Since the nineteenth century, India’s ancient history from Vedic times and the true content of the Veda have both been distorted by a blinkered and unsympathetic scholarship. British rulers, European scholars and missionaries combined in a campaign to disparage the roots of Indian civilization, and used the groundless theory of an Aryan invasion of India in order to sow seeds of division in Indian society – “divide and rule,” but also “divide and convert.” The same fallacies continue to be promoted today.
The first part in this book examines the birth of the Aryan myth, and the misuses it has bred; it then gives a fresh look at the invasion theory in the light of recent archaeological evidence, and shows how it now stands overwhelmingly disproved. The second part offers the essence of the Veda’s true message in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s rediscovery of the Rishis’ experience recorded in their pregnant hymns.
The result is a new perspective, in which India’s bygone civilization and its fountainhead come alive, rejuvenated.
This small book first appeared in September 1996, three and a half years ago. It was admittedly not a scholarly study: its first part aimed at bringing a complex, intense, long- lasting and multinational debate to the notice of the Indian public with little or no access to recent archaeological and other research on the Aryan myth has its tragic but also its comic elements, and a lighter tone, irreverent when necessary, was preferred to an academic one. The second part put forth in a simple and living language the foundation of the Veda, a foundation too often obscured by a with the Rishis’ actual experience.
Those limited goals appear to have been attained, judging from the numerous comments the authors received from readers of all kinds. A retired deputy Director- General of the Geological Survey of India found the book “excellent,” while a journalist and writer called it “one of the best books I have read in recent years”; a former Chief Justice of India commented it was “perhaps just the book that I had in mind…, the work of an excellent scholar”; a professor of history found it “fascinating” (a word also used by a distinguished Indian archaeologist), and a renowned dancer and scholar wrote it had “brought out the true backdrop of Indian civilization in the most impressive manner.” But even more unexpected were generous reactions from scholars in various disciplines, with, in particular, an enthusiastic review in an archaeological journal (reproduced at the end of the book).
The first part has been thoroughly revised and substantially expanded in the light of much fresh evidence, as several new studies on the Aryan problem and on the Indus Valley civilization have appeared in these last few years- a hopeful sign that those two issues at the root of all Indian history will at last emerge from colonial cobwebs and appear in their true perspective.
A bibliography for further study has been added to the first party; a table (p. 44) sums up the main stages in the complex evolution of the Aryan myth, countless homelands theorized for the Aryans. The map of the Indus- Sarasvati civilization (p. 88-89) has been revised and updated. Despite those changes, the book retains its brevity, and remains essentially what it was- an invitation to explore further the great forest that Indian civilization is.
Every Indian child who goes to school soon meets with that special moment when he is told about his early ancestors, their origin, their story, their achievements. A window suddenly opens, his small horizon strains to encompass those faraway and mysterious times. Being Indian seems to acquire a greater meaning- though one that will long remain as misty as what he is being taught.
And what is he taught? If anything at all, it will be that some 1,500 years before the Christian era, hordes of semi- barbarian, Sanskrit- speaking pastoral nomads, the “Aryans,” poured from Central Asia or thereabouts into Northwest India, where they came upon the highly developed Indus Valley or Harappan civilization, which had been flourishing there for over a millennium and whose inhabitants were Dravidians. The invading “Aryans” destroyed this civilization and pushed the Dravidians south, then over a few centuries composed the Vedas, got Sanskrit to spread all over India, and built the great Ganges civilization. That, in a nutshell, is what most educated Indians know of their distant past, and is still today presented as solid knowledge, something no one need or should argue about. It is there not only in textbooks, but in “authoritative” reference books and in the best dictionaries.
The Sun’s revolving around the earth, too, was for centuries such a dead certainly to early European astronomers that Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler had to be dangerous heretics to think otherwise- luckily, that certainly is now dead indeed, as are the countless instances of human blindness that litter the ages. The “Aryan invasion theory,” as it is called, is another such instance. As established and apparently indisputable as it may have become through decades of thoughtless repetition, it does not rest on a single solid piece of evidence. In fact, it has by now been thoroughly disproved by all the evidence brought to light by archaeology, anthropology, astronomy and ancient mathematics, among other disciplines. Nevertheless, those in India who today dispute it are still eyed with considerable suspicion, as if they had committed some awful crime, and we can expect this venerable if crumbling pillar of ancient history to figure in our Indian textbooks for some more time, during which the roots of India’s civilization and culture will continue to be somewhere in Central Asia, just as the Sun kept revolving around the Earth for a few centuries after Copernicus, and species remained forbidden to evolve for decades after Darwin.
But how did this “Aryan myth,” as it has been called, come to be so widely accepted if it was wholly groundless? Extensive studies have been devoted to the factors that contributed to its genesis and spectacular growth; we will only give here a brief overview, followed by a survey of archaeological and other evidence that contradict it emphatically. In the process, we will try to lay a healthier foundation for an inquiry into India’s ancient past.
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