In present times most people in India have come to believe that that the theory of Aryan invasion or as some call it Aryan immigration is probably a western colonial theory. They fail to recognize that it was the Aryan immigration that later translated into Vedic civilization.
There are many nationalistic arguments against what many believe is the Left’s influence on history, education in India. So what is the basis of the Aryan theory? Looking back into the colonial-era can help solve some of the mysteries of the theory that has polarized historians.
Europan interest in Indian history and culture
Early European visitors to India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often took an interest in its monuments, sometimes making careful records of their observations. In a culture where messages were orally transmitted from one generation to the next, this was a new development where the history was getting documented.
As they progressed in their exploration of the culture it began creating a great deal of interest for the eighteenth-century scholars, from London to Calcutta and led them in many directions, including science, natural history, philosophy, languages, and the human condition.
A lot of interest was taken in the intellectual, cultural, scientific, and religious heritage of India, a land considered by some European scholars to be the original source of Western knowledge and thought, unlike what today many believe to be Western efforts to discredit Ancient Indian culture and history by propagating Aryan immigration theory.
It was within this intellectual climate that Sir William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784.
The discovery that Sanskrit and other ancient languages may have a common ancestor
Jones made a very critical observation about the ancient language of Vedas. This was to create a new era in the ancient history of India.
He noted that Sanskrit, the language of India’s early sacred texts, had distinct similarities to both the language of the Avesta, Iran’s early sacred texts, and to those of Europe, including not only Greek and Latin but also the Celtic and Germanic languages.
Thomas Burrow was an Indologist and the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1944 to 1976, who summed up the comparison between Avesta and Sanskrit very clearly.
“The relations between this ancient Iranian and the language of the Veda are so close that it is not possible satisfactorily to study one without the other. “
“Grammatically the differences are very small — the chief differentiation in the earliest period lies in certain characteristic and well-defined phonetic changes which have affected Iranian on the one hand and Indo-Aryan on the other. “
“It is quite possible to find verses in the oldest portion of the Avesta, which simply by phonetic substitutions according to established laws can be turned into intelligible Sanskrit. “
“The greater part of the vocabulary is held in common and a large list could be provided of words shared between the two which are absent from the rest of Indo-European.”
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A common source of all Indo-European language
During his 18th century, Sir William Jones believed that they all must have originated from a common source. A language that is now theorized as Proto-Indo-European language, the problem however remained that there was no direct record of Proto-Indo-European that exists today.
Still, this discovery of the Indo-European language family was to have profound intellectual consequences –The speakers of Indo-European languages came to be regarded as a single race. The famous Aryans.
The Aryans were seen by many as culturally superior and, pervertedly, by the Nazis as a master race— and the wide distribution of the Indo-European languages brought to the fore theories of migration as the principal explanation for cultural change and development.
There was also a growing feeling among the British that they had a responsibility to preserve and record the antiquities of the areas they governed at that time. In 1848 a number of individuals were given the mandate to explore different parts of India and to record and report on the monuments there.
In 1890 the post of director-general was abolished and the responsibility for archaeological work was transferred to regional government.
When in 1899 Lord Curzon was appointed viceroy of India, he was disappointed about the level of archaeological activity in a project which he believed defined the origin of civilization.
He then recommended the restoration of the post of director-general to supervise and coordinate the work, and in 1902 John (later Sir John) Marshall took up the post.
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Use of scientific excavation technique
Among his innovations were a policy of conservation of the artifacts and monuments, the publication of annual reports, and the training of Indians as senior officers of the Archaeological Survey posts, only a few Indians had earlier occupied.
He also used scientific excavation techniques that he learned in his brief earlier career as a classical archaeologist — While his efforts led to an improvement over previous work, these techniques left much to be desired.
In particular, although the three-dimensional position of objects was noted, all recording was by arbitrary levels taken from the local ground surface.
Although the greater part of Marshall’s work still centered around historical sites, in the south megalithic tombs continued to attract attention, and several ash mounds were also excavated, and in the northwest, including Kashmir, prehistoric material was also being discovered.
Marshall was familiar with the material, including the curious seal, that was earlier recovered at Harappa, and he started work there in 1920 under the direction of D. R. Sahni.
The understanding of the nature of the remains found at Harappa was seriously hampered by the , mishandling of the ancient site by the railway engineers who had earlier even plundered the site for the high quality bricks.
Mohenjo-Daro was then known as the site of a poorly preserved Buddhist stupa, situated on the mound’s summit, but during explorations here R. D. Banerji had picked up a flint scraper, suggesting the mound had far greater antiquity– he, therefore, began excavations there in 1922.
Mohenjo-Daro also yielded seals inscribed with unknown characters, comparable to those from Harappa, and, like Harappa, the site was found to have a great depth of deposits belonging to a huge ancient brick-built city.
Marshall was on leave during those times, and so it was not until the summer of 1924 that he studied the seals and other novel material and the architectural remains from these two sites.
He made use of stratigraphy (branch of geology concerned with the study of rock layers) on the sites, where Indus deposits were found well below those of the historical period.
The discovery that the site predated the Iron-Age in India
Widespread use of copper was unearthed, but the absence of iron made it clear that the site predated the iron-age (1200 BCE) in India. Furthermore, there was the mysterious writing on the seals that were clearly unrelated to the Brahmi script of the later centuries BCE.
These led him to conclude that the Indus cities predated the Mauryan period. It was the first time that the ancient nature of the site was being documented. Till that time most scholars believed that Indian civilization started around 1500-1000 BCE during the Early Vedic Period.
Marshall was eager to obtain better information on their possible age from the wider archaeological community. The collaboration between a wide range of experts and scholars was unprecedented for India at that time.
He published these findings in the September 20 edition of Illustrated London News and was delighted by an immediate response from Mesopotamian scholars who found parallels between the material and architecture from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa and that from third-millennium BCE Susa and Sumerian cities.
Though considerably improved since Marshall’s day, the synchronism and cultural links between these civilizations have stood the test of time.
Excavations continued at the two cities, including a major season at Mohenjo-Daro in 1925–1926 directed by Marshall himself.
The cities of Indus Valley Civilization
Later investigations found large residential complexes with well-built houses, straight streets, and fine drains, the brick-built pool known as the Great Bath on the higher mound at Mohenjo-Daro.
At Harappa, a large building labeled the Granary, an unjustified appellation that has stuck. Finds included bead jewelry, copper tools, several of the best-known seals, the sculpted torso known as the Priest-King, and the bronze figurine known as the Dancing-girl.
Soundings at Mohenjo-Daro were cut down to the water table, the height of which prevented the lowest levels of the site from being investigated. Mackay also excavated part of a smaller Indus settlement, the town of Chanhu-Daro, where he uncovered considerable evidence of craft activities such as bead and seal manufacture, including a workshop with a furnace.
This work was funded by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which was permitted to retain the material found there. At Harappa, a cemetery (Cemetery H) was found, containing burials with pottery different from that in the city.
Vats undertook an interesting analysis of the iconography of the Cemetery H pottery in the light of Vedic ritual practices. No cemetery was located at Mohenjo-Daro (nor has any subsequently been discovered), but Mackay uncovered a number of skeletons in the streets of Mohenjo-Daro, belonging to a late period of occupation.
Indust Civilization had possessed a non – Vedic culture
The relationship of the Indus civilization to the Vedic Aryans, the people who had composed India’s earliest surviving literature, was already being considered and in several publications.
R. P. Chanda, one of Marshall’s officers, set forth arguments that the Indus civilization had possessed a non- Vedic culture, that its cities had been destroyed by the Vedic Aryans, but that Indus religion survived this destruction and underlay much of later Indian beliefs and practices.
It’s noteworthy that he was one of the earliest proponents of Aryan theory and he was an Indian.
Additionally, Marshall in his 1931 publication on the Indus civilization supported these views. Gordon Childe (14 April 1892 – 19 October 1957) was an Australian archaeologist who specialized in the study of European prehistory, later noted that the distinctive features of the Indus civilization included the elaborate drains and planned urban layout.
One notable observation was the absence of any architecture that could be identified as a palace or temple, the absence of monumental tombs, and the apparent lack of warfare.
It would later be debated after the discovery of Sinauli, an archaeological site located in Baraut tehsil, Baghpat district, western Uttar Pradesh, India, at the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. The major findings of the excavation very recently in 2018 have given some early evidence of warfare.
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa lie almost 400 miles apart, as Marshall observed, drawing attention also to the striking uniformity of architecture and artifacts from the two cities.
By the mid-1930s, excavations and survey work had revealed Indus sites as far afield as Kotla Nihang Khan in east Punjab and Rangpur in Saurashtra, where Vats believed the Indus occupation to have been later than that at Mohenjo-Daro or Harappa.
Aurel Stein explored the dried-up riverbeds of Bahawalpur, revealing a number of Indus sites. It was becoming clear that the Indus civilization was considerably larger in extent than the other states of this time: Old Kingdom Egypt and the Akkadian and Ur III empires in Mesopotamia.
Other investigations began to reveal the antecedents of the Indus civilization. Aurel Stein located many earlier sites in Baluchistan, such as Periano Ghundai, briefly excavating a number of them as well as the settlement of Dabarkot, which yielded some Indus period remains, and a number of sites, including Kulli, where he identified the Kulli complex, related to the Indus civilization.
Evidence from the excavation site
The short inscriptions on the Indus seals and on a few copper bars from Mohenjo-Daro that Banerji at first compared to Indian punch-marked coins attracted considerable interest, and an attempt at decipherment of the script was made as early as 1925, by Colonel L. A. Waddell.
In the years that followed, further efforts were made, based on comparisons between Indus signs and those of the Sumerian, Minoan, Etruscan, Hittite, and Brahmi scripts, and even Easter Island rongo-rongo. None produced a successful result.
A question of key importance in the decipherment of the script was what language it rendered: Marshall was of the opinion that the languages spoken in the Indus civilization were likely to have been members of the Dravidian family.
In 1944 Sir Mortimer Wheeler was seconded to India as director-general of the Archaeological Survey. On his first visit, Wheeler was struck by the AB mound at Harappa, which he immediately interpreted as a fortified citadel, evidence that the Indus civilization was not unwarlike, as had previously been supposed.
His impression was confirmed by excavation at several points around its perimeter, which revealed the remains of a massive mud-brick wall with towers and impressive gateways.
Wheeler believed that the Indo-Aryans were largely responsible for the demise of the Indus cities, quoting Vedic descriptions of the sack of Dasa fortresses and arguing that “ it may be no mere chance that at a late period of Mohenjo-Daro men, women and children appear to have been massacred there . . . On circumstantial evidence, Indra (the Aryan god of war) stands accused” (Wheeler 1947).
An early visit to Mohenjo-daro had allowed Wheeler to identify a fortified citadel there also. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Wheeler was for some years an archaeological adviser to the government of Pakistan and in 1950 conducted excavations at Mohenjo-daro, which yielded enough evidence of solid brickwork, including towers, to convince him that his identification was correct.
He also fully uncovered the foundations of a large structure on the mound, previously identified as a Hammam (steam bath), wrongly interpreting it as a Great Granary.
These discoveries and interpretations allowed Wheeler and Piggott to formulate a picture of the Indus civilization that has dominated the popular understanding of the civilization to this day.
Mohenjodaro and Harappa were seen as the twin capitals of a great state, ruled probably by priest-kings. Cities were thought to follow a standard plan, with a fortified citadel containing public buildings and a residential lower town, its streets constructed to a cardinally orientated grid plan resembling that of much later Hellenistic cities and towns.
Great granaries were presumed to store grain that was raised in tribute or as taxes to be distributed to state employees, as in contemporary Mesopotamia.
A highly efficient and well-maintained system of drains and sanitation was a standard feature of Indus cities. Standardization was also apparent in the Indus artifacts, such as the bead necklaces, stone and metal tools, and finely made pottery.
Piggott thought these artifacts showed “competent dullness . . . a dead level of bourgeois mediocrity in almost every branch of the visual arts and crafts” (Piggott 1950, 200), though Wheeler commented favorably on the technical skills and aesthetic qualities apparent in some objects, such as the steatite seals with their lively depictions of animals.
The overall picture was of a civilization in which considerable technical competence and a high standard of living were offset by cultural stagnation and the stifling effects of rigid bureaucracy and an authoritarian regime, continuing apparently unchanged for nearly a millennium.
Wheeler expected to find and looked for features that were familiar from other civilizations and that were thought to be among their defining characteristics: monumental public architecture such as temples — defensive works and weaponry– royal burials and palaces.
The structures on the citadel mounds, such as the Granary and Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro, could reasonably be interpreted as public and religious buildings.
The massive brick-walled citadels and their impressive gateways matched the expected defenses and fortifications. Metal objects, such as spearheads, daggers, arrowheads, and axes, were potential weapons, though Wheeler noted that “a majority may have been used equally by the soldier, the huntsman, the craftsman, or even by the ordinary householder” (Wheeler 1968, 73).
Other features that were characteristic of the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were absent, however, no palaces or royal graves had been discovered, for example, and no obvious temples. Despite these differences, Wheeler argued that the Indus people had adopted the idea of civilization from the Sumerians, along with key features such as writing and a script which is yet to be deciphered.
The current generation of historians, specialists, and scholars are still peeling out layers from the mysterious and ancient Indust Valley Civilization but Aryan Theory, for now, has a solid basis based on scientific evidence.
Rig Veda the most ancient Veda also mentions Aryans but doesn’t describe Indus Valley Civilization, for some may be furthering the argument in favor of Aryan Immigration theory, however, in the context of scientific and archaeological exploration, this has not been covered here.
The current knowledge, however, is in no way complete, and till the time we can read their script, there will always be some amount of speculation, but clearly, any further debate and even rejection of the Aryan theory should be based on scientific investigation and exploration, not on nationalistic or religious overtone.
For Europeans and scholars from all across the world who worked to establish the Ancient history of India, probably the most appropriate feeling should be of gratitude, not resentment and indignation.