Invasion or Migration? The great big Aryan question

The Aryans

The Aryans are one of the most influential and yet mysterious people of the ancient world.

There are many theories regarding the origins of the Aryans. The two most popular ones questioning if they originated somewhere from the West (between Danube and Oxus), or if they were already in the region itself at Sapta Sindhu (modern day Punjab). This mystery is further perpetuated by the fact that they spoke a language that incorporated elements of both the East and the West, consisting of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin. This caused them to be classified as Indo- Europeans and highlighted their amalgamation of different influences.

As a result, there are great misconceptions about who the Aryans are, what they have done, and their impact on society today. The root of this stemming from their questionable introduction to the Indus Valley and how it’s changed the civilization. Thus, reshaping its culture, language and religions, while birthing new globalones that are predominant today.

Despite the great changes, there is little known about this civilization. Due to the lack of primary evidence, there are still many misconceptions about them. In this post we shall be discussing about the two most common theories regarding their movement into the Indus Valley and its effects.

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Fig 1.1 Map of the Indus Valley Civilization
Jane McIntosh, Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase (2600-1900 BCE) (4 June 2014).CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aryan Invasion

The most common hypothesis of the Aryan migration is that they entered the Indus Valley region between 1500 BCE - 2000 BCE, around the time the Harappan Civilization began to decline. It’s declination along with the region's abundant rainfall and attractive agricultural prospects gave the Aryans a strong incentive to take over.

Which they then did.

During the takeover, they were said to have disregarded the culture of the locals, implementing their own instead and taking control of the Northern Indian regions.

However, what if I told you that the Aryan Invasion Theory could be completely false?

Aryan Migration

Research has shown that the Aryans were present in the region even before the civilization began to diminish, and that they did not forcefully conquer any city at all. Instead, they were shown to be peaceful assimilators into the land, directly challenging the Aryan Invasion Theory.

Fig 1.2 Aryans Settling in India

Hutchinson, Aryans Settling in India, Unknown,  CC-PD-Mark

For years, people have been believing the commercially accepted information fed to them which was proven to be sadly fictional and, intentional.  The Aryans were said to have arrived in 1500 BCE but according to ancient Vedas and scripts, they were known to be the inhabitants there for a long time prior to that

The fact that most of history accepts it as otherwise can be due to the theory spawned by a secret meeting in 1866 at the Royal Asiatic Society in London. The meeting was held to form an agreement that would intentionally re-write history and make it appear as if the Aryans were “invaders of their own kind”. Therefore, portraying an image which presented the Aryans as beingmore barbaric than their European counterparts,  mainly in regards to their religion.  Through the introduction and diffusion of Christianity, the Europeans hoped to control the region with this religion, replacing the ancient Indian traditions and cultures with their own.

Fig 1.3 Christian Missions and Social Progress

Dennis James S, Christian Missions and Social Progress, (1897). Public Domain.

It was a political move that would make it appear as if India’s heritage and development was due to Europe and its influence. This would then allow the British to maintain control over the Indians under their rule. The British in question were mainly individuals who had a large stake in the British East India Company, which relied heavily on the labour and co-operation of the Indians.

This could be seen to have also been perpetuated by the discovery of Mohenjo-Daro at that time.  The discovery caused the British to become flustered at the rate of advancement of the Indians, and fearful that they may soon realize how oppressed and controlled they were under their foreign rule. Thus, working even harder to convert them to Christianity, regardless of their prior background. This was further supported by Colonel Boden’s explanation for the promotion of Sanskrit learning at Oxford University at that time. It was meant to assist in converting the“natives of India to the Christian religion”.

The sites of the supposed “invasion” show this discrepancy quite clearly as well. It is said that the Aryans had conquered the Dravidians and their lands, which would have left them damaged and destroyed. However, the main residences of the Harappan people are seen to be intact and instead have a merged culture with the Aryans. Which shows peaceful assimilation, rather than an invasion.

 

Fig 1.4 Ruins of Mohenjo-daro

M.Imran, Mohenjodaro Sindh (24 May 2006). CC SA 1.0.

Two Waves

The Aryans were perceived to enter India in two waves. The first wave was around 2000 BCE where they entered through the Kabul valley to Punjab whereas the second wave occurred around 1200 BCE and they made use of the Gilgit, Chitral route to reach the east of Punjab.

The first waves of migrating Aryans belonged to the Rig Vedic culture (describes it’s God to be ‘Destroyers of Cities’). The second group represented Brahmanical culture where they dominated Brahmarshi Desa. The Aryans adopted the agricultural lifestyle after their migration and as a result, usually settled in areas where there were abundant pastures for the animals that they were rearing.
 

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Fig 1.5 Rig Veda Scriptures (Early 19th Century)

 Rig Veda scriptures (Early 19th Century). CC-PD-Mark.

The Aryans also brought the Brahmana. It is essentially a commentary on the mantra portions of the Veda texts and is believed to be the basis of Hinduism. At the same time while the Aryans were migrating through India, there is a high possibility that their religious practices and beliefs influenced and shaped the local religions and traditions.

Impact of the Aryan Migration

Interestingly, before the Aryan migration, horses were not found in India and they were believed to be brought into India by the Aryans during 1500 BCE in which horses are widely used and domesticated during the Harappan Civilisation (disproving the invasion theory) for trading purposes.

The Aryans also expanded their territory of influence through the creation of a caste system for the Aryans to separate themselves from those who originated from the Indus Valley. It is now is an important aspect of the classical Hindu religion, society, and history. The caste system was akin to a social group whereby those of Aryan origins dominated themselves over those who weren’t. Their superiority was established by ostracizing those of a lower class and putting them in charge of the hard manual labour.

Fig 1.6 Caste System

Saylor Foundation, Caste system of Aryan society (5 June 2012). CC-BY-3.0.  

To date, the common hypothesis is that it is unknown if the Aryans took over the Harappan Civilization by force. This is because the physical movements of the Aryans into the Indus Valley were proven to be less of an invasion. However, many still question that it seems more like an invasion than a migration as the Aryans incorporated their own religion, way of life and caste system into the lives of the people living in the Indus Valley. The incorporation of the Aryans’ religion, way of life, and caste system could have been inevitable even if it was not an invasion. The culture of the Indus Valley Civilization could have been influenced by the Aryans simply because they were living together. With historians trying to understand facts on the Aryan migration into the Indus Valley through purely textual analysis and facts, it can be seen that the Aryans had a migration rather than invasion into the Indus Valley.

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