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Eurocentric History

                - by David Frawley
The world history has been written with a Euro-centric view. This view ignores other ancient traditions like those of India, China or Mesoamerica as of little importance. If we examine books on world history today we discover that they are largely histories of modern Europe, with non-European cultures turned into a mere footnote.

In the post-colonial era, a number of racial, ethnic and religious groups have challenged their negative portrayal in modern Eurocentric historical accounts. For example, the European conquest of America, which was previously regarded as the benign expansion of advanced European civilization, is now being reinterpreted as a genocide of native peoples and destruction of their ancient cultures.

The Aryan Invasion Theory is a product of this Eurocentric view.

The Aryan Invasion Theory

The main idea used to interpret the ancient history of India, which we still find in history books today, is the theory of the Aryan invasion. According to this account, which I will briefly summarize, India was invaded and conquered by nomadic light-skinned Indo-European tribes (Aryans) from Central Asia around 1500-1000 BC. They overran an earlier and more advanced dark-skinned Dravidian civilization from which they took most of what later became Indian civilization. In the process they never gave the indigenous people whom they took their civilization from the proper credit but eradicated all evidence of their conquest. All the Aryans really added of their own was their language (Sanskrit, of an Indo-European type) and their priestly cult of caste that was to become the bane of later Indic society.

The so-called Aryans, the original people behind the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were reinterpreted by this modern theory not as sages and seers - the rishis and yogis of Hindu historical tradition - but as primitive plunderers. Naturally this cast a shadow on the Hindu religion and culture as a whole.

The so-called pre-Aryan or Dravidian civilization is said to be indicated by the large urban ruins of what has been called the "Indus Valley culture" (as most of its initial sites were on the Indus river), or "Harappa and Mohenjodaro," after its two initially largest sites. In this article we will call this civilization the "Harappan" as its sites extend far beyond the Indus river. It is now dated from 3100-1900 BC. By the invasion theory Indic civilization is proposed to have been the invention of a pre-Vedic civilization and the Vedas, however massive their literature, are merely the products of a dark age following its destruction. Only the resurgence of the pre-Vedic culture in post-Vedic times is given credit for the redevelopment of urban civilization in India.

The Aryan invasion theory has become the basis of the view that Indian history has primarily been one of invasions from the West, with little indigenous coming from the subcontinent itself either in terms of populations or cultural innovations. The history of India appears as a series of outside invasions: Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Portuguese, British, and so on. Following this logic, it has even led to the idea that the Dravidians also originally were outsiders. The same logic has resulted in the proposition of a Dravidian migration into India from Central Asia, a few thousand years before the Aryan invasion, overrunning the original aboriginal people of the region (now thought to be represented by the tribals of the area). Though this "Dravidian invasion" has not been brought into the same prominence as the Aryan invasion theory it shows the same bias that for civilization we must look to Western peoples and cultures and not to India as any separate center of civilization.

The Aryan invasion theory is not a mere academic matter, of concern only to historians. In the colonial era the British used it to divide India along north-south, Aryan-Dravidian lines, an interpretation various south Indian politicians have taken up as the cornerstone for their political projection of Dravidian identity. The Aryan invasion theory is the basis of the Marxist critique of Indian history where caste struggle takes the place of class struggle with the so-called pre-Aryan indigenous peoples turned into the oppressed masses and the invading Aryans turned into the oppressors, the corrupt ruling elite. Christian and Islamic missionaries have used the theory to denigrate the Hindu religion as a product of barbaric invaders and promote their efforts to convert Hindus. Every sort of foreign ideology has employed it to try to deny India any real indigenous civilization so that the idea of the rule of foreign governments or ideas becomes acceptable. Even today it is not uncommon to see this theory appearng in Indian newspapers to uphold modern, generally Marxist or anti-Hindu political views. From it comes the idea that there is really no cohesive Indian identity or Hindu religion but merely a collection of the various peoples and cultures who have come to the subcontinent, generally from the outside. Therefore a reexamination of this issue is perhaps the most vital intellectual concern for India today.

The Aryan invasion theory was similarly applied to Europe and the Middle East. It proposed that the Indo-Europeans were invaders into these regions in the second millennium BC as well. Thereby it became the basis for maintaining a Near Eastern view of civilization, which places the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia and tries to derive all others from it. Thereby the invasion theory has been used to try to subordinate Eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism, to Western religions like Christianity and Islam, which are supposed to represent the original civilization of the world from Adam, the Biblical original man, who came from Mesopotamia. This is the case even though the ancient civilization which has been found in Mesopotamia resembles far more the Hindu, with its Gods and Goddesses and temple worship, than it does these later aniconic traditions.

The Aryan invasion theory has been used for political and religious advantage in a way that is perhaps unparalleled for any historical idea. Changing it will thereby alter the very fabric of how we interpret ourselves and our civilization East and West. It is bound to meet with resistance, not merely on rational grounds but to protect the ideologies which have used it to their benefit. Even when evidence to the contrary is presented, it is unlikely that it will be given up easily. The evidence which has come up that has disproved it has led to the reformulation of the theory along different lines, altering the aspects of it that have become questionable but not giving up its core ideas.

Yet with the weight of much new evidence today, the Aryan invasion theory no longer has any basis to stand on, however it is formulated. There is no real evidence for any Aryan invasion - whether archeological, literary or linguistic - and no scholar working in the field, even those who still accept some outside origin for the Vedic people (the so-called Aryans), accepts the theory in its classical form of the violent invasion and destruction of the Harappan cities by the incoming Aryans.

Four main points have emerged, which this article will elaborate:

  1. The main center of Harappan civilization is the newly rediscovered Sarasvati river of Vedic fame. While the Indus river has about three dozen important Harappan sites, the Sarasvati has over five hundred. The drying up of the Sarasvati brought about the end of the Harappan civilization around 1900 BC. As the Vedas know of this river they cannot be later than the terminal point for the river or different than the Harappans who flourished on its banks. Harappan culture should be renamed "the Sarasvati culture" and the Vedic culture must have been in India long before 2000 BC.
  2. No evidence of any significant invading populations have been found in ancient India, nor have any destroyed cities or massacred peoples been unearthed. The so-called massacre of Mohenjodaro that Wheeler, an early excavator of the site claimed to find, has been found to be only a case of imagination gone wild. The sites were abandoned along with the ecological changes that resulted in the drying up of the Sarasvati.
  3. So-called Aryan cultural traits like horses, iron, cattle-rearing or fire worship have been found to be either indigenous developments (like iron) or to have existed in Harappan and pre-Harappan sites (like horses and fire worship). No special Aryan culture in ancient India can be differentiated apart from the indigenous culture.
  4. A more critical reading of Vedic texts reveals that Harappan civilization, the largest of the ancient world, finds itself reflected in Vedic literature, the largest literature of the ancient world.(*1) Vedic literature was previously not related to any significant civilization but merely to "the destruction of Harappa." How the largest literature of the ancient world was produced by illiterate nomadic peoples as they destroyed one of the great civilizations of the ancient world is one of the absurdities that the Aryan invasion leads to, particularly when the urban literate Harappans are not given any literature of their own remaining.

Putting these points together we now see that the Vedas show the same development of culture, agriculture and arts and crafts as Harappan and pre-Harappan culture. Vedic culture is located in the same region as the Harappan, north India centered on the Sarasvati river. The abandonment of the invasion theory solves the literary riddle. Putting together Vedic literature, the largest of the ancient world, with the Harappan civilization, the largest of the ancient world, a picture emerges of ancient India as the largest civilization of the ancient world with the largest and best preserved literature, a far more logical view, and one that shows India as a consistent center from which civilization has spread over the last five thousand years.

Therefore it is necessary to set aside the discredited idea of the Aryan invasion and rewrite the textbooks in light of the new model, which is an organic and indigenous development of civilization in India from 6500 BC with no break in continuity or evidence of significant intrusive populations such as the invasion theory requires.(*2) Ancient India now appears not as a broken civilization deriving its impetus from outside invaders but as the most continuous and consistent indigenous development of civilization in the ancient world, whose literary record, the ancient Vedas, remains with us today.

Based on such new evidence an entire group of scholars has arisen from both India and the West who reject the Aryan invasion theory on various grounds considering the evidence of archeology, skeletal remains, geography, mathematics, astronomy, linguistics and so on. Such individuals include S.R. Rao, Navaratna Rajaram, Subhash Kak, James Schaffer, Mark Kenoyer, S.P. Gupta, Bhagwan Singh, B.G. Sidharth, K.D. Sethna, K.D. Abhyankar, P.V. Pathak, Srikant Talageri, S. Kalyanaraman, B.B. Chakravorty, Georg Feuerstein, and myself, to name a few.(*3) Their views generally support those of earlier Indian scholars and yogis, like Sri Aurobindo or B.G. Tilak, who proposed a Vedic nature for the civilization of India going back to early ancient times.

The few scholars today who continue to hold an outside origin for the Aryans have also generally given up the invasion/destruction idea, though they may still be proposing an outside origin for the Aryans. They are proposing an Aryan migration, diffusion, or mixing with indigenous people which is quite different from the violent and intrusive form of the original Aryan invasion idea (note Romila Thapar in this regard *4). Some of these scholars accept an Aryan element in the Harappan culture itself, owing to Vedic traits like fire altars which have been found in Harappan sites, though they still may not regard the Harappan culture as a whole as Aryan.

Yet whether the Vedic people were the original people of India, which is the majority view, or whether they migrated gradually into India, the image of the invading and destructive Aryans is totally discredited and should be removed. The image of the Indo-Aryans as proto-fascists, which is how the Aryan invasion theory has been used to represent them, is totally false. The idea misrepresents Hindu-Vedic culture, which has traditionally been peaceful and never invaded any country, inflames Dravidian sentiments, and casts a shadow of violence on ancient India for no real reason.

Aryan As Race Or Language

The Aryan invasion theory is based upon the idea that Aryan represents a particular group of people. In the classical view of the Aryan invasion the Aryans are a particular ethnic group, speaking a particular language. However in Vedic literature Aryan is not the name of the Vedic people and their descendants. It is a title of honor and respect given to certain groups for good or noble behavior. In this regard even the Buddha calls his teaching Aryan, Arya Dharma; the Jains also call themselves Aryans, as did the ancient Persians. For this reason one should call the Vedic people simply the "Vedic people" and not the Aryans. If one takes Aryan in the Vedic sense it would not be like talking of the invasion of good people, as if goodness were a racial or linguistic quality!

The Aryan invasion theory proposed that the Aryans belonged to a particular racial stock - generally the blond and blue-eyed nordic caucasians or at least fair-skinned European types (for which no real evidence in ancient India exists either) - and spoke only one language, Vedic Sanskrit (though this appears from the beginning as a priestly language, not a common dialect). The Aryans were said to have looked down upon those of different racial features or those who spoke different (presumably non-Indo-European) languages. The invasion theory thereby projected various cultural biases - that Vedic culture was racist or that it was based upon some sort of linguistic chauvinism. In short it cast an aspersion of prejudice and intolerance upon a culture before there had been any real examination of it. Meanwhile all the changes in ancient India were defined by this conflict of racial or linguistic groups, and ignoring all other factors of social change.

This idea of a monolithic cultural group chauvinistically promoting ethnic and linguistic purity is the product of nineteenth century colonial thinking. It mirrors nineteenth century European racial views of humanity, in which dark-skinned people were regarded as inferior and used as slaves. It is quite different than the Hindu and Vedic view that the One Being masks itself in numerous names and forms which are all ultimately the same. Such a monolithic group is incompatible with the image of the Aryans as nomads, who as a scattered and disorganized group could not have had such a uniform idea of their own identity and been able to impose it upon a larger population of more civilized peoples.

The Aryan invasion theory is an example of European colonialism turned into an historical model. Its simplicity is compelling but also questionable. Race and language are not the only factors in the development of civilization. Religious or economic factors, which cut across racial and linguistic divisions, often overwhelm them. For example, ancient Mesopotamia had a number of ethnic groups, people of different language families, a composite of many religions, and yet many common cultural elements can be found through the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations of the region.

This monolithic race/language approach to history appears to be overly simplistic, particularly in the twentieth century wherein the pluralism of culture (a common Hindu idea) is becoming recognized. The history of a subcontinent like India is likely to be much more complex than such facile stereotypes.

Migration theories were in vogue in nineteenth and early twentieth century thought, which had witnessed the great migrations from Europe to America. Any new cultural innovation discovered in archeology was made the product of a new migration. A new pottery style found in a culture was attributed to a new people coming into the area. However migration is usually not the main factor in social change, which usually occurs owing to internal factors. Otherwise we would have to explain the invasion or migration of the computer people to explain current changes in civilization! Now archaeologists are moving away from such migration theories and looking more for the internal factors that could cause such changes. If such internal factors can be found - such as is the case in ancient India which shows an internal continuity of cultural developments going back to the pre-historic era - a migration is not necessary.

We should note that Vedic literature, with its many Gods and Goddesses who can be identified freely with one another (what Max Muller called henotheism), is clearly the product of a pluralistic culture and world view, not that of a monolithic culture (which Hinduism has never produced in the historical period either). Unity-in-multiplicity is the basic theme of the Vedas which state "That which is the One Truth the seers speak in many ways (Rig Veda I.164)." This is not the philosophy of militant nomads but of a mature cultural complex in which many different cultural elements have been interwoven. Simplistic invasion/migration theories reducing cultural developments to movements of narrowly defined groups of people appear now to be out of date, and certainly do not mirror the Vedic view of the universe.