Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

AIT Or OIT: Imagining The Hindu Nation.

4 July 2013
The ancient Indian history has been a source of cantankerous debates and of vilification campaigns especially since the 1990s. According to one school, we have Aryans *invading* India, coming in waves over several centuries from their origins somewhere in central Asia. Aryans did not invade just India, but spread to Anatolia plateau, eventually finding their way into Europe. The branch that turned to India further sub-branched into Iran. We have consequently “Indo-European language family”, then its subset, “Indo-Iranian”, and finally it culminates into Indo-Aryan Sanskrit, the language of the gods, in which sacred Vedic texts and scriptures were composed and eventually reduced to writing in Dev Nagari script. The Vedic Aryan culture left an outstanding legacy of literature.
Then we have the magnificent HarappaMohenjo Daro (HMD) culture, which spanned almost two millennia going back some 60 centuries and spread geographically over a vast riparian areas in Northern and Western regions of the Indian subcontinent. Probably all the outposts of the HMD culture have not yet been marked and even of what is known has not been fully excavated. HMD civilization left an archaeological treasure trove that shows sophisticated urban settlements, precise architecture, commendable and hygienic town planning, and knowledge of hydrology and construction materials that were simply quite unexpected of their times. Very few urban settlements today in the subcontinent can match the maturity shown then. This great archaeological finding is marred by our inability to decipher their script- called the Indus script to date. This has left researchers with a tantalizing conundrum. On one hand we have HMD or Indus culture that left us with fabulous archaeological treasure trove but no literary tradition; and on the other we have Vedic Aryan culture that gave us sterling literary achievements but hardly any archaeological fingerprints.
Then came a set of historians from other school, who argued that this great mystery has an elegant solution, which is really staring us in the face, but we are totally blind to it simply because of our unthinking acceptance of *Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)*. If we were simply to take off these blinders, the truth would reveal itself in all its glory. Indus culture and Aryan culture are not two separate cultures as AIT would have us believe, but are really two sides of the same coin (composite culture). It is the Aryans- indigenous to Indian subcontinent- who left us with the magnificent archaeological record; and it is the Indus culture-again routed in the soil- that gave us the superb Vedic literature. The theory, which conflates the Indus and Aryan cultures into one, goes by the shorthand of Out of India Theory(OIT). The case between the AIT and the OIT, where timeline has made AIT the defender and OIT the challenger, is wide open in the rigorous academic circles, where standards of proof required to swing debate one way or the other are indeed demanding. It seems challenger OIT has offered very little by way of fresh evidence to support its claim; but has mainly found fault with the evidence offered by the defender AIT by showing errors in the interpretations and conclusions drawn or by showing how same evidence fits or supports alternate equal or more plausible interpretation.

I personally find this whole enterprise of speaking authoritatively about ancient or even medieval history simply preposterous. One may only discuss possibilities and probabilities when evidence is bound to be thin and only suggestive rather than conclusive, and at most point out why a particular alternative looks more attractive to fit the available evidence. For example, usage of language changes, the meanings derived from the words in the past may get fossilized though words themselves may survive albeit imbued with totally different meanings. The word, धर्म, which carries the meaning -sectarian religion, in present day; was used to describe, I am told, inherent quality or trait (जो धारण करते है, वोह) in the ancient times. The धर्म of fire is to provide heat, of water is to quench thirst. When applied to humans, in ancient times, it meant the quality (ex., compassion, aggression) a person has acquired or strives to acquire. There are many obvious pitfalls in interpreting ancient texts with modern sensibilities. When it is difficult to establish truth about current events in modern times, why some people firmly believe they hold the truth in matters belonging to antiquity defies reasons. It is therefore a foolhardy enterprise that seeks to draw firm conclusions about the past. However, this OIT-AIT debate acquired urgency for political reasons. There has been a doctrinal current that has flowed since the latter part of 19thcentury to date, which seeks to found the modern notion of Nation and Nationalism on One people, One Language, One culture, One ethnos, and if possible One religion that have continued uninterrupted right from the hoary antiquity of the Indus-Vedas civilization. It is this unwieldy endeavour, which has proved to be so fractious and divisive. What passes to us as history or historical narratives are frankly no more than current agreements between majority of the academic historians over what transpired in the past. Such agreements must, if one is aware of their shaky foundations, remain temporary and tentative, until something better comes on the scene.

Those who are firm adherents for ideological reasons of Out of India Theory or of Aryan Invasion Theory would always find ways to bitterly squabble, foul mouth and get at each other’s throats. However, for those who are interested to know what the scholars and academicians think on both sides of the divide there is a very interesting volume to peruse: The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History, edited by Edwin F Bryant and Laurie L Patton. The compilation ranges stalwarts from OIT as well as AIT, and have Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, B. B. Lal, Jim G. Shaffer and Diane A. Lichtenstein, Asko Parpola and Christian Carpelan, Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Satya Swarup Misra, Koenraad Elst, Hans Henrich Hock, Subhash Kak, Shrikant G. Talageri, Michael Witzel, Madhav M. Deshpande, Lars Martin Fosse, and Edwin F. Bryant presenting their views. These researchers explore:
1.   Do recent findings and archaeological interpretations support greater continuity between the Indus culture and the Vedic culture than previously assumed? That is, can it be conclusively said that Indus civilization was Indo-Aryan civilization?
2.   Do conventional rules of linguistic derivations support the case to situate in India the origins of Indo-European language family? Are there alternate plausible explanations for interactions between Indo-Aryan and Non-Indo-Aryan languages (Dravidian or Munda) other than intrusion of Indo-Aryan into the subcontinent?
3.   Do philological studies (history, literary studies, astronomy, linguistics, flora-fauna) help in locating Indo-Aryans in time and space, and help date Vedas?
4.   How have political, Social and Ideological currents and considerations shaped the landscape of this Indo-Aryan controversy?

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