The Aryan Invasion Theory: History of Politics


By N.S. Rajaram


Aryans: race or culture?

The evidence of science now points to two basic conclusions: first, there was no Aryan invasion, and second, the Rig-Vedic people were already established in India no later than 4000 BC. How are we then to account for the continued presence of the Aryan invasion version of history in history books and encyclopedias even today? Some of the results – like Jha’s decipherment of the Indus script – are relatively recent, and it is probably unrealistic to expect history books to reflect all the latest findings. But unfortunately, influential Indian historians and educators continue to resist all revisions and hold on to this racist creation – the Aryan invasion theory. Though there is now a tendency to treat the Aryan-Dravidian division as a linguistic phenomenon, its roots are decidedly racial and political, as we shall soon discover.

 Speaking of the Aryan invasion theory, it would probably be an oversimplification to say: “Germans invented it, British used it,” but not by much. The concept of the Aryans as a race and the associated idea of the ‘Aryan nation’ were very much a part of the ideology of German nationalism. For reasons known only to them, Indian educational authorities have continued to propagate this obsolete fiction that degrades and divides her people. They have allowed their political biases and career interests to take precedence over the education of children. They continue to propagate a version that has no scientific basis.

 Before getting to the role played by German nationalism, it is useful first to take a brief look at what the word Arya does mean. After Hitler and the Nazi atrocities, most people, especially Europeans, are understandably reluctant to be reminded of the word. But that was a European crime; Indians had no part in it. The real Aryans have lived in India for thousands of years without committing anything remotely resembling the Nazi horrors. So there is no need to be diffident in examining the origins of the European misuse of the word. In any event, history demands it.

 The first point to note is that the idea of the Aryans as foreigners who invaded India and destroyed the existing Harappan Civilization is a modern European invention; it receives no support whatsoever from Indian records – literary or archaeological. The same is true of the notion of the Aryans as a race; it finds no support in Indian literature or tradition. The word ‘Arya’ in Sanskrit means noble and never a race. In fact, the authoritative Sanskrit lexicon (c. 450 AD), the famous Amarakosa gives the following definition:

 mahakula kulinarya sabhya sajjana sadhavah.

 An Arya is one who hails from a noble family, of gentle behavior and demeanor, good-natured and of righteous conduct.

 And the great epic Ramayana has a singularly eloquent expression describing Rama as: arya sarva samascaiva sadaiva priyadarsanah.

 Arya, who worked for the equality of all and was dear to everyone. The Rigveda also uses the word Arya something like thirty six times, but never to mean a race. The nearest to a definition that one can find in the Rigveda is probably:

 praja arya jyotiragrah … (Children of Arya are led by light) RV, VII. 33.17

 The word ‘light’ should be taken in the spiritual sense to mean enlightenment. The word Arya, according to those who originated the term, is to be used to describe those people who observed a code of conduct; people were Aryans or non-Aryans depending on whether or not they followed this code. This is made entirely clear in the Manudharma Shastra or the Manusmriti (X.43-45):

 But in consequence of the omission of sacred rites, and of their not heeding the sages, the following people of the noble class [Arya Kshatriyas] have gradually sunk to the state of servants – the Paundrakas, Chodas, Dravidas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Shakhas, Paradhas, Pahlavas, Chinas, Kiratas and Daradas.

 Two points about this list are worth noting: first, their fall from the Aryan fold had nothing to do with race, birth or nationality; it was due entirely to their failure to follow certain sacred rites. Second, the list includes people from all parts of India as well as a few neighboring countries like China and Persia (Pahlavas). Kambojas are from West Punjab , Yavanas from Afghanistan and beyond (not necessarily the Greeks) while Dravidas refers probably to people from the southwest of India and the South. Thus, the modern notion of an Aryan-Dravidian racial divide is contradicted by ancient records. We have it on the authority of Manu that the Dravidians were also part of the Aryan fold.  Interestingly, so were the Chinese. Race never had anything to do with it until the Europeans adopted the ancient word to give expression to their nationalistic and other aspirations. Scientists have known this for quite some time. Julian Huxley, one of the leading biologists of the century, wrote as far back as 1939:

 In 1848 the young German scholar Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900) settled in Oxford , where he remained for the rest of his life. … About 1853 he introduced into the English language the unlucky term Aryan as applied to a large group of languages…. Moreover, Max Müller threw another apple of discord. He introduced a proposition that is demonstrably false. He spoke not only of a definite Aryan language and its descendents, but also of a corresponding ‘Aryan race’. The idea was rapidly taken up both in Germany and in England. It affected to some extent a certain number of the nationalistic and romantic writers, none of whom had any ethnological training…. In England and America the phrase ‘Aryan race’ has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature. In Germany the idea of the ‘Aryan’ race found no more scientific support than in England. Nonetheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it very flattering to local vanity. It therefore spread, fostered by special conditions.

 This should help settle the issue as far as its modern misuse is concerned. As far as ancient India is concerned, one may safely say that the word Arya denoted certain spiritual and humanistic values that defined her civilization. The entire Aryan civilization – the civilization of Vedic India – was driven and sustained by these values. The whole of ancient Indian literature: from the Vedas, the Brahmanas to the Puranas to the epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana can be seen as a record of the struggles of an ancient people to live up to the ideals defined by these values. Anyone regardless of birth, race or national origin could become Aryan by following this code of conduct. It was not something to be imposed upon others by the sword or by proseleytization. Viewed in this light, the whole notion of any ‘Aryan invasion’ is an absurdity. It is like talking about an ‘invasion of scientific thinking’.

 Then there is also the fact that the concept of the Aryan race and the Aryan-Dravidian divide is a modern European invention that receives no support from any ancient source. To apply it to people who lived thousands of years ago is an exercise in anachronism if there ever was one.

 The sum total of all this is that Indians have no reason to be defensive about the word Arya. It applies to everyone who has tried to live by the high ideals of an ancient culture regardless of race, language or nationality. It is a cultural designation of a people who created a great civilization. Anti-Semitism was an aberration of Christian European history, with its roots in the New Testament, of sayings like “He that is not with me is against me.” If the Europeans (and their Indian disciples) fight shy of the word, it is their problem stemming from their history. Modern India has many things for which she has reason to be grateful to European knowledge, but this is definitely not one of them.


European currents: ‘Aryan nation’

As Huxley makes clear in the passage cited earlier, the misuse of the word ‘Aryan’ was rooted in political propaganda aimed at appealing to local vanity. In order to understand the European misuse of the word Arya as a race, and the creation of the Aryan invasion idea, we need to go back to eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, especially to Germany. The idea has its roots in European anti-Semitism. Recent research by scholars like Poliakov, Shaffer and others has shown that the idea of the invading Aryan race can be traced to the aspirations of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europeans to give themselves an identity that was free from the taint of Judaism. The Bible, as is well known, consists of two books: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament gives the traditional history of mankind. It is of course a Jewish creation. The New Testament is also of Jewish origin; recently discovered manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Christianity, in fact, began as an extremist Jewish sect. But it was turned against the Judaism of its founding fathers by religious propagandists with political ambitions. In fact, anti-Semitism first makes its appearance in the New Testament, including in the Gospels. Nonetheless, without Judaism there would be no Christianity. To free themselves from this Jewish heritage, the intellectuals of Christian Europe looked east, to Asia . And there they saw two ancient civilizations – India and China. To them the Indian Aryans were preferable as ancestors to the Chinese. As Shaffer has observed:

 “Many scholars such as Kant and Herder began to draw analogies between the myths and philosophies of ancient India and the West. In their attempt to separate Western European culture from its Judaic heritage, many scholars were convinced that the origin of Western culture was to be found in India rather than in the ancient Near East.”

 So they became Aryans. But it was not the whole human race that was given this Aryan ancestry, but only a white race that came down from the mountains of Asia , subsequently became Christian and colonized Europe . No less an intellectual than Voltaire claimed to be “convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges – astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc.” (But Voltaire was emphatically not intolerant; he was in fact a strong critic of the Church of his day.)

 A modern student today can scarcely have an idea of the extraordinary influence of race theories in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe . Many educated people really believed that human qualities could be predicted on the basis of measurements of physical characteristics like eye color, length of the nose and such. It went beyond prejudice, it was an article of faith amounting to an ideology. Here is an example of what passed for informed opinion on ‘race science’ by the well-known French savant Paul Topinard. Much of the debate centered on the relative merits of racial types called dolichocephalics and brachycephalics, though no one seemed to have a clear idea of what was which. Anyway, here is what Topinard wrote in 1893, which should give modern readers an idea of the level of scientific thinking prevailing in those days:

 “The Gauls, according to history, were a people formed of two elements: the leaders or conquerors, blond, tall dolichocephalic, leptroscopes, etc. But the mass of the people, were small, relatively brachycephalic chaemeophrosopes. The brachycephalics were always oppressed. They were the victims of dolicocephalics who carried them off from their fields…. The blond people changed from warriors into merchants and industrial workers. The brachycephalics breathed again. Being naturally prolific, their numbers [of brachycephalics] increased while the dolichocephalics naturally diminished. … Does the future not belong to them?” [Sic: Belong to whom? – dolichocephalic leptroscopes, or brachycephalic chaemeophrosopes?]

 This tongue-twisting passage may sound bizarre to a modern reader, but was considered an erudite piece of reasoning when it was written. In its influence and scientific unsoundness and dogmatism, ‘race science’ can only be compared in this century to Marxism, especially Marxist economics. Like Marxist theories, these race theories have also been fully discredited. The emergence of molecular genetics has shown these race theories to be completely false.

 By creating this pseudo-science based on race, Europeans of the Age of Enlightenment sought to free themselves from their Jewish heritage. It is interesting to note that this very same theory – of the Aryan invasion and colonization of Europe – was later applied to India and became the Aryan invasion theory of India. In reality it was nothing more than a projection into the remote past of the contemporary European experience in colonizing parts of Asia and Africa. Substituting European for Aryan, and Asian or African for Dravidian will give us a description of any of the innumerable colonial

campaigns in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. According to this theory, the Aryans were carbon copies of colonizing Europeans. Seen in this light the theory is not even especially original.

 The greatest effect of these ideas was on the psyche of the German people. German nationalism was the most powerful political movement of nineteenth century Europe. The idea of the Aryan race was a significant aspect of the German nationalistic movement. We are now used to regarding Germany as a rich and powerful country, but the German people at the beginning of the nineteenth century were weak and divided. There was no German nation at the time; the map of Europe then was dotted with numerous petty German principalities and dukedoms that had always been at the mercy of the neighboring great powers – Austria and France. For more than two centuries, from the time of the Thirty Years War to the Napoleonic conquests, the great powers had marched their armies through these petty German states treating these people and their rulers with utter disdain. It was very much in the interests of the French to keep the German people divided, a tactic later applied to India by the British. Every German at the time believed that he and his rulers were no more than pawns in great power rivalries. This had built up deep resentments in the hearts and minds of the German people. This was to have serious consequences for history.

 In this climate of alienation and impotence, it is not surprising that German intellectuals should have sought solace in the culture of an ancient exotic land like India. Some of us can recall a very similar sentiment among Americans during the era of Vietnam and the Cold War, with many of them taking an interest in eastern religions and philosophy. These German intellectuals also felt a kinship towards India as a subjugated people, like themselves. Some of the greatest German intellectuals of the era like Humbolt, Frederick and Wilhem Schlegel, Schopenhauer, and many others were students of Indian literature and philosophy. Hegel, the greatest philosopher of the age and a major influence on German nationalism was fond of saying that in philosophy and literature, Germans were the pupils of Indian sages. Humbolt went so far as to declare in 1827: “The Bhagavadgita is perhaps the loftiest and the deepest thing that the world has to show.” This was the climate in Germany when it was experiencing the rising tide of nationalism.

 Whereas the German involvement in things Indian was emotional and romantic, the British interest was entirely practical, even though there were scholars like Jones and Colebrooke who were admirers of India and its literature. Well before the 1857 uprising it was recognized that British rule in India could not be sustained without a large number of Indian collaborators. Recognizing this reality, influential men like Thomas Babbington Macaulay, who was Chairman of the Education Board, sought to set up an educational system modeled along British lines that would also serve to undermine the Hindu tradition. While not a missionary himself, Macaulay came from a deeply religious family steeped in the Protestant Christian faith. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother a Quaker. He believed that the conversion of Hindus to Christianity held the answer to the problems of administering India. His idea was to create an English educated elite that would repudiate its tradition and become British collaborators. In 1836, while serving as chairman of the Education Board in India, he enthusiastically wrote his father: became the most populous and powerful country in Western Europe and the greatest threat to British ambitions. Belief was widespread among British Indian authorities that India and Sanskrit studies had made a major contribution to German unification. Sir Henry Maine, a former Vice Chancellor of Calcutta university and an advisor to the Viceroy echoed the sentiment of many Englishmen when he said: “A nation has been born out of Sanskrit.”

 “Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. The effect of this education on the Hindus is prodigious……. It is my belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, by natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the project.”

 So religious conversion and colonialism were to go hand in hand. As Arun Shourie has pointed out in his recent book Missionaries in India, European Christian missions were an appendage of the colonial government, with missionaries working hand in glove with the government. In a real sense, they cannot be called religious organizations at all but an unofficial arm of the Imperial Administration. (The same is true of many Catholic missions in Central American countries who were, and probably are, in the pay of the American CIA. This was admitted by a CIA director, testifying before the Congress.)

 The key point here is Macaulay’s belief that ‘knowledge and reflection’ on the part of the Hindus, especially the Brahmins, would cause them to give up their age-old belief in favor of Christianity. In effect, his idea was to turn the strength of Hindu intellectuals against them, by utilizing their commitment to scholarship in uprooting their own tradition. His plan was to educate the Hindus to become Christians and turn them into collaborators. He was being very naive no doubt, to think that his scheme could really succeed converting India to Christianity. At the same time it is a measure of his seriousness that Macaulay persisted with the idea for fifteen years until he found the money and the right man for turning his utopian idea into reality.

 In pursuit of this goal he needed someone who would translate and interpret Indian scriptures, especially the Vedas, in such a way that the newly educated Indian elite would see the differences between them and the Bible and choose the latter. Upon his return to England, after a good deal of effort he found a talented but impoverished young German Vedic scholar by name Friedrich Max

Müller who was willing to undertake this ardous task. Macaulay used his influence with the East India Company to find funds for Max Müller’s translation of the Rigveda. Though an ardent German nationalist, Max Müller agreed for the sake of Christianity to work for the East India Company, which in reality meant the British Government of India. He also badly needed a major sponsor for his ambitious plans, which he felt he had at last found.

 This was the genesis of his great enterprise, translating the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary and the editing of the fifty-volume Sacred Books of the East. There can be no doubt at all regarding Max Müller’s commitment to the conversion of Indians to Christianity. Writing to his wife in 1866 he observed:

 “It [the Rigveda] is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”

 Two years later he also wrote the Duke of Argyle, then acting Secretary of State for India: “The ancient religion of India is doomed. And if Christianity does not take its place, whose fault will it be?” The facts therefore are clear: like Lawrence of Arabia in this century, Max Müller, though a scholar was an agent of the British government paid to advance its colonial interests. But he remained an ardent German nationalist even while working in England. This helps explain why he used his position as a recognized Vedic and Sanskrit scholar to promote the idea of the ‘Aryan race’ and the ‘Aryan nation’, both favorite slogans among German nationalists. Though he was later to repudiate it, it was Max Müller as much as anyone who popularized the notion of Arya as a race. This of course was to reach its culmination in the rise of Hitler and the horrors of Nazism in our own century.

 Although it would be unfair to blame Max Müller for the rise of Nazism, he, as an eminent scholar of the Vedas and Sanskrit, bears a heavy responsibility for the deliberate misuse of a term in response to the emotion of the moment. He was guilty of giving scriptural sanction to the worst prejudice of his or any age. Not everyone however was guilty of such abuse. Wilhem Schlegel, no less a German nationalist, or romantic, always used the word ‘Arya’ to mean honorable and never in a racial sense. Max Müller’s misuse of the term may be pardonable in an ignoramus, but not in a scholar of his stature.

 At the same time it should be pointed out that there is nothing to indicate that Max Müller was himself a racist. He was a decent and honorable man who had many Indian friends. He simply allowed himself to be carried away by the emotion of the moment, and the heady feeling of being regarded an Aryan sage by fellow German nationalists. To be always in the public eye was a lifelong weakness with the man. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that Max Müller saw the opportunity and made a ‘bargain with the devil’ to gain fame and fortune. It would be a serious error however to judge the man based on this one unseemly episode in a many-sided life. His contribution as editor and publisher of ancient works is great beyond dispute. He was a great man and we must be prepared to recognize it.

 Much now is made of the fact that Max Müller later repudiated the racial aspects of the Aryan theory, claiming it to be a linguistic concept. But this again owed more to winds of change in European politics than to science or scholarship. Britain had been watching the progress of German nationalism with rising anxiety that burst into near hysteria in some circles when Prussia crushed France in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. This led to German unification under the banner of Prussia. Suddenly Germany

 This obviously was an exaggeration, but to the British still reeling from the effects of the 1857 revolt, the specter of German unification being repeated in India was very real. Max Müller though found himself in an extremely tight spot. Though a German by birth he was now comfortably established in England, in the middle of his lifework on the Vedas and the Sacred Books of the East. His youthful flirtation with German nationalism and the Aryan race theories could now cost him dear. German unification was followed in England by an outburst of British jingoism in which Bismarck and his policies were being daily denounced; Bismarck had become extremely unpopular in England for his expansionist policies. With his background as a German nationalist, the last thing Max Müller could afford was to be seen as advocating German ideology in Victorian England. He had no choice but to repudiate his former theories simply to survive in England. He reacted by hastily propounding a new ‘linguistic theory’ of the Aryan invasion.

 So in 1872, immediately following German unification, the culmination of the century long dream of German nationalists, Friedrich Max Müller marched into a university in German occupied France and dramatically denounced the German doctrine of the Aryan race. And just as he had been an upholder of the Aryan race theory for the first twenty years of his career, he was to remain a staunch opponent of it for the remaining thirty years of his life. It is primarily in the second role that he is remembered today, except by those familiar with the whole history.

 Let us now take a final look at this famous theory. It was first an Aryan invasion theory of Europe created by Europeans to free themselves from the Jewish heritage of Christianity. This was to lead to Hitler and Nazism. This theory was later transferred to India and got mixed up with the study of Sanskrit and European languages. Europeans–now calling themselves Indo-Europeans–became the invading Aryans and the natives became the Dravidians.

 The British hired Max Müller to use this theory to turn the Vedas into an inferior scripture, to help turn educated Hindus into Christian collaborators. Max Müller used his position as a Vedic scholar to boost German nationalism by giving scriptural sanction to the German idea of the Aryan race. Following German unification under Bismarck, British public and politicians became scared and anti-German. At this Max Müller worried about his position in England, got cold feet and wriggled out of his predicament by denouncing his own former racial theory and turned it into a linguistic theory. In all of this, one would like to know where was the science?

 As Huxley pointed out long ago, there was never any scientific basis for the Aryan race or their invasion. It was entirely a product–and tool–of propagandists and politicians. Giving it a linguistic twist was simply an afterthought, dictated by special circumstances and expediency.

 The fact that Europeans should have concocted this scenario which by repeated assertion became a belief system is not to be wondered at. They were trying to give themselves a cultural identity, entirely understandable in a people as deeply concerned about their history and origins as the modern Europeans. But how to account for the tenacious attachment to this fiction that is more propaganda than history on the part of ‘establishment’ Indian historians? It is not greatly to their credit that modern Indian historians–with rare exceptions–have failed to show the independence of mind necessary to subject this theory to a fresh examination and come up with a more realistic version of history. Probably they lack also the necessary scientific skills and have little choice beyond continuing along the same well-worn paths that don’t demand much more than reiterating nineteenth century formulations.

 It is not often that a people look to a land and culture far removed from them in space and time for their inspiration as the German nationalists did. This should made modern Indian historians examine the causes in Europe for this unusual phenomenon. It is one of the great failures of scholarship that they failed to do so.

 We no longer have to continue along this discredited path. Now thanks to the contributions of science–from the pioneering exploration of V.S. Wakankar and his discovery of the Vedic river Sarasvati to Jha’s decipherment of the Indus script–we are finally allowed a glimpse into the ancient world of the Vedic Age. The Aryan invasion theory and its creators and advocates are on their way to the dustbin of history.

 Conclusion: historiography, not Indology, is the answer. The rise and fall of Indology closely parallels the growth and decline of European colonialism and the Euro-centric domination of Indian intellectual life. (Marxism is the most extreme of Euro-centric doctrines – a ‘Christian heresy’ as Bertrand Russell called it.) The greatest failure of Indology has been its inability to evolve an objective methodology for the study of the sources. Even after two hundred years of existence, there is no common body of knowledge that can serve as foundation, or technical tools that be used in addressing specific problems. All that Indologists have given us are theories and more theories almost all of them borrowed from other disciplines. If one went to botany to borrow tree diagrams for the study of languages, another went to psychology to study sacrificial rituals, and a third – followed by a whole battalion – borrowed the idea of the class struggle from Marx to apply to Vedic society. Not one of them stopped to think whether it would not be better to try to study the ancients through the eyes of the ancients themselves. And yet ample materials exist to follow such a course. With the benefit of hindsight, even setting aside irrational biases due to politics and Biblical beliefs, we can now recognize that Indology has been guilty of two fundamental methodological errors. First, linguists have confused their theories–based on their own classifications and even whimsical assumptions–for fundamental laws of nature that reflect historical reality. Secondly, archaeologists, at least a significant number of them, have subordinated their own interpretations to the historical, cultural, and even the chronological impositions of the linguists. (Remember the Biblical Creation in 4004 BC which gave the Aryan invasion in 1500 BC!) This has resulted in a fundamental methodological error of confounding primary data from archaeology with modern impositions like the Aryan invasion and other theories and even their dates. This mixing of unlikes–further confounded by religious beliefs and political theories–is a primary source of the confusion that plagues the history and archaeology of ancient India . In their failure to investigate the sources, modern scholars–Indian scholars in particular–have much to answer for.

 As an immediate consequence of this, the vast body of primary literature from the Vedic period has been completely divorced from Harappan archaeology under the dogmatic belief that the Vedas and Sanskrit came later. This has meant that this great literature and its creators have no archaeological or even geographical existence. In our view, the correct approach to breaking this deadlock is by a combination of likes–a study of primary data from archaeology alongside the primary literature from ancient periods. This means we must be wary of modern theories intruding upon ancient data and texts. The best course is to disregard them. They have outlived their usefulness if they had any. In the final analysis, Indology–like the Renaissance and the Romantic Movement–should be seen as part of European history. And Indologists–from Max Müller to his modern successors–have contributed no more to the study of ancient India than Herodotus. Their works tell us more about them than about India . It is time to make a new beginning. The decipherment of the Indus script–and the scientific methodology leading up to it–can herald this new beginning.


3 Responses

  1. Please peruse the article that has been taken from:

    The Universal Religion
    (HinduDharma: The Vedic Religion: Introductory)

    In the dim past what we call Hinduism today was prevalent all over the world. Archaeological studies reveal the existence of relics of our Vedic religion in many countries. For instance, excavations have brought up the text of a treaty between Rameses II and the Hittites dating back to the 14th century B. C. In this, the Vedic gods Mitra and Varuna are mentioned as witnesses to the pact. There is a connection between the name of Ramesses and that of our Rama.

    About 75 per cent of the names of places in Madagascar have a Sanskritic origin.

    In the Western Hemisphere too there is evidence of Hinduism having once flourished there. In Mexico a festival is celebrated at the same time as our Navaratri; it is called “Rama-Sita”. Wherever the earth is dug up images of Ganapati are discovered here. The Aztecs had inhabited Mexico before the Spaniards conquered that land. “Aztecs ” must be a distorted form of “Astikas”. In Peru, during the time of the holy equinox [vernal? ] worship was conducted in the sun temple. The people of this land were called Incas: “Ina” is one of the Sanskrit names of the sun god. Don’t we call Rama Inakula-tilaka?

    There is book containing photographs of the aborigines of Australia dancing in the nude (The Native Tribes of Central Australia, by Spencer Killan, pages 128 & 129). A close look at the pictures, captioned “Siva Dance”, shows that the dancers have a third eye drawn on the forehead.

    In a virgin forest in Borneo which, it is said, had not been penetrated by any human being until recently, explorers have found a sacrificial post with an inscription in a script akin to our Granthas characters. Historians know it as the inscription of Mulavarman of Kotei. Mention is made in it of a sacrifice, the king who performed it, the place where the yupas was installed. That the king gave away kalpavrksass as a gift to Brahmins is also stated in this inscription. All such details were discovered by Europeans, the very people who ridicule our religion.

    Now something occurs to me in this context, something that you may find amusing. You know that the Sagaras went on digging the earth down to the nether world in search of their sacrificial horse. An ocean came into being in this way and it was called sagara after the king Sagara.

    The Sagaras, at last found the horse near the hermitage of Kapila Maharsi. Thinking that he must be the man who had stolen the animal and hidden it in the nether world they laid violent hands on him. Whereupon the sage reduced them to ashes with a mere glance of his eye. Such is the story according to the Ramayana. America, which is at the antipodes, may be taken to Patala or the nether world. Kapilaranya(the forest in which Kapila had his hermitage), we may further take it, was situated there. It is likely that Kapilaranya changed to California in the same manner as Madurai is something altered to “Marudai”. Also noteworthy is the fact that there is a Horse Island near California as well as an Ash Island.

    Another idea occurs to me about Sagara and sagara. Geologists believe that ages ago the Sahara desert was an ocean. It seems to me that Sahara is derived from sagara.

    Some historians try to explain the evidence pointing to the worldwide prevalence of our religion in the past to the exchange of cultural and religious ideas between India and other countries established through travels. I myself believe that there was one common religion or dharma throughout and that the signs and symbols that we find of this today are the creation of the original inhabitants of the lands concerned.

    The view put forward by some students of history about the discovery of the remnants of our religion in other countries- these relating to what is considered the historical period of the past two or three thousand years- is that Indians went to these lands, destroyed the old native civilizations there and imposed Hindu culture in their place. Alternatively, they claim, Indians thrust their culture into the native ways of life in such a way that it became totally absorbed in them.

    The fact, however, is that evidence is to be found in many countries of their Vedic connection dating back to 4, 000 years or more. That is, with the dawn of civilization itself, aspects of the Vedic dharama existed in these lands. It was only subsequently that the inhabitants of these regions came to have a religion of their own.

    Greece had an ancient religion and had big temples where various deities were worshipped. The Hellenic religion had Vedic elements in it. The same was the case with the Semitic religions of the pre- Christian era in the region associated with Jesus. The aborigines of Mexico had a religion of their own. They shared the Vedic view of the divine in the forces of nature and worshipped them as deities. There was a good deal of ritual in all such religions.

    Now none of these religions, including that of Greece, survives. The Greek civilization had once attained to the heights of glory. Now Christianity flourishes in Greece. Buddhism has spread in Central Asia and in East Asia up to Japan. According to anthropologists, religions in their original form exist only in areas like the forests of Africa. But even these ancient faiths contain Vedic elements.

    Religious and philosophical truths are often explained through parables, stories, so that ignorant people can understand them easily. Since metaphysical concepts are difficult to grasp, either they have to be told in the form of a story or they have to be given the form of a ritual, that is they must find expression as religious acts. For the common people the performance of a rite is a means of finding the truth present in it in the form of a symbol. I do not, however, agree with the view that all rituals are nothing but symbolic in their significance and that there is no need to perform them so long as their inner meaning is understood.

    Ritual as ritual has its own place and efficacy. Similarly, I would not say that stories from the Puranas are nothing but illustrations or explanations of certain truths or doctrines. As stories they are of a high order and I believe that they really happened. But, at the same time, they demonstrate the meaning of certain truths. As for rites, their performance brings up benefits. But in due course, as we learn to appreciate their inner meaning we shall become purified in mind. This is the stage when we shall no more yearn for any benefits from their performance and will be rewarded with supreme well-being (that is, liberation).

    It is likely, though, that, with the passage of time, some stories or rites will become far removed from their inner meaning. Or, it may be, the inner meaning will be altogether forgotten. So it must be that, when new religions took shape abroad, after the lapse of thousands of years-religions not connected with the Vedic faith that is the root-the original Vedic concepts become transformed or distorted.

    You must be familiar with the story of Adam and Eve which belongs to the Hebrew tradition. It occurs in the Genesis of the Old Testament and speaks of the tree of knowledge and God’s commandment that its fruit shall not be eaten. Adam at first did not eat it but Eve did. After that Adam too ate the forbidden fruit.

    Here an Upanisadic concept has taken the form of a biblical story. But because of the change in the time and place the original idea has become distorted-or even obliterated.

    The Upanisadic story speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a pippala tree. One eats the fruit of tree while the order merely watches its companion without eating. The pippala tree stands for the body. The first bird represents a being that regards himself as the jivatman or individual self and the fruit it eats signifies sensual pleasure. In the same body (symbolized by the tree) the second bird is to be understood as the Paramatman. He is the support of all beings but he does not know sensual pleasure. Since he does not eat the fruit he naturally does not have the same experience as the jivatman (the first). The Upanisad speaks with poetic beauty of the two birds. He who eats the fruit is the individual self, jiva, and he who does not eat is the Supreme Reality, the one who knows himself to be the Atman.

    It is this jiva that has come to be called Eve in the Hebrew religious tradition. “Ji” changes to “i” according to a rule of grammar and “ja” to “ya”. We have the example of “Yamuna” becoming “Jamuna” or of “Yogindra” being changed to “Joginder “. In the biblical story “jiva” is “Eve” and “Atma” (or “Atman”) is “Adam”. “Pippala” has in the same way changed to “apple”. The Tree of Knowledge is our “bodhi-vrksa”. “Bodha” means “knowledge”. It is well known that the Budhha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree. But the pipal (pippala) was known as the bodhi tree even before his time.

    The Upanisadic ideas transplanted into a distant land underwent a change after the lapse of centuries. Thus we see in the biblical story that the Atman (Adam) that can never be subject to sensual pleasure also eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. While our bodhi tree stands for enlightenment, the enlightenment that banishes all sensual pleasure, the biblical tree affords worldly pleasure. These differences notwithstanding there is sufficient evidence here that, once upon a time, Vedic religion was prevalent in the land of the Hebrews.

    Let me give the another example to strengthen the view that however much a custom or a concept changes with the passage of time and with its acceptance by people of another land, it will still retain elements pointing to its original source. Our TiruppavaiT and TiruvembavaiT are not as ancient as the Vedas. Scholars ascribe them to an age not later than 1, 500 years ago. However it be, the authors of these Tamil hymns, AndalT and ManikkavacakarT, belong to an age much later than that of the Vedas and epics. After their time Hindu empires arose across the seas. Even the Cola kings extended their sway beyond the shores of the country. More worthy of note than our naval expeditions was the great expansion in our sea trade and the increase with it of our foreign contacts. As a result, people abroad were drawn to the Hindu religion and culture. Among the regions that developed such contacts, South-East Asia was the most important. Islands like Bali in the Indonesian archipelago became wholly Hindu. People in Siam (Thailand), Indochina and the Philippines came under the influence of Hindu culture. Srivijaya was one of the great empires of South-East Asia.

    [Here the Paramaguru briefly touches upon the stages representing the emergence of various religions]. In primeval times the Vedic religion was prevalent everywhere: this was the first stage. In the second stage new religions emerged in various parts of the world. In the third stage these decayed and their place was taken by Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. In the subsequent stage the Hindu civilization became a living force outside the shores of India also, particularly in South-East Asia. This was the period during which great temples reminding us of those of Tamil Nadu arose with the spread of our religion and culture: Angkor-vat in Cambodia; Borobudur in Java, Indonesia; Prambanan, also in Java. Now it was that our Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai made their passage to Thailand.

    Even today a big festival is held in Thailand in December- January, corresponding to the Tamil Margazhi, the same month during which we read the Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai with devotion. As part of the celebrations a dolotsava (swing festival) is held. A remarkable feature of this is that, in the ceremony meant for Visnu, a man with the make-up of Siva is seated on the swing. This seems to be in keeping with the fact that the Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai contribute to the unification of Vaisnavism and Saivism.

    If you ask the people of Thailand about the Pavai poems, they will not be able to speak about them. It might seem then that there is no basis for connecting the that festival with the Pavai works merely because it is held in the month corresponding to the Tamil Murgazhi. But the point to note is that the people of that country themselves call it “Triyampavai- Trippavai”.

    Those who read the Bible today are likely to be ignorant about the Upanisads, but they are sure to know the story that can be traced back to them, that of Adam and Eve. The Thais now must be likewise ignorant about the Pavis but, all the same, they hold in the month of Dhanus every year a celebration called “Triyampavai – Trippavai. ” As part of it they also have a swing festival in which figures a man dressed as Siva. Here the distortion in the observance of a rite have occurred during historical times- one of the distortions is that of Siva being substituted for Visnu. Also during this period the Thais have forgotten the Pavis but, significantly enough, they still conduct a festival named after them. Keeping these before you, take mind back to three thousand years ago and imagine how a religion or a culture would have changed after its passage to foreign lands.

    It is in this context that you must consider the Vedic tradition. For all the changes and distortions that it has undergone in other countries during the past millennia its presence there is still proclaimed through elements to be found in the religions that supplanted it.

    How are we to understand the presence of Hindu ideas or concepts in the religious beliefs of people said to belong to prehistoric times? It does not seem right to claim that in the distant past our religion or culture was propagated in other countries through an armed invasion or through trade, that is at a time when civilization itself has not taken shape there. That is why I feel that there is no question of anything having been taken from this land and introduced into another country. The fact according to me, is that in the beginning the Vedic religion was prevalent all over the world. Later, over the countries, it must have gone through a process of change and taken different forms. These forms came to be called the original religions of these various lands which in the subsequent period- during historical times- came under Buddhism, Christianity or Islam as the case may be.
    About “Hindu Dharma”

    “Hindu Dharma” is a book which contains English translation of certain invaluable and engrossing speeches of Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji (at various times during the years 1907 to 1994).

  2. From:

    a few years ago a Russian orientalist by name Prof. Ribakov from Moscow went to Kanchi to have the darshan and receive the blessings of the late Kanchi Paramacharya. The Paramacharya asked the Russian professor: “Does not the northernmost part of Russia have more Sanskrit content in the language?” The professor was stunned. This scholar, who came to ask questions, shed tears of joy at the very sight of the Paramacharya and was dumbfounded at the depth of his scholarship. The Paramacharya further explained to the Russian that Russia was called `Rishi Varsha’ in ancient Indian geography, because it was the land where our Rishis like sage Yagnavalkya had their conference on the Vedas. This could further be corroborated by the fact that some women in the northernmost point of Russia have names like Lopamudrova, which is stunningly close to Lopamudra, wife of sage Agastya.

    It may be recalled that during the Sankalpa (a solemn vow to perform an observance) at the time of Pooja, we frequently use the term Jambu Dweepa. This term actually means the entire region covering Asia and Europe, as is evidenced from descriptions in Puranic geography. Even today I understand that in the USSR while writing the postal address, the name of the country is written first and then followed by such specifications as the city, town, area, street number, etc., in that sequence. This is an ancient Hindu tradition which we follow even today during our daily Sankalpa in Pujas

  3. Source:


    (Prabuddha Bharata, April, 1899)

    Having been directed by the Editor, writes our representative, to interview Swami Vivekananda on the question of converts to Hinduism, I found an opportunity one evening on the roof of a Garga houseboat. It was after nightfall, and we had stopped at the embankments of the Ramakrishna Math, and there the Swami came down to speak with me.

    Time and place were alike delightful. Overhead the stars, and around — the rolling Ganga; and on one side stood the dimly lighted building, with its background of palms and lofty shade-trees.

    “I want to see you, Swami”, I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?”

    “Certainly,” said the Swami, “they can and ought to be taken.”

    He sat gravely for a moment, thinking, and then resumed. “Besides,” he said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said — I think on the authority of Ferishta, the oldest Mohammedan historian — to have been six hundred millions of Hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.

    “Again, the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword, or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.

    “In my own opinion, this statement not only applies to aboriginal tribes, to outlying nations, and to almost all our conquerors before the Mohammedan conquest, but also in the Purânas. I hold that they have been aliens thus adopted.

    “Ceremonies of expiation are no doubt suitable in the case of willing converts, returning to their Mother-Church, as it were; but on those who were alienated by conquest — as in Kashmir and Nepal — or on strangers wishing to join us, no penance should be imposed.”

    “But of what caste would these people be, Swamiji?” I ventured to ask. “They must have some, or they can never be assimilated into the great body of Hindus. Where shall we look for their rightful place?”

    “Returning converts”, said the Swami quietly, “will gain their own castes, of course. And new people will make theirs. You will remember,” he added, “that this has already been done in the case of Vaishnavism. Converts from different castes and aliens were all able to combine under that flag and form a caste by themselves — and a very respectable one too. From Râmânuja down to Chaitanya of Bengal, all great Vaishnava Teachers have done the same.”

    “And where should these new people expect to marry?” I asked.

    “Amongst themselves, as they do now”, said the Swami quietly.

    “Then as to names,” I enquired, “I suppose aliens and perverts who have adopted non-Hindu names should be named newly. Would you give them caste-names, or what?”

    “Certainly,” said the Swami, thoughtfully, “there is a great deal in a name!” and on this question he would say no more.

    But my next enquiry drew blood. “Would you leave these new-comers, Swamiji, to choose their own form of religious belief out of many-visaged Hinduism, or would you chalk out a religion for them?”

    “Can you ask that?” he said. “They will choose for themselves. For unless a man chooses for himself, the very spirit of Hinduism is destroyed. The essence of our Faith consists simply in this freedom of the Ishta.”

    I thought the utterance a weighty one, for the man before me has spent more years than any one else living I fancy, in studying the common bases of Hinduism in a scientific and sympathetic spirit — and the freedom of the Ishta is obviously a principle big enough to accommodate the world.

    But the talk passed to other matters, and then with a cordial good night this great teacher of religion lifted his lantern and went back into the monastery, while I by the pathless paths of the Ganga, in and out amongst her crafts of many sizes, made the best of my way back to my Calcutta home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: