The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate edwin bryant oxford

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Hindu Nationalist Responses

To many Hindus, the concept of Arya served primarily as a patriotic rallying cry. Raychaudhuri (1988) outlines this immediate, and more euphoric, level of reflexive popular response:

The Hindu self-image had received a moral boost from … the writings of Professor Max Mueller. His linguistic studies stressed the common origin of Indo-European languages and the Aryan races. These theories, translated into popular idiom, were taken to mean that the master race and the subject population were descended from the same Aryan ancestors. The result was a spate of Aryanism. Books, journals, societies rejoiced in the Aryan iden- tity…. Educated young men, in large numbers, affected a demonstrative reversion to the ways of their forefathers—with fasts, pigtails, well-displayed sacred threads, and other stig- mata of Hindu orthodoxy. The name “Aryan” appeared in every possible and impossible context—in the titles of books as much as in the names of drug stores. (34–35)

As outlined in the first chapter, Max Müller (1884) had been very influential in intro- ducing the theme of shared ancestry in India: “We recognize in Ram Mohan Roy's visit to England the meeting again of the two great branches of the Aryan race, after they had been separated so long that they had lost all recollection of their common origin, common language, and common faith” (11). Understandably, not all Hindus were about to be taken in by this type of rhetoric; Müller himself quotes a “native writer” from the Calcutta Indian Mirror (September 20, 1874) who exclaimed: “We were niggers at one time. We now become brethren” (quoted in Chakrabarti, 1997, 99). Some had grown wary of Aryan discourses. But many Hindus, such as Tukaram Tatya, took the opportunity to point out that “the difference between the European and the Asiatic will be held to be of little moment” when consideration was directed to the common Aryan bond. After all, since “the Hindus represent the older branch of the great Aryan stock, … our European brethren should look upon us as filled with the same blood” (93).

There have been a number of studies outlining the various nuances in the relation- ship between the Orientalist construction of the Aryan past and the Indian nationalist movement (e.g., Leopold 1970). Scholars have long pointed out how early Orientalist and Romantic themes such as “India was the cradle of the arts and sciences,” “Egypt, Greece, and Rome were her pupils and recipients,” and “The Hindus were among the first civilized nations when the nations of Europe had hardly risen above the hunting or nomad state” were readily appropriated by Indian intellectuals, since they offered some level of consolation to a subjected people (McCully 1966, 245–248). Moreover, Hindu Aryanism could not just be vaunted as evidence of equality with the colonial rulers but as proof of the Hindus' moral superiority: British despotism and materialism were por- trayed as deviations from Aryan principles (Leopold 1970, 278). Hindu reformers such as Vivekananda (1970–73) felt that it was the western Aryans that were being given the opportunity to learn from their Hindu Aryan brethren (i.e., more specifically, from him- self): “Which of us ever dreamt that a descendant of the old Indian Aryans, by dint of Tapas, would prove to the learned people of England and America the superiority of the ancient Indian religion over other creeds?” (3:350). Nor was this exchange just to take place on Indian soil as a result of Western initiative; if the Western Aryans had


overpowered India materially, the Indian Aryans were destined to conquer the West spiritually:

Two curious nations there have been—sprung of the same race … the ancient Hindu and the Greek. The Indian Aryan … became introspective. The analysis of his own mind was the great theme of the Indo-Aryan. With the Greek, on the other hand, … his mind naturally went outside. It wanted to analyze the external world…. Today the an- cient Greek is meeting the ancient Hindu on the soil of India…. We must be always ready to sit at the feet of all…. At the same time we must not forget that we have also to teach a great lesson to the world…. the gift of India is the gift of religion and philoso- phy, and wisdom and spirituality…. we must go out, must conquer the world through our spirituality and philosophy. (Vivekananda 1970–73, 3:269–273) 2

Such sentiments were typical of the time. The Theosophists like Olcott also contrib- uted to notions of Hindu Aryan superiority in their addresses to groups such as the Arya Samaj: “Recognizing as we do the Aryan source of our race and of its knowledge of things terrestrial and celestial, we, Theosophists will feel proud to be permitted to call ourselves your disciples” (Sarda 1946, 529; italics in original). Keshub Chandra Sen ([1901– 4] 1954) later echoed similar themes when recognizing that “in the advent of the En- glish nation in India, we see a reunion of parted cousins, the descendants of two differ- ent families of the Aryan race.” Each had a valid role to play: “India in her present fallen condition seems destined to sit at the feet of England for many long years, to learn Western art and science. And, on the other hand, behold England sits at the feet of hoary-headed India to study the ancient literature of this country” (325). Unlike some of his other religious contemporaries, Sen did not hesitate to stress the duties Aryan kinship involved that were incumbent on the materialistic side of the family: “May England … [give] us as much of the light of the West as lies in her power! That is her mission in India. May she fulfill it nobly and honourably. Let England give us her in- dustry and arts, her exact sciences and her practical philosophy” (325–326). His brother was equally idealistic: “The Hindu and the Englishman are brothers! … every brother man is learning to recognize in the face of his fellow-creatures the image of his first forefathers…. Let that unity be the groundwork of future peace and brotherhood” (Leopold, 273).

Not all were prepared to acknowledge the material advantages that might be gained from the English Aryan brethren, however. Although K. C. Sen (1954) had waxed elo- quent about the benefits derivable from gallant Aryan England—“Fallen [Aryan] India cried for help, and lo! at Heaven's bidding England hastened to her rescue” (126)—others saw things differently. The very first line of Lajpat Rai's book England's Debt to India (1917) is “India once was rich.” In contrast to Sen's rhapsody, despite appropriating Orientalist tropes of previous golden ages “when Greece and Italy, those cradles of European civiliza- tion, nursed only the tenants of a wilderness [and] India was the seat of wealth and gran- deur” (4), Rai was adamant that the British conquest of India had been “the most insidi- ous, most prolonged and most devastating to the conquered” (319). In this narrative, England had plundered her Aryan sibling, not “hastened to her rescue.”

The more moderate Gokhale (1920), who was prepared to allow that other members of the Aryan family “brought their own treasure into the common stock” (1023), also appropriated Orientalist discourse: “The people of India are an ancient race who had attained a high degree of civilization long before the ancestors of European nations


understood what civilization was. India has long been the birthplace of great religions. She was also the cradle and long home of literature and philosophy, of science and arts” (925). Dayananda Saraswati refused to recognize any Hindu Aryan debt to Europe even on a material level—everything came from India: “The people of Egypt, Greece or the continent of Europe were without a trace of learning before the spread of Knowl- edge from India” (238).

The construction of a golden past is hardly unique to India. The development of nationalisms almost invariably involves the creation of a sense of continuity between the past and the present. This past is mined for material with which to construe a sense of historic identity, unity, glory, and continuity to inspire political action in the present— Hobsbawn's “invention of tradition.” Obviously, these themes offer hope for a future return to an idyllic state once real-life political obstacles are surmounted by adoption of a nationalist agenda. Bipan Chandra (1984) has argued that, on the one side, the na- tionalist leaders needed a theme with instant psychological appeal that could inculcate the idea of nationalism in the masses without alarming the imperialist powers; on the other, the British encouraged this sense of identification with an idyllic spiritual Hindu past so that the de facto material British present would not be jeopardized.

Just as the Aryan connection was configured to support a wide variety of domestic and colonial agendas by Europeans, it surfaced in a variety of ways among Indians in their internal negotiations with each other, in addition to their dealings with the exter- nal imperial power. The Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy was put to political use both by Brahman elitists in the North and by Tamilian separatist voices in the South who were quick to capitalize on the idea of Aryan invasions. From the former camp, for example, Ranade approved of the derogatory descriptions made by Western scholars like Abbe Dubois of the abominable practices extant in the South. In his view this situation oc- curred because Aryan Brahman influence had “hardly penetrated below the upper classes.” The Aryan Brahmanical settlers were “too few in numbers and too weak in power to make any lasting impression beyond their own limited circle upon the multitudes who constituted the aboriginal races in the Southern Peninsula” (Ranade [1915] 1992, 205). The Orientalist view that Hinduism consisted of the morally and culturally superior Aryans who were detrimentally influenced by their merger with the backward and primi- tive aboriginals was happily regurgitated by many Brahmanas for whom Brahmanical Aryanism corresponded to civilization.

Although not all Hindu nationalists participated in the denigration of Dravidian culture, most did share a strong conviction that India could be saved by returning to the purity of a reconstituted Sanskritic Aryanism. Ramaswamy (1997) and Irschick (1971) outline the reaction to such attitudes that took firm root in the South in the form of neo-Saivism. According to spokesmen from southern castes like the Chetti and Vellala, who were particularly dismayed by the prospect of Brahmanical culture highjacking the emerging nation, “it was not the Dravidians who corrupted a pristine Hinduism…. on the contrary, it was Brahmanism and Aryanism that had debased the original Tamil religion and diverted it from its hallowed path of monotheism, rationalism, and egali- tarianism into the ‘gutters’ of polytheism, irrational rituals, and unjust social hierar- chies” (Ramaswamy 1997, 29–30). For them the Dravidian religion far predated that of the Aryans, not just in the South, but all over the subcontinent. Siva was a pre-Aryan Tamilian deity whom the later Aryan intruders had pressed into service in their own


pantheon. By the time neo-Saivism was in full swing in the 1920s, it was not Sanskrit but Tamil that was the world's original, divine language. Others went further: “Most of what is ignorantly called Aryan Philosophy, Aryan Civilization is literally Dravidian or Tamilian at bottom” (Sundaram Pillai, quoted in Irschick, 1971, 152).

Phule, at the end of the nineteenth century, was one of the earliest proponents of such ideas:

The aboriginals like the Gonds and the Bhils were the masters (rulers) of this land India, and the Iranians (Aryans) came to India at a later date (as invaders and interlopers)…. The Aryan invaders (Brahmins) desecrated the sacred sacrifices here, robbed and oppressed the original inhabitants and stigmatised them as “Dasyus…. The (Indian) Civil Service has been (unjustly) monopolized by the Aryan Brahmans (here) and I beg to submit that it portends a great danger to the whole nation.” (Patil 1991, 132)

Others went further. Perhaps the best known detractor of Aryan culture was Periyar E. V. Ramaswami, the leader of the Dravidian movement in South India. Ramaswami despised almost everything that has come to be known as “Hinduism,” portraying it as an Aryan imposition on an indigenous Dravidian populace. He exhorted that “the Tamil … may liberate himself from the Aryan yoke.” In his version of things, “the Aryans, when they invaded the ancient land of the Dravidas, maltreated and dishonoured the latter and had written a false and coloured history wholly fallacious. It is this they call Ramayana wherein Rama and his accomplishes are styled as Aryas, Ravana as Rakshasa.” Ramaswami's book is dedicated “to mirror to the Tamils what ascendancy is given to the Aryan and how disgracefully the other communities are deprecated” (Ramaswami, 1981, 2–3). It is Ravana, in Ramaswami's reading of the plot, who is the true Dravidian hero who attempted, unsuccessfully, to save his people from the exploi- tation and tyranny of the invading Aryans. Ramaswami's mission was dedicated to detaching, both culturally and politically, the life of his fellow Tamils from Brahman- dominated Aryan influence. 3

Ambedkar also attempted to uplift those who had suffered the most at the hands of Brahmanical Aryan culture: the Sudras. But, unlike Ramaswami, his method was not to attempt to uncouple this social class from an alien Aryan culture. On the con- trary, according to Ambedkar (1946), “the Shudras were one of the Aryan communi- ties of the Solar race…. The Shudras did not form a separate Varna. They ranked as part of the Kshatriya Varna in the Indo-Aryan society” (v). On the basis of a variety of passages, particularly Mahabharata, Śanti parvan 38–40 (which describes a Sudra by the name of Paijavana performing a major sacrifice conducted by Brahamanas), Ambedkar argued that the Sudras were once wealthy, glorified and respected by rsis, composers of Vedic hymns, and performers of sacrifice. Due to continuous feuding with the Brahmana class, the Sudras inflicted many tyrannies on the Brahmanas, who, in retaliation, denied them the upanayana initiation ceremony, causing them to even- tually become socially degraded.

Ambedkar, in his book Who Were the Sudras? (1946) offers a critique of the philo- logical basis of the Aryan invasion theory, that in places is well-informed and well- argued. He adamantly rejected this theory, which he saw as partly responsible for propa- gating the erroneous idea that the Sudras were a non-Aryan, indigenous ethnic group. Nonetheless, he does resonate with Periyar Ramaswami on one issue:


The Aryan race theory is so absurd that it ought to have been dead long ago. But far from being dead, the theory has a considerable hold upon the people…. The first explana- tion is to be found in the support which the theory receives from Brahmin scholars. This is a very strange phenomenon. As Hindus, they should ordinarily show a dislike for the Aryan theory with its express avowal of the superiority of the European races over the Asiatic races. But the Brahmin scholar has not only no such aversion but most willingly hails it. The reasons are obvious. The Brahmin believes in the two nation theory. He claims to be the representative of the Aryan race, and he regards the rest of the Hindus as descendants of the non-Aryans. The theory helps him establish his kinship with the European races and share their arrogance and their superiority…. it helps him main- tain and justify his overlordship over the non-Brahmins. (76)

Other spokesmen for the most disadvantaged castes had different ideas about how to redress injustices. In their estimation, better gains might be had by accepting the Aryan invasion theory, with all its implications, rather than rejecting it: “Even the present Swarajists [those demanding independence]—the Aryans—were themselves invaders like the Muhammadans and the Europeans. If this country has to be governed by aborigi- nes, all the offices must necessarily be filled by the original inhabitants—the Chamars, the Kurumbas, the Bhils, the Panchamas, etc.” (quoted in Irschick, 1971, 154). As far as some in the South were concerned, it was a “misrepresentation to say that the Brah- mins belong to the same Indian nation as the non-Brahmins while the English are aliens…. Indian Brahmins are more alien to us than Englishmen” (Raghavan, quoted in Irschick, 1971, 158).

In short, although the excesses of Aryan ideology in Europe would be hard to sur- pass, the Indians themselves were not averse to attempting to extract political mileage from the Aryan theme to support their own agendas. Indeed, in about 1920, one Visnu Sakharam Pandit filed an immigration court case in America, claiming to be a Euro- pean. Since immigration was closed to Asiatics at that time, the ingenious fellow said he could prove that he was a Brahman and therefore a fellow Aryan. The argument was even entertained for a while, until a California court ruled that the Aryan invasion theory was precisely that: just a theory, and therefore not citable as credible proof for immigra- tion purposes.

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