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Chapter: 11th History : Early India: The Chalcolithic, Megalithic, Iron Age and Vedic Cultures

The Aryans and Rig Vedic Society

The attempt to write a history of India began when the Europeans colonised India.

The Aryans and Rig Vedic Society


So far we have considered the Late Harappan Cultures, Chalcolithic and Painted Grey ware Cultures. Let us now turn to the evidence from the Vedic texts, which, unlike the archaeological evidence that tell us only about the material culture, throw light on the ethnic and cultural identities of people. Because of the references found in the Vedas, the Aryan question is one of the important issues concerning the early history of India.


The Aryans


The attempt to write a history of India began when the Europeans colonised India. They compiled the archaeological and literary sources, as well as oral traditions. Certain notions, for example the Aryans, were developed and used in the colonial context, when many parts of Asia and Africa were under the influence of the European powers. The concept of race was widely prevalent at that time to classify and categorize people. Some of the views reflect the racist ideas of colonial times. The Aryan theory was linked to the blue-eyed white race and its connection with Europeans. Nazis used the Aryan concept for their political agenda, ultimately leading to the Holocaust. The recent studies have established that the word Aryan does not denote race, but only refers to the original speakers of Indo-Aryan languages. From the Vedas it is evident that Aryans used domesticated horses and chariots. Their chariots had spoked wheels and they used bows and arrows. They practiced agriculture and pastoralism. They buried and also cremated the dead. The cult of fire and the use of soma drink were prevalent among the speakers of the Indo-Aryan languages.


The home of Indo-Europeans and Indo-Aryans is still a matter of debate. Many scholars are of the view that the Aryans came to India as migrants from Central Asia. It is also believed that several waves of Indo-Aryan migration might have happened. There are several factors which support this hypothesis. The traits of the culture of Aryans cover Eastern Europe and Central Asia which is geographically interlinked with India and West Asia and Europe. One of the accepted areas of the Aryan home is Eastern Europe-Central Asia, north of the Black Sea. The Bactria-Margina Archaeological Complex is closely related to Aryan culture dated to 1900 BCE–1500 BCE. Ceramics of South Central Asian archaeological sites resemble those found in the Swat valley.


References to the names of Indo-Europeans languages are found in an inscription dated to 2200 BCE discovered in modern Iraq. Anatolian inscriptions of 1900-1700 BCE and Kassite inscriptions of 1600 BCE (Iraq) and Mittani inscriptions of 1400 BCE (Syria), Bhogaz Goi inscriptions referring to names similar to the Vedic gods (1400 BCE) have the common features of the Indo-European languages, but no such inscriptions are found in India.


The term asva and several other terms in Rig Veda have common roots in various Indo-Aryan languages. In the Rig Veda, the term asva (horse) occurs 215 times and vrishabha (bull) 170 times. Tiger and rhinoceros, which are tropical animals, are not mentioned in the Rig Veda. There is no trace of the urban way of life in the Rig Veda. Hence, the identity of Aryans is not correlated with the Harappan culture, where there is no evidence for horse. Nowadays, DNA studies are also used for understanding ancient migrations. M17 a genetic marker (DNA) is said to have been found among the speakers of Indo-Europeans.



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