Posted on: 13 February 2015

New Book:
Aryans and British India
By Thomas R. Trautmann
Published by University of California Press - 1997

Book summary:

"Aryan," a word that today evokes images of racial hatred and atrocity, was first used by Europeans to suggest bonds of kinship, as Thomas Trautmann shows in his far-reaching history of British Orientalism and the ethnology of India. When the historical relationship uniting Sanskrit with the languages of Europe was discovered, it seemed clear that Indians and Britons belonged to the same family. Thus the Indo-European or Aryan idea, based on the principle of linguistic kinship, dominated British ethnological inquiry.In the nineteenth century, however, an emergent biological "race science" attacked the authority of the Orientalists. The spectacle of a dark-skinned people who were evidently civilized challenged Victorian ideas, and race science responded to the enigma of India by redefining the Aryan concept in narrowly "white" racial terms. By the end of the nineteenth century, race science and Orientalism reached a deep and lasting consensus in regard to India, which Trautmann calls "the racial theory of Indian civilization," and which he undermines with his powerful analysis of colonial ethnology in India. His work of reassessing British Orientalism and the Aryan idea will be of great interest to historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics.

In this landmark study, Thomas Trautmann delves into the intellectual accomplishments of the languages and nations concept in British India, as well as the darker politics of race hatred which emerged out of it. He challenges the racial hypothesis through a powerful analysis of the feeble evidence upon which it is based. Issued for the first time in paperback format, this edition includes a new Preface in which the author discusses further ideas on the understanding of the Aryan theory and the languages and nations project, as well as the new scholarship supporting such ideas. The new preface also discusses the Aryan debate in contemporary India, which looks for a link between Aryans, Sanskrit, the Veda and the Indus Valley Civilization, and which has in recent times broadened into a tremendously politicized controversy. A compelling and carefully researched work, Aryans and British India has become mandatory reading, since its first publication in 1997, for historians, political scientists and commentators, anthropologists, and linguists, as well as scholars and students of cultural studies.

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A couple of clarifications on a rather dubious book summary - The word "Aryan" was originally used to refer to a language family - later described more accurately as the "Indo-European" language family to which most European languages and several oriental languages like Sanskrit and its descendants belong. The word "Arya" is frequently used in Indian literature across the ages in a manner referring to the Sanskritic culture that originated in north west india but spread to all corners of the subcontinent. The word does not necessarily have racial connotations and the best indologists have never used the word in that sense. Yes, it is quite possible that the Indo-Aryan speakers migrated to the Indus plain fairly late in Indian history (circa 2000-1500 BC). So given that this was a new language family in this part of the world, it is quite possible there was some fresh blood brought to the Indian subcontinent at this period (this is also confirmed by the ANI-ASI genetic admixture observed across India in precisely this period (2000 BC to 0 AD or so). Whether these new migrants were fair skinned or dark skinned is a totally immaterial thing. And it is quite laughable how Indians can't discuss this objectively and reduce it to a fair vs dark conflict.

And its quite odd that the book reviewer thinks the Indologists came up with the "Aryan" theory just to reconcile their own prejudices and dispute the reality that "dark-skinned" people can be "civilised". This is totally wrong. Indian civilisation has had links with the West going all the way back to the days of the Roman empire and India was always acknowledged as one of the great civilisations all over the west from the days of classical antiquity right through the middle ages. Also when the European-Indian encounter took place in the 18th century, Western Europe was significantly ahead of India on just about every parameter and there really was little cause for western academics of the time to nurse "inferiority complexes" as imagined by this reviewer.

- Sarathi 'Krishna' addressed 'Arjun' as - "A R Y A " means "Learned Arjun" in Geeta' during Mahabharat War - It does not mean a 'Race or ' caste. Read "The Myth of the Aryan Invasion of India" by David Frawley (Vāmadeva Śāstrī वामदेव शास्त्री)

Already aryan Dravidian theory has been refuted as myth.Arya means a noble by birth.Its been in usage in our epics,Vegas,Mahabharat etc.

"Arya" may mean "noble" in the original Sanskrit. But the usage of words changes over time. The word in the modern context is used to refer to a family of languages that is prevalent all across not just the subcontinent but very large parts of central asia and Europe. Max Muller was the first to use it in this context. And what he did was perfectly fine! Now comes the other question - if 75% of Indian languages are from the Indo-European family, where did their proto-ancestor originate. All the evidence we have from history points to a central asian origin. This clearly points to pre-historic race movements from central asia to India which helped spread this family across India. This is what we call "Aryan invasion or Aryan migration" theory. And there is not much to object here either. The problem happens when you take this evidence and try to make ridiculous statements like - " are darker than the average Indian, your ancestors are 100% indigenous...hey you are fairer than the average Indian, your ancestors are migrants"...or even worse - "hey. you speak an indo-european language today, your ancestors are migrants", or "hey, you speak a dravidian language at home, your ancestors are indigenous". These are insane inferences the common man draws when he thinks of "aryan migration / invasion" - which is totally misplaced. The best british indologists never did that sort of a thing. Though some ethnographers / anthropologists in late 19th century may have done so, leading to the development of "race science" among other things. But its totally wrong to paint all indologists in the same brush. As with any field of human endeavour, British India produced some great historians, good ones, as well as some bad ones. One has to filter out the bad ones - the ones that have dated badly. This is what we call survivorship bias, which is at work everywhere :) One forgets the ordinary movie songs from the past and remembers the super-hit ones. The larger point is that the problem does not quite lie with the language theories developed by these indologists. I think the lingual work done back in the day was very crucial in advancing our understanding of the world. The problem lies with the way ordinary people interpret these theories and draw totally non-sequitor inferences.

It's fun to see few people in the comments section grovelling to confirm their biases in history when evidence presents an opposite picture.

Lingual evidence points to strong pre-historic connections between ancient vedic-aryan culture and other indo-european cultures of central asia and europe Archeological evidence from Harappa read in conjunction with literary evidence from the veda suggests race movements happened post Harappan decline in 2nd millennium BC. Genetic evidence also points to racial intermingling in exactly the same period - 2000 BC till the beginning of christian era.

One should note that in sanskrit meaning of a word changes in its context too. Arya in sanskrit means a revered one or some one noble. India itself was.called Aryavartha. It has nothing to do with caste or race. Varnas or classes or todays caste loosely did exist as we know from the time of ramayana. For eg.shumba was killed by rama as he was not entitled to do tapasya.being a shudra. In bhagavadgeetha Arjuna also talks about varna sankara or mixing of bloods of different classes. But it has nothing to do with Arien race of europe. It was a misinterpretation by german scholars including max muller. Genetically mitochondrian and y chromosome lineage shows that Indian genes are a mix of people of persia central asia initially then mixed with dravidians from pleostine people who had a mix of african tribes. Infact due to endogamy Indian genetics mixture is preserved well. Aryans were not genetically a single source either. It is a joke that this nonsence is taught in India even today. There is no evidence to say Aryans or anyone else invaded dravidians. Harappa has no evidence of it st all. Most of the rig vefic peoples were cow herders who settled in indogangetic plains. Gradually they migrated south. Even today tamil villages have african origin tribes. The so called sc sts of today are predominantly tribes of India. Arya was used for a teacher or officer in everyday language.

Btw there are.50 genes that control skjn color. No 2.skins are truely alike colorwise or genetically.

Raita Nagappa : You are inadvertently agreeing with the conventional wisdom and then lambasting the same. There is a contradiction here. Let me highlight the same. "Arya in sanskrit means a revered one or some one noble. India itself was.called Aryavartha. It has nothing to do with caste or race. " No Indologist disagrees with this usage of the term in Sanskrit. However the word "Aryavartha" never meant India but the part of India on which sanskritic culture prevailed. At one point this was just the Punjab-Doab region. But in later eras this culture gradually spread to all corners of the subcontinent. So it became possible to associate Sanskritic culture with the whole of India and not just a part of north India. "it has nothing to do with Aryan race of europe" "It is a joke that this nonsense is taught in India even today" The textbooks don't talk of any Aryan race. But only point to pre-historic race movements which can account for a common origin for all Indo-European languages. The word "Aryan" was used in a linguistic sense by Mr Muller and co. And yes, one has to admit languages cannot spread without race movements. Also no Indologist ever talked about the Aryan race of Europe but the hypothesis always was that the common place of origin for these languages was somewhere in central Asia. (not Europe!) "Genetically mitochondrian and y chromosome lineage shows that Indian genes are a mix of people of persia central asia initially then mixed with dravidians from pleostine people who had a mix of african tribes. " This is precisely the ANI-ASI admixture that I talked about. All the genetic evidence suggests admixture whose timeframes coincide with the age of the Rig Veda! I cannot imagine how admixture can happen without race movements and migration. "There is no evidence to say Aryans or anyone else invaded dravidians. Harappa has no evidence of it st all. Most of the rig vefic peoples were cow herders who settled in indogangetic plains." You are contradicting yourself here. You rightly acknowledged the racial heterogeneity of India. You also rightly observed that the early Vedic culture was pastoral and agricultural. So it is evident from that observation that Harappan culture couldn't possibly have been vedic (as it is an urban culture). So this leads us to the fairly strong hypothesis that Vedic culture succeeded harappan culture. Whether this succession was gradual, whether it was a migration or an invasion is guesswork. And I don't see why people need to take offence over it. "Aryans were not genetically a single source either" Ofcourse they were not. Nobody says so. Read Basham. Even he points out that it is a mistake to use Vedic and Aryan interchangeably. Tribes of different lineages moved in to the indus plain in that tumultuous period from 2000 to 1000 BC. And not all of them were Veda-chanting brahmans as often imagined. That's bull shit. Some races like that of the Bharatas were. With some famed priestly families affiliated to them. But not all. "Btw there are.50 genes that control skjn color. No 2.skins are truely alike colorwise or genetically." Ofcourse. But the larger determinant of skin colour is melanin concentration. Which depends a lot on exposure to sunlight. If all Indians have a purely indigenous past then you shouldn't be seeing any fair person in this country (as this land is incredibly hot and blessed with sunshine be it north or south, east or west). The racial heterogeneity one observes is itself testimony to the race movements that have happened in a very remote past from colder climes that lie to north west of our subcontinent.

Shrikanth Krishnamachary "Indian civilisation has had links with the West going all the way back to the days of the Roman empire" As an aside: Meet the Hoxne Pepper Pot. It is Roman but was found in the Eastern part of England where I come from. Pepper does not grow in England it has to have come from India.

It's specifically for the better knowledge of Shrikanth Krishnamachari, who writes too much without knowing what is written in Rigveda and God knows, who he copies while putting - " Vedic culture was pastoral and agricultural", there is no unqualified generalization , fun, fallacy and audacity like this ! BB Lal has produced a good book for people like him.

The Rigvedic People 'Invaders'?/'Immigrants'? or Indigenous?: Evidence of Archaeology and Literature. Delhi : Aryan Books International, Febr. 2015. The octogenarian former director of Indian Archeology, B.B. Lal, has just produced another indigenist book "Author Overview" : For several decades it has been orchestrated that there was an ‘Aryan Invasion’ of India which destroyed the Harappan Civilization. However, as shown in this book (pp. 10 ff.), there is no evidence whatsoever of any invasion or of the presence of an alien culture at any of the hundreds of Harappan sites. While one is glad to note that the ‘Invasion’ theory is dead, it is a pity that it is being resurrected in a new avatar, namely that of ‘Immigration’, of people from the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex of Central Asia, who, the proponents think, were nomadic Aryans. This book advances cogent arguments to demonstrate that this new theory too is totally wrong (pp. 19 ff.). For all this mess, the dating of the Rigveda to 1,200 BCE by Max Muller is squarely responsible. The combined evidence of hydrology, archaeology and C-14 method of dating shows that the Rigveda is assignable to the 3rd-4th millennium BCE (pp. 118 ff.). The Rigveda (X. 75. 5-6) also tells us that the Vedic people occupied the entire territory from the Indus on the west to the upper reaches of the Ganga-Yamuna on the east. Archaeologically, during the aforesaid period and within the above-noted territory, there existed one and only one civilization, namely the Harappan. Hence, the Harappan Civilization and the Vedas are but two faces of the same coin (pp. 122-23). Further, the evidence from Kunal and Bhirrana (pp. 54-55) establishes that the roots of this civilization go back to the 6th-5th millennia BCE, indicating thereby that the Harappans were the ‘sons of the soil’ and not aliens. Thus, the Vedic people, who were themselves the Harappans, were Indigenous and neither ‘Invaders’ nor ‘Immigrants’. "

Mr Mishra : You are not getting what I am saying. At no point am I saying the Vedic people were not indigenous. All I am saying is that IE culture was most likely a neighbour of harappan culture which it eventually replaced. So its quite possible that Vedic culture was adopted by the very people who were harappans once, under the influence of neighbour migrant elements. That's how history has always worked. Populations change their culture under the influence of migrants. Eg : My maid servant from Haryana speaks a smattering of English. But that doesn't mean she is of Anglo Saxon origin! :) Contrary to popular perception, the early Indologists were not stuck on 1500 BC date as is often imagined. To begin with, Indologists were open enough to encourage different dating scenarios - 3000 BC, 2000 BC, 1000 BC among other dates. The eventual date of 1500 BC was the consensus reached after a lot of early debate. The lifestyle described in the Rig is clearly rural. As opposed to the urban culture of Harappa. Ofcourse, I am not hinting here that Harappa was "more advanced" than Vedic culture. Just because a culture is rural doesn't mean its backward. Most indologists agree that Vedic culture (especially late Vedic culture) knew Iron and was in some respects technically and militarily superior to the early Bronze age Harappan culture. Also the very fact that Harappan culture was in total ruins and undiscovered for millennia suggests there was some discontinuity in Indian culture post Harappan decline. These days the people who ascribe very very early dates to the Rig Veda (pre 2500 BC) are generally ones with a Hindu nationalist predilection who want to establish, by hook or by crook, that IVC is Vedic. Mainstream scholarship doesn't support this kind of desperation. Look. I am not saying hindu nationalism is altogether a bad thing. I am a political conservative myself. And I support the current dispensation in Delhi. Having said that my conservatism does not compel me to falsify my country's history with the object of furthering ideological ends.

And people who deny any kind of migration from north west to rest of India got to face up to genetic evidence too. Let's look at this for instance : In this table the term ASI refers to a likely subcontinental origin. You clearly see a pattern. And the pattern is clearly linked to degree of sanskritization. Upper castes (be it north or south) have lower ASI%, while as you go down the social hierarchy, ASI% goes up. And these admixture dates (ANI-ASI mixture) are estimated to be between 2000 BC and 0AD which overlaps almost completely with the Vedic age.

By the way, when indologists talk of "Aryan" migration they are not talking about wholesale race extermination and race-replacement as is imagined. But merely cultural/lingual transmissions/migrations which can happen only if there is a real migration of races to new regions where locals interact and adopt the migrant's culture. This is precisely the point Mahadevan makes in that interview I shared on these forums a week ago, wherein he claims that Indus people remained on the scene but got culturally aryanized under the influence of a new culture brought in from north west. Extract : "In fact, I plow a somewhat lonely furrow in this. I often say that if the key to the Indus script linguistically is Dravidian, then culturally the key to the Indus script is Vedic. What I mean is that the cultural traits of the Indus Valley civilization are likely to have been absorbed by the successor Indo-Aryan civilization in Punjab and Sindh, and that the civilization in the far south would have changed out of recognition. In any case, the present South Indian civilization is already the product of both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian cultures, and the language itself is completely mixed up with both elements. Tamil alone retains most of the earlier Dravidian linguistic structure. Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada have become Indo-Aryanized much more, and culturally, the Hindu religion is a complete combination of all these elements. Therefore while it is legitimate to look for survivals, those survivals are as likely to be found in the RgVeda as in Purananuru, a Tamil work, as likely to be found in Punjab and Sindh as in India and Sri Lanka. So we have to separate our approach of a linguistic connection where it is permissible to construct proto-languages and try to decipher a language, but if you are looking at the survival of cultural and social traits of Harappan civilization they are likely to be all over the subcontinent, overlaid with centuries of transformation in culture and of language. Some of the myths may survive but may become unrecognizable. It is not a very easy or straightforward relationship that you can trace, it is a tangle. "

Another extract on being asked if IVC just vanished and on the general problem of discontinuity : "It has happened in history before, the Sumerians became totally extinct. But for the accident of their script having been taken over by the Akkadians, the world might never know of the existence of Sumerians. But here again, the scale and the magnitude of the Harappan civilization speaks against its total extinction. As all scholars who have studied the problem agree, the incoming Aryans were relatively a very small minority and they were able to dominate only culturally and ultimately, in the assimilated Indo-Aryan or north Indian people, the indigenous racial element must have slowly surfaced. That is why we have no such thing as early Aryan pottery, because the pottery continued to be made by the local people. As someone has said jokingly, archaeology knows of no Aryans, only linguistics knows of Aryans. This is true. The answer to this is that the incoming Aryans were small in number. In this respect there was no cultural discontinuity. The real discontinuity was in language, principally, and in religion and ritual in the earliest levels, but in later levels, modern Hinduism as we know it is a composite of both pre-Aryan, native, animistic and tribal religions and the incoming Aryan religion. Perhaps when the Indus script is deciphered, I would not be surprised to find that the greater part of modern Hinduism has a Harappan lineage"