Myth of Aryan Invasion of India - Dr. David Frawley.

The Post-Colonial World

The Aryan Invasion Theory

Basis of the Aryan Invasion Theory

Aryan as Race or Language

The Development of the Aryan Invasion Idea

Mechanics of the Aryan Invasion

Harappan Civilization

Migration Rather than Invasion

The Rediscovery of the Sarasvati River

The Vedic Image of the Ocean

Horses, Chariots and Iron

Destroyers of Cities

Vedic and Indus Religions

The So-called Racial War in the Vedas

Vedic Peoples

The Aryan/Dravidian Divide

Vedic Kings and Empires

Vedic Astronomical Lore

Painted Grey Ware

Aryans in the Ancient Middle East

Indus Writing


Indian Civilization, an Indigenous Development

The New Model

Ancient History Revised

Political and Social Ramifications


Aryan as Race or Language

The Aryan invasion theory is based upon the idea that Aryan represents a particular group of people. In the classical view of the Aryan invasion the Aryans are a particular ethnic group, speaking a particular language. However in Vedic literature Aryan is not the name of the Vedic people and their descendants. It is a title of honor and respect given to certain groups for good or noble behavior. In this regard even the Buddha calls his teaching Aryan, Arya Dharma; the Jains also call themselves Aryans, as did the ancient Persians. For this reason one should call the Vedic people simply the "Vedic people" and not the Aryans. If one takes Aryan in the Vedic sense it would not be like talking of the invasion of good people, as if goodness were a racial or linguistic quality!

The Aryan invasion theory proposed that the Aryans belonged to a particular racial stock - generally the blond and blue-eyed nordic caucasians or at least fair-skinned European types (for which no real evidence in ancient India exists either) - and spoke only one language, Vedic Sanskrit (though this appears from the beginning as a priestly language, not a common dialect). The Aryans were said to have looked down upon those of different racial features or those who spoke different (presumably non-Indo-European) languages. The invasion theory thereby projected various cultural biases - that Vedic culture was racist or that it was based upon some sort of linguistic chauvinism. In short it cast an aspersion of prejudice and intolerance upon a culture before there had been any real examination of it. Meanwhile all the changes in ancient India were defined by this conflict of racial or linguistic groups, and ignoring all other factors of social change.

This idea of a monolithic cultural group chauvinistically promoting ethnic and linguistic purity is the product of nineteenth century colonial thinking. It mirrors nineteenth century European racial views of humanity, in which dark-skinned people were regarded as inferior and used as slaves. It is quite different than the Hindu and Vedic view that the One Being masks itself in numerous names and forms which are all ultimately the same. Such a monolithic group is incompatible with the image of the Aryans as nomads, who as a scattered and disorganized group could not have had such a uniform idea of their own identity and been able to impose it upon a larger population of more civilized peoples.

The Aryan invasion theory is an example of European colonialism turned into an historical model. Its simplicity is compelling but also questionable. Race and language are not the only factors in the development of civilization. Religious or economic factors, which cut across racial and linguistic divisions, often overwhelm them. For example, ancient Mesopotamia had a number of ethnic groups, people of different language families, a composite of many religions, and yet many common cultural elements can be found through the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations of the region.

This monolithic race/language approach to history appears to be overly simplistic, particularly in the twentieth century wherein the pluralism of culture (a common Hindu idea) is becoming recognized. The history of a subcontinent like India is likely to be much more complex than such facile stereotypes.

Migration theories were in vogue in nineteenth and early twentieth century thought, which had witnessed the great migrations from Europe to America. Any new cultural innovation discovered in archeology was made the product of a new migration. A new pottery style found in a culture was attributed to a new people coming into the area. However migration is usually not the main factor in social change, which usually occurs owing to internal factors. Otherwise we would have to explain the invasion or migration of the computer people to explain current changes in civilization! Now archaeologists are moving away from such migration theories and looking more for the internal factors that could cause such changes. If such internal factors can be found - such as is the case in ancient India which shows an internal continuity of cultural developments going back to the pre-historic era - a migration is not necessary.

We should note that Vedic literature, with its many Gods and Goddesses who can be identified freely with one another (what Max Muller called henotheism), is clearly the product of a pluralistic culture and world view, not that of a monolithic culture (which Hinduism has never produced in the historical period either). Unity-in-multiplicity is the basic theme of the Vedas which state "That which is the One Truth the seers speak in many ways (Rig Veda I.164)." This is not the philosophy of militant nomads but of a mature cultural complex in which many different cultural elements have been interwoven. Simplistic invasion/migration theories reducing cultural developments to movements of narrowly defined groups of people appear now to be out of date, and certainly do not mirror the Vedic view of the universe.