A Truth Of Folly

A Truth Of Folly

Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.

Bhagavad Gita


When Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900), a Sanskritist at Oxford was speaking of Indians as “our elder brethren”, much to the displeasure of the colonial and missionary authorities who ruled India, he hardly knew his idea could spark off a meme that would, in a span of 100 years, challenge the Nehruvian ideal of a Secular Democracy for India. Many British administrators despised the dark-skinned natives, while Christian priests were horrified by their “idolatrous errors, senseless mummeries… and bloody barbarous sacrifices”. The popular belief of the West had been that the Colonial West represented a racial supremacy over the Indian people in the east but this belief drew strength from a much recent Christian world view and 200 year history of Industrial revolution.

A language, however, stood as a confusing question mark to the western enlightenment. Sanskrit, an ancient language and very much in use in rituals and Holy Scriptures in India was noticed to be bearing a very deep structural similarity to Latin and Greek, the two mother languages of almost all European languages. A judge of the supreme court in Calcutta in the 1780s, Sir William Jones, who was thoroughly trained in Latin and Greek studied Sanskrit and observed: “No philologer could examine them all three(Latin, Greek and Sanskrit), without believing them to have sprung from some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists”.  This famous statement led to the foundation of modern linguistics, considered to date from 1816 when Franz Bopp published his comparative grammar of some principal Indo-European languages.

The Nineteenth Century Science of Anthropology was mostly dependent on Archeology and linguistics was only about developing to aid it (there was no genomics and the dating techniques of archeological finds were not reliable) and the contemporary paradigm was that of an Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) that proposed that a superior race (superior in terms of military techniques) of fairer skinned, tall nomadic tribe invaded and colonized the western part of Indian Subcontinent – Gandhar, presently Afghanistan and parts of southern Pakistan and infiltrated east pushing the aboriginal people of Austro Asiatic origin (locally known as Dravidians) ultimately confining them to the southern peninsula of the subcontinent. It was also proposed and somewhat supported with scant archeological evidence that in strife between this Nomadic tribe of Aryans, arguably of Andronovo Culture and the Austro Asiatic aborigines of Dravidian Culture, horses and horse drawn chariots made the crucial difference in favor the former.

The renewed interest about Sanskrit as an ancient language and discovery of the Rig-Veda, one of the four canonical texts written in archaic Sanskrit during an estimated 1500 – 2000 BC opened doors to both an advanced inquiry based on linguistics regarding the Indo-European migration in Southern Asia through India as well as inspired debate by some Indian scholars who proposed that there had been no Aryan invasion as such ever and Aryan Culture (with all appendages of ascribed superiority) sprang from the Gangetic plains of India in as much as proposing an “Indigenous Aryan Hypothesis (IAH)”. The IAH vs AIT debate had remained unresolved for the last century for both scholastic reasons and politicization of IAH by Hindu nationalists in post independence India.

It will not be possible in this post to examine IAH vs. AIT debate suffice it to say that leaving apart Hindu nationalist rhetoric, the linguistic principles permit both intrusion of a Indo-Aryan languages (of proto-Indo-European origin) into South Asia and becoming Sanskrit – this favors AIT – and also generation of the same in the heartland of India and spread towards the west to explain its strong resemblance to Avesta, the central text of Zoroastrians – which favors IAH. The archeological evidences do not primarily suggest a massive invasion in terms of finds to support a military expansion at least of the scale of Kassite invasion of Babylonia – and the main scholars who used to support the AIT – whether leftists in India like Romila Thapar or American academics like Michael Witzel-now claim to no longer accept it. However, invasionist scenario has been replaced with a not too different migration/acculturation theory. Though the main edifice of the Aryan Invasion has been removed – the invading Aryan hordes that destroyed Harappa – the conclusion that the Vedas represent an intrusive culture from Central Asia, persists. In academia, the Aryan migration is still a continuing debate.

A serious aspect of this debate, which deserves impartial scientific pursuit of knowledge, is marred with Hindu Nationalist politics. This, in my opinion, is a threat to both a search for truth and the very foundation of Indian Secular Democracy. Nationalism, I find, is a concept that has run its course in the emerging post modern world. The political scientist Benedict Anderson describes nation states as imagined communities. ‘Imagined’, he writes, ‘because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion.’ When such an idea is coupled with Hinduism, either in the narrower context of religion or a little safer concept of a culture of unbroken continuity from the Harappan times, we have a potentially aggressive racial foundation of a nation state. This was historically demonstrated in India.

Murli Manohar Joshi, the Minister for Education of Indian Government under BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party – Indian Peoples Party ) a political wing of Hindu Nationalist Organization RSS (Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh) between 1998 and 2004 hijacked the boards of New Delhi’s various Social Science bodies by removing established scholars in favor of the ones who supported Indigenous Aryan Hypothesis based on Hinduism and oversaw rewriting of school history books that presented Aryan Harappan Theory as fact and these books were distributed in thousands of schools in the country. The text books said that new evidence had proved that the Harappans did after all possess horses, which meant the Indus valley Civilization must have been Aryan. In support of this claim the text books mentioned a Harappan Seal that depicted a horse, without bothering to check that this seal had already been proved to be a fake by Professor Michael Witzel.

A part of the AIT vs IAH debate also bears a sinister aspect: “Both Europeans and Hindus have allowed elements from within their intelligentsia to utilize academic debate in support of ideological agendas, specifically in the discourse of Aryan/Semitic in its respective manifestations of German/Jew and Hindu/Muslim,” confides Edwin Bryant the writer of the book “ The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture” , possibly one of the most unbiased of all scholarly literature available on Aryan Migration debate. If Colonial Europe is guilty of using AIT as a racial supremacy doctrine to subjugate and exploit the people of the subcontinent, here is a taste of the vision of Hindu nation State : “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideals but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture…..or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – nor even citizen’s rights,’ wrote  M.S. Golwalkar, one of the most influential RSS chiefs in his book ‘ We or Our Nationhood Defined .’ If Indians are ever in Golwalkar’s shoes, you can kiss Secularism goodbye.

A few days ago, as I was reading Edwin Bryant’s book “ The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture ”, I was struck by a queer thought. Notwithstanding the scholarship of Bryant and the great scientific pursuit of truth, what is exactly the scoring point of the supremacy of Aryan race? For that matter, any race? The aboriginal culture of pre-Aryan India, as we see from Harappa, was way more urbanized and organized, if urbanization or organization is any index of superiority. Aryans were way more advanced in war skills, if military prowess is any index of superiority. Why, time and again, we need to go back to the assurance of an ancient homeland of a superior people, a Urheimat ? Modern genetic evidence indicates that there had been a major wave of humans entering India through the northeast during 2 nd millennium BC, so what? What makes them superior? Why one group of people has to be superior compared to others?

Do not get me wrong. I am very curious about knowledge. But this debate about superior people moving from one place to other teaches me about a profound human folly which cast shadow on basic question of human happiness. The truth that scholars seek will ultimately reveal that folly just like the vision of the Hindu nation.



The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture by Edwin Bryant

In Spite of The Gods by Edward Luce

Search For Common Homeland? by Asko Parpola

Feature Image Courtesy: World Literature

Post Written by
Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized in the field of River Hydraulics working for more than two decades training rivers, protecting banks and beaches and fighting erosion of the river banks/beds. He has worked with Bio-Engineering models involving mangroves using them as tools for cost effective and natural means of anti-erosion technology.His work is mostly concerning the extremely morpho-dynamic Hugly estuary with Bay of Bengal In course of his work, he got exposed to indigenous people of the Sunderban wetlands, who are fighting a losing battle against aggressive Industrialization. Pabitra loves to read and write and he is full of crazy ideas. He is a Youth Leader and Adviser to Climate Himalaya. He is also a contributor member of THINK ABOUT IT platform of European Journalism Center and a winner of the recently concluded competitive blogging on Water. Pabitra believes that he has a tryst with the strange river-country south of Bengal.


  1. Somnath Chaudhuri says:

    @ kalki : I cant but pose a smal question for our learned friend Kalki ( fantastic name BTW) .. when ,how and by whom did this AIT theory lay to rest once and for all ? Kindly enlighten me .. via some links or papers published or some publication. I really would appreciate your effort…
    @pabitra : I absolutely agree with your contention that mere firepower or the lack of it does little to prove superiority . If the AIT is indeed correct , then also it proves nothing vis a vis superiority. Indeed the dravidians or the natives had far more advanced technology in architecture ( see all those bigggg temples in south india ?? ) , textiles, etc.

  2. Somnath Chaudhuri says:

    An interesting piece to say the least. I am indeed intrigued by it and need to know , why this IAH theory ( or, indeed the other one AIT, for that matter) ..may or may not be of ineterest to the Hindu nationalist ? No 2: why is the word Hindu nationalist sound as something bad for you? No 3 Why the islamists dont have any preference on this subject ? After all this Gandhar province of Afghanistan ( very interesting place I am sure) is present day Kandahar ( remember jaswant singh the greatest fool of mankind escorting terrorists in his lap and releasing them there ?? By air ?? ) .
    Any way, lovely to see your website and blog has taken a sudden but welcome U turn towards the anthropological …
    Very wel written by the way. Keep it up.

    • Pabitra says:

      I am amused. Let’s start from the U turn. Was I going in any particular direction before? If you consider my website’s tagline, I think athropolical qualifies too.
      1. It can be of interest to the Hindu Nationalists as in part IAH bolsters the assertion that Hinduism is older than any religion, culture, it sprang fron center of India and India is therefore the cradle of humanity, ancient wisdom, spiritual and racial supremacy. Sadly, it’s an ideology clouding a scientific and scholrly debate.
      2. I think I have explained that I do not put much value on the idea of Nation as such. ‘Bad’ or ‘good’ are subjective terms, so I would admit that I see Hindu nationalism as detrimental to secular ideals of India.
      3. That’s for Islamists to answer. I’d prefer to base discussions on historical facts rather than current affairs.
      Thank you so much for commenting.

      • Somnath Chaudhuri says:

        pabitra, your amusement is my reward.
        Is there any doubt in your mind , or rather, should there be any doubt in anyones mind right now that the terrorsit networks in the guise of Pan Islamisism is a greater threat to the entire world than anything other ( yes, includes global warming, pollution, nuclear ploriferation etc etc …?? So lets not tag the old communist lines like Hindu nationalists.. remember Veer Savarkar or for that matter , even nathuram ?

  3. Kalki Sharma says:

    The aryan migration debate has ended. Also, FYI Hindu nationalists always maintained that arya was a term and not a race .It’s sad to see this otherwise interesting piece, painting the wrong picture .Maybe this piece is for the European forum and i landed here by mistake !

    America a secular christian country and not even half as apologetic as you !

    • Pabitra says:

      Thank you for your comment. Please help me and the readers by providing references about the conclusion of the Aryan Migration debate, and kindly indicate the conclusion, if possible. The only idea I claim as original is in the last two paragraghs and that’s a folly I see in looking for superiority of a group of human beings in terms of race, culture or language. Will you be kind enough to point out my error (painting of wrong idea, as you have commented)? Hindu Nationalists have proposed a number of ideas and an unbroken history of a people right from Harappa till now and as a consequence of IAH. I think you need to clarify how exactly Hindu Nationhood is kept separated from IAH by any Hindu nationalist fraction. I can even consider a full post, if a comment seems inadequate, properly referenced and with comparable literary standard.