Indo-Aryan im/e-migration (scholarly debate)
Jan E.M. Houben
JHOUBEN at RULLET.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Tue Mar 17 13:20:18 UTC 1998
I thank S Krishna <mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM> for his discussion of the recent
book by David Frawley and Georg Feuerstein which I could not yet see for
myself; and Charles <cponcet at IPROLINK.CH> for asking some pertinent questions
which force indologists to come out of their ivory tower.
To quote from the latter's posting:
>In other words, the somewhat "new age" or "let's all go to Kathmandu"
style of the book should not disguise the value and the strenghth of
their main point : the West may have been wrong - and stubbornly so - on
a crucial part of the history of the sub continent, for more than a
The REAL questions are therefore :
a) Are Frawley and Co right about this ?
b) If they are, this should be spread all over the planet and
scholars particularly - should junk the "Aryan invasion" fairy tale for
As an interested indologist NOT specializing in im/e-migration theories I would
the Aryan-Invasion theory in the strong sense of the term is not any more
seriously defended by Indologists for the last so many decades (Edwin Bryant,
am I right?). See for instance some remarks by Romila Thapar in "Archeological
Background of the Agnicayana" in Agni (edited by F. Staal, Berkeley Univ.
Press, 1983), vol. II p. 11. More recent statements questioning an Aryan
Invasion in the strong sense of the term can be found in, for instance, The
Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia (ed. by George Erdosy), Berlin/New York: de
Gruyter, 1995. Elsewhere I wrote: "Earlier ideas associating the authors of the
Rgvedic hymns with hordes of invading Aryas destroying the earlier Indus-
civilisation have become obsolete, and scholars are searching for entirely
different models to account for the linguistic shifts which must have taken
place in these periods (e.g. Kuiper 1967a, 1991; Renfrew 1987). Rather, the
Rgvedic Aryas should be seen as "a multitude of ethnic groups subscribing to a
newly emerging ideology" (Erdosy 1995), for which Allchin proposed to use the
term "acculturated Aryan" (Allchin 1995:43)."
The last reference is to Allchin's Archeology of Early Historic South Asia: the
emergence of cities and states, Cambridge Univ. Press 1995.
In other words, my answer to Charles' REAL question (a) "Are Frawley and Co
right about this ?" would be:
They are combating an outdated theory which modern scholars do not take serious
any more. They are positively wrong in suggesting that modern Indologists are
still defending the very theories which Max Mueller and others suggested more
than a century ago. The implication for REAL question (b) is clear.
So what kind of view is current among modern scholars dealing with the problem?
Allchin, as referred to above (p. 43), seems to make a reasonable statement:
"we envisage a situation in which groups of Indo-Aryan speakers arrived in an
area where another language or languages were prevalent, and living there for a
period of interaction with the existing population, became involved in a
process of acculturation."
Now, what kind of argument can be presented to support the view that somehow
Indo-Aryan speakers arrived in the Indian subcontinent? It is possible to
demonstrate Galileo's and Copernicus's theories with three oranges representing
sun, earth and moon. Is it possible to come with a simple formula to represent
the arguments for insights as those of Allchin in an accessible way? To find
such a formula would in my view be one of the purposes of a scholarly debate on
the Indology list. Such formula would be helpful for "both parties" in the
debate, as those arguing for Indo-Aryans originating in and moving out of India
will know where to direct their attempts for refutation.
And with proper discussions the good result for all would be that, in our
attempt to understand what is utterly apratyakSa (coming or going of Aryans
thousands of years ago), we have to look better at the numerous pieces of
pratyakSa evidence (archeological, linguistic data) which have been
insufficiently studied so far.
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