Myths of Ancient History


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Appropriating the Past
Myths of Ancient History

P R Ram

On examining the methods followed by communalists, it becomes evident that they use history as the justification for communal ideology. In early '20s and '30s it was argued that Hindus and Muslims constitute two separate nations and its justification was derived from historical misrepresentations. Later, Hindu communal ideologues like Savarkar and Golwalkar went on to manufacture partisan answers to the questions like: What is the Origin of our Nation? How did the Hindu nation come into existence? In this way, history was distorted to suit their political projects. As a logical trajectory of this method, Hindu communalists project and situate the ideal Hindu society in the ancient period, and then attribute the ills of society to Muslim invasions. This argument is invoked to also justify almost any and every restriction imposed on women and to account for what is perceived as a steady decline in the status of women from a condition of near-idyllic bliss that prevailed during the Vedic era.

Further, there is the effort to derive 'identity' of the nation from its ancient past. This is one situation how history is mystified. Many a time outdated theories continue to be resurrected and reiterated, despite the emergence and availability of newer evidence proving the contrary.


Aryans were the original inhabitants of this land in that the Harappan culture was an Aryan culture.


The 'Theory of the Aryan race arose 150 years ago. It is not referred to in any of the earliest Indian texts, whether the texts are in Sanskrit or Persian. Neither the Puranas nor the Vedas nor any of the Persian historians referred to the Aryans as a racial group. It is an invention of European thinkers, particularly the French racist Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineu who preached the "natural" inequality of the races in the mid 19th century. He divided the European society into aristocracy, which is Aryan; the peasantry, which is non-Aryan. The 'add-on' to this category is 'semites', the Jews, the, traders. His thinking later formed the basis of future racist onslaughts in Europe.

This myth was later accepted wholesale by a nationalist like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who further propounded the Theory of the Arctic Home of Vedas-- that the Aryans came from Arctic region, and later, on the way divided into two branches. One branch went to Europe and reverted back to barbarism, the other branch came to India and retained Aryan civilisation and revived Aryan culture all over the world. Similarly, but in a distinct vein, Keshub Chandra Sen, a religious reformer, had maintained that the British being the descendants of the Aryans, as were the upper caste Indians, the advent of the British to India was like meeting of parted cousins. Later, MS Golwalkar (Shri Guruji), the Sarsanghachalak (2nd Supreme Dictator) of the RSS, in his 'We and Our Nationhood Defined' presented a different interpretation of the Theory of the Aryan Race, to state that Hindus and Hindus alone were the original inhabitants of India. As per Guruji, "We, Hindus, have been in undisputed and undisturbed possession of this land for over 8,000 or even 10,000 years, before this land was invaded by any foreign race and, therefore, this land came to be known as Hindustan, the land of Hindus".[Golwalkar, 1939]. Golwalkar considered Aryans and Hindus as synonymous and even asserted that the Aryans did not migrate to India but were indigenous to this land.

On Tilak's theory of 'Arctic Home of the Vedas’, Golwalkar had maintained that the "Arctic zone was originally that part of the world which is today called Bihar and Orissa, that later moved north east and, then, in a sometimes northward movement, it came to its present position... We do not hesitate in affirming that had this fact been discovered during the lifetime of Lokmanya Tilak, he would unhesitatingly have propounded the proposition that 'the Arctic Home of the Vedas' was verily in Hindustan itself and that it was not the Hindus who migrated to that land but the Arctic zone which emigrated to that land and left the Hindus in Hindustan". [Golwalkar, 1939, P 8]. However, S Yechuri states, "Even by the logic of his own argument, if the Arctic zone moved away from Bihar-Orissa, how could it leave the people behind who were inhabiting the land mass? When a landmass moves it move along with everything on it. People cannot be left hanging in a vacuum only to drop down when and where Golwalkar wishes"

Believing in the centrality of Aryans origin in this region, Hindutva ideologues are unrelenting, trying to pick the thread form one to other, distorting newer findings to fit into their construct. For instance, they have tried to link the Harappa and Mohen-jodaro cultures also to the Aryans thereby reversing the historically accepted sequence of events to state that the period of Rg Vedas ends by 3700 BC and is prior to Indus civilisation. Their ideologue Rajaram dates the beginning of Harappan civilisation to 3000 BC earlier than usual but accepts the agreed terminal date as 1900 BC. [Ratnagar, 1996]. As per Ratnagar, "there are too many radio carbon dates now available for the Harappan sites to make possible any radical revision of Harappan chronology". Unlike geo-morphologists and archaeologists who have worked in the field on the ancient process of desiccation of that river systems, this computer scientist, N Rajaram, is certain that Saraswati ran dry precisely in 1900 BC. So, the Rg Veda has to be earlier than 1900 BC. Moreover, the Harappan civilisation ended because Saraswati ceased to flow, that in turn having resulted from a 'calamitous drought' and–yes--the melting of ice caps following the ending of last Ice Age. [Rajaram, 1995]. Rajaram further states that when that happened the elite amongst the Aryans in a 'massive outflow' migrated to west via Iran. Among the significant outcomes of that movement is the origin of Egyptian pyramid in Vedic samasana-cit [Aryan Invasion of India, Rajaram, P 50].

The other 'school' on the origin of Aryans posited the view that they came from Asia. But, this immediately raised the question as to how can our ancestors have come from Asia, as this was the high point of imperialism and Asian countries were subject colonies. To get around this problem, they substituted it with the argument that Aryans were indigenous to India. This view is in line with the communal thinking which appropriates the indigenous status to itself and thereby the rightful status as theirs of the land.

Max Mueller, an Orientalist, applied this theory to India. Orientalists were a school of thought who were fighting a losing battle with the Utilitarians an ethical theory founded by an English moralist and writer on law, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). He held that the coming of British to India was a 'God sent' event meant to 'civilise' India. Orientalists intrusion in the Indian past was an effort to bring back the 'declining' social norms in their own fast changing society. They uncritically held the Ancient Indian society as the ideal one overlooking its inner contradictions and tensions. "They evolved a theory of the Indo-European homeland and of the common ancestry of the Sanskritik and Greek cultures. The Aryans were seen as a racial entity rather than a group of people who spoke related languages, and the dynamics of Aryan culture in India and Greek were sought to be related." [Thapar, 1994]. This viewpoint of idyllic ancient Indian society fitted well into the wishes of the orthodox Hindus, who wholeheartedly adopted the view.

Mueller also evolved the theory that there was an invasion of Aryans into north-western India and after subjugating the local Dasas they settled down in India, bringing with them their culture and civilisation--the Sanskrit language, Vedic religion, etc. Mueller saw this event as a kind of civilizing mission: that the Dasas were very primitive, not developed or advanced and the Aryans came to civilize them; that the upper castes in India, sometimes referred to as 'dvija' (twice born castes, Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya in the Varna system), are all descendants of Aryans, and so they are demarcated from lower castes. [Thapar].

In reaction, Christian missionaries wrote that the Aryans, the upper castes, oppressed the lower castes. Another reaction was from Hindutva ideologues who insisted that all caste Hindus are Aryas, and so coined the term Hindu Aryas. They further said that there was no invasion as they were indigenous people--India being their Pitrubhumi (Fatherland) and Punyabhumi (Holyland), and that they spread from India to all over Asia and Europe.

In line with the latest archaeological findings, and linguistic interpretations, Indian culture dates back to 6000 BC. Its most discernible manifestation is the Harappan Civilisation and also the most distinct and decipherable civilization of this region. It declined in the second millennium BC and completely disintegrated by 1500 BC when Aryas entered northwest of India. "The Aryans or Indo-Aryans descendants of the Indo-Europeans had remained for some time in Bactria (Northern Afghanistan). By about 1500 BC, however, they had migrated into northern India through the passes of the Hindu Kush mountains. At first they wandered across the plains of Punjab, searching for pastureland being predominantly a cattle breeding people. Finally they settled in small village communities in forests and gradually took to agriculture", [Romila Thapar, 1966], and went on to produce Rg Veda and other Vedic texts.

Contrary to the claims of Hindu communalists Vedic society is no longer regarded the foundation of Indian civilization because a very different civilisation, the Harappan Civilisation, had already preceded it and which was comparatively more advanced.

Hindutva historians argue that the Harappan Civilisation and Vedic Aryans are identical and now date the Vedas back to the period of Harappan Civilization which they maintain is the archaeological counterpart of the Vedic civilization. However, as borne out also by linguistic analysis the Harappan Civilisation was essentially an urban one, based on urban culture, while the Vedic civilization according to Vedic texts itself was predominantly a pastoral rural society with no mention of an urban culture.

When he wrote over a hundred years ago, Mueller had assumed that Vedic Sanskrit is the earliest and purest form of Sanskrit, and was a pure Aryan language. Today, however, the examination of its grammar proves that it is not "pure". Some elements of proto-Dravidian grammar are apparent in Vedic Sanskrit. There occurs a mixture in language with the arrival of Aryans and there are many words which are Indo-Aryan in origin, eg, Pangala word from a proto-Dravidian or Mundari language spoken by central Indian Adivasi area finds its place in Sanskrit). Thus there was a symbiosis of different people living side-by-side and with Sanskrit this intermingling goes on increasing with time.

Romila Thapar shows that "the language has come from outside, from Iran, probably brought by small groups of people for which we have archaeological evidence. These migrants were usually pastoralists or small-scale farmers, who over many hundred of years were bringing in new language, which was also changing in the process. Then when they settled in India, the language in India also undergoes change because of Indian connections. Therefore we argue that there may not have been an invasion. We don't have the archaeological evidence for a huge invasion as Max Mueller insists. But there were multiple migrations and there is evidence from archaeology for the migration. So in essence it is unimportant to go on saying: We are indigenous, because we can never prove it. We are in fact very mixed up. Aryan is not a race because we all use this term very loosely and speak about Aryan race and the Dravidian race; the terms do not refer to race but to the language used".

The myth of Aryan race identified language with race. Max Mueller observed that all those who spoke Aryan language (Sanskrit in India, Iranian in Iran, Greek, Latin, Gaelic, etc) belong to the same race. The monogenesis thesis traced back all 3 languages to India-European and peoples' biological origin was traced to a single race. The work on biological race which has been done over years shows that in terms of genetic make up, in terms of relationships of various groups, the area of northern India comprises of a huge, multiple variety of people, variety of races and one cannot talk, of a single race. "Therefore the notion that there was once a pure Aryan race and that every body that spoke a particular language belonged to that race is complete nonsense. These (Aryan, Dravidian) are not races. These are not biological races. These are language terms..." [Romila Thapar, 1996].


The Indus Script is Vedic script


First and foremost, although excavation of ruins do indeed advance our understanding of civilisations they do not by the same token serve as keys to unraveling the secrets of ancient societies and civilisations. The masterkey, instead, to its secrets is its scripts inscribed primarily on seals including amulets and other objects.

As far as the seals with inscriptions on them of the Harappan sites are concerned there are approximately 3,500 inscribed texts, although the average number of signs in a text is less than 5. However, the most authentic pronouncement of this Harappan script is that it has not been fully deciphered. The script is an unknown script; written in anunknown language. It does not appear in a bi-lingual context; does not survive on any monument, and which must be deciphered from short texts. Decipherment has been a slow process of understanding the structure of the language by establishing the infernal logic of the script, by comparison with other scripts, and by comparative linguistics.

Innumerable claims have been made in the attempt to crack the decipherment of the Indus Script. None have been validated including the myth in question that the Vedic text. 'Nighantu of Yaska' has supposedly aided in cracking the 'Rosetta Stone' (the Rosetta Stone, discovered by Napolean's army in Egypt in 1799, was the key to the later decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs as it had the same text written in Greek hieroglyphs) of Hindu historians fail to state what exactly the 'Nighantu' contains (Is it a bilingual text, for example?).

Further, the 'Nighantu' (c700 BC) is a commentary that had been recorded to explain rituals and the etymology of certain unclear words in the Rg Veda. It has also no reference to scripts of any type.

The dating of the seals on which the script were inscribed–between 3000-2000 BC --is incorrect because the date of the early phase of the Harappan Civilisation itself is 3600 to 2600 BC, when no script was in existence, and the mature phase to 2600-1800 BC when there was a script. The Rg Veda was written between 1500 and 1000 BC.

Contrary to the claim, the Harappan script is instead considered by scholars like the Finnish scholar Asko Parpola to be a non-Aryan particularly Dravidian one. He maintains that the "...writing of the Harappa script is from right to left (like Urdu or the old Kharosthi-Comet Project) but since they are on seals, which are used for impressions, it appears that it is in the opposite direction....Secondly, if the Harappan civilisation was post-Vedic, why is there no evidence of the horse in the remains of the civilisation? We know from the Vedas that the horse was very important to that society. A number of animals are depicted on Indus seals, and the skeletal remains of a number of animals have also been found. But there is no evidence of the horse. Why?"


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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .