Aryan invasion theory

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-==External links==+,
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-#[ Update on the Aryan Invasion Theory] Koenraad Elst's online book.+
-#[ The Myth of the Aryan Invasion]+
-#[ Indus Valley Rig-Vedic Connection] Archaeologist B.B.Lal presents visual evidence.+
-#[ DMOZ listing]+
-#[ From A Tribute to Hindusim - compilation]+
-#[ The Aryan question revisited] by Romila Thapar +
-#[ Cache of Seal Impressions Discovered in Western India ] +
-#[ Central Asia 2000-1000BC]+
- +
-[[Category:Indian history]][[Category:Indo-European]][[Category:Eurasian nomads]]+
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-[[nl:Arische invasietheorie]]+
-[[sv:Ariska invasionsteorin]]+

Revision as of 17:59, 21 Nov 2020

Indo-European languages
Albanian | Anatolian
Armenian | Baltic | Celtic
Germanic | Greek | Indo-Iranian
Italic | Slavic | Tocharian
Language | Society | Religion
Kurgan | Yamna | BMAC | Aryan
Indo-European studies

The Aryan invasion theory is a historical theory first put forth by the German Indologist Friedrich Max Müller and others in the mid nineteenth century in order to provide a historical explanation for the existence of Indo-European languages in India. According to the most common version of the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), the Aryans originated in South Russia and Eastern Ukraine, from where they invaded or migrated to Iran, India, Central Asia, and Europe.

The theory itself has a complex history — initial acceptance, subsequent modifications, and currently new challenges in terms of counter theories. No single conclusive theory now prevails. Rather, combinations of theories are generally accepted.



Genetics and Archaeogenetics

The recent advances in Archaeogenetics have some interesting results for the Aryan invasion theory but are still in the early stages. Genetic study shows that Indian population as a whole has little similarity to other areas of supposed Indo-European settlement, indicating there was no mass settlement. Indian maternal DNA is generally similar right across the country indicating that the mass of population has been in place there for a long period. [1] (

More recent results (Kivsild et al. 2003b, see also Cordeaux et al. 2003) show that the combined results from mtDNA, Y-chromosome and autosomal genes indicate that "Indian tribal and caste populations derive largely from the same genetic heritage of Pleistocene southern and western Asians and have received limited gene flow from external regions since the Holocene."

The Haplogroup R1a has been previously linked with the ancient Kurgans and/or Indo-Europeans of southern Russia/Ukraine, who supposedly migrated to Europe, central Asia and India between 3000-1000 BC. (Passarino et al. 2001; Quintana-Murci et al. 2001; Wells et al. 2001). However, the high frequency of R1a found in Punjab and in the South Indian Chenchu tribe, together with a highter R1a-associated STR diversity in India and Iran compared with Europe and central Asia, indicates that R1 and R1a differentiation may have originated in South or West Asia.(Kivisild 2003b) The defining M17 mutation has also been found in several South Indian tribes (Kivisild 2003b, Ramana et al. 2001, Wells et al. 2001). Stephen Oppenheimer, who reports upon the results of the Human Genome Diversity Project in his book "The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey out of Africa, (p.152)" comments these findings with the conclusion that: "For me and for Toomas Kivisild, South Asia is logically the ultimate origin of M17 and his ancestors; (...),thus undermining any theory of M17 as a marker of a `male Aryan Invasion of India'." Oppenheimer further believes that it is highly suggestive that India is the birthplace of the Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups which he calls the Eurasian Eves. He believes that it is highly probable that nearly all human maternal lineages in Europe (and similarly in East Asia) descended from only four mtDNA lines that originated in South Asia 50'000-10'000 years ago.

The neolithic spread of farmers to Europe from Levant/Middle East has also been linked to 12f2 (haplogroup 9) and the markers M35 (haplogroup 21) and M201. But while M35 is present in Europe, Anatolia, South Caucasus and Iran, Indians generally do not have the Alu insertion in their Y chromosomes. The lack of YAP+chromosomes in India suggests that M35 appeared in the Middle East only after a migration from Iran to India had taken place, but earlier than the later migration of near- and middle eastern farmers to Europe. (Kivisild 2003a)

Since virtually all central asian haplogroups of M seem to belong to the Mongolian, and not the Indian type of haplogroup M, this indicates that no large-scale migration from the present Turkish-speaking populations of Central Asia to India could have occurred. (Kivisild 2000)

According to a study by Bamshad et al. (2001), higher caste Telugus have a higher frequency of haplogroup 3(R1a1) than lower castes, Haplogroup 3 is also characteristic of eastern Europeans. However, further studies have revealed that a high frequency of haplogroup 3 occurs in about half of the male population of northwestern India and is also frequent in western Bengal. These results, together with the fact that haplogroup 3 is much less frequent in Iran and Anatolia than it is in India, indicates that haplogroup 3 among high caste Telugus must not necessarly have originated from eastern Europeans. The high diversity of haplogroup 3 and 9 in India suggests that these haplogroups may have originated in India. (Kivisild 2003a)


The linguistic facts of the situation are little disputed; however, their historical interpretation is contentious. Most linguists interpret them as implying an Aryan migration into India; the linguistic arguments provide no data that would determine whether this migration was peaceful or invasive, and different linguists have argued for either or for a combination of both on extra-linguistic grounds. However, some historians contest this interpretation, and conversely advocate either an Indian origin for the speakers of Proto-Indo-European or a more ancient advent of its Indo-Aryan branch.

Most of the languages of north India belong to a single family, the Indo-Aryan subgroup of the Indo-European family of languages. The languages of south India belong to a different linguistic family, the Dravidian languages, which has not been proven to be linked with any other language family. While Dravidian languages are primarily confined to the south of India, there is a striking exception: the Brahui (which is spoken in parts of Baluchistan), the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages. The Elamite language, an extinct language of southwestern Iran, has also often been linked to Dravidian (in a proposed Elamo-Dravidian or Zagrosian family); if this turns out to be true, it would even more strongly imply a more northerly former distribution of the Dravidian languages.

Linguists have several rules of thumb they use to gauge the place of origin of a family. One is that the area of highest linguistic diversity of a language family is usually fairly close to the area of its origin; thus, for example, while most speakers of Germanic languages live in the United States, the highest diversity of Germanic languages is found in northern Europe. By this criterion, India seems to be an exceedingly unlikely candidate for the origin of the Indo-European languages — it has only one Indo-European subfamily, Indo-Aryan, not counting recent introductions of European languages — and eastern Europe appears much more promising; conversely, the highest diversity in Dravidian is found among its northern branches. However, extinctions of unrecorded languages may affect this measure.

Another linguistic rule of thumb is that the earliest members of the family to diverge are usually found near the place of origin; the earliest member of Indo-European to diverge appears to have been the Anatolian languages, as Hittite grammar's many peculiarities (including an animate/inanimate gender system which appears to predate the three-gender system reconstructed for the rest of Indo-European) show. The second major divide is often considered to be the centum versus satem divide, a sound shift affecting palatals. Both types are found in Europe, but only satem languages appear to be found in India (with the possible exception of Bangani; see below.) For reasons such as these, most linguists believe Indo-European to have originated somewhere around the Black Sea: a favorite candidate is the Kurgan culture.

The presence of retroflex consonants (including L) in Vedic Sanskrit is generally taken by linguists to indicate the influence of a non-Indo-European speaking substratum population, since these sounds are found throughout Dravidian and Munda and are reconstructed for proto-Dravidian and proto-Munda, but are not reconstructable for proto-Indo-European — nor even proto-Indo-Iranian — and are extremely rare among other Indo-European languages (they phonetically emerged in Swedish and Norwegian only in recent centuries, as a result of combinations with r.) This argument is strengthened by the presence of words with Dravidian and Munda etymologies in Sanskrit, argued to be borrowings from a previous Dravidian and Munda population, or substratum; some of these etymologies have been challenged, though most have not.

While, to many, all of this may clearly suggest an Indo-European migration into India, critics of the Aryan invasion theory note that this does not automatically imply a migration at 1500 BC from the North-West. Any migration could have occurred much earlier and may not have resulted in any conflict; see Colin Renfrew. They also argue that the "substratum" influences from Dravidian and Munda could equally well be adstratum influences through mutual contact without conquest.

The presence of words describing a temperate climate in Proto-Indo-European — such as a root for "snow" — has also been taken as evidence against the theory of Indian origin for Indo-European; however, this argument is weak, since the Himalayan foothills have a temperate climate.

The argument from the centum/satem divide has been challenged: in the 1980s, Claus-Peter Zoller announced the discovery of apparent traces of a centum language in the Bangani language of the western Himalayas. However, George van Driem and Suhnu Sharma later went there to do further fieldwork [2] (, and claim that it is in fact a satem language, and that Zoller's data were flawed. Zoller does not accept this [3] ([4] (, and claims that their data was flawed. The question is unlikely to be resolved without further fieldwork.

Indo-Europeanists note that the names of several temperate-climate flora and fauna — for instance the salmon and the beech tree — seem to be reconstructible for proto-Indo-European; critics note that the meaning of these words varies from branch to branch, and consider the exact referent of the terms to be as yet unestablished. Proponents of the claim that Indo-European originated in India note that Sanskrit names of purely Indian animals have IE etymologies: mayUra for peacock; vyAghra for tiger; mahiSa for buffalo; pRshatI for spotted deer; iBha and hastin for elephant. Critics note that these names appear to be derived rather than basic words — for instance, hastin is Sanskrit for "having a hand" (i.e. its trunk) — and that they cannot be reconstructed for proto-Indo-European (unsurprisingly, since one would expect such words to have been lost by people traveling to regions without peacocks and elephants.)

However, the early formation of political states also affects the distribution of languages. The Punjab was in historical times settled by Iranians (Zoroastrian texts state Iranian (Aryan) lands stretched from Iran to the Punjab and Sind), Greeks, Kushans (replacing Greeks and their language), and Huns yet Indo-Aryan languages dominate, probably due to dominance of later Indian empires and states. Hence in regions where Persian and Indian empires dominated many languages died out. This process can be seen in the elimination of Saka and Tocharian languages through the influence of Persians, Buddhism (spreading Prakit language), and Turks.


A major hurdle with the hermeneutics of the Vedic age is the complexity of the scripture and the Vedic language itself. At the least, a passing knowledge of Vedic Sanskrit is required and scholars who rely solely on translations inherit mistranslations and any prejudices that may be present in the translator's commentaries. Fortunately, the Rig Veda is easy to understand with some knowledge of classical Sanskrit.

A major argument offered against identifying the Indus Valley civilization with a continuous, indigenous Vedic civilization is that the society described in the Vedas is primarily a pastoral one, whereas the Indus Valley civilization was heavily urbanized, and that few of the elements of such an urban civilization (e.g., temple structures, sewage systems) are described in the Vedas. However, proponents of continuity note that the Rig Veda does contain some phrases referring to elements of an urban civilization: city's lord [Rig Veda 1:173], shrine [Rig Veda 9:113], ship with a hundred oars [Rig Veda 1:116] and iron forts [10:101]. Frequent references to the ocean and large tracts of water are also suggested as indicating the idea of continuity, since the most obvious route for IE-speakers to have entered India by would have been through the sea-less inland areas of Afghanistan; although the steppes of Russia (often proposed as an origin for Indo-European) border on two seas, and Central Asia contains two seas, proponents of continuity argue that the people would have forgotten such ideas on their route. They also note that a primarily pastoral society does not exclude the existence of urbanisation, especially since the Vedic books appear to have been composed over a long period of gradual change, rather than being a snapshot of society at one particular moment.

Proponents of continuity state that evidence in the Vedas points to a considerably earlier dating of the text. As an example, they argue that the positions of stars described in the Vedas occurred in 3500 to 4000 BC and point out that there is no account in the text of an invasion, of a great migration, or of an ancestral homeland in Central Asia.

There is, as well, considerable description of a river Saraswati. Recent geological evidence (taken from satellite photographs) has uncovered the existence of a dry riverbed — the Hakra River — going through the Punjab area in the Indian subcontinent.

A few historians believe this river is the Saraswati described in the Vedas. Many of the archaeological Indus Valley sites lie along the remains of this riverbed, suggesting that the Indus Valley civilization may have flourished between these two rivers. Before or around 1900 BC, however, the Hakra river appears to have dried up (due to earthquakes and the shifting of the path of the tributary Yamuna river, which turned from feeding the Hakra to feeding the Ganges), causing the decline of the Indus Valley civilization.

Opponents of continuity argue that the identification of the Saraswati with the Hakra would lead to inconsistencies, and that the Saraswati is very probably a particular river in Afghanistan, which is known to have had a similar name. They also point to the linguistic and religious similarities between the Vedas and early Iranian sacred literature such as the Avesta, as well as the earlier Mitannian kings of Syria. The languages and the names of gods are very similar and both involve the ritual drinking of Soma. Proponents of continuity retort that it could have been Indian people that moved from India to Iran and interacted with, or founded, the Zoroastrians.

The issue might be settled definitively by the deciphering of the many seals found at Indus Valley sites, which are written with an unknown script. If the language of these seals turned out to be Dravidian or Munda (or any other non-IE language group), this would confirm the theory that an indigenous culture was supplanted by an outside one. (However note the adoption of Aramaic as the official language of the historically IE speaking Persian empire without any such invasion/migration). If it were Indo-Aryan it would support the alternative claim. What the script says would also be of great significance, shedding new light on the Indus Valley culture and possibly on ancient movements within the Indian subcontinent. However, the Indus Valley script remains undeciphered; several decipherments have been proposed — the best-known being Parpola's which interprets it as Dravidian, although some others interpret it as an early form of Sanskrit — but none has been widely accepted among scholars, and the sparseness of the corpus makes it difficult to test such claims. Many writers now suggest that it may not have been a form of writing after all, but simply a set of signs [5] (


Influence in theology

Certain modern theories of the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism as they are known today are based around the Aryan invasion theory. In particular there are theories that Soma and Amrita were plants which were used by tribes in the Russian steppes; that they were essential to the Aryan religion but did not grow in India; and that this absence led to the development of "spiritual" versions of the substances and a more organized religious system. Differences between 'Aryan' (north Indian) and 'Dravidian' (south Indian) religious practices have also been explained by reference to the theory.

Some Hindu thinkers have reacted against the theory on spiritual rather than historical grounds, claiming it to be 'materialistic'. Sri Aurobindo denies the Aryan invasion theory in his works. He writes: "But the indications in the Veda on which this theory of a recent Aryan invasion is built, are very scanty in quantity and uncertain in their significance. There is no actual mention of any such invasion..."(Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1971; pp. 23-4)




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