Home > ICJ Home > Issues On-line > ICJ Vol 6, No 2 December 1998 > A response to: Questioning the Aryan Invasion Theory and Revising Ancient Indian History by Klaus Klostermaier, ICJ Vol. 6, No. 1
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A response to
Questioning the Aryan Invasion Theory
and Revising Ancient Indian History

by Klaus Klostermaier, ICJ Vol. 6, No. 1


Klostermaier has provided a useful summary of some of the main tenets of a version of ancient history which is on the ascendancy amongst Indian historians and archaeologists. Indeed, the basic idea of indigenous version of ancient history, which is on the ascendancy amongst Indian Indo-Aryan origins (or at least openness to reconsidering the Aryan Migration thesis), is rapidly becoming the dominant, but by no means uncontested point of view amongst specialists in India. It has also recently been receiving considerable attention in Western Indological circles. It is, however, only one point of view. In fairness to those defending the status quo of Indo-Aryan migrations (few speak of invasions anymore and modern scholarship has long since moved beyond the biblical or colonial exigencies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) the matter is far more complex than many Indigenous Aryanists appear to acknowledge. Most representations of the Indigenous point of view are, at best, highly selective in their appropriation of the available and relevant data and, at worst, completely neglectful or dismissive of the fundamental and essential infrastructure of the problem.

The first glaring lacuna in many Indigenous Aryan publications is the almost complete lack of reference to the linguistic evidence. Given that the Indo-Aryans are a linguistic entity and that their existence is entirely a postulate of the linguistic data, such neglect is not likely to be seen as indicative of thorough or detached scholarship. Few Indigenous Aryanists seem to be even aware of the implications (or even the existence) of such data as linguistic substrata, linguistic palaeontology, dialectical geography, and loan words (amongst a host of other things), all foundational to the theory of external Aryan origins.

Even from within the context of the evidence that the Indigenous School does addressnotably the archaeological, philological and astronomical dataalternative points of view recalcitrant to the Indigenous position deserve at least some token acknowledgement. Scanning the list of items Klostermaier offers for consideration, we can grant that the Mitanni evidence, for example, is not incompatible with an indigenous position, but neither does it by any means disprove the migrationist theory. The urban references often noted in the Rg are peripheral at best (and completely far-fetched at worst), and it seems only fair to note that whatever meagre evidence of horse bones in Harappan and pre-Harappan sites has been brought forward has been disputed by authorities in the field. The layout of the fire altars at Kalibhangan does not seem to correlate with the prescriptions of the Srauta Sutras and so assigning them a ritual function is highly questionable. Moreover, while the Sarasvati may have been drying up by 1900 BCE, I am not aware of any evidence demonstrating that it had completely dried up by then. And as for the correlation of the Indus script with Brahmi, this is hardly a fait accompli, but only accepted by a small group of scholars even from within the Indigenous camp. The list goes on.

All this is not to say that the evidence supporting the theory of Aryan migrations is not without problems. Far from it: my own research concludes that the debate (where it is conducted in a rigorous fashion) is a legitimate one and that the Indigenous position has its merits. The whole theory of Aryan migrations does indeed need to be subject to intense scrutiny. But this will only be fruitful when it is done by examining all the evidence and all rational points of view in a detached and thorough fashion. Selective or one-sided interpretations of the evidence are ultimately detrimental to such reconsiderations.  As a result much Indigenous Aryanist scholarship is understandably viewed with suspicion, or dismissed as the product of predetermined conviction rather than objective scholarship.

ISKCON devotees, of course, are likely to greet the new version of events with enthusiasm. But since some of them are proving to be sincere about open-minded dialogue and interaction with the academic community, they would be better served by being exposed to the full spectrum of data and the plethora of opinions in the complex matter of Indo-Aryan origins. The Indigenous Aryan position certainly merits consideration, but not at the expense of honest scholarship.

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