Indo-Aryan Invasion

Edwin Bryant ebryant at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Mar 12 19:13:33 UTC 1998

On Tue, 10 Mar 1998, Jan E.M. Houben wrote:

> No answer was received on an earlier question by me whether there is a good
> statement of the Aryans out of India view. I found references to a certain
> Dhar, but I don't know the bibliographical details.

There is no good comprehensive statement on the Indig. Aryan point of view
(a distinction needs to be made between an out-of-India view, and an
Indig. Aryan view as I noted in a previous posting).  Challenges to the
theory go back at least to Dayananda, Vivekanada and Aurobindo (and I
am sure that there is a plethora of reactions even earlier in Bengali
and other non-English sources).  Statements may be in the form of passages
inserted here and there in literature dedicated to other topics,
or of articles or complete books focused on some aspect of this specific

The standard of these materials varies considerably and ranges
from what most critical scholars would consider (and have often stated) to
be blatantly biased and poor scholarship, to quite brilliant and
penetrating insights that really do impel one to reconsider certain of
one's own assumptions (in my opinion).  For example, Aurobindo's witty and
scathing critique in "The Secret of the Veda" so many decades ago of the
philological attempt to find racial references to the Aryan invasion in
the Rigveda, (a theme which has been taken up by many Indian scholars over
the years), has only very  recently been echoed in mainstream Western
academic circles (see Trautman's 1997 book on the Aryans and British
India, and also Hock's forthcoming paper "Through a Glass Darkly..." in
the Michigan volume).

In short, one has to plough through a lot of material to put a
comprehensive Indigenous Aryan case together.  In my experience, one gains
much if one is prepared to cull and extract useful and insightful comments
even from the more blatantly biased or uncritical or 'unscholarly'
publications rather than just rejecting them out of hand. I suggest that
it is important to also bear in mind that many of these scholars in India
do not have access to the same academic facilities and publications that
we take so much for granted here in the West.  So most of these critiques
lack the state-of-the-art minutiae in terms of details, but are still very
relevant in questioning the basic assumptions and broad picture that some
of us take so much for granted.

> Any more suggestions for basic topics to be discussed (not to be solved)
in the
> month to be selected for a virtual sattra on Indo-Aryan Invasion, for instance
> in May,  and for important relevant literature to be studied?

Well, I'll try to think of some Indig. Aryan stuff that is of better
quality as well as easily available if you all feel that this would be
useful to this discussion.   You requested the biblio of
L. Dhar's book "The Home of the Aryas",  Delhi  U. Pub, 1930 (not 1950 as
I stated before) but the only copy of this in the US is in the NY public
library, as I recall.  Anyway, for a decent start, K.D.Sethna's critique
of Parpola's "The Coming of the Aryans to Iran and India and the Cultural
and Ethnic Identity of the Dasas" in Supplement five of the
second part of the *second* edition of his book "The Problem of Aryan
Origins"  Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1992 (not the 1980 first edition
version) is a pretty good example of an Indig. Aryan critique of a
particular interpretation of the evidence, albeit an outdated
one--Parpola's article was published in Studia Orientalia, vol 64 1988:
195-265 (but bear in mind the time lag between much Western scholarship
and it's arrival in, and the response to it from, parts of India).  Other
parts of Sethna's book are much less convincing, of course, such as his
attempt to identify a Harappan wheel in an iconographic symbol, but this
does not negate all of his arguments (and that is part of the point I am
making above). And the book is not polemical or political in tone.

Regards,  Edwin Bryant

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