Did the Aryans Begin the Vedic Period in Ancient India? Or, Was It the Harappan Civilization?
In 1853, Max Meuller came up with the Aryan Invasion Theory, which states that “Aryans were a class of fair-skinned agrarian noblemen who came from Central Asia to inhabit India after the Indus Valley period" The theory claimed that Aryans destroyed the Indus Valley Civilization when they settled in India and they were the ones who composed The Vedas.
This theory was proposed in the 19th century based on the linguistic similarities between the Indo-European languages. But it has been debunked and disproved by a series of scientific research done on the gene pool of the ancient people.
But for academic historians or eminent historians, the Aryan migration Theory, which is the derivative of the Aryan Invasion theory, has some important purposes. So, they still keep it relevant. But on how much evidence? That is the question we are going to explore here.
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Indo-Aryan Theory And The Indus Valley Civilization
Historians believe that Aryans from Central Asia came to India and started the civilization that we see today. But we don’t know how this migration is related to the Indus Valley Civilization. When exactly did the migration happen? Did this migration cause the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization?
On account of two major research studies published in 2019, we have clearer answers to these questions today.
An Ancient Harappan Genome lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers (Vasant Shinde et al. 2019) published in Cell proves that “A genome from the Indus Valley Civilization is from a population that is the largest source for South Asians. The population has no detectable ancestry from Steppe pastoralists or from Anatolian and Iranian farmers.”
The study The Formation of Human Populations in South and Central Asia ( Vageesh Narasimhan et al, 2019) proved that there have been two separate Steppe Migrations. Steppe is a region in Central Asia that was inhabited by pastoralists and by ‘migration’ we mean a collision of two ancestries.
According to David Reich, the co-author of both these research papers, the first collision happened when the mixture of Iranian-related ancestry and South and Southeast Asian hunter-gather-related ancestry formed the Indus Valley Cline on average 7400- 5700 years ago. The Iranian-related ancestry in the Indus Valley Civilization comes from a lineage leading to early Iranian Farmers herders and hunter-gatherers before the ancestors split. The idea that early Iranians and South Asians shared a large-scale spread of Western Iranian Farmers East is refuted by this information. Instead, the sampled ancient genomes from Iranian Plato and the Indus Valley cline descended from separate hunter-gatherer tribes who began farming without being connected by substantial movement of people.
The second collision of Indo-Iranian ancestry happened after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. This movement of people now amounts to less than 30 percent of the genetic material that Indians have today.
The Decline Of IVC And The Second Collision Of Ancestries
By 1700 BCE cities were abandoned in the Harappan civilization and IVC disintegrated. This is majorly attributed to the degradation of the Saraswati River, also known as the Ghaggar river. The inhabitants of Indus Valley civilizations migrated to the Ganga-Yamuna Basin after a period of time.
Around the same time, pastoralists and herders moved from the Steppe region in many waves. It has largely been attributed to the drastic climate change and drought in Central Asia which made life difficult there. They brought their cattle, horses, and some of their agriculture practices during this migration. Along with it, they brought the Indo-Aryan languages which is the basis for the Aryan Invasion Theory.
Sanskrit And The Vedic Period
The mainstream historians claim that Sanskrit, and along with it the Rig Veda, must have come from Central Asia.
Historians point out some relations between the Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era and the hypothesized Proto-Indo-European religion and the Indo-Iranian religion. The sacrificial funeral rituals of the Rigveda could be similar to the funeral sacrifices of the Sintashta culture. David W. Anthony , in his book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, claims that the Old Indic religion most likely developed among Indo-European immigrants in the region where the Zeravshan River flows through what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The god Indra and the sacred drink Soma were among the "distinctive religious ideas and rituals" adopted from the Bactria-Margiana culture, which was described as "a syncretic blend of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements."
But these accounts are not backed by solid evidence to prove that Rig Veda and Sanskrit were brought from outside India. The Indo-Aryans brought in the Proto-Indo-European languages which are the mother languages of both Indian and European languages. But that doesn’t prove that The Vedas, especially the Rig Veda, were brought from Central Asia.
The Battle of Ten Tribes
Sanjeev Sanyal in his book The Ocean of churns, says that in order to learn about the origins of the Vedas, we should look for clues in the Rig Veda itself.
The Rig Veda has no memory of Central Asia or any migration but it talks about a place called the Sapta Sindhu. This is the area covering modern-day Haryana, parts of Punjab, and Rajasthan. Sapta Sindhu is said to be the homeland of the Bharata tribe in Rig Veda.
According to legend, the Bharatas lived in the upper reaches of the Saraswati River while the Purus, their Western neighbors, dwelt in the lower reaches. The Bharatas engaged a confederation of ten tribes in battle during the Battle of Ten Tribes, also known as the Battle of Ten Kings, which happened on the banks of the River Ravi.
The division of the waters of Ravi could have been the cause of the war. The Confederates of tribes tried to inundate the Bharatas by opening the embankments of Ravi. Sudas, the King of the Bharatas, won the Battle of Ten Kings, and after the war, the Bharatas and the Purus united to form a new tribe, the Kuru.
The Kuru kingdom is claimed to be the beginning of The Vedic period in India.
They expanded towards the East of the subcontinent, starting with Panchala, creating the Hindu culture we see today, along with its mythology.
But what is the genetic composition of the Bharatas or the Kurus?
The most accurate claim that we can make about the genetic makeup of the Kuru tribe is that they are multi-ethnic. We do not have any evidence that suggests that Bharatas were the descendants of the Aryans. This includes historical and genetic evidence. When we also consider the fact that we know very little about the Indus Valley Civilization and the cultural and religious practices that they followed, we cannot make a conclusive claim about the ancestry of the Kurus.
The Rig Veda could have been a combination of these two cultures, or a synthesis of them.
The Out-of-India Hypothesis
There is also the hypothesis that India is the cradle of Indo-Aryan ancestry. There is no genetic evidence to support that claim as well but the similarities between the Aryan and the Indian traditional practices and religions can be attributed to both out-of-India Theory and the Aryan Migration Theory. Citing different sources, historians can make claims on either side of the argument. But a definite answer can be possible only after discovering more evidence about them.
Aryas and Dravidians
Through the millennia, there has been such an intermixing between the gene pools that came into The Indian subcontinent that no one has a pure ancestry. Still, we tend to claim that South Indians are Dravidians, who are closer to the original residents of the subcontinent, while the people in the North have more links to Aryan ancestry. But according to the genetic evidence, this is not true.
Genetic data has shown that genetic mixing was widespread in India 4,000 years ago. Rigid marriage rules based on caste can be documented only from around 2,000 years ago, which led to distinctive genetic groups.
Despite this, we still give ourselves racial identities and divide the country based on skin color and casteism.
Falling Prey To Speculations
The Aryan Invasion theory is sustained in the Indian historical discourse as the root cause of The Vedic religion, racism, and the origins of the caste system. The only problem is that we see very little evidence pointing in that direction.
Two things are for sure: there was a migration from Central Asia because of climate change and drought conditions and they did bring the Proto-Indo-European languages to the subcontinent, and maybe horses. Other than that, we can’t determine anything further with the available genetic evidence.
We don’t know the culture and traditions of the Indus Valley Civilization or the level of cultural mixing that happened in the centuries before the establishment of the Kuru Kingdom. Despite all this, we have assumed a historical discourse for ourselves that is very racist, divisive, and mythical.