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BBC Show 2005
The Aryan Invasion Theory
One of the most controversial ideas about Hindu history is the
Aryan invasion theory.
This theory, originally devised by F. Max Muller in 1848, traces
the history of Hinduism to the invasion of India's indigenous
people by lighter skinned Aryans around 1500 BCE.
The theory was reinforced by other research over the next 120
years, and became the accepted history of Hinduism, not only in
the West but in India.
But many people argue that there is now evidence to show that
Muller, and those who followed him, were wrong.
Others, however, believe that the case against the Aryan
invation theory is far from conclusive.
The matter remains very controversial and highly politicised.
The article below sets out the case made by those who believe
that the Aryan invasion theory is seriously flawed.
The case against the Aryan invasion theory
The Aryan invasion theory was based on archaeological,
linguistic and ethnological evidence.
Later research, it is argued, has either discredited this
evidence, or provided new evidence that combined with the
earlier evidence makes other explanations more likely.
Some historians of the area no longer believe that such
invasions had such great influence on Indian history. It's now
generally accepted that Indian history shows a continuity of
progress from the earliest times to today.
The changes brought to India by other cultures are not denied by
modern historians, but they are no longer thought to be a major
ingredient in the development of Hinduism.
Dangers of the theory
Opponents of the Aryan invasion theory claim that it denies the
Indian origin of India's predominant culture, and gives the
credit for Indian culture to invaders from elsewhere.
They say that it even teaches that some of the most revered
books of Hindu scripture are not actually Indian, and it
devalues India's culture by portraying it as less ancient than
it actually is.
The theory was not just wrong, some say, but included
unacceptably racist ideas:
- it suggested that Indian
culture was not a culture in its own right, but a synthesis
of elements from other cultures
- it implied that Hinduism
was not an authentically Indian religion but the result of
- it suggested that Indian
culture was static, and only changed under outside
- it suggested that the
dark-skinned Dravidian people of the South of India had got
their faith from light-skinned Aryan invaders
- it implied that
indigenous people were incapable of creatively developing
- it suggested that
indigenous peoples could only acquire new religious and
cultural ideas from other races, by invasion or other
- it accepted that race was
a biologically based concept (rather than, at least in part,
a social construct) that provided a sensible way of ranking
people in a hierarchy, which provided a partial basis for
the caste system
- it provided a basis for
racism in the Imperial context by suggesting that the
peoples of Northern India were descended from invaders from
Europe and so racially closer to the British Raj
- it gave a historical
precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj,
who could argue that they were transforming India for the
better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of
- it downgraded the
intellectual status of India and its people by giving a
falsely late date to elements of Indian science and culture