Tag Archives: Indian

On Arya , Aryan , Sarasvathi and other issues

This was initially written in response to comments from Mr. Kushwaha concerning a number of issues arising out of Bharatha_Varsha and Bharathas.

I am posting this at the suggestion of Riverine , to invite further comments from others on the Forum.

I suggest, read Bharatha_Varsha and Bharathas  before proceeding with this post.

Please read on..

1. Aryan 

The question of race, particularly the Aryan race is a messy one. It is one of those famous “False problems”. Let us start from the other end and clear the deck.

Aryan is an English word derived from the Vedic Sanskrit and Iranian Avestan terms Ari-, Arya-, Ariya-, and it’s another form Aryana. The Sanskrit and Old Persian languages both pronounced the word as Arya. The term came widely into use (misuse) early in 19th century. How it came to be developed and later how the British and others hijacked it is an interesting story.

Aryan theory was, initially, developed by Danish and German scholars of the romanticism era, like R. Rask and F. Bopp (1816) . The German linguists such as the Leipzig Junggrammatiker school members further developed it. The theory of an immigration into or invasion of South Asia by speakers of Indo Aryan language based on the familiar concept of the Hunnic and Germanic invasions of the Roman empire, emerged late in the 19th century.

The British latched on to the theory of an invasion by superior Indo Aryan speaking Āryas (‘‘Aryan invasion theory’’) as a means to justify British policy and their own intrusion into India and their subsequent colonial rule. In both cases (Hunnic/Germanic and British), a ‘white race’ was subduing the local darker-colored population. In a single stroke  AIT  negated the legacy and traditions of entire subcontinent; and  told them they lived on borrowed glory.

Further, the British also employed it, as a tool of their “divide and rule” policy, to drive a wedge between the various groups in the Indian people, by propagating that the Aryan invaders from Central Asia destroyed the native civilization and enslaved the native population. The strategy was to set one class / region against another and let them fight it out. The then Viceroy of India Lord Curzon called this policy “furniture of the Empire.” Sir Winston Churchill opposed any policy tending towards decolonization on the ground: “We have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the Depressed Classes who are the native stock”. The British trick/strategy did work and many groups within India supported the British on both the counts and stated quarreling among themselves. Since then the debate on the racial character of the term “Aryan” gathered pace and chugged along.

During the early thirties, the “Aryan” found unexpected supporters in the form of Nazis who employed it as a racial term designating the purest segment of the White race. Nazis put the theory into a highly destructive operation . The holocaust that followed is rather too well known to be recounted here.

The Nazis pointed out to the British that Nazis were doing exactly the thing they (British) themselves were doing in India, subjugating an inferior race. Nazi schoolbooks included lessons on British rule in India . This caught the British on wrong foot. British were embarrassed to find themselves bracketed with Nazis. The British spin-doctors then came up with an explanation that that the Indians were “brown Aryans” and there was no subjugation of Indian people. The British thereafter soft peddled the Aryan theory and slowly receded from it.

In the mean time, things came to a full circle in Persia. An off shoot of this debate was that Persia woke up to its history and decided in March 1935 to call itself Iran , derived from “Arya“, “Aariyā“. We may recall that Darius the Great, King of Persia (521-486 BC), had  proclaimed:

2. (8-15.) I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage.”

Having re- discovered his roots the then Shah warmed up to his newfound brethren, the other Aryans, the Nazis. The British were not amused with this blossoming camaraderie; and, promptly snubbed Iran. Later in 1959, Iran came up with a statement that names Iran and Persia could be used interchangeably. However, since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the official name of the country is “Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Because of its association with Nazi propaganda and the stigma that stuck to it, the word “Aryan” is no longer in technical use. Presently, white people go under the label Caucasian. Even in Linguistics, “Indo-European” replaces Aryan.

Now, the infamous AIT – the Aryan Invasion theory stands largely discarded.

Let us leave it at that.

2. Race

The term Arya, either in Sanskrit or Avesthan, has always meant “noble”. Amara_Kosha (2.6.812), the Sanskrit lexicon, explains the term as “sabhya” “sajjana” and “Sadhu“– meaning a gentleman (sabhya-sajjana-sādhavaḥ). Arya is a term used by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis, to mean noble or spiritual. The Vedic Aryans called themselves Arya in the Rig-Veda. Besides Iran, the Éire, the Irish name of Ireland; and Ehre (German for “honor”) are related to the term Arya. The Afghan airline is Aryana; named after the original name of that country. Many children in Iran are named Iran-dokht, Aryan pour etc. based on the term Arya. Similarly, the South Indian names like, Ponna_iah, Subba_iah or Ayya_sami etc. carry its cognate iah to assign respect to the name. The term, obviously, is employed in the context of culture than race

In all these cases, the people of those countries, belonging to various ethnic groups , preferred to associate with the term Arya to signify that they were a noble and a respected people . There were no racial tags attached to it.

Some say Rig-Veda too does not employ the term in a racial sense. According to Shrikant Talageri, among the tribes mentioned, most of whom of same race; Rig Veda refers to Purus and especially to Bharathas as Aryans. It is, therefore, a matter of regard and respect than of race.

I learn that in Manu Smrithi even Chinese were called Aryans. The South Indian Kings called themselves Aryans and those of whom that established kingdoms in South East Asia also called themselves Aryans.(to check with azygos)

Sri Aurobindo did not like the use of the term race in this context. He said, “I prefer not to use the term race, for race is a thing much more difficult to determine than is usually imagined.”

According to Michel Wetzel, designation of a particular race to people speaking a language is an aberration of the 19th and 20th century

Eva Nthoki Mwanika while commenting on the race of the Egyptian people said, ”The Egyptians did not recognize “race” with in the same context or definition in which modern society recognizes it and that, the division of humankind into races as understood in the modern sense is a recent phenomenon.” She went on to say, we are trying to impose a modern term “race” on an ancient people who had a non-racial self-perception and a different worldview.

I presume we can safely echo the views of Ms. Mwanika in the Aryan context as well.

As regards the Buddha,  he used the term Ariya any number of times. Sometimes he used the term to imply, “one who strives upward”, and that is to say the noble ones. He used the term Anariya to mean ignoble or vulgarFor instance he called extreme indulgence or extreme austerity as anariya and anatta samhita (futile). Most other times the term “ariya” was used to mean “noble”. For instance ariya sacchani (noble truths) and ariya patha (eightfold aryan path or the noble path).

In the later forms of Buddhism, the path to enlightenment is graduated into four stages. The arahat (the fourth stage of realization) is a fully enlightened being, having extinguished all defilements. The sotapanna (first stage of realization, also sotapatti-magga-nana) has uprooted wrong view but still has other defilement. The sakadagami and anagami are at the second and third stage of realization, respectively. All four are called ariyas, that is, noble.

There is a section in the pali cannon (tipitaka) in which the Buddha talks about himself. That section is titled ariya_pariyesana sutta. Similarly, in the Buddhist traditions of Burma and Sri Lanka , the future Buddha is generally referred to as ariya metteyya, the noble metteyya.

In the context I mentioned above, both the terms arya and aryan were  exclusively psychological terms or adjectives  denoting  noble or virtuous , and having very little to do with birth, race, or nationality.

3. Sarasvathi

As you mentioned, itis generally accepted that the SarasvatI represents the geographical heartland of the Vedic Aryan civilization. You are echoing the often-repeated statementthat while Rig Veda mentions the Ganga only once, it lauds the great Sarasvati fifty times. Yes, I agree, it is so.

As I mentioned in my post, the Rig Veda has a certain geographical horizon. It projects a land of seven great rivers bounded by ocean and many mountains. This mainly represents the geographical sphere of the Bharatas and their neighbors. Rig Veda is not talking about entire Bharatha Varsha. The geographical horizon of Rig Veda is confined to the Sarasvathi valley, the heartland of Puru/Bharatha country.

Further, the Purus and especially the Bharathas are the protagonists of Rig Veda. It extols their relations, their rituals, their Gods, their battles and their victories etc. The geography of the of the Rig Veda is therefore limited to the Sapta Sindhu region, the land of thePurus \ Bharathas ,who are the real Aryans of the Rig Veda.

In short;  Rig Veda is mainly the story of Purus/Bharathas. Naturally, Rig Veda speaks all the while about their land, their rivers, their mountains etc. It does not mean that the other parts of Bharatha Varsha (as you mentioned, the Ganga and others) did not exist. Those regions just did not figure in the Puru/Bharatha story. In fact, some of the Purus of Rig Veda hailed from what is now the U.P. region (e.g. Sudyumna).Rig Veda frequently refers to the Puru clan as children of Nahusha. This Nahusha was the father of Yayathi and ruled the in the Gangetic region.

(Interestingly, Nahash in old Hebrew means serpent. I am not suggesting any connection).

That is the reason, why there are not many references to the Ganga in Rig Veda. The position as explained, I presume, answers your question.

The range of the Puranas, on the other hand, is much wider .They speak of other regions of Jambu_dvipa/Bharatha Varsha, other Kings, their histories, as well. The Puranas are part history and part epic. The style of their narration is more relaxed and elaborate.


kassette mittani

Earlier we spoke of migration from North West into the Punjab region. Now, let us look at the, migration that might probably have taken place in the other direction.

The slow death and eventual disappearance of the mighty Sarasvathi also signified the end of the civilization associated with the Sarasvathi valley. The geo physical surveys and other studies suggest that around 1600 BC a massive drought struck the Sarasvathi region. That, and possible shift in the land lead to disappearance of the Sarasvathi. It was perhaps a part of a wider phenomenon that swept the other regions too. The people of the Sarasvathi valley, naturally, migrated to other regions. From a throbbing account of living generations, Rig Veda turned into memories of a lost heartland. A Camelot lost.

The disappearance of Sarasvathi valley civilization is a very important landmark in the history of Bharatha Varsha.

The presence of the Indo -Aryan kings of the Mittani and the Kassite dynasties, who worshiped Vedic deities, in the Babylonian region , during 1600 to 1300 BC , points to the possibility of migration of Vedic people from the plains of Punjab, following the collapse of the Sarasvathi valley civilization.

It is evident from the names of some of the Miittani and Kassite Kings and Generals (Kart-ashura,Biry-ashura,Sim-ashura,Kalm-ashura etc.) that they belonged to the early Rig Vedic times when the Asuras were the older set of gods; and when the sharp distinction between Asurasand Devas had not yet come into being ; and when the Asuraswere not yet a denigrated lot in the Vedic texts.

It is also evident that the Indo –Aryan kings were a minority among a population who spoke a different language.

It is remarkable how in the distant past , the Vedic people migrated from Punjab to the regions of Mesopotamia and Egypt .

(There is theory that suggests , Nefertiti (c.1400 BC) married to Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV was a Mittani princess , daughter of an Indo Aryan King)

(For more on Mittani and Kassite kingdoms and Rig Veda , Gathas ; please view-

“Rig Veda and Gathas re visited” @ )

4. Bharatha_Varsha / Arya_Vartha

I think you got into knots over the Bharatha_Varsha and Arya_Vartha . Let me clarify.

As discussed in the post the name Bharatha_Varsha came into vogue at the time of the Emperor Bharatha who was fifth or sixth in line from Swayabhuva Manu, the first Manu. The various Purans and texts have described the extent of Bharatha _Varsha as extending from the ocean in the South to the snowy mountains.

As regards Arya_vartha, the term might have come into use, at best, in Vedic times, in the manvantara of Vaivaswata Manu, the seventh Manu. There is, therefore, a huge time gap between the two occurrences. I do not even hazard a guess to measure the gap.

At times, it is used to refer to the Rig Vedic geography and at other times to the Ganga Valley. Sometimes, it amorphously referred to what we call India.

Bharatha Varsha, even in the times of Mauryas was larger in area than the present India . Kautila called it Chakravarthi Kshetra. It was before Asoka’s time.

Bharatha _Varsha has always been a nation even from the epic times overwhelming the political subdivisions.


Thank you





Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History


Tags: , , ,