Politics around Aryan Invasion Theory to stay as it helps defy the Indian-ness of Hindutva

The Aryan Invasion Theory is the most politically divisive theories of Indian historiography, mostly because the political usefulness of the theory, and to support or negate the Indianness of Hindutva

Kausik Gangopadhyay June 27, 2017 16:54:20 IST
Politics around Aryan Invasion Theory to stay as it helps defy the Indian-ness of Hindutva

The Aryan Invasion Theory is the most politically divisive theories of Indian historiography in contemporary India. For example, driven by this theory, a leader of the largest opposition party in Indian parliament called many fellow Indians as outsiders. Despite

An article published on 16 June 2017 in in The Hindu "settled" the debate in favour of the Aryan Invasion Theory based on just one unreliable paper. Not unsurprisingly, the strong rebuttals to this article have again appeared in right-wing webzines run by authors like Anil Kumar Suri, Aravindan Neelakandan, Koenraad Elst, Nilesh Nilkanth Oak.

So, what is at the heart of such divisiveness associated with the Aryan Invasion Theory, historically speaking?

Politics around Aryan Invasion Theory to stay as it helps defy the Indianness of Hindutva

Representational image. Reuters

William Jones (1746—1794), a philologist and the founder of Asiatic Society in Kolkata, noted the beauty of Sanskrit and its similarity to Greek, Latin, German, Persian and other prominent languages of the world. The linguistics undertook copious amount of research to make a concrete structure to understand this similarity between languages from different origins of the world. They even constructed an artificial language called Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the predecessor of all Indo-European languages.

But what does this remarkable similarity between languages of different places explain? And, how does it fit in the European notion of history?

It's important to note that the European notion of history was governed by Biblical timeline back then. The idea of Europeans on a mission to civilise the world was also quite prominent in the European propaganda to justify their colonisation. These dual notions shaped what is called the Aryan Invasion Theory.

Granted that it is possible that the Aryan Invasion Theory could be true regardless of its historical origin in a prejudiced European worldview, it is undeniable that the historical origin of Aryan Invasion Theory does not rest upon any kind of science.

The earliest version of the Aryan Invasion Theory was posited in the 1850s by Friedrich Max Müller who thought that the cultivation of Sanskrit literature must have been brought to India by the Caucasians in an earlier age, influenced by the narrative of European hegemony of his times. So, a branch of Caucasians must have left for India while the others left for Europe. The Caucasians who came to India were called the Aryans who brought their language PIE to India and civilised the aborigines of India, the non-Aryans.


Biblically speaking, men spread in different directions from the Tower of Babel (2,000 BC) when different languages came into the picture. The Aryan invasion must have happened quite some time after the Tower of Babel. So, it must be 1,000 to 1,200 BC, at most 1,500 BC, and no older.

Many Hindus disputed it during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Vivekananda directly commented on the absurdity of this theory and European false superiority complex as its origin. Aurobindo categorically called it a philological myth.

Vivekananda and Aurobindo were men of ideas, exactly not dealing with the political world. However, two most influential ideologues of Hindutva — Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar did not contest Aryan Invasion Theory but quite accepted it. Tilak even went even one step further to claim that Aryan homeland was the north pole — an idea which has no takers in today's world.

Gradually, some of the Indians started supporting Aryan Invasion Theory such as Periyar EV Ramasamy who founded the Dravidian movement based on anti-Aryan-ism. As Indians started engaging with the Aryan Invasion Theory from a rational perspective, many even started doubting it from the scientific lens. BR Ambedkar strongly disputed this theory and called it “a perversion of scientific investigation”.

In post-independent India, the camps are even more sharply drawn with most western historians and Indian Marxist historians strongly defending Aryan Invasion Theory. For example, Romila Thapar posited Aryan Migration Theory which essentially held almost all the implications of Aryan Invasion Theory as true. In fact, no argument of the Marxist historians for Aryan Invasion Theory is complete without claiming the moral high ground for defending Aryan Invasion Theory as an anti-Hindutva theory.

An expression of the doubt for Aryan Invasion Theory from David Frawley earned him epithets like “Fascist” from Marxist historians and their ilks. It is safe to say that Marxist historians view the Aryan Invasion Theory as an element of Hindutva to which they are eternally against.

It is indeed true that many Hindutva supporters are anti-Aryan Invasion Theory. To them, Aryan Indian Theory is an effort by the Western powers to impose a stigma of genocide to Hindus. For example, based on Aryan Invasion Theory, Sheldon Pollock attributes, to an extent, the blame for Nazi atrocities like Holocaust to Sanskrit literature.

At the same time, there is no dearth of pro-Aryan Invasion Theory and pro-Hindutva persons such as a blogger Manasataramgini, who enjoy a cult-like following. Like Tilak or Savarkar, they are fine with Aryan Invasion Theory as irrelevant to present context.

The salient objections to Aryan Invasion Theory have come from noted archaeologists like BB Lal, Dilip Chakrabarti, Jim Shaffer and Diane Lichtenstein. Some phenomenal academicians from other fields like Subhash Kak (computer science) or Edmund Leach (anthropology), some erudite independent researchers like Shrikant Talageri, Michel Danino or Sanjeev Sanyal, have written books discussing various aspects of Aryan Invasion Theory and critiquing them. Prolific historians like Koenraad Elst or Nicholas Kazanas have objected to Aryan Invasion Theory but they have been made persona-non-grata in the academy.

While many of those described above are considered sympathetic to Hindutva ideology, just like BB Lal or Koenraad Elst, there are people completely indifferent to the Hindutva ideology, for example, Jim Shaffer and  Edmund Leach.

In the ideal world, academic arguments have nothing to do with the politics of the day, but not in the real world. Although neither pro-Aryan Invasion Theory persons are necessarily anti-Hindutva nor anti-Aryan Invasion Theory persons are necessarily pro-Hindutva, still, the negation of the Aryan Invasion Theory is critically equated with the triumph of Hindutva by the Marxists who are still a dominant force in Indian academia. The truth will be manifest when this ideological attachment to Aryan Invasion Theory fades in academia.

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