By Nithin Sridhar
The Aryan Question: Part 1
Recently, Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) leader Mallikarjuna Kharge raked up a controversy in the Parliament by saying: “Ambedkar and we are from this country. Aryans came from outside. We are the original inhabitants of this land.”
His statements have again shed light on the Aryan question that continues to remain unresolved and controversial. The issue of Aryans first arose during the colonial period when the European scholars conceived of two different races- Aryan and Dravidian. They further propounded that Aryans invaded India and destroyed the native culture, forcing Dravidians to move south-words.
Later, the racial connotations were removed and replaced by linguistic divisions between speakers of the Aryan group of languages and the Dravidian group of languages. But, even today this the racial division continues to be harbored in Indian politics, especially in Dravidian politics and in certain Dalit groups.
In the last few decades, the proposition of military invasion has also been largely rejected and replaced by the proposition of immigration of Aryan speakers into India. Further, many Indologists have raised serious questions regarding this proposed migration as well, and they have propounded a non-migration scenario. Some have also proposed a possible westward migration of people from India.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that it is multi-dimensional and requires investigation from diverse fields ranging from Archaeology and Linguistics to Genetics and Hydrology. Thus, the Aryan issue is mired in confusion and controversy.
In order to highlight few salient features of the Aryan issue and assess the current position regarding various questions like identification of the Aryans, their homeland, their dating, their connection with Indus-Valley civilization, etc. NewsGram decided to interview various Indologists, academicians, and Independent scholars who have worked for decades on various aspects of this issue.
In this first interview for the ‘Aryan Question’ series, NewsGram spoke to Brij Basi Lal, popularly known as B. B. Lal, regarding Aryan people, their movement, and their relationship with Harappan civilization.
B. B. Lal is a renowned archeologist and former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who has written many books and papers on the Aryan issue including his 2015 book- ‘The Rigvedic People: Invaders?/ Immigrants? Or Indigenous?’ Here is the first installment of the interview–
Interview with B. B. Lal-1
Nithin Sridhar: How deep are the roots of the most ancient civilization of the Indian subcontinent, known as the Harappan Civilization, and through what stages did it develop?
B. Lal: The Harappan Civilization (also called the Indus Civilization or Indus-Sarasvati Civilization), which reached its peak in the 3rd millennium BCE, grew up on the Indian soil itself. While there are likely to have been earlier stages, the earliest one so far identified is at Bhirrana, a site in the upper reaches of the Sarasvati valley, in Haryana. This is the stage when the people dwelt in pits and used incised and appliqué pottery called the Hakra Ware. According to Carbon-14 dates, it is ascribable to the 6th -5th millennium BCE. I call it Stage I.
In Stage II, identified at a nearby site called Kunal, the people gave up pit-dwellings and built houses on the land-surface, used copper and silver artifacts and a special kind of pottery which was red in color and painted with designs in black outline, the inner space being filled with white color. This Stage may be assigned to the 4th millennium BCE.
In Stage III, beginning around 3,000 BCE, a new feature came up, namely the construction of a peripheral (fortification?) wall around the settlement, which has been noted at Kalibangan, located on the left bank of the Sarasvati in Hanumangarh District of Rajasthan. Another important feature that can be noted here is an agricultural field, marked by a criss-cross pattern of furrows. It may incidentally be mentioned that this the earliest agricultural field ever discovered anywhere in the world in an excavation. An earthquake, occurring around 2,700 BCE, brought about the end of Stage III at Kalibangan. This is the earliest evidence of earthquake ever recorded in an archeological excavation.
However, after about a century or so the people returned to Kalibangan, but with a bang. This is Stage IV. They now had two parts of the settlement, a ‘Citadel’ on the west and a ‘Lower Town’ on the east. Both were fortified. In the Lower Town there lived agriculturalists and merchants, while the Citadel was the seat of priests and elites. In the southern part of the Citadel, there were many high, mud-brick platforms on which there stood specialized structures, including fire-altars and sacrificial pits. There is ample evidence of writing, seals, weights, measures, objects of art in this Stage, assignable to circa 2600 to 2000 BCE. The peak had been reached.
Citadel, Middle Town, and Lower Town were also features of other sites of Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
For various reasons, including sharp climatic changes, the drying up of the Sarasvati, and steep fall in trade, the big cities disappeared and there was a reversal to the rural scenario. Some people migrated from the Sarasvati valley into the upper Ganga-Yamuna terrain, as indicated by sites like Hulas and Alamgirpur. The curtain was drawn on a mighty Indian civilization.
NS: Many people hold that there was an ‘Aryan Invasion’ which destroyed the Harappan Civilization. How far is this true?
Lal: Let us first go to the background against which the ‘Aryan Invasion’ theory emerged. In the 19th century, Max Muller, a German Indologist, dated the Vedas to 1200 BCE. Accepting that the Sutras existed around 600 BCE and assigning 200 years to each of the preceding stages, namely those of the Aranyakas, Brahmanas, and Vedas, he arrived at the magic figure of 1,200 BCE.
There were serious objections to such ad-hocism by contemporary scholars, like Goldstucker, Whitney, and Wilson. Thus cornered, Max Muller finally surrendered by stating: “Whether the Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 BC, no power on earth will ever determine.” But the great pity is that some scholars even today cling to 1200 BCE and dare not cross this Lakshamana Rekha!
In the 1920s, the Harappan Civilization was discovered and dated to 3rd millennium BCE on the basis of its contacts with West Asian civilizations. Since the Vedas had already been dated, be it wrongly, to 1200 BCE, the Harappan Civilization was declared to be Non-Vedic. And since the only other major language group in India was the Dravidian, it was readily assumed that the Harappans was a Dravidian-speaking people.
In 1946, Wheeler discovered a fort at Harappa; and since the Aryan god Indra has been mentioned in the Rigveda as puramdara, i.e. ‘destroyer of forts’, he lost no time in declaring that Aryan Invaders destroyed the Harappan Civilization.
In the excavations at Mohenjo-Daro, some human skeletons had been found. In support of his ‘Invasion’ theory, Wheeler stated that these were the people who had been massacred by the invaders. However, since the skeletons had been found at different stratigraphic levels and could not, therefore, be related to a single event, much less to an invasion, Wheeler’s theory was prima facie wrong. Dales, an American archeologist, has rightly dubbed it as a ‘mythical massacre’.
Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever of an invasion at any of the hundreds of Harappan sites. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of continuity of habitation, though marked by gradual cultural devolution.
A detailed study of human skeletal remains from various sites by Hemphill and his colleagues has established that no new people at all entered India between 4500 and 800 BCE.
Thus, if there is no evidence of warfare or of entry of an alien people where is the case for any ‘invasion’, much less by Aryans?
NS: In the last few decades, many scholars have taken recourse to the theory of ‘Aryan Migration’ from Central Asia. How far does this new theory stand scrutiny?
Lal: The ghost of ‘Invasion’ has re-appeared in a new avatāra (incarnation), namely that of ‘Immigration’. Romila Thapar says: “If the invasion is discarded, then the mechanism of migration and occasional contacts come into sharper focus. These migrations appear to have been of pastoral cattle breeders who are prominent in the Avesta and Rigveda.” Faithfully following her, R. S. Sharma adds: “The pastoralists who moved to the Indian borderland came from Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or BMAC which saw the genesis of the culture of the Rigveda.”
Contrary to what has been stated by Thapar and Sharma, the BMAC is not a pastoral culture, but a highly developed urban one. The settlements are marked not only by well-planned houses but also by distinctive public buildings like temples, e.g. those at Dashly-3 and Toglok-21 sites. Then there were Citadel complexes like that at Gonur. The antiquities found at BMAC sites also speak volumes about the high caliber of this civilization. In the face of such a rich heritage of the BMAC, would you like to deduce that the BMAC people were nomads – whom Thapar and Sharma would like to push into India as progenitors of the Rigvedic people? I am sure, you wouldn’t.
But much more important is the fact that no BMAC element, whether seals or bronze axes or sculptures or pot-forms or even the style of architecture ever reached east of the Indus, which was the area occupied by the Vedic Aryans as evidenced by the famous Nadi-stuti hymn (RV 10.75.5-6). Hence, there is no question of the BMAC people having at all entered the Vedic region.
Thus, the theory of ‘Aryan Migration’ too is a myth.
NS: Some people hold that the Rigvedic flora and fauna pertain to a cold climate and hence the Rigvedic people must have come from a cold region. What do you think of this view?
Lal: If the attempt at bringing the Vedic Aryans into India from the BMAC has failed, why not try other means? In this category falls the attempt by certain scholars who hold that that Vedic flora pertains to a cold climate and, therefore, the Ṛigvedic people must have come from a cold region and cannot be indigenous. In this context, they refer to species such as birch, Scotch pine, linden, alder, and oak. But, let us examine Rigveda.
In the Rigveda the following trees are mentioned: Aśvattha (Ficus religiosa L.); Kiṁśuka (Butea monosperma [Lamk.]; Khadira (Acacia catechu Wild.); Nyagrodha (Ficus benghalensis L); Vibhīdaka/Vibhītaka (Terminalia Billerica Roxb.); Śālmali (Bombax Ceiba L. Syn. Salmalia malabarica [DC.] Schott); Śiṁsipā (Dalbergia sisso Roxb,).
The main regions of the occurrence the foregoing trees are – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
In fact, what is true in the case of the flora is equally true in the case of the fauna as well. Some of the animals mentioned in the Ṛigveda include Vṛiṣabha (Bos Indicus); Siṁha (Lion, Panthera leo L.); Hastin/Vaaaraṇa (Elephas maximus L. and Loxodonta africana), which all typically occur in a tropical climate.
Moreover, even the birds testify to the fact that Ṛigveda have been composed in a tropical climate. In this context, two typical birds may be cited: Mayūra (Pavo cristatus L.) and Chakravāka (Anus Casarca).
From what has been stated in the preceding paragraphs, it must have become abundantly clear that the flora, as well as fauna mentioned in the Ṛigveda, are typically tropical. Further, no cold-climate flora and fauna find a place in this text. Thus, there is no case to hold that the authors of the Ṛigveda belonged to a cold climate.
(To be Continued)
More in the Series: