The Aryan/Dravidian Divide
The languages of South India are Dravidian, which is a different linguistic group than the
Indo-European languages of the North of the subcontinent. The two groups of languages have
many different root words (though a number in common we might add), and above all a
different grammatical structure, the Dravidian being agglutinative and the Indo-European
being inflected. Dravidian languages possess a very old history of their own, which their
legends, the Tamil Sangha literature, show a history in South India and Sri Lanka dating
back over five thousand years.
Along with the difference of language there is a difference of skin color from north to
south of India, with the southerners being darker in skin color (though northerners are
hardly light in color by Western standards, with the exception of some people of the far
northwest). Though a less pronounced difference than that of language it has been lumped
together along with it again assuming that race and language must be the same.
The Aryan invasion theory has been used to explain both the linguistic and racial
differences between the peoples of North and South India, and such differences have been
put forth as "proof" of the invasion (as if no other explanation were possible).
As the Aryans were made into a race, so were the Dravidians and the Aryan/Dravidian divide
was turned into a racial war, the Aryan invaders versus the indigenous Dravidians of
Harappa and Mohenjodaro. By this view the Vedic people promoted the superiority of their
race and language and simply drove away those of different races or languages. We have
already discussed how Sanskrit Aryan is never a racial term but a title of respect. Even
the Dravidian kings called themselves Aryan. Nor is there anything in Vedic literature
that places the Dravidians outside of the greater Vedic culture and ancestry. Hence to
place Aryan against Dravidian as terms is itself a misuse of language. Be that as it may,
the Aryan and Dravidian divide has also failed to prove itself.
Now it has been determined that there is no such thing scientifically speaking as Aryan
and Dravidian races. The so-called Aryans and Dravidian races of India are members of the
same Mediterranean branch of the Caucasian race, which prevailed in the ancient
civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria and is still the main group in the Mediterranean area,
North Africa, and the Middle East. The Caucasian race is not simply white but also
contains dark skinned types. Skin color and race is another nineteenth century idea that
has been recently discarded.
Darker skin color is commonly found in peoples living in more southern regions and appears
as an adjustment mechanism to hotter climates and greater sunshine. For example southern
Europeans are darker in skin color than northern Europeans, though they are not a
different race because of this. This suggests that the Dravidian branch of the
Mediterranean race must have lived in South India for some thousands of years to make this
adjustment, and the same thing could be said of the people of North India as well if we
would make them originally light-skinned invaders from the north.
The issue of language is similarly more complex. It is now known that Dravidian languages,
with their agglutinative patterns, share common traits and are of the same broad
linguistic group as such Asian and East European languages as Finnish, Hungarian, old
Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian and Japanese, the Finno-Ugric and Ural-Altaic branches of
languages. As the common point between these groups lies in Central Asia some scholars
have recently proposed that the Dravidian peoples originally came from this region.
The same linguistic speculation that led to the Aryan invasion theory has following the
same logic required a "Dravidian invasion." Not only are the Dravidians like the
Aryans styled invaders into India, they took the same route as the Aryans. The city-state
of Elam in southwest Iran, east of Sumeria, which had a high civilization throughout the
ancient period, shows an agglutinative structure like the Dravidian, as does possibly the
Sumerian itself. This would place Dravidian type languages in Iran as well. Thereby the
Dravidians, just like the Aryans, would have migrated (again the reason for which is not
clear) from Central Asia and into Iran, with one group moving west to Mesopotamia and the
other, apparently larger group, going east into India. Later the invading Aryans are said
to have forced the Dravidians to move to the south of the country from their original
homeland on the Indus and Sarasvati rivers. (However, we have already noted that there is
no evidence of such migrations, nor of any Dravidian references to the Sarasvati like
those of the Vedas.)
The Dravidian and Aryan invasion theories turns the migration of particular
language/racial groups from Central Asia into a kind of panacea to explain the
developments of race and language for much of humanity, particularly for India. However
both invasion theories appear far too simplistic given the complex ways in which cultures,
languages and races move and interact.
The Dravidian claim to be indigenous to India has, like the Aryan, been discredited by
linguistic argument. Yet the argument brings the Aryans and Dravidians back into contact
with each other and derives them from the same region, suggesting a long term association
between them outside of India. However if we give up the invasion model such association
can be better explained by contact within India which we know was an historical fact.
Certainly the present population of India - which even the ancient Greeks and Persians
regarded as dark-skinned - was not produced by light-skinned people from Central Asia
(whether Aryan or Dravidian). Moreover, there cannot be a Dravidian invasion changing the
language but not the population of India just like the Aryan invasion, as the idea is
far-fetched to happen once but to happen twice in a row in the same region and by the same
route is ridiculous.
If both the Aryan and Dravidian languages of India have affinities with those of Central
Asia, and to peoples of different ethnic groups (the Indo-Aryan with the lighter skinned
European and the Dravidians with both light-skinned Finns and Hungarians, and Mongolian
race Turks) a phenomenon is created that is too complex to be explained by mere migration
alone. It takes languages across the racial boundaries that migration theories uphold and
places them on par with other cultural affinities (like art or religion), which are not
limited by race.
The linguistic divide between Aryan and Dravidian, as that between the Indo-European and
other language groups is also now being questioned. A greater Nostratic family of
languages has been proposed that includes Indo-European, Dravidian and Semitic languages
and looks for a common ancestor for all three. This requires a greater degree of contact
between these groups which remote Central Asia cannot afford. Moreover, there are
affinities between Sanskrit and the Munda or aboriginal languages of India, as S.
Kalyanaraman has noted, that indicate a long and early contact, if not common evolution,
which could have only happened in India. Such Vedic scholars as Sri Aurobindo have stated
that the Dravidian and Sanskritic languages have much more in common than has yet been
admitted and appear to have a common ancestor.
Dravidian history does not contradict Vedic history either. It credits the invention of
the Tamil language, the oldest Dravidian tongue, to the rishi Agastya, one of the most
prominent sages in the Rig Veda. Dravidian kings historically have called themselves
Aryans and trace their descent through Manu (who in the Matsya Purana is regarded as
originally a south Indian king). Apart from language, moreover, both north and south India
share a common religion and culture. Prior to Vedic Sanskrit there may have been a
language that was the basis of both the Dravidian and Sanskritic languages in India.
The idea that the same culture cannot produce two different language systems may itself be
questionable. It may have been the very power of Vedic culture and its sages, with their
mastery of the word, that they could have produced not only Indo-European like languages
but also Dravidian.
In any case the Aryan/Dravidian divide is no longer sufficient to uphold the Aryan
invasion theory. It leads to a more difficult to maintain Dravidian invasion theory. The
Dravidian invasion theory is just a shadow cast by the Aryan invasion theory and reveals
the erroneous nature of the latter.
Other aspects of the Aryan-Dravidian divide are predicated upon the invasion theory. For
example the idea that South India represents a pre-Vedic Shaivite culture as opposed to
the Brahmanical culture of the north follows only from this. Otherwise we see Shaivism in
the North, in Kailas, Benares and Kashmir, and Shiva as Rudra of the Vedas. What have
thereby been proposed as radical cultural differences between the North and South of India
are merely regional variations in the vast cultural complex of the subcontinent and its
interrelated spiritual traditions.
Dravidian pride or nationalism need not depend upon the Aryan invasion theory or
denigrating the culture of North India. The Dravidians have long been one of the most
important peoples of India and, perhaps ironically, have been the best preservers of Vedic
culture itself. The best Vedic Sanskrit, rituals and traditions can be found only in the
south of India. That South India was able to do this suggests the importance and antiquity
of Vedic culture to this region.