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The Aryan Invasion Myth: Origins, Entrenchment, and Implications

Aaryan Panchal

Abstract- The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), a creation of orientalists and colonialists, states that there
was a mythical tribe of Indo-Europeans known as Aryans who invaded India sometime
around 1500 BC and displaced the indigenous people of the country known as Dravidians.
There exists no scientific evidence of the AIT and has been completely debunked. This article
discusses the origins of this theory, tracing them to 1801 to the works of German philologists
and Christian missionaries. Further, it discusses the factors that led to the entrenchment of the
AIT within Indian culture and the pernicious implications it had for India, namely creating a
divide between the north and the south, the repercussions of which can be witnessed even

Most people attribute the origins of the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) to German philologist,
Max Muller, who in the 1850s, introduced the notion of two Aryan races, a western and an
eastern one, who migrated from the Caucasus into Europe and India respectively. The Eastern
branch of Aryans went on to invade India and conquered the indigenous eastern natives. The
theory of Muller found great acceptance among the Orientalists and was propagated and
taught throughout the colonial period. The AIT is a myth and its severe propagation and
subsequent entrenchment had pernicious consequences which are still being felt today in this
country. Before we proceed to debunk this theory, we must understand how and why it
originated and the reason behind its mass acceptance in the orientalist discourse.


It is important to understand that Muller did not propound this theory ex nihilo and there
existed a proper timeline and a large culture behind him that allowed him to come up with
this notion and further generate acceptance from others. The origin of AIT is situated at the

intersection of two discoveries: the discovery of the relation between Sanskrit and the
European languages, attributed to Sir William Jones in a lecture delivered in 1786, and that of
the Dravidian language family, first made public in 1816 by Alexander Campbell and Francis
W. Ellis. Sir William Jones, a British philologist, in 1788, put forward his famous proposition
that Greek, Latin, Celtic, French, and Germanic languages were closely affiliated with
Sanskrit. German philologist, Friedrich Schlegel, went a step further, in 1808, and claimed
that Sanskrit was the parent language of the Indo-European group and further identified it as
the language of a parent “Aryan” race.

Parallelly, the Christian missionaries and orientalists began deciphering native Indic texts
such as the Vedas, in order to better learn about the native culture which would in turn help in
proselytising. Colonel Mark Wilks, a historian and East India Company administrator, in as
early as 1810, introduced the notion of the “Hindoo conquest” of India. Based on his reading
of the “Laws of Manu” or the “Manusmriti”, which had been falsely identified by the British
as the sacred law book of Hindus, Wilks hypothesised that the caste system was formed due
to this conquest of India by the northern Hindoos who went on to occupy the superior caste
position in the system and the lower castes were the aborigines of this country. Building on
this argument, French Indologist and orientalist, Eugene Burnouf, as evidence, compared the
differences in language, skin tone, customs, and practices between the higher and lowers
castes of India and posited that the higher and lower castes of this country originally
belonged to two different races. By the middle of the nineteenth century, by when Muller was
introducing the notion of the AIT, most scholars of Indian religion and culture had already
accepted the notion of an Aryan invasion of India.


Simultaneously, another circle of scholars, focusing on the southern part of India, came to the
conclusion that the South Indian languages were not derivations of Sanskrit as had so far
been proclaimed. A pioneering work in this regard was Alexander Campbell’s “A Grammar
of the Teloogoo Language” in 1816, by comparing the number of Sanskrit words used by
lower caste Telegu speakers which were less in number and those who were less fluent than
the higher caste Telegu speakers, considered it plausible that Sanskrit had once been a foreign
language of India. This claim was readily accepted and led to the following conjecture:

“The most probable conjecture is, that it [Sanskrit] was the language of the Bramins, that they
were a race of conquerors who came from the north, that they easily overran and subdued the
continent of India, that they engrafted their system of superstition upon the idolatry which
they found among the people, and that, as the sons of Bruhma, they have retained in their
hands, the key of knowledge, and the reins of government”
This postulated Aryan Invasion Theory was taken as a fact and widely propagated throughout
colonial India and outside. Further entrenchment of this theory would occur in 1891 and
1892, when Herbert Hope Risley, a British ethnographer supplied the AIT with
anthropometric foundations. Based on the distinction between the structure of noses of the
northern “Aryans” and the southern “Dravidians”, Risley conjectured that the “Aryans” must
have moved into India with their families causing the previous inhabitants to retreat to the
southern part of India. This idea of AIT was further fuelled and entrenched by the discovery
of the Indus Valley Civilisation which declined during the same period as the proposed Aryan

To summarise the Aryan Invasion Theory as had been constructed so far; around 1500 BC, an
Indo-European tribe, known as “Aryan”, invaded and conquered the Indian subcontinent
displacing the indigenous people, known as “Dravidians”, and forcing them to retreat to the
southern part of India. These so-called “Aryans” bought with them their religion, i.e.,
Hinduism, their culture, and the caste system. The ruins of the Indus valley civilisation
evidenced the presence of a pre-Aryan civilisation.

The idea of a large-scale invasion has largely been debunked now. Most of the arguments for
the AIT were based on evidence found in the Vedas which speak of a fight between the
“light” and the “dark.” These metaphors were falsely misinterpreted by the orientalists as a
literal fight between the light-skinned “Aryans” and the dark-skinned “Dravidians.”
Moreover, the Indo-European’s supposed invasion is dated to around 1500 BC and the
composition of the Vedas to 1200 BC. Firstly, it seems hardly likely that the Aryans would
have remained entirely speechless for about 300 years, and secondly, the Vedic corpus
contains zero evidence of the perilous journey the Aryans must have undertaken nor any
mention of their historic “conquest’ of Bharatvarsha. Additionally, evidence from the
departments of mathematics, metallurgy, and astronomy also shows that there is no scientific
basis for the AIT. According to German philologists, the AIT occurred around 1500 BC ago,
the Rigveda to 1200 BC and the later Vedic texts, the Samhitas and the Brahmanas, to 800 BC. The key astronomical references from these later texts however consistently lead to 3000
BC. Sanskrit scholars who proposed or supported AIT interpreted Krsna/syäma ayas in the
Vedic texts as smelted iron, correlating it with archaeological pieces of evidence for iron in
the iron age, the earliest date being 1000 BC. However, iron was already found in the
Samhitas which is virtually impossible to date around 1000 BC. Moreover, the interpretation
of Krsna/syäma ayas as smelted iron objects, and not iron ore, the evidence for which goes
as far back as 2600 BC, is itself contested by Sanskrit scholars. Thus, the AIT rests on shaky
foundations such as dubious interpretations of words and false timelines. Until, these, among
other contradictions or puzzles, are answered, one can say that there exists no definitive
scientific evidence for the AIT.

By way of conclusion, I want to discuss briefly the pernicious implications the propagation
and entrenchment of the AIT have caused in India. Firstly, and most importantly, it divided
India into two hostile cultural camps, a northern Aryan and a southern Dravidian. The effects
of this division are still being felt today. Secondly, it justified the British conquest and
colonisation of India, since according to them, they were merely repeating what the Aryans
had already done before them. And thirdly, it discredited Indic tradition and all of its ancient
literature, turning its scriptures and sages into fantasies and exaggerations. The AIT was also
a part of the larger colonial project of the Christianisation of Bharat. The discussion of this
aspect goes beyond the scope of the present article and should be discussed separately.
Presently, it is important to understand that the creation of the Aryan Invasion Theory was a
colonial project with the intention to create a divide between the Indians and justify their
conquest of the country. It is crucial to recognise this fact so that we, contemporarily, avoid,
explicitly or implicitly, perpetuating the mythical and concocted Aryan-Dravidian divide.

About the Author

Aaryan Panchal is a second-year student at the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and
Humanities majoring in Political Science.

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