Book Review: A European look at the Aryan myth – N.S. Rajaram

Dr. N.S. Rajaram“The British appealed to the vanity of English-educated Indians by presenting themselves as ‘new and improved Aryans’ that were in India only to complete the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. It is not hard to notice that many English-educated Indians still carry this chip on their shoulder, especially when their education has been at colonial era institutions like the Doon School, St Stephen’s and the like. In some ways they act more British than the British.” – Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Stefan ArvidssonJudged strictly on merit, the various Aryan theories rank among the shoddiest examples of scholarship — riddled with scientific contradictions and weighed down by political and racial prejudices. But in influence and longevity, especially in politics, they bid fair to compare with the theories of Einstein and Darwin. The ‘Aryan nation’ became the mantra of German unification, while in colonial India, Aryans became the common ancestors of the Indians and the British, the latter benevolently ruling over their degraded brothers. Neither Einstein’s Relativity Theory nor Darwin’s Theory of Evolution can match this.

While the scientific, racial and political aspects of Aryan theories have been debated threadbare at least in Europe if not India, a basic question has gone begging: what drove the Europeans, Germans in particular to go to a land and a people so far removed from them in space and time to define themselves? This question is effectively answered by the Swedish scholar Stefan Arvidsson in his remarkable book Aryan Idols. In the process, he has also shed valuable light on the European cultural currents leading to the persistence of these theories in Western academia as well as their proneness to ideological abuse.

Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology As Ideology And ScienceA useful point that Arvidsson makes is that the goal of this discipline, now called Indo-European studies was not so much to understand Indian origins as to “show that there existed a rich “German’ mythology that could successfully compete with classical Judeo-Christian traditions.” It is hardly surprising that anti-Semitism was tied up with it.

A curious fact is that while European scholars like Arvidsson and Leon Poliakov, the author of the classic work The Aryan Myth are willing to take Indo-European studies and its scholarship head on, calling their work racist propaganda, Indians continue to treat them with the respect due to real scholars. This is even when propagandists like Michael Witzel have shown no reluctance to misuse their positions as academics. (Sic: It is a different matter that Witzel and his discipline are now in the doldrums, but Indian academics played almost no part in this.) When I brought up this anomaly with a Western scholar, he suggested that it was probably because Europeans have suffered at the hands of these propagandists under the Nazi regime while Indians have only read about the Nazi horrors.

This is something to think about, but still not the full answer. The self-identification of the British sponsored Indian elite to view themselves as long-lost Aryan kinsmen of the British rulers may also have played a part. This little known chapter in the British co-opting of the Aryan myth is worth visiting. This is how the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it in the House of Commons in 1929:

“Now, after ages, … the two branches of the great Aryan ancestry have again been brought together by Providence…. By establishing British rule in India, God said to the British, “I have brought you and the Indians together after a long separation, … it is your duty to raise them to their own level as quickly as possible … brothers as you are….”

Harvard Prof. of Sanskrit Michael WitzelThat is to say the British appealed to the vanity of English educated Indians by presenting themselves as “new and improved Aryans” that were in India only to complete the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. It is not hard to notice that many English educated Indians still carry this chip on their shoulder, especially when their education has been at colonial era institutions like the Doon School, St Stephen’s and the like. In some ways they act more British than the British

Returning to Arvidsson’s Aryan Idols, a little known aspect of Aryan theories, at least in India, is the major contribution made by German folklore. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, who compiled German folk tales were also philologists. “For over two hundred years, a series of historians, linguists, folklorists, and archaeologists have tried to re-create a lost culture. Using ancient texts, medieval records, philological observations, and archaeological remains they have described a world, a religion, and a people older than the Sumerians, with whom all history is said to have begun.”

These primordial people are of course the legendary European Aryans, now called Indo-Europeans to avoid the Nazi taint. There are of course no Indo-European texts. “No objects can definitely be tied to them, nor do we know any ‘Indo-European’ by name. In spite of that, scholars have stubbornly tried to reach back to the ancient ‘Indo-Europeans,’ with the help of bold historical, linguistic, and archaeological reconstructions, in the hopes of finding the foundation of their own culture and religion there.”

Aryan familyThis helps answer the question why some Indo-European academics (like Witzel) react viscerally whenever their theories are thrown in doubt by new findings in archaeology, natural history or genetics. They strike at the very root their cherished ideas about their origins and even identity. As Arvidsson notes: “There is something in the nature of research about Indo-Europeans that makes it especially prone to ideological abuse—perhaps something related to the fact that for the past two centuries, the majority of scholars who have done research on the Indo-Europeans have considered themselves descendants of this mythical race.”

This “ideological abuse” reached its culmination in the Nazi regime. More recently, it raised its head when California education authorities tried to change the syllabus in elementary schools, replacing theories like the Aryan invasion with more recent findings. This brought down the wrath of the German-born Indologist Michael Witzel and his associates who did their level best to save the teaching of their scientifically discredited and historically disgraced Aryan theories.

Speaking of Indology, and the replacement of Indian Aryans by Europeans, the book observes: “The theory about India as the original home of the Indo-Europeans, and the Indians as a kind of model Aryans, lost supporters during the nineteenth century, and other homelands and other model Aryans took their place instead.” The Aryans (or Indo-Europeans) and their homeland were gradually moved westward until they were made to settle in Eurasia and even Germany. In the hands of German scholars, the Aryans became “Indo-Germanische.”

In summary, “The main reason why scholarship about the Indo-Europeans has tended to produce myths is that so many who have written (and read) about it have interpreted it as concerning THEIR OWN ORIGIN.” While this accounts for the European attachment to the Aryan myth, it fails to explain why many Indian scholars continue to cling to it. The answer will have to come from Indian scholars. (This reviewer’s book The Politics of History appeared in 1995. The time is now ripe for a new book on the subject incorporating the latest data and developments written from an Indian perspective.) – Folks Magazine, 18 April 2012

» Dr N. S. Rajaram’s earliest book on the subject is The Politics of History: Aryan Invasion Theory and the Subversion of Scholarship published by Voice of India in 1995.

9 Responses

  1. I notice Dr. NS Rajaram likes to debate Aryan origins while emphasising there is no debate. He simply keeps denying the theory vehemently telling science has proven and then offers little or no substantial intelligent proof or study. All I see in his debate is a thesis derived out of past historical data which can be read by each in their own perspective.

    It is clear this is rooting out of nationalistic ideology. I hear more like its my way or highway.

    The Out of India Theory took strength by millions of Indians pressing on it drowning out all the little voices from around globe. Unfortunately for this group sun started to set when a huge effort was placed by genetically databasing for years the native unchanged populace in Africa, America, Papua New Guinea, Europe, India sponsored by National Geographic.

    DNA sampling was done on all and human evolution for sapiens was accomplished (still going on) by Dr. Spencer Wells. With hard core results based out of immense investment and unlimited resources of technology, people, geneticist a sequencing of DNA, with haplogroup and genetic markers were identified. Starting from first, the chain was created showing the migration of humans to descendant markers mapping the migrations.


    The Genographic Project

    In it was identified origin haplogroup M207 that gave way to next M17 R1A1 and R1B1. These markers were scientifically generated in Eurasia, not India. These were the carriers of so called Aryans. Really the Aryans I don’t think existed and were coined by later historians for the sake of identification. These were simply groups of Central and Eurasians who settled finally in Tajikistan and Northern Pakistan. I think to avoid Islamic persecution.

    They came in with their societies into the Indus later into Gangetic plains. It is supposed they were the reminiscence of finished kingdom of Hittites. As in Hittites had similar gods as surya, Indra and king names were same as Indian types as Parasuram.

    India was having a flourishing civilisation since 50000 years from first and second wave of sapiens migrations from Africa. Through thar desert. These migrations established colonies as well as exported to Islands and aboriginals in Australia.

    Once the so called Aryans were in, they mixed with the local cultures through wars, development of kingdoms, caste system, and so on. Today it hardly matters.

    If aryans went from India, South and North Indians should have NIL European and Mediterranean DNA. In fact, North Indians can have as much as 30 percent and south has till 6 percent of North European.

    But, export from India in Islands, Japan, Chinese, Vietnamese have Nil European DNA. Thus evidences when “Aryans” came in there was intermixing which even left Southern Indians with their markers.

    If Europeans were from India they also must have South Indian DNS percentage. But they have only south western (Persian) till 17 to 30 percent. None of Indian. It’s the game of DNA mapping. The flow of aryans or Hittites or such was from Eurasia steppes, that went up to Russia then turned back into North India.

  2. The evolution theory of Darwin was much dreaded by God fearing people except Indian sub continent. However the twin theory of Aryo Dravidism has been made a cult which had created intellectual havoc in politics of India who are unconvincing and have become bigots. The stupidity has gone to such extent that while in India Dalits are considered as descendants of Buddha and hence Buddha is a Dravidian fighting against AryoBrahmano hegemony Sinhala Buddhists are Aryans pitted against Tamil Dravidians. Bengal is even more ridiculous where one of the greatest Avathars RamAkrishna Paramahamsa is being ridiculed. We have to admit that the continuous history of India begins only from Satavahanas. The greatest fun of the Indian history is that while the historians rely only on Buddhist/Jain sources for the concept of Janapadhas the history of Janapadas is conveniently fit into RikVedic hymns for the prehistoric period and thereafter Mahabharata, Srimadh Bhagavatam and Puranas are fit into it. We don’t have Sanskrit literature before Bhasa. But we omit the history as given in Buddhist/Jain sources but take the places and tribes and thereafter verify with Megasthenes Strabo Arriyan etc., and search for Puranas etc., and fit the same. How scientific our analysis! Why were the stories of Divodasa Puru Turvasu of Vedic hymns did not find place in Buddhistic/Jain sources? Similarly North Indian literature is completely ignorant of region south of River Krishna to Tondi dominated by Cholas and Pallavas. While Tiruvalangadu Plates minutely describe the entire north India with special reference to Kanauj and Gahadwalas how is that Alberuni and Rajatarangini omits them? The Pandiya story in Indica is the most absurd one and by going through the custom of Alliyasanthanam Pandiyas refers to Alupas of coastal Karnataka only Kerala a general term of west coast and Cholas to Renadu Cholas adjoining Karnataka. The Ceylon Chronicles never considered Pandiyas as Tamils but as Pandu kings. Further earlier Ceylon chronicles identified Dravida/Chola as KrishnaGodavari belt. This is also supported by Hieun Sang’s location of Cholas in Renadu and Zhao’s reference to Cholas as substitution for Dravidas in 1075AD i.e.,after Cholas’s emissary to China. Further the spread of Buddha’s message in South is limited to Mahishmandalam and Vanavasi thus tallying with descriptions of Megasthenes Strabo and Arrian covering only Western India. Further all the ancient literature describes Srilanka as Tabropane. Since the compilation of Mahabharata and Puranas took place only during the period of Kadambas to Guptas the GOLDEN AGE OF SANSKRIT they simply adopted earlier available references. Thus Tamilnadu and Tamil had never been the subject matter of reference in ancient sources including Buddhist/jain sources. Unless the reason for isolation of Tamilnadu and Tamil is analysed the history will be superficial and conjecture satisfying the galleries of political class.

  3. The word Aryan stands for a culture that believed in rebirth and living a life with the ultimate aim to experience Atma. Any migration from Europe to India as an Aryan is a myth simply because Europeans do not have the inner developement to reach the belief system that supports rebirth and knowledge of Atma. If there was any migration from Europe it is possibly a migration BACK from previously migrated Aryans who had migrated to Europe.

    The Aryans of Germany : A clan named Sharmas from Northern India migrated to the present Germany area. Over a period of time the word Sharma came to be pronounced as Sharman and eventually evolved into present day German. The case is solved.

    • Dinesh, do you really think the Germans don’t know who they are?

      Of all the Europeans, the Germans know better who they are than their neighbours.

      Your reference to Sharma and its “evolution” into German is silly. This is the old etymological game P.N. Oak played. It is fun. But it has no truth in it at all.

      • What do the Germans know more than the other Europeans ?

        If you look closely the answer is clearly stated in the clarification in the first paragraph above.
        For one to claim to be an Aryan you had better know where you are coming from, isn’t it? These Germans know about themselves.The source of this knowledge is as authentic as our Bhagvad Geeta that you might be following!!

    • I would assume your Sharma to Sharman to German is a joke.

  4. This is useless article, because it is trying to narrate the opinion of the Europeans. That does not prove or disprove anything. The evidence is required to prove that Aryans were originated in India, if at all Aryan was a race ( which both Sri Aurobindo and Swamy Vivekananda will oppose).
    If Aryans means just people of ancient India, then there are enough evidences from Russian sources, whuch Rajaram, being a pro-American, will not touch.

    • It is a BOOK REVIEW and not a survey of various Aryan theories. So I must stick to the main topic of the book and not bring up Vivekananda, Aurobindo, etc which are irrelevant.

      The various ‘Russian’ Aryan theories he refers to have no scientific basis and are not relevant to the book under review. I have made it clear in my books and articles that the people of India are of indigenous origin and not the product of any Aryan invasion or migration. I refuted it long ago — in 1995. I have written at least four books on the subject and Mr Bose would do well to read them.

      Why does Bose want Russians to help him demolish the Aryan theories. Can’t he read the sources himself? It again shows the colonial mentality of dependence — someone else needs to approve their ideas. These Russian theories are as unsound as Witzel and other German theories.

      I have also demolished the notion of the Aryan race in my books and articles. I would advise Bose and others like him to cultivate an independent spirit and do their own homework.

      There is nothing to stop Bose from writing an article based on his own research to support his views.

      • Dr. Rajaram, the man doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He subscribes to Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s chirstianised monotheistic theories applied to the Vedas.

        As you say it is colonial thinking. The Indian brain has been taken over by the British and this is an example of it.

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