Vicious Debate

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at UMICH.EDU
Wed Dec 2 15:59:52 UTC 1998

The "indigenous Aryan" debate has a tendency to get vicious for a very
simple reason.  For people of Indian origin, this issue has close
connections with their own perceptions of their identiy.  Before the
modern period, there were other "vicious debates" in different parts of
India.  For instance, in Maharashtra, many vicious debates developed in
the 16th and 17th century over whether there were true Kshatriyas around
and whether a particular contemporary caste was or was not to be counted
among Shudras.  The ruling Maratha rulers like Shivaji were denied the
status of Kshatriya by many local Brahmanas, including the later Peshwahs
who became the prime ministers of this dynasty.  This was prompted in part
by the Brahmana claim that in the Kali age there were only two Varnas to
be found: Brahmana and Shudra.  The debate over the status of Kayasthas
was equally vicious.  The Brahmanas of Maharashtra were among the first to
begin using the term Arya as a self-referring term in the modern era, and
this term was understood within the context of the contemporary Brahmana
beliefs about there being only two Varnas in the Kali age.  The Brahmana
and Shudra were often replaced with Arya and non-Arya in the 19th century
writings.  Later, the Aryanism proliferated to other movements such as the
Arya Samaj, the Hindu Maha Sabha, the RSS, and BJP/VHP etc.  But one can
historically look at the roots of the ideologies in the 19th century.

                                Madhav Deshpande

On Wed, 2 Dec 1998, N. Ganesan wrote:

> <<<
> I think the answer to your question is partly to be found in
> internal Indian politics. I have been digging around in the little
> nationalisms  that India produced at the turn of the century and that
>  partly are still there (particularly Dravidianism), and it would
>  seem that Indigenous Aryanism is a knee-jerk reaction to some of the
>  more Aryan-unfriendly ideas that turned up in the South. (I think
> there are other reasons as well of a non-scholarly nature).
> >>>
>   Indigenous Aryan schoolers point to Europeans wanting to
>   come out of their long hold from "Bible, Neareast, Semiticism"
>   etc., William Jones' discovery gave Europe a good avenue to
>   do that. So, Europeans all of a sudden became "Indo-Europeans".
>   It is natural that Anybody likes to dig for their roots.
>   Sanskrit professorships got endowed all over the West.
>   Hitler took the Aryan idea too far!
>   The writeup from Dr. Fosse shows that Dravidian culture
>   plays an important role in  modern India. Others
>   say it did in ancient times as well.
>   To understand India, neglecting ancient
>   literatures from Dravidian side and focussing exclusively on
>   Sanskrit will be lopsided. For example, Sanskrit literary
>   theories and Dravidian literary theories (tolkAppiyam)
>   have not been compared so far. (Dhvany of Anandavardhana
>   is related to uLLuRai plus iRaicci of TolkAppiyam, predating
>   Anandavardhana by several centuries.)
>   To understand India, I am confidant that Dravidian
>   studies in the West will go a long way.
>   Hopefully yours,
>   N. Ganesan
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