too.
“Airyana Vaeja” in Yasna and Yasts, (Persian scriptures) is the name of a mythical or poetically glorified land where Zarathustra was born and delivered his first sermon. In Persian scriptures, it does not refer to people or epithet. Moreover, the term rarely appears in the Avesta. According to Gherardo Gnoli, ‘Ariya’ was not quite a racial category. Later in Achaemenid times, ‘Ariya’ meant to be a cultural and religious term to evoke the kings’ origin, like a title of particular nobility. In its very restricted, exclusivist nature, the term is quite different from a racial category.
The words similar to ‘Arya’, like ‘Ariya’, ‘Ire’, ‘Ariana’, ‘Aristocrat’ etc. appear in several languages and they do not represent any race anywhere. At some places, such words represent titles or epithet and at some places, they represent certain geographies. According to Max Muller, the term ‘Arya’ means ‘one who ploughs or tills’ which later on came to be used as ‘Noble’, of a good family. (‘Lectures on the Science of the Language’, Vol 1, by Friedrich Max Muller, 1861, page 226)
Etymology of ‘Arya’ is yet not certain. Some linguistics like Oswald Szemerény considers it most probably being a loan word, meaning ‘kinsman, companion’ from non-Indo-European language ‘Ugaritc’. (“In Search of Indo-Europeans by J. P. Mallory, 1991, page 276)
There has been exchange of several words within the nomadic tribes in the so-called Indo-European language geographies though there have been phonetic and denotative changes in every region.
The term ‘Aryan’ came into use as a race by the politically and ideologically motivated people to prove the supremacy of the Caucasian/Nordic race over other races.
The so-called Aryans who were described as ‘fair haired, light or blue eyed Nordic warriors, who tamed the horses and invented wheel and conquered most of the Europe, Northern India and much of the Middle East thousands of years ago, were indeed a fairy tale.’ More so, because so far no remains of skeleton that would resemble to such Nordics have ever been found in the vast of Indus civilization or Iran so far. Such complex is the nature of the ethnic diversity in the so-called Indo-European language speaking regions that no material proof of the Aryan Race theory and its so-called supremacy is found.
Though the Aryan race theory has been abandoned, discarded by the scholars of present times, the Indo-European Languages group theorists still continue to propose the same, carefully replacing the term “race” with “PIE languages group” in their theories. Though racial elements looks like to have been removed from the new theories of the Indo-European Language group, the underlying intentions are the same… supremacist and racially prejudiced.
Iranian scholar Reza Zia-Ebrahimi stated, “Today, the talk of the “Aryan race” in the West is restricted to white supremacist circles in North America and neo-Nazi militants in Europe. The very concept of “race”, although it is still used in political discourses, especially in the United States, is scientifically bankrupt. Leading scientific associations assert that genetic variations between human groups are so gradual that drawing lines is inevitably an arbitrary and subjective exercise. “Indo-European” today refers to languages, not to people, let alone people supposed to assume inherent characteristics. Even its now limited use has been questioned. According to prominent linguists such as Merritt Ruhlen and the late Joseph Greenberg, the theory which holds that Indo-European languages are unrelated to other language groups such as the “Semitic” is overstated, if not outright fictitious.” (Iranian Identity, the ‘Aryan Race,’ and Jake Gyllenhaal, an article in Frontline by REZA ZIA-EBRAHIMI, August 2010)
He adds, “Throughout the nineteenth century, Aryanism was wrapped into the discourse of science. Racial anthropology came into being as a discipline claiming to classify humans into different racial categories with immutable psychological features by measuring noses, skulls, and ears. As we know all too well, Aryanists, in particular like Adolf Hitler, became increasingly obsessed with the racial purity and elevated the opposition between Aryan and Semite to the level of paradigmatic antagonism. This opened the way for the next stage: extermination. Aryanism provided the ideological backbone for Nazi atrocities.”
It will be pertinent here to note that all the British ethnologists of the 19th century like Herbert Risley, Russel, Heeralal etc. have classified the Indian population in different races based on the physical measurements of the people. Their study is held in almost a gospel-like reverence even in the present day India to make governmental and judicial decisions on socio-ethnic issues and reservations. There has been no attempt to relook into the social and ethnic history of India from a fresh point of the view to correct the mistakes of the past, which is rather the need of the time.
The Rig Veda or the Avesta nowhere indicates that there ever was a distinct race of the Aryan and that it had any struggle with the Dasas, Dasyus etc. on racial account. Rather, in the famous battle of ten kings, among the enemy of king Sudasa, five tribes bore the title “Aryan” while the five other tribes did not bear that title. The Dasas and the Dasyus were no racial groups. They were rather groups of different religious faiths. In the Rig Veda, Dasyus appear as “Avrata”, which means without Vedic rites (RV 1.51.8, 9) or as Anagnitra, Ayajjyu or Ayajvan, which means without fire sacrifice (RV 5:189:3, 1.131.44, 1.33.4). Apparently, with their religious conversion, the Dasas too could become Aryas. The Rig Veda states, “Oh Vajri, though hast made Aryas of Dasas” (RV 10.49.3). Thus, it seems that initially the Vedic society had been welcoming the non-Vedics to the Vedic fold.
Similar terms like Dahae, Dakhyu do appear in the Avesta too but they connote men or compatriots of the same society and not any different race. Zarathishtra’s epithet is “Dakhyuma” though his sacred land of birth is called as Airyanam Vaejo, which means in a way the prophet was Dakhyu (Dasyu) and Airya (Arya) in same breath. People of those times developed the designation of ‘Aryas’ to denote or express self-pride and independent religious faiths. We may not know ever from where this term originated and how it travelled across the regions adorning different meanings.
In the latter days, the term Dasa, Dasyu came to be used for slaves and robbers. Nevertheless, the change in the meaning of the words over a time is not new phenomena. A famous example of this is that the term Asura (The Lord) came to acquire the exactly opposite sense, i.e. Demon in Vedic tradition. Of course, this, in no way, suggests that the term Dasa-Dasyu was used to show any kind of racial or linguistic distinctions.
In short, though the ‘Aryan as a race theory’ has not been proved on any, even genetically count beyond doubt, the Indo-Aryan language speaking people’s migration theories are in circulation in different formats. Like the Aryan race theory, PIE group of languages theory too has prerequisites such as a common habitat of single, closely-knit tribe and their subsequent migrations to different directions, either in waves or in unison, in the small span of time of the earliest settlement.
However, does this hypothesis stand up to the test of logic? Does it require explaining some similarities in the various languages? There are many unanswered questions in this regard.
The Indian nationalistic scholarship denied the Aryan race theory completely or partially. However, it did not deny the Aryan language theory (IE). The only change they have made recently is that the Aryans migrated from India towards the west up to Europe and not otherwise as suggested by the western scholars. Needless to mention that for them, the term ‘Aryan’ of India means just the Vedic people, i.e. three Varnas. Max Muller asserts that, “In the later dogmatic literature of the Vedic age, the name of Arya is distinctly appropriated to the three first castes- the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas as opposed to the fourth, or the Sudras.” ( Ibid page 225) We will see in next chapters that how the Shudras meant those all who didn’t follow the Vedic religion. Also kindly take the note that the term ‘Shudra’ is absent in the Rig Veda except of Purushasukta. (RV 10.90)
The issue of original homeland of the Aryan (Vedic) people has also been a matter of a great controversy since 19thcentury. Various theories have been proposed vehemently to prove Vedic homeland either within India or outside India. One must wonder what is so special about the Vedic people engaging in the search of their original habitat! However, let us not forget that “Original Habitat” itself is a flimsy concept. There is nothing like original habitat when it comes to the human race. In no way it explains the common features in the world cultures and languages. No race possesses any special qualities on basis of which it can boast of superiority over others, as declared by the UNESCO. (“Four Statements on the Race Question”, UNESCO Publication, 1969)
Moreover, it would be wrong for the people to be hyped about the Vedics for it being the oldest known religion codified in the Rig Veda. Vedic, as we have already discussed, is neither the oldest religion nor are the Vedas or even the Avesta the oldest scriptures. The oldest religious script found so far was in Egypt (2400-2300 BCE) in the form of Pyramid texts, that too in a written format which is not the case with either IE scriptures like the Avesta and the Rig Veda.
Did the Vedics (IE’s) come to India from Urasia? According to most of the scholars who believe answer to this question is in affirmative, suggesting most suitable candidate for the original habitat of the Vedic Aryans is South Russia. Did the Vedics migrate from India towards the West spreading their language and culture? Indic scholars like Shrikant Talageri place their original habitat towards the east of the Ghaggar (which he believes to be the Sarasvati) River.
Let us take an overview of both the theories and check is they help us understand the reality of the history of the humanity.
The general assumption is that for the spread of the Vedic religion and so-called Indo-Aryan languages, the migrations of the people belonging to that certain stock or common ancestry is the first requirement.
Wherever might have been their original habitat, migration is the precondition for the spread of cultural and linguistic elements as per the migration theorists.
For the migration theorists we can raise few simple questions:
Why do the migrations in unison or in batches take place?
Are immigrants are superior over the native populace wherever they migrate or could it be otherwise?
Is the migration essential for the spread of culture, languages or religion?
Many questions can be raised on this issue. However, in this chapter, let us deal with the above questions only and try to find answers.
Migrations are not a new phenomena occurring in the human world. It is widely assumed that from the ancient times human race has been moving from one place to other in the search of the food. Geographical spread of the human beings is attributed as reason to this. However, the human beings had almost started settling down in different regions in the Mesolithic period (approx 15000 years BC).
C.K. Chase-Dunn (Institute for Research on World-Systems (IROWS), University of California, Riverside, USA) states in his paper ‘WORLD URBANIZATION: THE ROLE OF SETTLEMENT SYSTEMS IN HUMAN SOCIAL EVOLUTION’, “The earliest sedentary societies were of diversified foragers in locations in which nature was bountiful enough to allow hunter-gatherers to feed themselves without migrating. These first villagers continued to interact with still-nomadic peoples in both trade and warfare. The best known of these is the Natufian culture of the Levant, villagers who harvested natural stands of grain around 11,000 years ago. In many regions, the largest villages had only about 250 people. In other regions there were larger villages, and regions with different population densities were often in systemic interaction with each other.”
On this basis, we can surmise that by 10,000 years ago, most of the tribes had settled in their respective regions. They were semi-nomadic for their profession of cattle herding and primal agriculture. In 2013, the archaeologists unearthed evidence of early agriculture at a 12,000-year-old site in the Zagros Mountains in eastern Iran. Mehrgarh site indicates that the human beings of that region knew agriculture ten thousand years ago. There might be more sites indicating to the earliest agriculture on the globe. The fact remains that it helped human being to settle in the respective regions. Kenoyer asserts that, “….These data indicate that foragers were present in the exact locations where we later see the emergence of settled agro-pastoral communities during the Early Food Producing Era (7000-5500 BCE) and the Regionalization Era (5500-2800 BCE).” (Changing Perspectives of the Indus Civilization: New Discoveries and Challenges! By JONATHAN MARK KENOYER, Puratatva, Editor-K. N. Dixit, Number 41, 2011, Indian Archeology Society, page 4)
Kenoyer furher declines the idea of any new influx of the populations in Indus valley and Gangetic regions. What does it means that the people who were progenitors of the IVC were settled in the same regions long before Harappan times. The technological advances led them to the urbanization and establish trade networks with the known world. Even after the decline of the IVC, due to the climatic changes, although people abandoned urban centers, they spread out nearby opting for to live in small settlements or towns, but they didn’t desert their habitat.
Cultural evolution of the human beings has been almost a simultaneous process in various parts of the earth. We cannot attribute it to any particular advanced human race of human being or region.
Michael Maystadt (Illinois State University), on basis of proofs gathered from Europe, states in his thesis titled ‘A Critique of the Out of Africa Model’, “Around 40,000 years ago, there was a cultural explosion in which jewelry, art, and elaborate burials suddenly became commonplace all across Europe. These attributes indicate that for the first time in history, anatomically modern humans started to behave and think like modern humans.”
Proofs found in other continents too support this conclusion. The evolution of cultures that includes even the languages has been a parallel phenomenon across the globe as an outcome of innate need of the human race! Since we cannot attribute such “cultural explosion” result of any particular intruding advanced tribe, how can we believe that the some so-called advanced group of PIE languages could cause acculturation of all other tribes those had already settled in the respective regions with their own advanced cultures?
What was the status of languages in those times? Neom Chomskey, a proponent of the discontinuity theory, says the ability to speak or language faculty is as old as 100,000 years. From primordial gestures and sounds to the present complex state, the language has evolved through the passage of the time.
Let us keep in mind here that there is a close relationship between developments of the language with growing complexities of the life. Early languages must have been too simple, limited to some words supported by the gestures. Certain sounds are so common in the human world that there is no need for tracing their origin to any certain place and population of common ancestry.
As per the linguists and psychologists, the language is an innate need of human race, it is adequate to consider that the language evolutions, their exterminations and re-evolutions or blend of own languages with other languages of neighboring people with social mutations has been the constant process in human societies of the globe. We find similar words having hypothetically similar roots in different languages and conclusions of the scholars that one language influenced the other have marred our linguistic history. We find several similar words in most of the languages but the meanings attached to them are opposite or entirely different.
“Language consciousness is probably identical with every human meta-consciousness and may therefore play a significant role in the control processes effected in the human subject by consciousness,” states Jerzy Banczerowski, a noted linguist. (‘Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries’ ,Volume 1, edited by Dieter Kastovsky, A. J. Szwedek, page no. 19).
Development of languages is largely independent process. Development of the words and their order put syntactically to express larger meaning mostly depends on the cultural ethos and the complexity of transactions of the people of the certain regions. The words gain larger-yet-restricted meanings in the course of their evolution. Of course, here we are not ruling out the borrowings and exchanges of words.