The Myth of the Aryan

Most of us when studying history in high school were taught about how the Aryan’s invaded the land that is now present-day India and brought, so to say, Indian culture to India. Ground-breaking studies, of course, have shown that this was not the case. An exploration of the way in which historians came to believe in the ‘myth’ of the Aryan theory of civilisation is very revealing.

The first millennium BC in northern India has been declared a period of vast historical change. This is amply evident from archaeological studies made and due to the presence of a significant amount of historical material. The theory of the ‘Aryan invasion’ as it was called is no longer acceptable due to the recent archaeological work on Harappan and post-Harappan civilisations. This is further corroborated by the linguistic developments made in this area of study.

So, what was this myth of the Aryan invasion? From where did it emerge? The concept of the aryan was a 19th century invention, suited to the social and political demands of the period. The Indologists, as they were called, established a branch of comparative philology that gave rise to an idea of a common Indo-European ancestry. The Indo-aryan was opposed in this scheme of study to the Dravidian. These notions we now know to be false were a result of colonial interests in India in the 19th century.

What was required was a justification and self-explanation of colonial conquest and rule combined with a need to study those who were governed. Imperial expansion in India was sought to be justified due to these pseudo-studies done by 19th century academics with an eye to precisely justify colonial projects overseas. It became an easy story to tell. There were once these European invaders who came to India and established culture there. These were in direct contrast to the Dravidians who were fit only to be ruled, it was argued. History was only repeating itself with the British invading India, they said. The British colonialists likened themselves to the glamourised Aryans, and thus the story was an easy one to sell. So easy, that even after more than six decades of Independence, Indian kids regurgitate the same.

What this goes to show is that practices of knowledge making, the role of academicians and intellectuals can also be embedded in politics of power. No writing of history is innocent. The dangers of the Aryan race theory, in this case can, be measured when compared to a similar Aryan race theory that evolved in Germany and led to the Holocaust. The British version, though ostensibly a watered down version of the same, did as much harm when it caused imperial conquest and colonial destruction.


For more related information, you may refer to the following:

Who were Dravidians in India?

Reasons for the Decline of the Harappan Civilization

Facts about the Indus Valley Civilization

 The Gupta Period

Neolithic period