By Nithin Sridhar
Starting today, Sanskrit department of the Delhi University will be hosting a 3-day national seminar on the topic “Vedic Chronology: A reassessment”that ends on September 28. Various scholars will be presenting and analyzing the timeline of various Vedic literatures including Rigveda.
The subjects on which the scholars will be delivering presentations include dating of Yaska, Dharmasutras, Pingala, Atharvaveda, Rigveda, Taittiriya Aranyaka, Pantanjali, Upanishads, Vedanga Jyotishya, Natyashastra and others. The conference is being organized in collaboration with the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan.
According to Ramesh C Bhardwaj, Professor and Head of the Sanskrit department, the astronomical evidences available within the Vedas point towards Rigveda being not later than 5000 BC. The mainstream academics in India and the West has maintained a date of around 1500-1200 BC for the composition of the Rigveda. This is consistent with their dating of Aryan migration into India around 1700-1500 BC. But, during last few decades many scholars have pointed serious issues with this current dating. In this context, the present conference assumes great significance.
Aryan Migration and the dating of Rigveda
The mainstream history traces the Vedic Sanskrit to a family of languages called ‘Indo-European’ because many European languages including English share many common linguistic features with Sanskrit. These speakers of Indo-European language have been termed as ‘Aryan people’. During the colonial times, when this theory was put forward, the Aryan term was given a racial meaning as well.
Many mainstream historians and linguists even today propagate that Aryans migrated into India around 1700-1500 BCfrom Pontic steppes and composed the Rigveda between 1500-1200 BC. Colonial scholars held that Aryans invaded India and destroyed the Indus civilization and drove them into South India. Hence, according to colonial Aryan Invasion theory (AIT), Indus Valley people were Dravidians.
In the last few decades, this invasion theory has been replaced with Aryan migration (AMT), wherein Aryan people migrated into India and with them brought their language and culture into India. It is in this context that the dating of Vedas and other Hindu scriptures have been done. The mainstream academia holds that Aryans were after the time of the Indus Civilization and hence Rigveda must have been composed after its decline.
Oppositions to Aryan Migration theory
During the last few decades, this hypothesis of an ‘Aryan Invasion/Migration’ has been questioned by many archaeologists, linguists, and Indologists. The discovery of the dry bed of Gagghar-Hakra valley that fits the description of the river Saraswati in Rigveda has strengthened the claims of those who question AIT/AMT.
Geologists have established that the Saraswati was flowing in full flow not later than 3200 BC and dried up around 1900 BC. Hence, Rigveda that speaks about Saraswati as flowing in full splendor could have only been composed around 3200 BC or before.
Similarly, many archeologists have pointed out that no material evidence is available to attest Aryan migration into India. Some scholars have already used astronomical evidences to date Mahabharata to around 3,000 BC that puts Rigveda much earlier.
Aryan theory and the Indian identity
The Aryan controversy is going on for around two centuries. It was composed in a colonial atmosphere as a racial theory and was used as a tool to justify the British occupation of India and the White Man’s Burden.
After Independence, AIT/AMT has been used within Indian politics to create much bad blood between north Indians and south Indians and between the upper and the lower castes. The theory has been used to uproot Indian identity from its cultural roots. By arguing that Aryans brought their language and culture from outside India, the very soul, the essence of Indian identity has been questioned for two centuries.
Another corollary is that the Hindu culture and religion (Sanatana Dharma) is an alien culture that was imposed on the Indian population. Indian textbooks largely continue to teach various shades of these AIT/AMT to people without including the serious issues that have been pointed out in the theory. In this context, the present seminar holds great significance.
This may be the beginning of a genuine and wider reassessment of Aryan question and the question of Indian identity. It may act as a foundation on which a genuine history of India may be written in the coming future.