Origins of the Aryan-Dravidian divide
by N S Rajaram on 20 Jul 2018 6 Comments

Science on Aryans and Dravidians


Even fifty years after independence, it is unfortunate but true that Indians continue to view themselves and their history through colonial glasses. The education system for the most part continues to be based on the Macaulayite model. This is especially so in subjects like history, which include long discredited theories like the Aryan invasion and the Aryan-Dravidian conflicts. What is the truth? Here is what science has to say.


A recently published study comparing the genetic composition of Western Eurasian and Indian populations shows that the supposed Aryan invasion of India 3000 to 4000 years ago postulated by historians in the nineteenth century, and still found in many textbooks, is contradicted by genetics. In articles that appeared in the British journal Current Biology, T.R. Disotell, T. Kivisild and their co-workers observe that the “supposed Aryan invasion of India 3000 – 4000 years ago was much less significant than is generally believed.” A key mitochondrial DNA of the Western Eurasian strain accounts for at most 5.2 percent in Indian populations as compared to 70 percent in Europe. This rules out a recent common origin as postulated by the ‘Aryan invasion’. Any split that occurred from a common population must have taken place more than 50,000 years ago, according to the study.


This is in agreement with other genetic data, showing that there were major migrations out of Africa into Southeast Asia at approximately the same time. It is worth noting that according to a widely accepted theory, humans evolved in Africa and spread into other parts of the world beginning about 100,000 years ago. This was during the last Ice Age, when much of the Northern Hemisphere was uninhabitable due to extreme cold. The Puranas also record that during an extended cold period, people from all parts of the world sought shelter in India in caves and rock shelters. This goes to explain the presence of ancient cave- and rock art at places like Bhimbetka in Central India.


Here is something really interesting. The authors of the genetic study note that this West Eurasian strain is not only insignificant, but also present in roughly the same proportions in North and South India. This means that there is no correlation between the languages of the population and their supposed Eurasian origin. The ‘Aryan invasion’ theory holds that ancestors of speakers of ‘Aryan’ languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and others were Eurasian invaders, whereas speakers of ‘Dravidian’ languages of South India (like this writer) were the original inhabitants of India. The genetic study contradicts this by showing both to have the same insignificant proportion of the West Eurasian DNA strain. So, according to science, there is no Aryan-Dravidian divide.


The recent reading of the Indus script shows that these findings are in agreement with findings from archaeology. Natwar Jha and I have read more than 2000 Harappan seals and they show that the Vedic literature already existed by 3000 BC. The iconography of Harappan seals is definitely Vedic.


The literary evidence of the Rigveda also contradicts any invasion from Eurasia. Some recent attempts to place the Rigvedic land in Afghanistan are seriously misguided. The Rigveda describes an established maritime society in which references to the ocean, ships and navigation are very common. It is not easy to see how such a society could flourish in land-locked Afghanistan. All in all both science and literature shatter the notion of any Aryan invasion. It is one of the aberrations of scholarship that belongs to what Robert A. Millikan called ‘pathological science’. Let us next look at its history and politics.


Aryans according themselves


The first point to note is that the idea of Aryans and Dravidians as separate, even mutually hostile people is of very recent origin. It is a creation of European scholars of the colonial era, having no basis in Indian history or literature. The Amarakosha, the authoritative lexicon of the Sanskrit language (5th century AD) defines Arya as mahakula kulinarya sabhya sajjana sadhavah. This means that an Arya is one who hails from a distinguished family and conducts himself with decency and gentleness. According to the Rigveda the “children of Arya follow the light”, meaning they seek enlightenment. It has nothing to do with race, language or nationality. (Sanskrit has no word for race.)


This fact - that the Aryan-Dravidian theory was of recent origin - was noted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar also. As he wrote: “All the princes, whether they belonged to the so-called Aryan race or the so-called Dravidian race, were Aryas. Whether a tribe or a family was racially Aryan or Dravidian was a question that never troubled the people of India, until foreign scholars came in and began to draw the line.”


This is supported also by the Manusmriti, another ancient authority. It tells us that Dravidians (in the geographic sense) are also Aryans who at one time had fallen from the Aryan fold when they stopped following certain Vedic practices and rituals. (Was this the reason that Sage Agastya went south of the Vindhyas, taking Vedic knowledge with him?) The Manusmriti has been revised many times to reflect changes in society and practices. In one place it describes Arya Desha as: “The land bounded by the mountain of Reva (Narmada), the Eastern Sea (Bay of Bengal) and the Western Sea (Arabian Sea) is Arya Desha. This is the land where black-skinned deer roam freely.” That is to say, the Manusmriti identifies Arya Desha as none other than Peninsular India, which includes Dravidians. It also tells us that the inhabitants of this country are exemplary Aryans, worthy of emulation by all.


What this means is that the terms ‘Arya’ and ‘Aryadesha’ were assigned to people and their habitat depending on their conduct and culture - and not race or language. This also means that the assignment could change depending on whether the people had lapsed from their expected standards of behaviour. So at the time when this passage in the Manusmriti was composed, the people of Peninsular India were considered exemplary Aryans. And this was because of their conduct - not language or race.


‘Race science’: Colonial-missionary politics


The notion of Aryan and Dravidian as separate races, though a colonial European imposition, continues to influence intellectual discourse in India. This is unfortunate because it rests on scientifically discredited beliefs. Writing as far back as 1939, Sir Julian Huxley, one of the great natural scientists of the century, observed: “In England and America the phrase ‘Aryan race’ has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature. In Germany, the idea of the ‘Aryan’ race received no more scientific support than in England. Nevertheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it appear very flattering to local vanity. It therefore steadily spread, fostered by special conditions.”


Huxley was referring of course to the rise of Nazism around the notion of the Aryan race. It should make one suspicious of the motives of the English, who, while denouncing racial theories in Europe, continued to classify their Indian subjects along racial lines. It was simply a politically convenient tool in their ‘divide and rule’ strategy. They appealed to the vanity of one group to make them feel superior to others (but still inferior to the English). They knew well that it had no scientific basis, but found it a convenient tool for use in India!


The British were by no means the only colonists to indulge in such propaganda in the name of ‘science’. This idea of dividing a conquered people in the name of ‘race science’ was a standard ploy of colonial officials and Christian missionaries. Much of the bloodletting in ethnic conflicts in Africa today is due to such mischief.


Speaking of the recent Hutu-Tutsi conflicts, the French anthropologist Jean-Pierre Langellier wrote: “The idea that the Hutus and the Tutsis were physically different was first aired in the 1860s by the British explorer John Speke… The history of Rwanda [like that of much of Africa] has been distorted by Pere Blancs [White Fathers] missionaries, academics and colonial administrators. They made the Tutsis out to be a superior race, which had conquered the region and enslaved the Hutus. …Missionaries taught the Hutus that historical fallacy, which was the result of racist European concepts being applied to an African reality. At the end of the fifties, the Hutus used that discourse to react against the Tutsis.”


Sound familiar? The Aryan-Dravidian conflicts are a carbon copy of the same racist divide, or the ‘convert and conquer’ policy. Fortunately, there is enough indigenous scholarship in India to fight and refute such political charlatanism, though it did succeed in dividing the people into mutually hostile camps. This was mainly due to the patronage extended to them by the ruling authorities - first the British and then the Marxist-dominated Congress. Better sense is now beginning to prevail, though much too slowly. To their eternal disgrace, the ‘Secularist’ and Marxist historians of India and their political allies continue to peddle this racist nonsense. They shall live in infamy.


The basic problem with these race theories is that they are based not on any laws of nature, but man-made classifications that use externally observable features. As one scholar put it: “The race concept has no scientific basis. Given any two individuals one can regard them as belonging to the same race by taking their common genetic characteristics, or, on the contrary, as belonging to different races by emphasizing the genetic characteristic in which they differ.” As an illustration, instead of choosing skin and eye color as defining parameters, if one were to choose height and weight, one would end up with African Zulus and Scandinavians as belonging to the same race. Noting such anomalies, Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, widely regarded as the world’s foremost human geneticist, observed that such external features simply indicate changes due to adaptation to the environment. He points out that the rest of the genetic makeup of the human family hardly differs at all.


The same is true of misconceptions that lie at the root of the Aryan and Dravidian linguistic divide. The idea that different languages of a ‘family’ branched off from a single root language - sometimes called a proto-language - can be traced to the story of the Tower of Babel found in the Bible. Biblical beliefs like the creation of the world on October 23, 4004 BC have had great influence on the interpretation of Indian history and culture by nineteenth century Europeans. The great Max Muller himself admitted this Biblical belief was the reason why he used 1500 BC as the date of the Aryan invasion. W.W. Hunter, another well-known Indologist from the same period, was even more candid when he wrote: “... scholarship is warmed with the holy flame of Christian zeal.” It is a fact that even in linguistics, the study of Dravidian languages has been dominated by Christian missionaries from Bishop Caldwell in the nineteenth century to Father Kamil Zvelebil today. As a result, theological arguments rather than any scientific method are used in propagating their beliefs.


Murray Emeneau, a prominent Dravidian linguist, wrote as recently as 1954: “At some time in the second millennium BC, probably comparatively early in the millennium, a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine, which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it, in spite of the traditional Hindu ignorance of any such invasion.” Such a statement based on faith has no place in science. By no stretch of the imagination can such scholars be called scientific or even objective.


Cultural differences


Culturally the differences that we find between North and South Indian temples can be attributed to the historical experience of the last few centuries. The Islamic onslaught destroyed centers of learning in North India. Alberuni who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni on his campaigns in India wrote: “Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there, wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions. ... Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion of all the Muslims. This is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places, which our hand cannot yet reach.”


A historical fact worth noting is that the last great school of Indian mathematics flourished in faraway Kerala in the 14-15th century, where Madhava and his students worked on problems of Calculus and Infinite Series more than two centuries before Newton and Gregory. India before the coming of Islam had many great centers of learning. Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Sarnath and many more used to attract students from all over the world. Following the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, for the next six hundred years, not a center of learning worth the name was established. (I leave out Islamic theological centers.) It was only in the nineteenth century that universities began to reappear. Even Jantar Mantar, the observatory in Delhi, was set up by a Hindu prince and not the Moghuls.


It is a historical fact that the influence of Islam has been much greater in the North than in the South. This resulted in a loss of tradition and skills, which had to be more or less re-acquired, beginning in the 18th century. The main influence in the north has been of the Moghul Empire, while in the south it has been that of the Vijayanagar Empire and its successors like the kingdoms of Mysore, Travancore and Thanjavur. It would be a serious error to project this back into early history - something like projecting back the Portuguese influence on Goa into the remote past.


At the same time, the differences should not be exaggerated. For instance, in Kashmir, priests are recruited from Karnataka, while temples in Nepal have priests from Kerala. The very fact that Shankaracharya established centers in all corners of India shows that he was not considered an outsider by North Indians in those days.

All this brings us back to politics as the main contributor to the Aryan-Dravidian divide, including linguistics. The originator of the Dravidian language theory was Bishop Caldwell, the author of the highly influential Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages (1856, 1875). He placed Dravidian languages in what he called the Scythian Language Family. When another linguist (Gover) criticized Caldwell for his unsound theories about the Scythian family and Dravidian languages, it drew the following response: “It would have been well, if Mr. Gover had made himself sure of perfectly apprehending Dr. Caldwell’s Scythic theory before regarding its refutation ... as not only of considerable moment from a philological point of view but of vast moral and political importance.”


By ‘moral and political’, he obviously meant Christian missionary and British colonial interests. To the disgrace of Indian education authorities and self-styled secularist scholars, this is still the version of history taught in Indian schools.



-        Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization by Navaratna Rajaram and David Frawley. New Delhi: Voice of India, (4th edition).

-        ‘The Vedic Dravidians’ in A Hindu View of the World by N.S. Rajaram (1998), New Delhi: Voice of India.

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