The Aryan migration

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A backgrounder

Devdutt Pattanaik, July 16, 2022: The Times of India

Three kinds of people love the word Arya even today. The first is the local right-wing folks, who insist ‘Arya’ refers to the best of Hindu civilisation. The second is the white supremacist of the Western world — they prefer the word ‘Aryan’, to Arya, and insist the original Aryan belonged to a white race from Scandinavia. The third is the Iranians, whose king renamed their country from Persia to Iran in 1935 under Nazi influence, to remind the world that the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Avesta scripture referred to the Iranian plateau as ‘airyanem vaejah’ or ‘the Aryan expanse’.

All three groups today oppose conservative Sunni Wahabi Arabic Islam. 
But in India, the Arya lobby faces a unique problem. They are seen as northern, the opposite of southern Dravidian people. 

Dravida language and race

All this started in the 19th century. Linguists identified the Indo-European family of languages. Language was confused with race. The Germans insisted that the original Aryan homeland was in Scandinavia — the land of white folks with blonde hair and blue eyes. Indians have always valued fair skin over dark skin. 

This Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) was also a simple explanation for the caste system of India, and the eclipsing of South Indian culture by North Indians.

The right wing offered a counter ‘Out of India’ (OIT) narrative that made India the original spiritual homeland. If not India, then Tibet. Germans spoke of migration because of the Great Flood from Atlantis, then Tibet, then Scandinavia, with corrupt Aryans turning into Hindus and Buddhists. None of these theories have any scientific evidence. But they are still popular in white supremacist and Hindutva circles.

If we accept that ‘real’ Aryans came from Tibet and went eastwards to Europe via Iran, it would mean they also went southwards also, beyond Vindhyas towards Deccan and Tamilakkam. That would mean Aryans are not native to the south, right?

In the right-wing discourse, all of India was filled with uncivilised savages, the An-arya, who were convinced to adopt the Aryan way. Arya then becomes more a cultural term than a racial term.

Arya also becomes synonym to the Hindutva version of Hindu, one who loves Hindu Rashtra, and sees Hindu Rashtra as the holy land. This excludes Muslims, as they see Mecca as the holy city, and Christians who see Jerusalem as the holy city. The word ‘Arya’ is favoured by those who feel the word ‘Hindu’ has Persian roots. The same reason they prefer ‘Bharat’ over India, as the word ‘India' has Greek roots.

The word Dravida was probably used for the first time by Adi Shankara in the 8th century. And words like Pancha-Dravida Brahmins occur in the Rajataringani of Kalhana written in the 12th century, and in Maratha bureaucratic records.

In the 19th century, discovery of Dravidian languages led to idea of Dravidian race, which inspired a very successful Dravidian political movement against Brahmins and Hindi in South India. Ram was projected by some Dravidian leaders as an Aryan imperialist and Ravana, a local southern hero. Likewise, some Hindutva leaders still claim Vamana as the Aryan hero who crushed (civilised?) the Dravidians led by king Bali.

Arya and An-arya in Jainism and Buddhism

Blaming Europeans for the Arya-Dravida divide is easy. But in early Dharma-shastra, Arya-varta was restricted to Gangetic plains. Later Dharma-shastra, like Manusmriti, expanded the region to include all of South Asia. But not Iran. or Southeast Asia, which are claimed as Akhand-Bharat by right wing lobbyists.

Manusmriti used the word An-arya for Shudra (low caste) inside India and for the Mleccha (foreigners) outside India. In Manusmriti, Manu clearly differentiates between Arya by birth, Arya by looks, and Arya by behaviour. Ideally the three should be aligned. But the frequent misalignment exasperated him. He preferred children of Arya men birthed by An-arya women to children of An-arya men birthed by Arya women.

The word Arya means noble people even in Jain and Buddhist scriptures too. While Hindu scriptures exclude the An-arya, Jainism and Buddhism are shown to include the An-arya and transform them into Arya through the dharmic discourse. Jain scriptures refer to different types of Arya based on birth, location, vocation, and behaviour.

The Arya-varta of the Jain and Buddhist world expands to include a wider region, beyond Gangetic plains, often including Magadha, Odisha and Dravida, regions that were originally not part of the Vedic world.

Against: There was no [Aryan] genetic influx 3,500 years ago

Indians are not descendants of Aryans, says new study

Dinesh C. Sharma | Mail Today | New Delhi,

December 10, 2011 |

India Today

Widely believed theory of Indo-Aryan invasion, often used to explain early settlements in the Indian subcontinent is a myth, a new study by Indian geneticists says.

The origin of genetic diversity found in South Asia is much older than 3,500 years when the Indo-Aryans were supposed to have migrated to India, a new study led by scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, says. The study appeared in American Journal of Human Genetics on Friday.

The theory of Indo-Aryan migration was proposed in mid-19th century by German linguist and Sanskrit scholar Max Muller.

He had suggested that 3,500 years ago, a dramatic migration of Indo-European speakers from Central Asia played a key role in shaping contemporary South Asian populations and this was responsible for introduction of the Indo-European language family and the caste system in India.

"Our study clearly shows that there was no genetic influx 3,500 years ago," said Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB, who led the research team, which included scientists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, Chennai and Banaras Hindu University.

"It is high time we re-write India's prehistory based on scientific evidence," said Dr Lalji Singh, former director of CCMB. "There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India or even something such as Aryans existed". Singh, vice-chancellor of BHU, is a coauthor.

Researchers analysed some six lakh bits of genetic information in the form of SNPs drawn from DNA of over 1,300 individuals from 112 populations including 30 ethnic groups in India.

The comparison of this data with genetic data of other populations showed that South Asia harbours two major ancestry components. One is spread in populations of South and West Asia, Middle East, Near East and the Caucasus. The second component is more restricted to South Asia and accounts for more than 50 per cent of the ancestry in Indian populations.

"Both the ancestry components that dominate genetic variation in South Asia demonstrate much greater diversity than those that predominate West Eurasia. This is indicative of a more ancient demographic history and a higher long-term effective population size underlying South Asian genome variation compared to that of West Eurasia," researchers said.

"The genetic component which spread beyond India is significantly higher in India than in any other part of world. This implies that this genetic component originated in India and then spread to West Asia and Caucasus," said Gyaneshwar Chaube of University of Tartu, Estonia.

If any migration from Central Asia to South Asia took place, the study says, it should have introduced apparent signals of East Asian ancestry into India. "Because this ancestry component is absent from the region, we have to conclude that if such an event indeed took place, it occurred before the East Asian ancestry component reached central Asia," it said.

See also

Caste in India: genetics and heredity (easy reading)

Caste among Hindus

Caste in India: genetics and heredity (academic studies)

Racial Classification of Indian People

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