How Ancient Is The Vedic Tradition
Dr Kenneth Chandler
Origins Of Vedic Civilisation
To many European scholars of the nineteenth century (characterised more by their Euro-centrism than by scientific attitudes towards peoples of other cultures), the idea that the family of European languages family could have originated in India was unthinkable. It was just not culturally acceptable to think that the roots of European language and culture could be traced to darker-skinned peoples indigenous to India. So European thinkers began to speculate about a pre-historic “proto-Indo-European” race who had migrated from somewhere in Western Asia, perhaps around the Black Sea, Eastern Europe, or Russia, to settle in India and in Europe. This, as we will see, was a purely racial and cultural bias, with no basis in archeological fact.
Many European scholars immediately bought in to the “Indo-European hypothesis,” which was the stimulus to develop the discipline of historical linguistics. European scholars like Max Muller, Thomas Young, Joseph de Goubinau, Dwight Witney, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, A.L. Basham, George Cox, and John Fiske all adopted the theory of Indo-European origins. They commonly proposed that a people speaking “proto-Indo-European” came from somewhere in central or Western Asia or southeastern Europe, invaded India from the northwest, overran the local culture, and settled in the north of India.
These Indo-Europeans were said to be “Aryans” in race and language, which meant primarily fair-haired and light-skinned people. By the twentieth century they were conceived, mainly by German scholars, as a blue-eyed, blond race that was the stock of the Germanic people—all nicely fitting the cultural-political-racial agendas of Western Europe—and Nazi Germany in particular.
In spite of the large number of scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century who believed the invasion theory, it turns out, as we see below, that there is almost no shred of evidence to support it. It is one of the great myths formed by European scholars to support their bias that outside invaders created early Indian civilisation. Anthropologist today find all evidence points to an origin of the Vedic tradition that is indigenous to northern India.
Scientific Archeology : The End of the Invasion Theory
In the 1990s, a new wave of scientific evidence, coming partly from satellite photos, geological study, archeological digs, and other anthropological finds began to seriously discredit the old myth. Once the rubble of false assumptions was cleared away, a far more simple scientific picture of the origins of ancient north Indian civilization began to emerge.
* * * Professor Colin Renfrew, professor of archeology at Cambridge University, in his Archeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (1988) gives evidence for Indo-Europeans in India as early as 6,000 BC. He comments : As far as I can see there is nothing in the Hymns of the Rigveda which demonstrates that the Vedic-speaking population were intrusive to the area : this comes rather from a historical assumption about the ‘coming’ of the Indo-Europeans.
* * * Professor Schaffer at Case Western University writes in “Migration, Philology and South Asian Archaeology” that there was an indigenous development of civilization in India going back to at least 6000 BC. He proposes that the Harappan or Indus Valley urban culture (2600-1900 BC) centered around the Saraswati river described in the Rig Veda and states that the Indus Valley culture came to an end, not because of outside invaders, but due to environmental changes, most important of which was the drying up of the Saraswati river.
Schaffer holds that the movement of populations away from the Saraswati to the Ganges after the Saraswati dried up in about 1900 BC, is reflected in the change from the Saraswati-based literature of the Rig Veda to the Ganges-based literature of the Itihasa and Puranic texts. He also states that the Aryan invasion theory reflects a colonial and Euro-centric perspective that is quite out of date. He concludes : We reject most strongly the simplistic historical interpretations… that continue to be imposed on south Asian culture history…Surely, as south Asian studies approach the twenty-first century, it is time to describe emerging data objectively rather than perpetuate interpretations without regard to the data archaeologists have worked so hard to reveal.
Anthropologist Brian Hemphill of Vanderbilt University has been studying the human remains of the northern Indian subcontinent for years. He states categorically that his analysis shows no indication of population replacement or large-scale migration.
Archaeologist Mark Kenoyer, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and co-director of the Harappa Archeological Research project, holds that the invasion theory is completely unsupported by archeological, linguistic, or literary evidence. He writes in an article on the Indus valley civilisation : Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archeology at Cambridge University, in his famous work, Archeology and Language : The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988) Renfrew also sees evidence that the Indo-Europeans were in Greece as early as 6,000 BC. If previous scholars were wrong about the origin of the Indus people, they also missed the boat when it came to explaining their downfall, which they attributed to an invasion by Indo-Aryan speaking Vedic tribes from the northwest. Archeological evidence simply does not support the thesis of an outside invasion.
Kenoyer argues, “it’s likely that the rivers dried up and shifted their courses, altering trade routes and undermining the economy.” Kenoyer holds that the Indus valley script can be traced to at least 3,300 BC—making it as old or older than the oldest Sumerian written records.
Archaeologist Kenneth Kennedy writes that no Aryan skeletons have been found in the Indus valley that differ from the skeletons of indigenous ethnic groups. All prehistoric human remains recovered from the Indian subcontinent are phenotypically identifiable as south Asians. Furthermore their biological continuity with living peoples of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the border regions is well established across time and space.
Scientific archeology, it is now safe to say, no longer gives the invasion theory a grain of credibility. It has lost its supporters among serious scientists. Also, as professor Renfrew argues, there is no internal evidence from the ancient Vedic literature that Vedic civilisation originated outside India. The verses of the Rig Veda, the most ancient songs of Vedic tradition, detail many aspects of daily life of the people. There is no hint in this vast literature of a migration or of a history that lies in a homeland beyond the mountains of northern India. All evidence from archeology, anthropology, and Vedic literature indicate that Vedic civilisation was indigenous to northern India. Geological data now explains the demise of the Indus and Saraswati valley civilisations in terms of climactic change, bringing an end to the outside invasion theory.
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