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Home > Tamilnation Library > History >Vedic "Aryans" and the Origins of Civilization: A Literary and Scientific Perspective - Navaratna S. Rajaram and Davis Frawley > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography
Book Review by Subramaniam Thambirajah:
This is a remarkable book, more so for the questions it raises than the answers it provides.
The book poses a credible challenge to the Aryan invasion theory of India. Put forward by Max Muller in 1861, the theory holds that the decline and final disappearance of the Indus valley civilisation was caused by invasion of nomadic tribes from central Asia, the Aryans. These invaders are said to have entered India around 1500 BCE, destroyed the advanced civilisation in North Eastern India leading to the migration of the original inhabitants down south and establishing themselves over much of northern India. There, they are said to have composed their literature, the most important of which is the Rg veda. Recorded history of India is said to begin with the invasion.
The discovery of archaeological sites in Harappa and Mohenjodaro with their magnificently planned cities, a drainage system and public buildings is considered to point towards an advanced civilisation that existed before the invasion. Dravidians are thought to be descendants of this original inhabitants of India who migrated south following the invasion.
Ever since the theory was propounded by Muller, it has been viewed as a fact of history, one of the “givens” and hardly ever subjected to scientific investigation. The last is precisely what this book does: treats the assertions as theory and make it a subject of scientific inquiry.
In doing so it points out the euro-centric bias and the underlying political motives behind such theories, gently chiding the “natives” for swallowing the European version of history in toto without scarcely any critical review. The authors quote establishment historians like Romila Thapar whose interpretation of Indian history , on this account at least, has blindly followed that of Max Muller. Once the theory was formulated as the “truth” others followed suit. Archaeologists like John Marshall and Mortimer Wheeler interpreted the archaeological findings in the Indus valley in conformity with the invasion theory.
Max Muller’s invasion theory was based on one and only one source of evidence, linguistic evidence. As the authors’ point out, interpretation of ancient history needs to be based on several independent sources of evidence using archaeology, geology, satellite photography, literature and so on.
Max Muller was not conversant with Sanskrit and did not take the trouble to seek literary evidence , particularly from the Rg Veda. His theory stands on the simple premise that “Indo-Aryan” languages are related. For example, the similarity of the word for fire ignus and agni is taken as evidence of invasion. And ,even here, it is held to be unidirectional, from West to East. The alternative, that it could have been in the other direction was never considered.
Rajaram, a mathematician and Frawley, a Vedic scholar, impute that that invasion theory served the political purpose of psychological subjugation of the people of India by implying the very country they were colonising was in, in fact, invaded and occupied by Western powers in the past. The authors see the “Aryan” invasion of India as a product of European politics- notably German nationalism ( Max Muller was a German financed by the British) and British colonial policy.
The authors draw on a variety of sources to mount their challenge. The most potent argument comes from interpretation of Vedic literature. They take issue with the use of the word “Aryan” by Max Muller. In Sanskrit “arya” does not refer to any race nor to a family of languages. Quoting extensively from the Vedas, they assert that in Sanskrit literature the word “arya” means “good” or “noble”. A few quotes from the book may be appropriate: “ The Buddha presented his religion as arya dharma ( noble law): it certainly had no racial indication in his time. When Arjuna refused to fight on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, Krsna accused him of acting in an un-arya (ig-noble) manner: he was not casting a racial slurr on Arjuna… the word arya goes all the way back to the Rg Veda where it occurs thirty six times, generally as an adjective . It never occurs as the name of a people or race but only as a certain type of character or behaviour of people.”
The battles described in Rg veda, the authors’ assert, were between forces of light and the forces of darkness. According to the invasion theory, this refers to the struggle between light-skinned people (the invading Aryans) and dark-skinned people (the indigenous Dravidians). This literal interpretation by foreigners not very proficient with the language and culture, is contested by the authors. The book does not address this issue at any great length for its main aim is to purpose of to draw our attention to the falsification of history by the Aryan invasion theorists. The authors refer to Aurobindo’s writings in the Veda and the Mahabharata war to indicate that their line of thinking has a long heritage.
As the forward by Klaus K. Klostermair, professor of religion at University of Minitoba points out :
There is a wealth of material in the book for those interested in Ancient Indian history. The book practically re-writes the chronology of ancient Indian civilisation.
The date of the Mahabharata War, conventionally held to have taken place in 1400BCE is subjected to scrutiny and the outcome is a well argued case for placing it in 3102, at the closing of the Vedic period, as Indian tradition has it. Their chronological synthesis places Harappan civilisation ( at least for the ruins excavated so far) in the same period as the Sutra, that is around 3000BC.
There is much about ancient Indian mathematics and astronomy. We learn that the theorem credited to Pythagoras was enunciated by the inhabitants of the Indus valley in the Sulbasutras, mathematical appendices to Srautasutras (3000 BCE). The construction of Vedic altars demanded a knowledge of geometric algebra and one of the authors who is a mathematician goes to great lengths to explore ancient Indian mathematics. They also put forward evidence for a major drought that lasted 300 years, during which Saraswati, the major river mentioned in the Vedas dried up.
The book is essential reading for those interested in ancient Eastern history. The challenge thrown at the invasion theory is formidable and cannot be ignored.
The authors’ open the book with a quote from Albert Einstein: ““A theory should not contradict empirical facts”. They have produced sufficient and necessary material to provide empirical facts to challenge the invasion theory, which, by the way, delivers a knock out blow to chauvinists who base their arguments to justify their hegemony on belonging to a superior Aryan race.
At a meta level, the message the book conveys is that although one has to be grateful for the scientific rigor Western scholarship brought to the methodology of the study of social sciences in the Orient and the East, one has to be aware of the pitfalls of uncritical acceptance of the contents of such research .
This has been persuasively pointed out by such gigantic figures such as Aurobindo in The secrets of the Veda (whom the authors quote). The tendency of Western Scholarship to interpret discourses of the East in terms of their world outlook , political imperatives and necessities has been named Orientalism by Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar.
Rajaram and Frawley’s reconstruction of events holds that the indigenous people of the Indus valley civilisation were the original people of India; there was no invasion; geographical calamities in the form of a long drought and desertifcation lead to the ancient river Saraswati changing course ( through the loss of its two principal tributaries, the Yamuna and the Sutlej, to the Ganga and the Indus respectively): the populace dispersed and migrated in all directions including the West; Vedic literature belongs to the to the period of civilisation before the mass movement of the population; the Harapan civilisation represents the tail end of this period.
Like any other hypothesis, the Rajaram-Frawley theory needs further investigation and evidence in addition to that provided in the book. New evidence from archaeological research, particularly the deciphering of the Harapan inscriptions would shed light on this ancient era. There are other pieces to the jig-saw that cry out for explanations. For example, how come the Tamil literature of the Sangam period is devoid of Sanskrit words or its derivatives?
The area of research that Rajaram and Frawley have delved into is desperately in need of new approaches utilising a variety of methods. Unfortunately, incentives for such original work are scarce and problems of funding and bureaucracy are ubiquitous. The world of archaeology has been more interested in Egypt and South America than in Indology. Research into this area is important not only to clarify and understand history but also because human beings have an inherent need to know who they are, their origins and the history of their forefathers. Their present is to a large extent determined by the past.
Vedic "Aryans" and the origins of civilization arrives at far-reaching conclusions about ancient history and civilization by combining new insights into the meaning of the Vedas and other ancient Indian scriptures with scientific analysis of ancient sources. By systematic comparisons of Indian, Egyptian, and Babylonian science, it shows that Harappan civilization corresponds to that of the Sutric period, which came after the Vedic period. From this, it follows that the Rg Veda is the product of an earlier layer of civilization (before the rise of Egypt, Sumer, and the Indus Valley). As a result, this book argues the currently held view of Mesopotamia as the cradle of civilization is no longer tenable.
Another far-reaching consequence of this research is that the "Aryan" invasion of India can be challenged by both science and literature. This book shows that the Aryan-invasion theory is a product of European politics--notably German nationalism and British colonial policy. It provides evidence that the demise of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus Valley was brought about by a three-hundred-year drought that began in 2200 BCE.
The book also provides an explanation for the distribution of Indo-European languages from India to Ireland. Based on accounts of migrations found in ancient Indian works, it offers a radically new perspective that no one interested in ancient history can afford to ignore.
And much much more ......