Social:Indigenous Aryans

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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.(Trautmann 2005)(Anthony 2007)(Parpola 2015)

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.

Historical background

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.(Trautmann 2005) An alternative view is the idea that the Aryans are indigenous to India, which challenges the standard view.(Trautmann 2005) In recent times the indigenous position has come to the foreground of the public debate.(Trautmann 2005)

Indo-Aryan migration theory

Scheme of Indo-European migrations, of which the Indo-Aryan migrations form a part, from ca. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the Kurgan hypothesis:
* The magenta area corresponds to the assumed Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture and the subsequent Yamna culture).
* The red area corresponds to the area which may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to ca. 2500 BCE.
* The orange area corresponds to 1000 BCE.
Source: Christopher I. Beckwith (2009), Empires of the Silk Road, Oxford University Press, p.30.(Beckwith 2009)

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.(Anthony 2007)(Witzel 2001)(Witzel 2005) The linguistic analyses and data are supplemented with archaeological data and anthropological arguments, which together provide a coherent model(Anthony 2007) that is widely accepted.(Mallory Adams)

In the model, the first archaeological remains of the Indo-Europeans is the Yamna culture,(Anthony 2007) 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.(Anthony 2007) The Indo-Aryans migrated to the Levant, northern India, and possibly Inner Asia.(Beckwith 2009)

The migration into northern India was not necessarily of a large population, but may have consisted of small groups,(Witzel 2005) 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,(Anthony 2007)[note 1][note 2] who adopted the new language and culture.(Hickey 2010)(Thomason Kaufman)[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."(Witzel 2001)

Aryan Invasion theory

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."(McGetchin 2015) 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.(Trautmann 1997)(Walsh 2011)

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.(Possehl 2002) 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.(Possehl 2002)

Indo-Iranian migrations according to Kazanas.[1]

The Aryan Invasion theory has been discarded in mainstream scholarship since the 1980s,(Kazanas 2002) and replaced by more sophisticated models.(Witzel 2001)[note 4] Nevertheless, it has been used as a straw man to attack the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.(Witzel 2005)[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.(Witzel 2005)

While according to Koenraad Elst, a supporter of Indigenous Aryans,

"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.(Elst 2005)[note 6]

Indigenous Aryanism

The "Indigenist position" started to take shape after the discovery of the Harappan Civilisation, which predates the Vedas.(Trautmann 2005) According to this alternative view, the Aryans are indigenous to India,(Trautmann 2005) the Indus Civilisation is the Vedic Civilisation,(Trautmann 2005) the Vedas are older than the second millennium BCE,(Trautmann 2005) there is no discontinuity between the (northern) Indo-European part of India and the (southern) Dravidian part,(Trautmann 2005) and the Indo-European languages radiated out from a homeland in India into their present locations.(Trautmann 2005)

These ideas are based on the Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which contain lists of kings and genealogies(Witzel 2001)(Trautmann 2005) used to construct the traditional chronology of ancient India.(Witzel 2001) "Indigenists" follow a "Puranic agenda",(Witzel 2011) 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.(Witzel 2001) The royal lists are based on Sūta bardic traditions, and are derived from lists which were orally transmitted and constantly reshaped.(Witzel 2001)

These lists are supplemented with astronomical interpretations, which are also used to reach an earlier dating for the Rigveda.(Witzel 2001) 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.(Witzel 2001)[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:(Trautmann 2005)

[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).(Kak 1987)[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]

Indigenist scenarios

Indigenous Aryans scenarios

Michael Witzel identifies three major types of "Indigenous Aryans" scenarios:(Witzel 2001)

1. A "mild" version that insists on the indigeneity of the Rigvedic Aryans to the North-Western region of the Indian subcontinent in the tradition of Aurobindo and Dayananda;[note 13]
2. The "out of India" school that posits India as the Proto-Indo-European homeland, originally proposed in the 18th century, revived by the Hindutva sympathiser(Hansen 1999) Koenraad Elst (1999), and further popularised within Hindu nationalism(Bryant 2001) by Shrikant Talageri (2000);(Talageri 2000)[note 14]
3. The position that all the world's languages and civilisations derive from India, represented e.g. by David Frawley.

Kazanas adds a fourth scenario:

4.The Aryans entered the Indus Valley before 4500 BC and got integrated with the Harappans, or might have been the Harappans.(Kazanas 2002)

Main arguments of the Indigenists

The idea of "Indigenous Aryans" is supported with specific interpretations of archaeological, genetic, and linguistic data, and on literary interpretations of the Rigveda.(Bryant 2001)(Bryant Patton)[web 6] Standard arguments, both in support of the "Indigenous Aryans" theory and in opposition the mainstream Indo-Aryan Migration theory, are:

  • Questioning the Indo-Aryan Migration theory:
  • Presenting the Indo-Aryan Migration theory as an "Indo-Aryan Invasion theory";(Witzel 2005)[note 5]
  • Questioning the methodology of linguistics;(Elst 2005)(Kak 2001)
  • Reinterpretation of the linguistic data, arguing for the ancient, indigenous origins of Sanskrit;(Elst 1999)(Elst 2005)
  • Pointing to the supposed lack of genetic and archaeological evidence to support such an "invasion" into North West India;(Elst 2005)
  • Contesting the possibility that small groups can change culture and languages in a major way;(Kazanas year unknown)
  • Re-dating India's chronology, re-establishing the Vedic-Puranic chronology:(Trautmann 2005)
  • Dating the Rigveda and the Vedic people to the 3rd millennium BC or earlier;(Trautmann 2005)(Kak 1987)(Kak 1996)(Kak 2008)
  • Identifying the Sarasvati River with the Ghaggar-Hakra River, which dried up c. 2000 BC;(Danino 2010)
  • Identifying the Vedic people with the Harappan Civilisation;(Trautmann 2005)(Kak 1987)
  • Equating the Harappan Civilisation, Vedic Culture and the Vedic-Puranic chronology.(Kak 2015)

Aurobindo's Aryan world-view

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."(Heehs 2008) Aurobindo wanted to revive India's strength by reviving Aryan traditions of strength and character.(Boehmer 2010) 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.(Varma 1990)

Out of India model

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.(Bryant 2001)

Theoretical overview

Koenraad Elst, in his Update in the Aryan Invasion Debate, investigates "the developing arguments concerning the Aryan Invasion Theory".(Elst 1999) 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.(Elst 1999)

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.(Bryant 2001)

And in Indo-Aryan Controversy Bryant notes:

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.(Bryant Patton)

"The emerging alternative"

Koenraad Elst summarises "the emerging alternative to the Aryan Invasion Theory" as follows. (Elst 1999)

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.(Elst 1999) Later on during their history, they went on to occupy western Europe and thus spread the Indo-European languages to that region.(Elst 1999)

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.(Elst 1999) 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.(Elst 1999)

David Frawley

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.(Arvidsson 2006) 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,(Bryant 2001) and that Frawley "is committed to channelling a symbolic spiritual paradigm through a critical empirico rational one".(Bryant 2001)

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.(Hancock 2002) Kreisburg refers to Frawley's "The Vedic Literature and Its Many Secrets".(Kreisburg 2012)

Political significance

The Aryan Invasion theory plays an important role in Hindu nationalism, which favors Indigenous Aryanism.(Fosse 2005) It has to be understood against the background of colonialism and the subsequent task of nation-building in India.

Colonial 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.(Thapar 1996) 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(Thapar 1996) 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.(Thapar 1996)

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.(Thapar 1996)

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.(Thapar 1996)

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.(Thapar 1996)

Hindu revivalism and nationalism

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.(Jaffrelot 1996)

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.(Thapar 1996)

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.(Thapar 1996)

Lars Martin Fosse notes the political significance of "Indigenous Aryanism".(Fosse 2005) 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.(Fosse 2005) 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.(Fosse 2005)

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.(Witzel 2006)

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.(Bergunder 2004)

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.
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations and Indo-Aryan migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.

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'.(Witzel 2001)

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.(Jamison 2006)

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.(Guha 2007) 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'.(Guha 2007) 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.(Guha 2007)

According to Bryant,(Bryant 2001) 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.(Bryant 2001)(Bryant 1996)[note 16]

Fosse notes crucial theoretical and methodological shortcomings in the indigenist literature.(Fosse 2005) 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."(Fosse 2005)

See also

  • Dravidian culture
  • Indo-Iranians
  • Indo-Aryan migration theory
  • Historiography and nationalism
  • Saffronization
  • NCERT controversy
  • Voice of Dharma
    • N. S. Rajaram
    • David Frawley
  • Voice of India
  • Subhash Kak


  1. David Anthony (1995): "Language shift can be understood best as a social strategy through which individuals and groups compete for positions of prestige, power, and domestic security […] What is important, then, is not just dominance, but vertical social mobility and a linkage between language and access to positions of prestige and power […] A relatively small immigrant elite population can encourage widespread language shift among numerically dominant indigenes in a non-state or pre-state context if the elite employs a specific combination of encouragements and punishments. Ethnohistorical cases […] demonstrate that small elite groups have successfully imposed their languages in non-state situations."(Witzel 2001)
  2. Witzel: "Just one "Afghan" IndoAryan tribe that did not return to the highlands but stayed in their Panjab winter quarters in spring was needed to set off a wave of acculturation in the plains, by transmitting its 'status kit' (Ehret) to its neighbors."(Witzel 2001) […] "Actually, even this is, strictly speaking, not necessary. The constant interaction of "Afghan" highlanders and Indus plain agriculturists could have set off the process. A further opening was created when, after the collapse of the Indus Civilization, many of its people moved eastwards, thus leaving much of the Indus plains free for IA style cattle breeding. A few agricultural communities (especially along the rivers) nevertheless continued, something that the substrate agricultural vocabulary of the RV clearly indicates (Kuiper 1991, Witzel 1999a,b). In an acculturation scenario the actual (small) number of people (often used a 'clinching' argument by autochthonists) that set off the wave of adaptations does not matter: it is enough that the 'status kit' (Ehret) of the innovative group (the pastoralist Indo-Aryans) was copied by some neighboring populations, and then spread further.(Witzel 2001)
  3. Thomason and Kaufman note that Dravidian features in Sanskrit and later Indic languages may be explained by "absorption". They quote Emeneau: "absorption, not displacement, is the chief mechanism in radical language changes of the kind we are considering."(Thomason Kaufman) Thomason and Kaufman note that a basic assumption is that Dravidians shifted in cinsiderable numbers, so they could not only impose htier own habits on Indic, but were also numerous enough to influence Indic as a whole.(Thomason Kaufman)
  4. Witzel: "For some decades already, linguists and philologists such as Kuiper 1955, 1991, Emeneau 1956, Southworth 1979, archaeologists such as Allchin 1982, 1995, and historians such as R. Thapar 1968, have maintained that the Indo-Aryans and the older local inhabitants ('Dravidians', 'Mundas', etc.) have mutually interacted from early on, that many of them were in fact frequently bilingual, and that even the RV already bears witness to that. They also think, whether explicitly following Ehret's model (1988, cf. Diakonoff 1985) or not, of smaller infiltrating groups (Witzel 1989: 249, 1995, Allchin 1995), not of mass migrations or military invasions. However, linguists and philologists still maintain, and for good reasons, that some IA speaking groups actually entered from the outside, via some of the (north)western corridors of the subcontinent."(Witzel 2001)
  5. 5.0 5.1 The term "invasion" is only being used nowadays by opponents of the Indo-Aryan Migration theory.(Witzel 2005) The term "invasion" does not reflect the contemporary scholarly understanding of the Indo-Aryan migrations;(Witzel 2005) and is merely being used in a polemical and distracting way.
  6. Koenraad Elst: "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." They argue that the latter term represents a long-abandoned theory of Aryan warrior bands attacking and subjugating the peaceful Indus civilization. This dramatic scenario, popularized by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, had white marauders from the northwest enslave the black aboriginals, so that "Indra stands accused" of destroying the Harappan civilization. Only the extremist fringe of the Indian Dalit (ex-Untouchable) movement and its Afrocentric allies in the USA now insist on this black-and-white narrative (vide Rajshekar 1987; Biswas 1995). But, for this once, I believe the extremists have a point. North India’s linguistic landscape leaves open only two possible explanations: either Indo-Aryan was native, or it was imported in an invasion. In fact, scratch any of these emphatic "immigration" theorists and you’ll find an old-school invasionist, for they never fail to connect Aryan immigration with horses and spoked-wheel chariots, that is, with factors of military superiority.(Elst 2005)
  7. Witzel calls these "absurd dates", and refers to Elst 1999, Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate, p.97 for more of them.(Witzel 2001)

    Elst: "It is not only the Vedic age which is moved a number of centuries deeper into the past, when comparing the astronomical indications with the conventional chronology. Even the Gupta age (and implicitly the earlier ages of the Buddha, the Mauryas etc.) could be affected. Indeed, the famous playwright and poet Kalidasa, supposed to have worked at the Gupta court in about 400 AD, wrote that the monsoon rains started at the start of the sidereal month of Ashadha; this timing of the monsoon was accurate in the last centuries BC. This implicit astronomy-based chronology of Kalidasa, about 5 centuries higher than the conventional one, tallies well with the traditional high chronology of the Buddha, whom Chinese Buddhist tradition dates to ca. 1100 BC, and the implicit Puranic chronology even to ca. 1700 BC.[web 1]

    Elst 1999 2.3 note 17: "The argument for a higher chronology (by about 6 centuries) for the Guptas as well as for the Buddha has been elaborated by K.D. Sethna in Ancient India in New Light, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi 1989. The established chronology starts from the uncertain assumption that the Sandrokottos/ Chandragupta whom Megasthenes met was the Maurya rather than the Gupta king of that name. This hypothetical synchronism is known as the sheet-anchor of Indian chronology.[web 1]
  8. The Indic Studies Foundation reports of another meeting in 2003: "Scholars from across the world came together, for the first time, in an attempt to establish the 'Date of Kurukshetra War based on astronomical data.'"[web 2]
  9. See:
    • 1641-1541 BC – Nandas, conventionally dated 345–321 BC;
    • 1541-1241 BC – Maurya dynasty, conventionally dated 322–185 BC;
    • 1541-1507 BC – Chandragupta Maurya, conventionally dated 340-298 BC;
    • 1507-1479 BC – Bindusara, conventionally dated c. 320 BC – 272 BC
  10. Conventionally dated sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.(Warder 2000)
  11. Conventionally dated AD 788–820
  12. See also (Kak 1996)[web 4]
  13. Witzel mentions:(Witzel 2001)
    • Aurobindo (no specific source)
    • Waradpande, N.R., "Fact and fictions about the Aryans." In: Deo and Kamath 1993, 14-19
    • Waradpande, N.R., "The Aryan Invasion, a Myth." Nagpur: Baba Saheb Apte Smarak Samiti 1989
    • S. Kak 1994a, "On the classification of Indic languages." Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research
    Institute 75, 1994a, 185-195.
    • Elst 1999, "Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate." Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. p.119
    • Talageri 2000, "Rigveda. A Historical Analysis." New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, p.406 sqq,(Talageri 2000)
    • Lal 1997, "The Earliest Civilization of South Asia (Rise, Maturity and Decline)." New Delhi:
    Aryan Books International, p.281 sqq.
  14. In any "Indigenous Aryan" scenario, speakers of Indo-European languages must have left India at some point prior to the 10th century BC, when first mention of Iranian peoples is made in Assyrian records, but likely before the 16th century BC, before the emergence of the Yaz culture which is often identified as a Proto-Iranian culture. (See, e.g., Roman Ghirshman, L'Iran et la migration des Indo-aryens et des Iraniens).[2]
  15. E.g. Chakrabarti 1995 and Rajaram 1995, as cited in Bryant 2001.(Bryant 2001)
  16. Witzel: "linguistic data have generally been neglected by advocates of the autochthonous theory. The only exception so far is a thin book by the Indian linguist S.S. Misra (1992) which bristles with inaccuracies and mistakes (see below) and some, though incomplete discussion by Elst (1999)."(Witzel 2001)


  1. Kazanas (2013), The Collapse of the AIT
  2. Roman Ghirshman, L'Iran et la migration des Indo-aryens et des Iraniens(Leiden 1977). Cited by Carl .C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Archaeology and language: the case of the Bronze Age Indo-Iranians, in Laurie L. Patton & Edwin Bryant, Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History (Routledge 2005), p.162.


Printed sources


Further reading


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

  • Bryant, Edwin (1997). The indigenous Aryan debate (Thesis). Columbia University.
  • Bryant, Edwin (2001), The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-513777-9 
  • Bryant, Edwin F.; Patton, Laurie L. (2005), The Indo-Aryan Controversy. Evidence and interference in Indian History, Routledge 

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.

Another overview has been given by Thomas Trautmann:

  • Trautmann, Thomas (2005), The Aryan Debate, Oxford University Press 
  • Trautmann, Thomas (2006), Aryans and British India, Yoda Press, ISBN 9788190227216 
Literature by "Indigenous Aryans" proponents
  • Frawley, David (1993), Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Guichard, Sylvie (2010), The Construction of History and Nationalism in India: Textbooks, Controversies and Politics, Routledge 
  • Trautmann, Thomas (2006), Aryans and British India, Yoda Press 

External links

Institutes and other websites
Chronology of Bharat
Bharata War
Academic discussions
"Aryan Invasion Theory debunked"

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