Book Review: An Update on AIT (Part 1)

Vishal Agarwal vishalagarwal at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 29 19:21:17 UTC 1999

Dear Indologists, I am posting review of the book "An Update on the AIT"
(Dr. Koenraad Elst) written by Dr. Rajaram (one of the key players in the
book). This is part 1
Book review by N.S. Rajaram

        Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate by Koenraad Elst. 1999. Aditya
New Delhi. 342 + x pages. Price Rs. 450 (HB). Reviewed by N.S. Rajaram

Created at a time when there was no scientific data from any source, using
tools and techniques that were the product of the same intellectual and
milieu that gave birth to comparative linguistics, the famous Aryan Invasion
Theory of India has held the fort for well over a century. For the better
of this period, which conspicuously but not exclusively included the period
European colonialism, it was more or less unchallenged as the history of
ancient India. It was only in the past few decades that a serious challenge
to this theory was mounted. At first it was dismissed as 'Hindu chauvinism',
in effect transferring to the Hindus the racist chauvinism of Western
scholars and
pseudo-scholars of the colonial period. But increasingly, scholars calling
themselves Indologists and Indo-Europeanists are finding their scholarship
and even their motives questioned by outsiders. As a result, the debate
today is not merely over dry facts and academic theories, but also political
and other
motives. The important thing is that there is a debate. (See the volume by
and Kamath in the References.) The book under review, Update on the Aryan
Invasion Debate by Koenraad Elst is a comprehensive account by a leading
scholar who has been at the center of this debate. In the process, he has
probably written also the theory's obituary.

An important point to note is that one of the strategies of the
which the author exposes to telling effect, has been to avoid debate
by dismissing their adversaries as chauvinists and cranks. Even a decade
ago, a scholar raising questions about the truth of the Aryan invasion would
have been hard pressed to find an audience, much less a platform. Often
'refutations' of challenges to the theory were little more than 'haughty
dismissals' - as the American scholar A. Seidenberg put it. In addition, as
present reviewer can attest from his own experience, they took the form of
personal attacks. A certain Robert Zydenbos (or his ghostwriter) compared
reviewer to Hitler for questioning the Aryan invasion, and even exhorted him
accept responsibility for the Ayodhya demolition! (Since this reviewer
prominently in the debate, references to his work cannot be avoided.) All
is told in fascinating detail in Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate.

Obviously, there is more to these 'debates' than meets the eye. It is not
obscure academics like Zydenbos and JNU (Leftist) propagandists like Romila
Thapar and Shereen Ratnagar who have indulged in such tactics. Even a
relatively high profile worker like Richard Meadow of the Peabody Museum at
Harvard has allowed himself such liberties. In his Preface to Johnathan
Kenoyer's Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, Meadow tried to
dismiss the whole ofIndian scholarship by praising Kenoyer's work as being
"tempered by Western academic skepticism," where one does not see "those
wild flights of fancy or long leaps of faith that characterize some
literature of the region [India]." Of late even the publisher Voice of
India, which has specialized in bringing outimportant works that were kept
out by the establishment dominated publishing business, has come under
attack by scholars in India and the West. All this indicates some uneasiness
among these scholars, suggesting they are not reallysure of their ground.

To get back to the Aryan invasion, the study of ancient India, at least in
modern Western sense, may be said to have begun with Sir William Jones in
the late 18th century. One of Jones's discoveries was that Indian languages
Sanskrit in particular - and European languages are related. To account for
this, European scholars, the most famous of whom was F. Max Müller, proposed
aninvasion of 'Aryans' from the Eurasian steppes. There were other currents
- like colonial politics and Christian missionary interests - that need not
detain us here. He assigned a date of 1500 BC for the invasion and 1200 BC
for thecomposition of the Rigveda. The reason for the date was his firm
belief in the Biblical chronology that assigned 23 October 4004 BC for the
Creation and c. 2448 for Noah's Flood, though he sought to give other -
equally fanciful -
explanations. Though their knowledge of the Vedas and the Sanskrit language
was limited, European scholars contrived to find and interpret a few
passages in the Vedas as the record of the invasion of fair skinned Aryans
and their victory over the dark skinned natives. In other words, the Aryan
invaders were
colonizers like themselves. As often the case, such theories tell us more
the people who created them than history.(To be contd.)

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